TikTok – GenZ’s New Search Engine

TikTok is the third largest social media platform, and after a great start at dominating the landscape, it’s swiftly heading towards an alternative to Google and becoming the GenZ go-to search engine. Turning to Google for a regimented list of info that has been carefully analysed and presented in order of authoritativeness might be becoming a thing of the past. It’s time to make way for the age of content creation and the power of visuals.

At Fortune’s Brainstorm tech conference, Google’s Senior Vice President, Prabhakar Raghavan revealed how the search engine is preparing to appeal to a younger audience. “We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to,” he said. “These users don’t tend to type in keywords but rather look to discover content in new, more immersive ways.”

Let’s take a look at this shift, and find out how it might affect brands in the the near future..

What’s happening?

It’s actually Google’s own data that has revealed that nearly half of GenZ prefer using apps like TikTok and Instagram to search for things. Whether it’s looking for a place to go for lunch or searching for the latest fashion trends, approximately 40% of young people head to social media instead. 

Considering Google’s status and its placement as always being the number one search engine, this is a huge figure, and it’s proof of just how much search intent is changing. These days, younger generations are more interested in visually rich formats – cue the TikTok videos. They want to be influenced by products, places, and services via someone else’s experience and be able to actually watch the results in real-time. Essentially, it’s digital word-of-mouth. Google aren’t the first to notice this shift, as other social media platforms like IG and YouTube have gradually introduced video features like Reels and Spotlight to keep up with the demand. 

And due to this epic movement, of course, Google is taking action to keep up. Speaking to Insider, Raghavan said: “We face robust competition from an array of sources, including general and specialised search engines, as well as dedicated apps.” To address the search race, Google is already creating features that will (for them), hopefully, bring the party back to their side, and attract the younger consumer. One of these developments includes the ability for a user to pan their camera over an area and “instantly glean insights about multiple objects in a wider scene.” They’ve also published a full blog dedicated to other changes they’re planning on making.

Why’s it happening?

We could pretend to be super techy and say it’s all to do with algorithms, etc. but the reality is that GenZ just trusts TikTok more than Google when it comes to results. They’re also more urgent than millennials and other generations and want things fast and want to get things done fast. 

Take a recipe search, for instance. The difference between TikTok and Google is astounding. While TikTok favours quick how-to clips that show the cooking process and the final result in under a minute, a website presented by Google (thanks to the search engines preference for long form content) typically features a whole spiel about the history of the recipe before the ingredients are even listed. Of course, the former is literally a video platform, so we can see why GenZs who value their free time more would opt for the fast-paced visuals of the video app over why someone’s Great Aunt Susie added brown sugar to her banana bread recipe in 1721.

Just take a look at these two similar recipes and the contrast and time difference it takes to get to the end. This TikTok video takes 38 seconds from start to finish, while this recipe suggested by Google will take you a few minutes to read before you get to the instructions. 

But it’s not just recipes that are becoming more popular over on social media, it’s travel destinations, too. If you’re a TikTok user, chances are you’ve either already booked your flight to Albania, or you’re on Skyscanner right now about to click on the check out button. With the app shining a light on unusual (or less popular) parts of the world, (and with GenZ being incredibly wanderlust-ey), social media is taking the lead in travel – both destination-wise and accommodation-wise. It’s revolutionising the way people travel and how they view the industry, if you will.  Which means you won’t be surprised to know that #albaniatravel has over 3.1 million views, and #cheapeuropehostels has (at the time of checking) 1.5 million views.

TikTok is so adamant about encouraging these behaviours that they’ve also introduced features like “others searched for”.  They’ve also added a similar hashtags section.

How does this affect YOU as the manager of your brand’s online presence?

OK, while TikTok’s takeover may suggest that it’s on its way to overtaking Google, it’s not all doom and gloom for you marketers. It just might mean you may want to switch up your strategy to give social media a bit more credit.

Whether it’s affecting your biz now or you just want to be prepared for later down the line, here are some things you can start thinking about when it comes to your content:

  • Searchable content: Consider the niches you can really own and start to incorporate relevant keywords into your videos and captions. For example, if you’re a Paris-based travel company – can you post about the best places to stay in Paris? The hidden lesser-known cafes in Barcelona or the most beautiful unspoilt beaches in Europe? Use what you have and take advantage of it!
  • Solve the problem: Right now, to guarantee a spot at the top of the TikTok SERPS, it seems ranking for a keyword is number one. Before people ask you to, use keywords in your captions and include on-screen text and audio. Not only does this make your posts universally accessible and shows that you’re a socially-conscious brand, but it also increases the chances of your content being discovered. It’s all about solutions, people.

With social media and the evolution of the internet especially, people have to stay ahead of the game. And even with Google actively putting strategies in place to attract a younger audience, we’ve also got to turn our attention to TikTok. Why? Because its growth has been so quick, the likelihood of it developing even further is extremely likely, too. In fact, some are saying that Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok is where the app is heading in the near future.

Douyin works with three main newsfeeds for shopping and has a desktop version, live shopping, and a further desktop version that looks strikingly similar to YouTube. The majority of their revenue comes from in-stream e-commerce, which could mean this is where TikTok is going.

But as quickly as we jump into (or anticipate) the future, let’s pop back to the past for a minute. Last year, Google confirmed that they were cooking up deals that would hopefully allow them to index TikTok and IG videos on Google Search. While this hasn’t come into fruition yet, (the social media apps would have to share their data with Google in order to categorise the videos) at present, users can search for a keyword followed by “TikTok.” Google will then come back with rows of TikTok video results before any standard web pages…

TikTok vs. the world

If your brand doesn’t have anything to offer to a current trend – i.e your products/services might not be relevant, etc. – or a social media platform isn’t where your audience is (e.g retirement planning, though you might be surprised), there’s often little to gain.

However, if there’s a natural fit to place your brand within the app, you have something to offer, and there are problems you can solve, it’s a non-negotiable that will only provide your business with expansive opportunities. Don’t cut your brand off from the future, embrace it!

 

 

 

Sophie Crosby
Head of Content @ Minty Digital.
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