You may still be thinking of TikTok largely as a social media company, but there's a world in which the platform rivals Google as a go-to search engine. And that's exactly the type of world TikTok is leaning into.
If you're a TikTok user, you may have noticed quite a few changes to the app in the past year. The app has rolled out (and quietly retired) quite a few new features, many of which render the "For You" page a completely different experience than in the early days of 2018 and 2019.
And if you're not on TikTok but think you know what the app is about, let's just say this: any of your preconceived notions of tweens doing dance trends and lip synching to songs are wildly out of date. Now you're much more likely to see users advertising TikTok shop items, talking about geopolitical conflicts, deinfluencing travel recommendations, and even putting together 10-minute tutorials.
All of this points to TikTok looking to be much more than a social media platform.
TikTok's Rise In The Search Engine World
Let's not get it twisted. As of right now, Google is far and away the No. 1 search engine in the United States. The company owns a commanding 88 percent of search traffic, with next closest competitor, Microsoft Bing, coming in at under 7 percent.
But in the world of technology, where we are is never guaranteed to be where we'll be. Most of the Internet's search traffic is still coming from generations that grew up with Google, largely Gen X and Millennials, who also taught their parents to, you know, use Google. But new generations are growing up with more options, and now apps that are dominating eyeballs see an opportunity to keep users around longer.
A recent study from Her Campus Media, a Gen Z-focused research and marketing company, found that 51 percent of Gen Z females prefer to use TikTok as a search engine over Google. If that trend holds up, we could see a large shift in power dynamic.
TikTok's search functionality has grown rapidly. The original functions were similar to most social media apps. You seen hashtags used to categorize certain post types and the ability to search for users and potential keyword-based content. Eventually, TikTok started adding more and more components of a video into search functions, from the audio it used to any filters to potential search subjects right in descriptions and comments.
The app also started populating the search bar at the top of videos with the primary keywords that video may be classified under, further encouraging users to tap search and discovery more content directly from search (opposed to the typical endless scroll style of social media).
Most recently, TikTok even started introducing an option for search ads within the platform. This is — and has been — Google's domain for nearly two decades. The development underscores just how serious TikTok is about leaning in to its potential as a go-to app for more than just entertainment.
What TikTok's Search Engine Status Means For Content Creators
For anybody creating content on TikTok, it's more important than ever to make sure you're using proper descriptions and on-screen text when talking about your content. And, unlike the early days of the social media app when people would just spam popular hashtags or use trending sounds on mute, creators need to really make sure they're focused on correctly describing and defining the value their content is bringing.
That's because you'll likely start to see more of your videos interlaced with TikTok shop ads, search ads, and livestreams that should, in theory, be in line with your piece of content. That doesn't mean everything you make needs to be commerce-oriented. Continue to make wacky, off-the-wall skits or post tips on video editing. Just make sure you're properly identifying your content.
While some may find it troubling to think of TikTok having that powerful of a sway on a user's buying intentions, it's similar to how Google operates now. Every time you search for something on Google, you're likely to get several ads, products from Google's own team, and "summary" answers the search engine cherry picks before ever getting to your first organic search result. Most websites understand Google's power in the search engine space, so they do their best to "optimize" their website and content to make sure it ranks well within Google's hierarchy. It's really no different when it comes to TikTok.
So Are Google's Days As The Monopoly Of Search Limited?
Eh, probably not. But content creators and businesses alike need to recognize that future generations may not even necessarily be on platforms like Google if they don't have to.
In theory, this is exciting — the more competition in the space, the more opportunity for creators. But it also means you need to be aware of different apps and be present there. TikTok is still dominated by video, which means when people search, they'll still expect video results (similar to Google-owned YouTube) versus text articles or non-interactive stores. But TikTok continues to expand its ecosystem, so who knows how long it will be before the app starts including regular search results, too.
However, if you're still sleeping on TikTok, STOP IT. The app has outgrown anything we thought it might have been four years ago.