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The Diversification of Search - TikTok

First it was YouTube, now it’s Search. TikTok’s internet takeover shows no signs of stopping at video sharing - the platform is now operating as one of Gen Z’s go-to search engines and industry leaders are taking notice, including Google. Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at Google, recently acknowledged this growing trend, noting that “almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.” 

TikTok is rebranding itself accordingly, releasing a new campaign called “Search it with TikTok” in December.

The message is clear: TikTok is a discovery tool.

As younger audiences turn to TikTok to conduct online research, advertisers are eager to understand how they can leverage paid media to connect with these users at such a critical point in the purchase journey. 

What’s driving this trend?

  1. TikTok is a one-stop-shop. The average TikTok user spends around 95 minutes per day navigating through the platform and, unlike its competitors, TikTok limits opportunities for users to leave the app. External links can be found on sponsored content and in profile bios, but not on organic in-feed content. 

    The platform even rolled out a ‘recommended search query’ feature to deter users from leaving the app for secondary research and encourage them to explore further on TikTok. As an example, let’s say a user is served a post where the creator references a new band they have been listening to recently. At the top of the video’s comment section, TikTok will offer a recommended search query based on the searches other users completed after watching the same post. In this example, the search query would likely be the name of the band. When you click on this query, TikTok will bring you to a search results page filled with relevant content - concert footage from the band, fans ranking their favorite songs, and any content from the band itself posted on the platform. This feature allows TikTok to hand information directly to users rather than making them go through their own research process. 

  2. User generated content converts. Younger audiences are seeking advice and recommendations from real people, rather than web pages. When completing a search query, TikTok offers a tailored video feed of users offering authentic opinions and insights to help users navigate the research phase of buying any given product. 

    The comment section offers secondary opinions, overflowing with engaged and opinionated users offering their own insights into the given product or service. Gen Z is attracted to the authenticity that TikTok’s content offers and standard search results are struggling to compete. 

What can advertisers do to capitalize on this trend right now? 

TikTok is currently rolling out a beta for selected advertisers that allows ads to display on search results. This helps advertisers reach audiences who are actively searching for terms relevant to their product or business. As it stands, this capability is relatively limited, especially when compared to the intricacies of Google Search’s offerings. Targeting for this feature is built around the parameters already offered in-platform: demographics, user interests and behaviors, as well as hashtag targeting. Search reporting is offered as a part of this beta, giving advertisers insight into what keywords are driving results for their ads. 

When using this feature, brand safety should be top of mind. Luckily, advertisers are able to enable negative keywords to prevent serving search ads against queries that do not align with the brand. Broad, exact, and phrase match negative keywords are supported, but that is the extent of keyword-based targeting at this time.

What will this mean for advertisers in the future? 

In 2022, search advertising spend in the United States was projected to amount to 92.2 billion U.S. dollars. If TikTok’s paid search capabilities grow alongside its functionality as a search engine, it’s almost certain that advertising dollars will shift accordingly. 

In the meantime, advertisers should continue to put content on TikTok that’s native to the platform and engages upper-funnel audiences. Drive user interactions, build engagement, and establish trust within TikTok’s current set of offerings. 

And don’t append your Google Search strategy just yet - TikTok still has obstacles to overcome. While Google has built a reputation for trustworthiness, TikTok’s commitment to accuracy is still an unknown. A network of user generated content comes with information going without fact check and influencers requiring limited credentials. 


The digital landscape will continue to change and the allocation of media spend will change with it. To deal with the growing pains, advertisers should continue to push their share of voice across all channels and deliver strong content that makes sense for the platforms they’re on.

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