Since its launch, TikTok has grown to be a highly influential social media platform. As the app continues to gain traction, users have begun to turn to TikTok for something other than trendy videos, sounds, and effects: its search capabilities.
A recent viral Tweet introduced the idea that TikTok can serve as an effective search engine, and it may actually be performing better than Google. As a highly visual and interactive source of information, TikTok’s search feature can help users gain honest insight on everything from travel itineraries to restaurant experiences to brand reviews.
So, what does this mean for search marketers? Search Engine Journal wrote an insightful article on the topic, and we broke down our thoughts in a BTW with BTM podcast episode. While TikTok does offer a visual, personal, and quick search experience for users, can it really replace Google? Spoiler alert: it can’t. And we’re here to tell you why.
The Rise of TikTok as a “Search Engine”
The aforementioned Twitter thread is merely written evidence of what countless TikTok users have been doing for some time. As Search Engine Journal mentioned, a LinkedIn poll revealed that 26% of people know someone who uses TikTok or Instagram as their primary search engine. Plus, TikTok has only continued to make the platform more search-friendly, with a recent update that offers a suggested search topic within the comments of certain videos.
There are a number of reasons Gen-Z might be turning to TikTok instead of Google, including the visual nature of the platform, the “realness” of people sharing results, and the ability to get answers fast. Attention spans are getting shorter, and TikTok’s short video format can provide users with content in a no-nonsense way. For example, if someone is looking for TV show recommendations, searching the topic on TikTok and scrolling through hundreds of videos that each list 10 shows in the span of a minute gets answers faster than clicking through dozens of articles on Google would. One search doesn’t fit all, however — but we’ll get to that later.
The Dilemma for Other Search Engines
With TikTok’s search capabilities growing in popularity, other search engines like Google, Yahoo, or Bing risk no longer being a user’s primary choice for where they make a search query. If users aren’t getting the accuracy or efficiency they’re looking for in a Google search, they’ll go elsewhere when they know they have the option to do so.
In 2021, TikTok surpassed Google as the number one web domain, which is just one telling sign of how the platform will continue to dominate the tech world. While TikTok’s growth seems intimidating, it offers an opportunity for other search engines to consider how they might be able to incorporate short-form videos into their own results pages.
So, Why Can’t TikTok Replace Google?
Put simply, there are searches TikTok just cannot do. While the app may come handy for seeing a pasta recipe in action, it can’t exactly provide you with a list of the best dentists in Grand Rapids, Michigan. TikTok’s algorithm allows users to search videos based on their activity, the date posted, and by relevancy or popularity. This method can help curate results, but it doesn’t have the same attention to detail and value as Google’s model.
Google’s algorithm considers the E-A-T acronym when answering a user’s search query by sifting through pages of results to find content with the most Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. This model helps provide people with honest and relevant content from reputable sources, and it pays off — Google was found to be the most trusted tech giant by SEOClarity, while TikTok was at the bottom of the list.
Ultimately, the difference between the platforms’ content comes down to its origin. A vast majority of TikTok videos are user-generated content (UGC), which means they are organically created by users of the platform. UGC can be highly influential and meaningful, but to an extent. UGC does not have the authority and reliability that a reputable organization has, and Google has the ability to bring that content to the forefront when TikTok can’t.
Implications for Search Marketers
While TikTok may not be able to replace Google as a search engine, search marketers shouldn’t ignore the impact that the platform has had, and will continue to have, on search. TikTok’s entry into search is evidence that users’ needs are changing. People are placing more value on authentic visuals, so marketers should be adjusting their content strategies to consider what today’s users are looking for online. By producing content that gives users what they want, people are less likely to turn away from Google and look to TikTok for answers instead.
It’s true, searching on TikTok can have its benefits. If you’re looking for an honest product review, TikTok likely has a valuable, visual answer. However, Google is more than a search engine — it’s an answer engine, the place you turn to solve your problems. If you’re wondering how to switch doctors or find a car repair shop near you, Google has the answer. And that’s why, while the two platforms can co-exist — and battle for the title of number one web domain in the process, TikTok will never be able to replace Google.
For further commentary on this topic, check out our recent podcast episode of BTW with BlackTruck: Will TikTok Dominate Google as a Search Engine? And if you’re looking to create searchable content that can compete with TikTok, get in touch — we can help.