Last updated: TikTok search tops Google for Generation Z

TikTok search tops Google for Generation Z


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Google has achieved something few other brands have: their brand name has also become a verb. People “google” things every day. Folks direct people to “google” something if they aren’t sure of the answer.

This verb version of Google’s brand name has even found its way into the Oxford Dictionary: to type words into the search engine Google™ in order to find information about somebody/something.

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But for some search categories and even a specific up-and-coming generation, Google isn’t the know-it-all search engine it once was. TikTok search is quickly replacing it as the preferred search engine for Generation Z, especially when they’re looking for product recommendations and lifestyle content.

Google bows to TikTok search

Even Google recognizes this trend, acknowledging that both TikTok and Instagram are eating into their search engine monopoly – with 40% of Gen Z preferring those platforms over Google when searching for information.

“We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to,” Prabhakar Raghavan, senior VP of Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, told TechCrunch.

One example the Google exec gave is maps. Gen Z didn’t grow up with paper maps, and so the search experience on Google when looking for a place––which leads you to Google maps and map-like directions older generations, including millennials, are more accustomed to––aren’t matching the preferred “visually rich” expectations of younger generations.

That will take several algorithm updates and underlying technology updates on Google’s side to address, but in the meantime, with Gen Z flocking to TikTok – and more and more from other generations doing the same – search marketers’ interests are piqued.

According to a recent Jungle Scout study, 26% of consumers across multiple age groups used social media channels like TikTok and Instagram to start their product search.

Getting results outside of the Google monolith

This isn’t the first time another platform has taken a dig at Google’s search engine monopoly. About 55% of people, according to TechCrunch, go to Amazon first to search for products, bypassing Google entirely. In fact, Amazon has its own search engine algorithm – A9 – and SEO experts on that platform to help folks better rank.

It’s likely we’ll soon see the same happening over on TikTok, where TikTok consultants and experts are already selling services to marketing organizations looking to learn the platform, and grow an audience.

The organic play here is really important, because so far, brands are seeing a bigger lift from organic on TikTok than paid – though that might not last.

“I know creators with 500 followers who had a TikTok viewed 900,000 times,” Jason Wong, founder of Doe Lashes, told MarketerHire. “That doesn’t happen on YouTube. Right now, even if [TikTok] ads were free for us, our organic content would still perform better from a marketing standpoint.”

How exactly is Gen Z using this TikTok for search? Well, similar to Pinterest, Mashable explains.

“I’ll search ‘thrifting in Paris’ or ‘restaurants in Lisbon’ and save the things that look good to a little folder to refer back to. I also have a little recipe folder. [I am a] big fan of the folder feature,” Amanda Cash, a 22-year-old law school student, told Mashable.

Leaning into TikTok search: tips for brands

For brands looking to get in on this organic TikTok search action, it doesn’t have to cost you a lot. Brands are experimenting right now, but Wong says that what is working best for them are the following:

  1. Behind-the-scene videos of how a product is made
  2. Product reviews
  3. Product applications, including unconventional ones – even if they’re just funny.
  4. General hacks – like beauty hacks for brands in the beauty space.

The one potential downside to TikTok that has some brands unsure of how to invest, if at all? Foreign relations.

TikTok is a Chinese company, and under the Trump administration, there was talk of banning TikTok entirely in the U.S. In 2020, India followed through on such threats, banning both TikTok and Shein, a popular online shop also out of China.

So far, it doesn’t seem like the U.S. will be taking similar measures in the near future, but politicians are looking more and more at social media and digital media companies in general, including Meta, Google, Apple, and Twitter for how they regulate data privacy, use consumer data, and much more.

For now, TikTok is the new, beloved social media platform where organic search is growing, and incredibly effective for brands that can crack both the TikTok algorithm and the way to Gen Z’s wallet.

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