Is TikTok a Search Engine?

You’ve probably seen the news hype about TikTok’s powerful search algorithms and how the video platform is slowly capturing Google’s market share. But is this true, and does it matter? 

Some reports claim that 40%, 50%, or even 60% of internet users favour TikTok over Google when searching for information. According to these articles, users prefer the personalised, humanised results that TikTok provides — byte-sized explanations told by an actual person vs. a wall of text-based results — making it the obvious choice.

So, is TikTok about to surpass Google as a search engine? Let’s explore!

TikTok is not a search engine

First, it’s essential to understand that TikTok and Google are entirely different technologies. TikTok is a video-sharing platform similar to YouTube, while Google is a search engine with extremely sophisticated indexing and data retrieval capabilities. 

TikTok search only shows results from within TikTok. Google search shows you information from all over the internet. Google uses millions of crawler bots — software modules that collect information from every server on the internet — to sort and rank global content and show the most relevant information based on your keywords and location. Google search also shows images, videos, locations, shopping results, news and more in a well-organised format. 

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Is Google becoming obsolete? 

Google only enjoyed an internet monopoly for a very brief time in the 1990s. Since the advent of social media, people have also turned to platforms like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram for information. TikTok is yet another face in the content game. 

But social media has historically provided walled gardens. Information within the social platform can rarely be discovered outside it. In contrast, Google is perceived as a more generic and open space for search.

Google’s power also goes beyond its search engine. The company owns several key parts of web infrastructure — Chrome, Android, Gmail, Google Maps, Youtube, Google Analytics, and Google advertising network — and the list is endless. This means it has multiple touchpoints for every user. 

Google’s Gemini generative AI is another aspect that has shifted the search game. Gemini’s introduction emphasises multimodal queries that combine text, video, voice and images.  It can also deliver answers directly without users needing to click through to websites.

Very few companies — Microsoft, Apple, and Amazon — are in a similar situation, dominating several aspects of the digital ecosystem. That makes Google more resilient and likely to persevere over time.

Google vs. TikTok: Do they compete?

Everyone knows that different platforms serve different purposes. When looking for recommendations and opinions, you turn to social media. When you are looking for facts and figures, you turn to Google. Social media helps you learn more about what you already know. Google lets you discover things you don’t know anything about.

Good marketers know how to tap each channel based on strengths and outcomes. For example, social media is excellent for brand building and demand generation. You can encourage loyalty with discounts and get new customers to return. However, generating organic traffic only through social media can become very expensive. Google search is much better for content discovery and impacts users when they purchase.

TikTok might be different, but it’s currently focused on the one thing it does well: short-form video entertainment. While many studies show a generational preference for TikTok, it is essential to remember that these studies are often self-serving. The longevity of a given social platform (think Snapchat or Clubhouse) tends to be more limited than that of the bigger platforms powering the web.

TikTok has found its niche, and if your brand fits well in that space, then go all out on the platform. But if TikTok is just one space for your audience to hang out, keep your options open. It is always better to leverage Google Advertising Network alongside TikTok than to limit yourself.

What does it mean for your business? 

Everyone is asking if TikTok is surpassing Google. In reality, they serve different purposes: one entertains and recommends, while the other retrieves information.

TikTok is growing as a media ecosystem and developing its own set of rules, meanings and cultures. Marketers must pay attention and be ready to get the most out of the platform. Simplifying the current zeitgeist of digital paradigm shift into a fan battle between TikTok and Google is not just myopic — it also hurts the industry.

Looking for expert support with SEO and social media? Speak to our experienced team today. 

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