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  • Writer's pictureAdeleine Whitten

Sorry, Google – TikTok is now Gen Z's favorite search engine

When Google rolled out the Hummingbird update in 2013, a new chapter began for search engines.

For the first time, the program focused less on exact, word-for-word matches and instead tried to understand what the search was actually asking. The algorithm would interpret a query (“What's the weather in Topeka?”), identify the keywords (“weather”, “Topeka”), and disregard the rest in order to present the most relevant content. Google understood natural language better than any other program in the biz, and they used that technology to quickly and accurately give users whatever answers they wanted.

But over time, marketers learned all they could about the algorithm and adapted their SEO strategies to capitalize on the update. And in the past decade, features such as rich results, Google My Business, and PPC ads have made Google less of a search engine and more of a media hub. Although it's an incredibly versatile and effective tool for marketers, some consumers have had enough.

Google's tipping point

Nearly every company has utilized search engine optimization in some capacity, making the tactics and best practices nearly common knowledge. Copywriters and web designers know that in order to rank on Google, they need keywords, headings, and backlinks – not necessarily the most relevant content. As a result, marketers are writing for an algorithm instead of for human consumers.

Additionally, ranking on the first page of Google is getting more difficult by the day. This isn't just due to competition; it's also because the amount of space for organic results has gradually shrunk over time. Nearly every search engine results page is accompanied by advertisements, making it more difficult than ever for users to find unbiased answers to their questions. Even the truly organic results are written with SEO at the forefront – users don't want to scroll through a person's life story to get to a recipe for banana bread, but writing search-engine-optimized introductions is the only way that bloggers can ensure their recipe will find an audience.

TikTok, however, is structured differently. Thanks to the newest social media platform, wading through paid results and keyword-heavy articles is no longer the only way to search. Gen Z especially has found that the organic, user-created videos are much more authentic and informational than traditional web results. TikToks are also capped at 3 minutes (although they're beginning to test 10-minute videos), forcing creators to get right to the point. And with more than 1 billion videos viewed each day, there's no shortage of content.

Today's hottest search engine

While TikTok may have started as a video app reminiscent of the now-defunct Vine, the social media has grown into much more than humorous skits and choreographed dances. "TikTok made me buy it" has sold out more products than most paid ads, and novels from BookTok are getting special stickers in-store to commemorate being a part of the trend.

Word of mouth advertising has met a global platform with an algorithm that rewards content popular with users instead of who pays the most for a spot at the top. And to make it even better, TikTok has fantastic search functionality.

How-tos are easily one of the most popular categories on TikTok, many videos starting with "I'm going to show you how I make my cold brew" or "Here's how I style my curly hair after I wash it". A simple search within the app for "cold brew" or "curly hair" produces thousands of user-created and community-verified videos on the subject. The same can be done for specific products, resulting in real videos from real people showing exactly how it works and their genuine reviews.

It's now estimated that around 40% of young people prefer TikTok and Instagram over Google when searching for local restaurants, but the app is also a popular resource for product recommendations, fashion trends, and recipes. If this trend continues, Google may have some serious competition on its hands.

The future of searching

While Google will most likely never be dethroned as the world's most popular search engine, the gradual shift from "here are the best results for your search" to "here's who paid for the highest ranking" is definitely taking a hit on the website's credibility.

With TikTok still being in its early years, there's a high chance that the siren call of monetization will eventually get the best of their search functionality as well. But authenticity is often ranked as one of the most important factors consumers consider when making a purchase, and – at least for now – it doesn't get more authentic than TikTok.

As a marketer, I love understanding and utilizing Google for advertising. But as a human, I'm taking my searches to TikTok.

Adeleine Whitten | Professional, kind of

is a marketer by day and writer by night, weekend, and sometimes lunch break. You can often find her with a good book or in the Taco Bell drive-thru.

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