Google’s Unlikely Competition: TikTok

You are currently viewing Google’s Unlikely Competition: TikTok

Earlier this year, we wrote about how TikTok is coming for Spotify’s crown. Now, we bring you the latest competitor to enter the chat: Google. 

40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place to eat, prefer TikTok (or Instagram) over Google Search, according to Prabhakar Raghava, a Senior Vice President at Google.

He adds that the OG search engine is planning to enhance Search to meet younger generations’ demand for visual content, demonstrating that the tech company has been forced to revisit its strategy to remain a viable competitor to the video social networking platform.

So as Gen Zers turn to TikTok for their answers, what could this mean for Google’s core product and how should businesses prepare for this change in consumer behavior? Read on to find out how search engine behavior is changing as people turn to social media platforms as search engines.

It’s lights out and away we go!

In pole position is Google, currently holding 91.38% of the global market share for searches. But if social media has begun eating into this portion, it’s clear that video content is queen – even in search engines.

So who exactly are TikTok users? Well, the vast majority (32.5%) are aged between 10 – 19 years old, also known as Gen Z. Globally, this generation accounts for 32% of the world population making them the largest living generation of all

They look for “visually rich forms” of search and discovery – something that’s currently limited on Google Search. A Berkeley student echoed this sentiment for video content by saying that:

We’re just like kids who don’t like to read books. You give them a picture book and suddenly they start seeing the vision.

As Gen Zers start to form their shopping habits, they are a key target for businesses that want to attract them early. So whether it’s because the visuals are more suited to their learning style or because it’s their favorite way of consuming content, it’s more important now than ever for brands to create content for this crucial, video-loving demographic.

A woman holding a phone and taking a selfie.

Catch me if you can

So, how does TikTok as a search engine work? Just like Google, you type what you’re looking for in the search bar, but there are key differences between the two.

TikTok for search

Let’s take recipes as an example. Finding one on Google has become a chore as users are often subjected to a whole novel of text that has been optimized only for the search engine, before getting to the ingredients list and cooking instructions – a practice that has reportedly been enough to deter young people from using the search engine to look for recipes.

TikTok avoids all of that noise and gets straight to the point. And what’s even better is that the videos are often accompanied by popular songs and audio, meaning that the content meets their needs while remaining fun and culturally relevant.

@notorious_foodie PastaTok Part 4: Carbonara 😮‍💨 #carbonara #pasta #pastatiktok #easyrecipe #easyrecipes #italian #italianfood #asmrfood #tiktokkitchen #tiktokchef #dinnerwithme #cooktok #foodtok #dinnerideas ♬ Still Life – Adrian Berenguer

TikTok for discovery

Now let’s look at restaurant recommendations. When finding a spot to eat, we want to know three things: the menu, ambiance and address. On Google, you may have to go to several websites and read different reviews to find these answers. By contrast, a single TikTok can answer these questions and offer a more immersive experience that allows for “maximum vibe reconnaissance”. This means that users can really get a feel of the restaurant and truly experience what it’s like.

@alisia.stuart1107 Paris🤍 #paris #italianfood #restaurant #parisianlife #nicespot #fyp #foryou ♬ rumour has it x maneater – allie bennett

Based on what they had enjoyed previously, the TikTok algorithm further extends the user’s search by recommending similar videos on someone’s For You Page (FYP). This step not only broadens the user’s original search but also allows for a more personalized experience than that provided by Google.

We’ve got work to do

Industry-wide, other tech companies are looking to compete with TikTok by using their own short-form video format. Meta, for example, is prioritizing Reels on Facebook and Instagram. But even Google’s answer to the competition, YouTube Shorts (reported to boast 1.5 billion monthly viewers) is not enough – support for the actual TikTok format from Google and other tech giants is at an all-time high.

And if you can’t beat them, join them! In a move that may have been interpreted as cannibalization in the past, reports have surfaced that Google has begun talks with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to get the data it needs to index and rank videos so they can appear on Search. As consumer behavior shifts to video content, we may see certain aspects of Google Search looking more like a TikTok feed in the future.

But both Google and TikTok face the same challenges: showing quality content and limiting the spread of misinformation. 

Google recently announced their helpful content update which helps users see more original and informative content, written by the people, for the people. In the past, people could show up on the first page of SERPs simply because their content had been optimized for search engines (ahem, see recipes). TikTok creators may do the same by throwing in a few popular search terms on their videos to rank higher and get more views.

Secondly, in the age of fake news, both search engines would need to ensure that more stringent protocol is in place to avoid misinformation. A key difference is that Google categorizes the web and sends users to other websites – which are not under their control. TikTok, on the other hand, is an internal search engine – meaning that users have their search needs met in one place. As the video networking site is the fastest growing source of news among young adults (16 – 24), top results would need to be as accurate as possible, and not gain podium position simply because of their virality.

A man dancing in front of a phone, quintessential for content on TikTok.

Go the distance

With all of this in mind, what could TikTok look like in the future? For this answer, we only need to turn to its Chinese counterpart, Douyin

Keep it local

TikTok is testing a local feed which means that posts (in a separate feed) would be dependent on the user’s location, but a similar feature is already available in China where the videos are geo-tagged.

Keep it in-app

TikTok is also experimenting with keywords such as product names found in comments and video descriptions. Certain words now auto-link through to search results for that term, further guiding product discovery and connecting users to broader trends.

TikTok is testing a new feature identifying key words in comments and linking to search results for them

— Olivia Deng 🍌🧢 (@olivia_deng_) August 5, 2022

In Douyin, a similar feature exists as posts are automatically categorized. There are a plethora of groups in place, including restaurants, tourist attractions and exercise, ensuring that users can find exactly what they are looking for and have their opportunities for search and discovery amplified – all the while, maintaining a highly personalized experience. By providing the app with basic information and coupons, businesses can tap into this feature and attract new customers.

Duoyin also recently developed another feature that allowed users to book hotel stays within the app, generating 150 million video views and around $150,000 in bookings in the first three days. For now, only select hotels can still be booked in-app, but it’s very likely that we’ll see more of this in the future.

Pedal to the metal

What does all this mean for brands? Demand for video content will only continue to rise – and your digital storefront (website) and social media must already incorporate it in the strategy. 

Here’s a check-list to maximize your search results and discovery:

  • Tap into existing online communities to get your brand out there
  • Make sure people can find you online (via your website and social media)
  • Repurpose existing content into short-form videos
  • Use TikTok (experiment with music, trends and filters)
  • Connect with young customers

As search and discovery on TikTok become the norm and more streamlined for users, brands should take note: establish a presence on the app now before a barrage of brands start optimizing for TikTok Search. 

If you want help with your digital strategy, book a call with us today!