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TikTok Takes Over as a Search Engine

Thursday 20th June

Blog Author Beth Perrin by Beth Perrin

While it’s best known for short-form videos, viral trends and humorous memes, TikTok is rapidly becoming the first port of call for younger generations when they want to search online - with the potential to rival or even replace traditional search tools like Google and Bing.

According to a recent study by Adobe, 64% of Gen Z and 49% of Millennials say they’ve used TikTok as a search engine, with 17% of consumers agreeing that they find TikTok the most helpful platform when searching for information online, sitting behind Google (91%), YouTube (39%) and (Bing 21%). Once purely an entertainment hub, TikTok is now many social media users’ primary choice when they want to find recipes, music, DIY tips, workout routines and recommendations for products such as clothing, makeup, skincare and items for the home. Let’s find out why this shift has taken place and how your brand can benefit from the rise of TikTok as a search engine.


TikTok’s Search Features

In-app search bar:The search bar at the top of the mobile app enables users to quickly search for the keywords, topics and content of their choice.

Hashtag search: Users can search for specific hashtags to discover content related to their personal interests. TikTok’s search algorithm ranks content based on relevance and popularity, making it easy for users to find both trending and niche content.

Keyword search: In addition to hashtags, users can search for content using keywords related to their interests. TikTok’s search algorithm analyses video captions, user profiles and other key pieces of information to provide the most relevant search results based on the words entered.

Sound search: Users can search for videos using specific sounds or music tracks thanks to TikTok’s extensive and ever-growing library of audio clips.

User search: Users can search for individual people as well as brands and businesses on TikTok.

TikTok highlights trending hashtags, sounds, and challenges in the search results, allowing users to explore popular content and join in the latest viral trends. It also offers advanced filters to refine search results, based on criteria such as video type, duration and upload date. Users can apply these filters to narrow down their search and find even more specific types of content.


Why Do Users Prefer to Search on TikTok?

One of the main reasons people prefer to search on TikTok is the visual nature of the platform and therefore the straightforward, eye-catching results it displays when searching for a term or query. Speaking on the Digital Marketing Institute podcast, ⁠Luke O’Leary⁠, VP of Media Strategy & Operations at Neil Patel Digital, explained: “A lot of people are utilising TikTok as a more visual engine to allow them to understand what they want to get up to when they go to a new destination.”

Outlining one great example of where TikTok triumphs over Google, he said: “I needed to find some nice places to eat in central London. [I went] to TikTok because I knew if I go to Google, I’m going to get ‘ The 100 best restaurants in London’ etc. It’s like reams of text. [Whereas] if you just search TikTok, you’re going to get two or three videos that are going to give you a nice little rounded summary. You’ll be able to see the food [and] see what it’s like to be in that restaurant. It’s all shot on the phone so it’s easy to relate to.”

Overall, users believe that TikTok search results feel more natural and authentic than those found on traditional search engines due to the fact they are created by real people wanting to share their thoughts and ideas, in contrast to the lengthy, keyword-stuffed articles typically found via Google. “What people find on TikTok or micro influencers [is a more] genuine experience, a genuine review.”


How Can Brands Benefit from TikTok Search?

To make the most of the rise of TikTok as a search engine, brands need to focus on optimising their content to boost their discoverability. Decide on the keywords you want to be found by and make sure to incorporate them into your content (this applies to the text inside your videos as well as the copy you write to accompany them).

Short-tail keywords (also known as ‘head terms’) are words that refer to very broad topics and have high search volumes, such as ‘coffee’, whereas long-tail keywords, which are more specific, can include full phrases like ‘organic coffee shops near me’. Carry out hashtag research and add these too - it's generally recommended to use between 3 and 5 hashtags per post.

Brands can also make use of TikTok’s Search Ads Toggle, a new feature in TikTok’s Ads Manager that allows advertisers to serve ads within search results. When the toggle is engaged, ads are automatically created using your existing ad content, and are served against relevant user queries alongside organic search results. Search ads are labelled as ‘Sponsored’ content and appear in varying positions on the results page based on relevancy, user intent (as understood from their search query) and broader factors from other user behaviour.


Will TikTok Replace Google as a Search Engine?

Naturally, TikTok’s biggest limitation as a search engine is that it can only bring up results that have been posted on its platform - unlike Google, for example, which can of course display search results from all over the internet. For this reason, it’s unlikely that TikTok will fully replace Google as the world’s preferred search engine any time soon. However, there’s no denying that brands and businesses need to rethink some of the ways they optimise their content and ads to make the most of the shift towards social search - especially those with Gen Z audiences. It’s also worth noting that AI assistants are gaining popularity as search tools, with over 10% of people now using ChatGPT to query for information such as personal finance advice.



TikTok is continually introducing new and improved search features, making it an intuitive tool for seeking answers to questions and discovering valuable information. With video-based search results generally seeing a clickthrough rate that’s 41% higher than text-based ones, it’s clear to see that a shift in search preferences is taking place - and as attentions spans get shorter, it’s likely that more and more people will begin to prefer the fast-paced nature of TikTok content vs traditional results. However, for the moment, it’s pretty certain that Google will remain in the top spot due to its cross-platform capabilities.

How is your brand taking advantage of TikTok’s growth as a search engine? Are you optimising your content to aid your discoverability and boost your chances of appearing within the relevant results pages? Share your thoughts with us on X @3sixfivepro and let us know if you need any pointers to improve your strategy.