TikTok as a Search Engine: How to Use It to Your Advantage
- Why TikTok Is Important
- What Makes TikTok Appeal to Its Users
- How Gen Zs Use TikTok as a Search Engine
- Why Are Gen Zs Turning to TikTok as a Search Engine?
- How to Use Search on TikTok to Your Advantage
If you only optimize content for search engines like Google, you risk missing a whole generation of social media users. Younger people, especially Gen Zs, increasingly use TikTok to discover content. (That's right—they’re using TikTok as a search engine!)
Just as TikTok—famed for creating memes and entertaining content—has revolutionized how users consume videos, the short-form video-sharing app is now posing a threat to Google and other search engines.
According to Google's own research, nearly 40% of users aged 18 to 24 prefer to search on TikTok and Instagram over Google Maps and Search.
Each generation seems to have a favorite social media platform, whether it's Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok. But now, the search engine market is splintering too.
And because TikTok's user base is continuing to grow faster than any other platform, and people are using the app as their go-to search engine more and more, marketers have to rethink their approach.
This means if you have only focused on SEO for browser-based searches, now is the time to understand how TikTok is being used for search. If you don't, you'll risk missing out on the benefits of reaching the next generation of consumers.
But don't worry—it's not too late to adapt to the new reality. Once you understand why TikTok users love the platform and how they use it to find content, you can benefit from their engagement too.
Why TikTok Is Important
With 1 billion users worldwide, TikTok has an enormous reach and is still growing. According to Statistica, it was the most downloaded mobile app worldwide in 2021, with 656 million downloads.
TikTok has become the second-most-used app among younger users, with 80% aged 16-34. According to a 2022 Pew Research survey, 67% of teenagers between 13 and 17 use TikTok. Only YouTube has a higher percentage of users among that age group, at 95%.
At the same time, while Facebook is still the largest social media platform across every age, the usage among that age group has plummeted from 71% to 32% since 2015. (This is a big part of why we recommend using several social media platforms instead of relying on just one.)
What Makes TikTok Appeal to Its Users
TikTok has captured the imaginations of young social media users, especially teenagers, who are at an age when they are questioning the boundaries put on them by parents and older generations. As they look for independence, they can find exciting content they can relate to, created by their peers, while choosing role models to follow.
Not only that, but TikTok makes it easy to find entertaining and funny content with simple features like inbox, home, feed, and search. Users can get relevant search results quickly and swipe through them with ease.
On the flip side, as a video-sharing platform with a huge potential audience, aspiring content creators with little or no following can become celebrities. All they need is a phone and some talent, personality, great ideas, and the ability to create an entertaining video.
How Gen Zs Use TikTok as a Search Engine
Users search on TikTok to find quick answers to things that are relevant to their interests. The TikTok algorithm uses machine learning to provide results that aren't just relevant to the search but also hit on users' interests based on their browsing habits.
Users can find recommended posts to browse on the Discover Page at the bottom of their home screen. But they can also use the search bar at the top of the Discover Page to find specific content. For related content, fans of the platform can also explore content using search tabs—Users, Videos, Sounds, LIVE, and Hashtags—at the top of the page. The most relevant results appear first.
What searches do TikTok users tend to use?
TikTok is making their content searchable, and you can search directly on TikTok or search on Google and have TikTok videos appear in the SERPs.
Many are using TikTok as a search engine just as they would Google, but the most popular categories tend to be relevant to their interests and daily lives. For example…
- Places to eat
- Health and fitness
- Beauty and skin care
- Life hacks and advice
Younger users haven't completely abandoned Google, though. Research shows that they will search Google or YouTube for more heavy-weight answers.
Why Are Gen Zs Turning to TikTok as a Search Engine?
The simple answer is that it provides quick, easy-to-digest results relevant to their interests.
Gen Zs are using TikTok to search because they’re on the app constantly and they learn new skills and information from TikTok videos. It’s the app that is giving them answers, so it’s only natural that they seek out answers from it as well.
Google and other major search engines often require more work to find relevant and authentic answers to queries. Users often have to sift through several ads and other sponsored content to uncover results they feel are trustworthy and unbiased.
Not only that, but specific questions often pull up disappointing results. Search engines use keywords that others have used to generate search results. That means they sometimes come up with overly generic suggestions. Unfortunately, they aren't always great at picking up the one or two keywords in a search most crucial to a particular question.
There is also a cultural difference between the results you can expect from the major browser-based search engines and apps like TikTok or Instagram. For example, teenagers might adopt a word, giving it a meaning that isn't shared by society as a whole.
TikTok's algorithm is much more tuned into its users. The platform collects data that allows it to analyze the content its subscribers engage with most to build an accurate picture of their preferences. Engagement may be measured through browsing habits, likes, shares, comments, keystrokes, and so forth. This enables them to match search terms with intent more accurately.
TikTok also allows users to control the intent of the search results better by using hashtags. These enable users to narrow search results to specific categories, trends, or the particular creator or brand they are most interested in.
Another reason search engines may be losing traction with younger users is that they aren't friendly to content produced by relatable, everyday people. Google, for example, has designed its algorithms to rank web pages from authoritative sources higher.
Search results also favor pages deemed original, informative, and accurate. These strict parameters happen to favor SEO-savvy content producers, celebrities, and paid advertisers who understand how to get their stuff to rank higher.
This, of course, tends to exclude the creative, spontaneous, and often goofy videos made by ordinary people that fans love so much on TikTok.
It's only natural for users to search on TikTok if it gives them results that interest them.
How to Use Search on TikTok to Your Advantage
To make the most of TikTok as a search engine, you need to understand that its algorithms are very effective at helping users find the trending content, brands, and communities that interest them most.
If you're interested in marketing on TikTok and want to optimize your content, the starting point is to create engaging content for your niche audience and follow these pointers…
1. Find Trends That Inspire Your Target Audience
Since TikTok is a trend-oriented platform, you can make your content rank high in your target audience's feeds by producing fun and entertaining videos that play off current trends and popular memes.
TikTok influencers and creators can set and reinforce worldwide trends in fashion, music, dance, brands, behaviors, memes, and other concepts that inspire imitation. They may do this in several ways:
- Creating challenges
- Wearing stylish clothing
- Using catchphrases
- Featuring products
- Doing original dances
- Making people laugh
- Building communities
- And much more…
Doing Your Research
Once you know what performs well on TikTok, you will get insights into how to engage your audience. If you're not an avid TikTok user, you will need to create an account and research what's popular. You can do this by visiting…
- Your Discover Page to browse and search what popular content, hashtags, songs, dance moves, phrases, and so forth get the most views, comments, and shares
- TikTok's Creative Center to find the most trending industry hashtags, popular songs, top creators, and most watched videos
While some trends have more staying power, most come and go quickly. To stay current, you need to keep on top of what's new and what's out.
Using Trending Content
Unlike other platforms, originality isn't so crucial on TikTok. In fact, mimicking successful content often compliments the person who started the trend, provided you put your own twist on it.
That means you could try using existing videos to incorporate trending elements, whether a song, dance move, gestures, etc. There's no penalty for failure, so get experimental with your content.
Make sure to stay clear of violating copyright laws, though. They still apply on TikTok, and plagiarism can land you in hot water. Brands are almost always trademarked, so be cautious about how you use them.
2. Make the Most of Hashtags
One of the benefits of TikTok is that, unlike other social media platforms, there's no set restriction on how many clickable hashtags you use. In fact, you are pretty much free to fill your description box with hashtags.
Hashtags, using the # symbol plus a keyword(s), are used to categorize videos and make it easier to find similar content. They help TikTok's algorithm match the most relevant content to show on the user's For You Page (FYP).
Creators use hashtags to let the algorithm know what their content is about. But more than that, they use them to help users find their content, follow their accounts, and build a community around similar interests. So, your content may come up on TikTok users' hashtag feeds even when they don't subscribe to your account.
To find hashtags that are in your niche, you can check the TikTok Discover Page. It's easy to find out who started a particular hashtag trend because their video will appear at the top of your search results. Clicking on the hashtag tab will reveal related hashtags and show how many people use them. You can discover even more by visiting TikTok's Creative Center.
Here are some great tips from HootSuite on how to use hashtags effectively…
- Avoid using hashtags that are completely obscure or used so widely to become meaningless.
- Look at the competition's hashtags to find out what is already working.
- Check what hashtags your followers use.
- Use meaningful, accurate, and specific hashtags.
- Mix common hashtags with niche ones to target your niche followers and broaden your reach.
- Review your analytics to see which hashtags are working.
- Create a unique branded hashtag to promote your product or brand.
It’s important to optimize any and all TikTok content because all of the social media platforms are making their content searchable via captions, added text, hashtags, etc.
3. Keep to the Content Guidelines
Keep your videos within the guidelines that TikTok recommends. They are there for a reason!
Check out the Creative Solutions: The Ultimate How-to Guide to find out how to improve your chances of making successful videos. This great resource also provides links to key TikTok tools to make creating content easy and effective without a big production budget, including the TikTok Video Editor, Smart Video Soundtrack, and Video Template.
Here are some key TikTok recommendations:
- Make your videos authentic.
- Get to know your audience.
- Always use sound, even with subtitles.
- Make your messaging resonate with your audience.
- Ensure that added information doesn't conflict with function buttons or captions.
- Use engaging captions and include hashtags.
By following these guidelines, you are much more likely to have your content appear to those who use TikTok as a search engine.
4. Advertise on TikTok
Although you should create organic content for the platform, you may also want to consider advertising on TikTok. There isn't a clear consensus on how much it costs in terms of CPC and CPM, but you can set a budget to control the cost for ad groups and campaigns.
Placing TikTok ads relevant to existing organic content means in-feed ads can piggyback on searches of similar content. Also, making them look and feel like organic videos can make them appear more authentic. That way, in-feed ads will seamlessly replace the existing content before the user scrolls to the following video.
5. Form Influencer Partnerships
Although content by new creators can rank high on TikTok's search engine, that doesn't mean collaborating with content creators who already have built an audience won't help your reach and engagement.
When you work with creators, you won't only benefit from their existing audience. They will also know how to put a video together featuring your brand that speaks to their followers.
Search your feed to find influencers who produce videos that are relevant to your brand or message. You can also check out the Creators Marketplace to find established influencers in your niche to create partnerships with.
You may not immediately think of TikTok as a search engine, but it's now an alternative way for users to find entertaining, informative content. That means you have to think about optimizing your content for the TikTok search engine if you want to reach the latest generation of social media consumers.
That may not be a bad thing. TikTok is still new enough to make it easier to reach your audience. And even with excellent SEO, it's a struggle to rank near the top of traditional browser-based search engine results without paying a premium for advertising.
So, if you aren't ranking high on SERPs or reaching your younger audience, it may be time to use TikTok search to your advantage. Do you have the basics covered when it comes to TikTok and other platforms? Download The All-in-One Social Media Tool Kit to make the most of your social media presence!