Search engine

Gen Z is bypassing Google for TikTok as a search engine

NEW YORK — The term “Googler” may be synonymous with “searching” for things online, but for the group known as Gen Z, that could change.

Nearly 40% of Gen Zers (born between 1997 and 2012, according to the Pew Research Center) prefer TikTok for online searches, according to Google internal data, which was first reported by TechCrunch.

“They don’t have long attention spans; they’ve said that many times,” said social media consultant Adrienne Sheares, who formed a Gen Z focus group to discuss their search habits. “They want to get the information very quickly, get to the essentials very quickly and not have to sort through.”

In this June 16, 2022, file photo, signage is displayed outside Google’s new Bay View campus in Mountain View, California.

VCG via Getty Images, FILE

Sheares said Gen Z was unhappy with the quality of Google’s searches. This is largely because the search engine has forced them to sift through advertisements, which often include the top results of common searches. Sheares said TikTok, on the other hand, offers several ways to quickly discover content.

“They use it in different ways,” Sheares said. “So they could either search for it and search similar to how you and I would search. But they also love the ‘For You’ page which brings them the results before they even search.”

TikTok’s “For You” page consists of a scrolling stream of videos that the app’s algorithm thinks the user might be interested in. As such, searching through the For You page is more about discovering content than searching for something specific. TikTok presents content based on a variety of factors, including how long a user dwells on a certain type of video, or whether they like or comment on it. Sheares said the algorithm is a big part of why younger users seem to enjoy searching for content on TikTok.

“The odds of [their results] being relevant is extremely high, so they can find information very quickly,” she said. “Because if you’re an avid TikTok user, he already knows quite a bit of information about you.”

Sheares also said TikTok’s use of video is particularly appealing to Gen Z users, who feel the format gives them a more comprehensive search result.

“You see a 360° view of a destination, experience, or product,” Sheares says. “They wanted to see the makeup samples; for the bars, what they were always talking about was the aesthetics, the vibe.”

Sheares also said Gen Z tends to search for lighter topics on TikTok — things like recipes, fashion tips and bar recommendations. Meanwhile, they leave heavier topics — like those related to COVID or election information — to Google.

“For more serious information, they like Google,” Sheares said. “If they see something on TikTok, they’ll use other methods to verify, which usually looks like going to Google or a news source to back it up.”

The trend of using images and videos in online searches might be here to stay. Earlier this year, Google introduced a new feature called “Multisearch”, which allows users to search with a combination of text and photos.

“Even if people aren’t interested in, say, TikTok, I think what we’re going to start seeing is more visual in search,” Sheares said.