TikTok as a Search Engine: The Rise of Authentic Content

As a cusp, 24-year-old barely millennial, barely Gen Z (alternatively, a Zillennial), TikTok has been my guilty pleasure ever since the 2020 shutdown. Amidst all the banana bread, whipped coffee recipes and easy-bake, train wreck of pasta recipes (Can you guess what my algorithm pushes?), TikTok has easily shoved aside Google as the go-to search engine for younger audiences. 

When it comes to my own behavior, TikTok is my go-to engine when searching for anything, whether it’s the latest skincare brand, recipes or fashion trends. Just last weekend when I vacationed in NYC, I found myself deep in the TikTok algorithm of the best soup dumplings in Chinatown. While at the airport, I scoured BookTok again for a good book to buy for my three-hour long flight. And it’s true across the board for younger audiences.  

So, what does this mean for your brand and how can you take advantage of this? 

Google’s Monopoly: Go To Jail 

At Rooted Web, we tell every single one of our clients to set up their Google My Business page with updated hours, a link to their website, accurate contact information and a clean, brief bio. If you have nothing else, at least have this. 

Now, your digital storefront isn’t just your Google My Business Page but also your social channels–and short-form video content reigns king.  

TikTok threatens Google’s (and YouTube’s) monopoly of the almighty search engine. In a recent study, researchers discovered that 40 percent of Gen Z prefer using TikTok and Instagram for search capabilities over Google, taking a big bite out of maps, search and ads.  

Pushing Authentic Content 

The appeal of using TikTok—and Instagram, too—is that there are no exact matches. Instead, TikTok offers the appeal of discovery. Put simply, younger audiences enjoy engaging with authentic content rather than reading it.  

Anyone who’s tried looking up a recipe on Google knows what I’m talking about. You type in “How to Make X Pasta” or “X Pasta Recipe” and you’re left skimming a 3,000-word essay about a mom’s trip to Southern Italy and their heirloom tomatoes when you just want to know the ingredients needed and the recipe itself. With TikTok, you turn a 10-minute mommy food blog into a minute-long video with everything you need without the lengthy, irrelevant read.  

baked feta pasta
Viral TikTok One-Pan Feta Pasta

But the most important aspect of the content is the ability to engage with the content rather than at the content. Users on TikTok not only click, like, share and comment but can also duet, a function where you can record side-by-side with the content as a form of commentary, which lends more to its authenticity. Food influencers might record a video where they easily create a meal, and then I might have the opportunity to watch someone just like me duet said video and absolutely botch banana bread, despite following the instructions to a T. After, I can reach out to an online community on what they did wrong (if you’re wondering, they didn’t use overripe bananas).  

TikTok as a Search Engine 

So, how are younger audiences (ages 18-24) using TikTok? Well, the multimedia marketing funnel and journey may not start with Google anymore. Google’s data shows that 55 percent of product searches now start with queries on Amazon. 

TikTok’s search engine function pushes culturally relevant content rather than exact matches, filtering content through views, likes and comments. What this does is create a different set of results that audiences not only like but relate to.  

What you should be doing 

Even if you’re not using TikTok as a social channel, there are plenty of tactics you can apply to your digital marketing strategy.  

Use visually-appealing content.  

Younger audiences want visually-rich content to consume. With mini-computers in our hands and cameras that can outclass compact cameras, Gen Z is no longer accepting of grainy, blurry videos with poor lighting.  

See through a consumer’s lens.  

Think less like a marketer and think more like a consumer. Consumers don’t exist on the channel to be impressions, views and conversions. TikTok’s unpredictable algorithm is what makes users trust it more, despite being more challenging for brands to capitalize on.  

Humanize your brand.  

TikTok is a creative space. It was made without the intention of being a space for brands but rather for consumers of media. That said, you should humanize your brand with the right voice for your business. Duolingo has its green owl mascot, Chipotle has its burritos, the corn kid has, well, his corn…  

Humanizing your brand, being authentic and relatable is what will make your brand stand out.  

You can call it confirmation bias if you want when I say Gen Z is using TikTok as a search engine, but if you want to stay ahead of the game and target a younger, digitally robust audience, it might be time to switch up your strategy. 

Natalia Navarro

Natalia Navarro is a digital content producer who uses her unique perspective to create innovative and custom written and visual content for our clients.

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