TikTok has been spotted testing a new search feature, raising questions about its viability as a search engine.
Interestingly, a lot of people are already using it as such.
According to a screenshot shared on Twitter, TikTok starts showing suggested search terms when viewing the comments section of a video.
—Jonas Manzano (@jonah_manzano) June 1, 2022
To learn more about this feature, I explored Twitter to see if anyone else was talking about it.
Ultimately, I wanted to answer the question: ‘What if people started using TikTok as a search engine?‘
Instead, I discovered a whole segment of people treating TikTok like a search engine, with some even preferring it to Google.
The question quickly went from ‘what if” at ‘and now?‘
We’re past the point of wondering if TikTok has potential as a search platform. Users decide and increasingly turn to TikTok for their information needs.
But what are the implications for digital marketers?
“TikTok turns out to be a better search engine than Google”
The headline above is a quote from a viral tweet from last month.
I’m not even kidding but TikTok turns out to be a better search engine than Google these days
— KA (@ikeko__) May 30, 2022
It’s unclear whether the tweet received more than 110,000 likes and 14,000 retweets because of the bold comparison between TikTok and Google, or because people agree with the statement.
Replies and quoting tweets suggest it’s a combination of the two. Here’s a look at what people are saying.
Why do people use TikTok as a search engine?
The growing use of TikTok as a search engine stems from several factors:
- Short attention spans
- Unsatisfactory Google results
- Visual Learning Styles
‘We have become lazy. We want visuals,‘ bed one of top answers – demonstrating how short attention spans contribute to TikTok search popularity.
Another reason people search for information in non-traditional search engines like TikTok is that they are not satisfied with Google results.
A top response to the viral tweet suggests the quality of Google results is not what it used to be:
“Omg Google used to be so powerful, but it’s so useless now. Helpful results are buried in deep pages. 95% of the answers they put in drop-down menus at the top of search results are downright wrong, often even unrelated with the question asked.
It also amounts to learning stylesbecause some people retain information better when presented in a visual format.
And while users can get visual and text information on Google, as a Twitter user pointed outyou have to look at multiple pieces of content to get what you need.
“They give a video explanation and proof all in one, he explains and breaks it down. Google wants me to click too many links.
As I descended the rabbit hole of tweet replies, I discovered another piece of evidence that search preferences were changing.
Paul Allen, CEO of Soar.com and founder of Ancestry.com, led a LinkedIn survey a few months ago, asking his network if they “know any young people who use TikTok or Instagram Reels as their primary search engine.”
A quarter of respondents said yes.
Arguments against TikTok as a search engine
You’ll get a different perspective if you check the quote tweets for the viral tweet that started this whole discussion, where it appears that people against the idea of TikTok as a search engine outnumber those who support it.
Due to the colorful language used, I cannot share many negative opinions here. Still, it’s safe to assume that the naysayers are passionate in their belief that TikTok search isn’t suited for keeping up with news and events.
This is because they don’t trust TikTok as a source, alleging that the app spreads misinformation. This is a sentiment shared by the majority of US users.
Studies show that Americans trust Google much more than TikTok, which has proven to be the most mistrustful tech giant.
The consensus seems to be that TikTok search is more suitable for finding tips, trends, recipes, hobbies, and information on less serious topics.
What does TikTok mean as a search engine for digital marketers?
A shift to TikTok as a search engine is worth considering if you work with social media.
TikTok is quickly becoming a threat to other social media sites, and even Google.
At the end of 2021, TikTok overtook Google as the most popular domain. In the first quarter of 2022, TikTok was the world’s most downloaded app across all categories.
The tech giants are aware of the threat posed by TikTok and are responding by dubbing the short video.
Google has pushed Web Stories and YouTube Shorts, while Meta is making Reels an integral part of Facebook and Instagram.
Short-form video is enjoying a renaissance on the web, and it’s not just TikTok where people are looking for it. On YouTube, which is also often used as a search engine, short videos now generate 30 billion views per day.
For marketers, it’s time to consider meeting the demand for short videos by adding them to your content strategy.
Demand for TikTok-like content isn’t about to slow down anytime soon, and support for the format from Google and other tech giants is at an all-time high.
Now is the time to diversify and connect with new customers by diversifying your content production.
Views from YES experts
I reached out to industry veterans from the Search Engine Journal team for their thoughts on TikTok as a search engine, as this isn’t the first time this has happened to a social media site.
I asked Brent Csutoras, a managing partner: what should be done in response to this paradigm shift, if at all?
“As a marketer, part of your job is to find where people are telling stories that influence your target audience,” he explained. “Experience the power of storytelling on this platform, then participate in your own stories in a way your new audience will respect and ultimately accept and engage.”
Csutoras continued, “We’ve seen social aggregate sites become search engines over the years, from the days of Delicious, over the years with Reddit and YouTube, and now with TikTok. Any place where users start to regularly search for content via search is a place marketers should pay attention to and participate in, as long as they have a meaningful story to tell that audience.
No matter what you think people search on TikTok, they do, and some even use it instead of Google.
So if that’s where your audience is going, that’s where you need to be.
That doesn’t mean you have to give up on the content you’re currently creating. Instead, think about how you can make this content discoverable on TikTok.
One path taken by many publishers is to repurpose traditional content; for example, adapting web articles for short videos.
People searching for this topic on TikTok will find the video, and if they want to know more than can be conveyed in a short clip, they’ll visit the publisher’s website.
As Csutoras said: It’s not unlike the evolution of social networks in the past. It’s just a different medium.
Feature image: Diego Thomazini/Shutterstock