Make Room, YouTube; TikTok Is the New Social Search Engine
TikTok is the place to learn the latest dance craze, to discover the cutest cat videos or to be influenced into trying a new beauty brand. (Guilty!) Recently, it’s also become many people’s go-to search engine. For years, YouTube has been the world’s second largest search engine, but TikTok, the current reigning social media giant, is coming for her spot. What’s up with that? Well, it turns out that TikTok has all the makings of a great search platform (and is getting even better by the day).
What makes TikTok a great search engine?
TikTok has changed the way people, especially Gen Z, discover information online. While there are myriad reasons for this trend, there are seven reasons that are hard to ignore.
1. Our attention spans are short.
One of TikTok's standout features is its bite-sized content. TikTok currently allows videos between 0:15 and 3:00, but most content averages less than 0:42. This means users can access and digest information fast without needing to sift through lengthy articles or videos. We all know the pain of clicking on a YouTube video and seeing that it’s 15:00 without chapters. While YouTube has deployed updates in recent years to become a short-form video competitor, TikTok’s brevity has been baked into its structure since it was born.
2. Visual learners thrive on TikTok.
TikTok's emphasis on visual content makes it a powerful platform for visual learners. Whether you're trying to learn a new recipe, understand a complex chemistry concept or pick up a new sport, TikTok's video format simplifies the learning process. Users can follow along with step-by-step tutorials or watch demonstrations, making it easier to grasp and retain information compared to traditional text-based search results. Its other features, such as the ability to speed the video up by 2x, also make it easier to access the right part of the video.
3. TikTok hosts diverse content creators.
TikTok is home to a diverse community of content creators who share their expertise on a wide range of topics. From DIY enthusiasts to science educators, there's a TikTok creator for almost every subject. This diversity ensures that users can discover valuable expertise and perspectives that they might not encounter through traditional search processes. How is TikTok different from YouTube in this respect? For one, it makes it simpler for content creators to earn money—even easier than YouTube. Also, the TikTok algorithm favors niche creators more than its competitors, making it easier for any video to go viral. Plus, in my opinion, TikTok is the undisputed champ at allowing you to curate your feed based on your own diversity preferences, meaning users are more likely to see themselves represented in their search results.
4. TikTok has a magic algorithm.
TikTok's algorithm is a key factor in its rise as a search engine. The platform leverages machine learning to personalize content based on users' preferences and behavior. As you engage with content on TikTok, the algorithm learns your interests and serves you more relevant videos over time. This personalized approach to information discovery sets TikTok apart from traditional search engines, which often rely on keywords and user-generated content. Whereas YouTube may show you the most popular results for “how to change a tire,” TikTok is more likely to show you how to change a tire in ways that are more relevant to your interests or needs.
Whereas YouTube may show you the most popular results for “how to change a tire,” TikTok is more likely to show you how to change a tire in ways that are more relevant to your interests or needs.
5. Trending hashtags are powerful.
Not since X (formerly Twitter) has there been a social platform to leverage hashtags as well as TikTok. Its use of hashtags has turned the platform into a powerful tool for information discovery. Users can search for specific hashtags and explore trending topics to discover new content creators within their niche. TikTok also isn’t afraid to develop new and engaging search abilities. In late 2022, it released a feature where the platform uses context clues from all comments on a video to show the most relevant search related to the video’s content at the top of the comments. It’s clear that TikTok is invested in making its app as searchable as possible.
6. TikTok combines entertainment and education.
“Educational television” may sound like the worst time imaginable, but TikTok does it well thanks to its culture of blending entertainment and education. Many accounts on TikTok present facts and knowledge in a fun and engaging (and, dare I say, addictive) manner. Think Under the Desk News or The Pocket Report. The ability to be a news- or education-focused content creator while still leveraging trending filters, sounds and more makes for a compelling combination that keeps users coming back for more.
7. People want instant gratification.
In today's fast-paced world, people crave instant gratification. When you consider that TikTok tailors its content to what its users want and delivers info in bite-size pieces, it’s no wonder that people are drawn to TikTok as a search engine. Users no longer have to scroll through lengthy blog posts or watch 10-minute-long YouTube videos to find what they're looking for. TikTok offers custom-fit info within seconds, making it a great search engine for the modern world.
While TikTok owner ByteDance may not have originally intended the app to be a search engine, it’s clearly become a search behemoth nonetheless. Even though I am a Millennial who’s very much placed out of the Gen Z age bracket, I’ve found myself recently using TikTok to research local restaurants and entertainment reviews. And if I—a relentlessly untrendy routine lover—am hopping on a new trend, then it’s time for brands to take notice.
How can I leverage TikTok for search?
Clearly, TikTok is a popular social media platform with incredible potential as a search engine. According to Search Engine Land research, three-fourths of Gen Z use TikTok for search, and over half of them prefer TikTok over Google. (Yes, over Google!) So, how can your brand use TikTok to connect with users who want fast info?
- Run search ads. In August 2023, Tiktok released a Search Ads Toggle so that brands can insert their products and services directly into organic search results pages. This is a great way to get started and train the algorithm to your advantage.
- Create edutainment content. Use the filters, trends and sounds at your disposal to make content that’s relevant, niche and authentic to your brand. The best strategy is to generate long-tail keyword-driven videos that are useful to your audience.
- Engage influencers. Partner with thought leaders and influencers that your audience already knows, likes and trusts. If users don’t find answers directly from your page, they may find answers you’ve provided on other trusted accounts instead.
- Hire a marketing agency. TikTok is like all other social media platforms and search engines in that it’s always changing. Having experts with their fingers on TikTok’s pulse frees you up to focus on other mission-critical tasks.
If you’re ready to work with an agency, or you simply need some guidance on how to make TikTok work for you, then let’s schmooze!
Written in collaboration with ChatGPT
Cody H. Owens,