TikTok as a Search Engine: Is Social the Future of Search?



Jul 09, 2024

Read Time

min read




Jul 09, 2024

Read Time

min read



Jump to:

Why does it matter? Why are Gen Zs searching on TikTok? What does 'social search' mean for search engines? What does it mean for the future of SEO? How should brands be adapting to this new social search landscape?

TikTok is increasingly being used as a search engine. In fact, the ‘social’ platform surpassed Google as the world’s most visited domain in the world several years ago and is now used as the search engine of choice by more than half of Gen Zs.

At Energy PR, this is a trend we’re seeing across our clients’ audiences – particularly those who are aiming to engage with younger consumers.

Why does it matter?

TikTok’s rise in search has wider consequences for SEO. It tells us what people want from search has dramatically changed. This means your content might also need to change if it’s not meeting this demand.

Why are Gen Zs searching on TikTok?

Research suggests there are three key reasons why they’re choosing TikTok over Google.

  1. They prefer the video format of the results

TikTok claims that shorter videos have more success on the app than longer videos, meaning that search results are often short-form videos. This makes news and complex topics more digestible for the person searching. It also plays into our increasingly short attention spans. In fact, research suggests Gen Zs have attention spans of just 2.7 minutes. So, it’s logical that TikTok’s search results are more engaging to this audience than Google’s ‘wall of text’.

  1. The answers are more relatable

TikTok’s algorithm means users often receive search results from accounts they already follow or are connected to in some way. This means trust has already been built in the source. Users are also able to connect to personal stories or recommendations knowing that they are authentic.

  1. The results offer personalised answers and stories

The algorithm also recommends and personalises news based on users’ interactions on the app. For example, if you interact with a lot of London-based food videos on TikTok, the app will suggest news relating to new local restaurant openings.

Accessibility and convenience are also two big factors driving TikTok’s search popularity. Acknowledging its increasing use as a search tool, TikTok added the option for iPhone users to add search widgets to their home screen. Just like in-app content, the suggestions are completely personalised based on your previous activity.

Plus, TikTok now pulls in Wikipedia snippets and has partnered with them to improve the search experience on the app.

What does 'social search' mean for search engines?

Google is understandably nervous and has acknowledged the social app as a growing threat. But the rise of TikTok as a search engine has also acted as a valuable learning for Google and other legacy search engines. It’s demonstrated what people – particularly young users – actually want from search.

As a result, we’ve seen significant changes in the results Google is serving over the last six months. There is a heavier focus on “user-generated” content, including results from forums, influencers, and social media platforms, all designed to offer searchers more authentic, relatable answers to their queries.

What does it mean for the future of SEO?

Fundamentally, the reason why TikTok is so popular for search is because the hyper-personalised and relatable results it produces resonate strongly with its users.

More than ever, audiences are craving human contact in a media landscape clouded with AI and paid-for opportunities. They want connection, storytelling, and authenticity.

How should brands be adapting to this new social search landscape?

The shift means it’s more important than ever that brands keep people at the heart of their SEO strategy with an audience-first approach – something that we’ve been preaching for 30 years. Marketers need to be writing and creating for humans – not algorithms.

The power of recommendations should also form part your distribution strategy. How can you authentically earn (or pay) your way into conversations? People-centric content is getting served more in both TikTok and Google search results. So, the more people are talking about you, the more likely you are to be found, whether it’s through your own content or someone else’s: an influencer’s, a customer’s, or even an employee’s. For us, this means creating multi-channel strategies for our clients to ensure they’re showing up in the places their audiences are searching – no matter what format the results are served in.

The best place to start is with comprehensive audience insights. Once you understand where your audience is searching and being influenced, you’ll be able to devise a strategy that reaches and engages them wherever they’re spending their time online.

Want to find out more about Energy PR’s audience-first approach? Get in touch with us today.

We're always interested in a new PR challenge

People dancing
white house with swimming pool and palm trees
colourful painting