With a user base of over 23 million active users in the UK alone, TikTok is quickly becoming popular amongst a much wider audience than its first adopters. Despite only being launched in 2017, it is currently ranked the 6th most popular platform globally, flying past Twitter (or do we call it X now?), Snapchat, and other well-known social media apps – and this growth doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
What About Tikok's Past?
Before there was TikTok, there was Musical.ly, an app where users would share lip sync, dance, and funny videos. Operating from 2014 to 2017, Musical.ly felt like a place for innocent fun for a younger audience. The comedy was sillier, and the content was more censored. Rarely was it used to influence or promote, instead it was all about producing light entertainment. I personally enjoyed using and growing up with the app, This is likely why TikTok’s founding audience is primarily young adults. I was hesitant when it was rebranded after becoming so familiar with Musical.lys concept, only to be pleasantly surprised by how similar the interface was, the only major change was the type of content being uploaded.
When TikTok was first launched users were able to create 15-60 second clips with broader ideas that steered away from Musical.lys previous silly tone. Over time the dance videos and comedy lip-syncs died down, and more and more people were using TikTok to share information, find new online communities, and engage more personally with their followers. Influencers became a massive part of a user’s TikTok experience, whether it’s someone’s genuine personality that draws in an audience or the type of content an individual produces, all depends on the audience’s tailored algorithm. As a TikTok user who has watched the app transition and evolve from the beginning, I think it has desensitized its viewership with the new type of entertainment presented on the app.
Is Search Behaviour Changing?
With this rise in popularity and the sheer scale of video content being uploaded, TikTok has started to change where people seek out information. Google’s Senior Vice President quoted from their own data that almost 40% of young people are using TikTok and Instagram to search for places to eat, instead of going to Google. This makes sense! Humans are lazy! Instead of having to read through a list of text results on Google, a TikTok search instead presents you with a thread of engaging short-form videos for you to watch. Plus, the added bonus of a personal review from someone who has been there themselves.
Creators on TikTok are very impressionable when reviewing places, products, experiences, etc. They are a strong reason why users are turning to TikTok for information, we trust their unique take and value their personal opinions. For example, if I wanted to know what country has the best Christmas markets before booking a holiday, one quick search on TikTok and I would have endless amounts of individual thoughts and advice in short, easy to absorb, video format. Comparing this to doing the same search on Google and you can see the appeal.
TikTok is useful for sharing information at scale about current pop culture events or even news summaries. It can enlighten people who don’t have time to read an article or watch an entire news segment. A short 60 second clip highlighting the main facts from a situation is enough to keep users engaged when historically they may have read online newspapers and other reporting websites.
While this all seems great, it creates challenges for TikTok on how best to censor videos and surface results to people who are searching. TikTok is quite influential when sharing opinions and views whether the information given is true, untrue, or misleading. This was prominent during Covid-19 as a lot of information regarding vaccines and symptoms circulated TikTok. So how do they make sure what people are saying is true? How do they decide what content gets surfaced over another when a user does search?
How Is TikTok Evolving?
TikTok recently introduced its own keyword planner equivalent to keep track of any search trends that could be popular. It extracts keywords from voiceovers, overlay text and ad text, as well as having an insightful feature where you can look at a particular keyword and some related videos will appear below. The tool offers insights into other areas of TikTok such as ads and current trends, this creates a more informative side of posting and enables people to view who their audience demographic is, whether someone chose to engage with an ad and even how well a hashtag is performing. This now means if TikTok videos are gaining good organic search results, there is now a way of knowing.
Google is great for answering big broad questions. It gives more in-depth reasoning and supporting evidence that you can’t get from a TikTok video. Google houses over a billion sites ranging from shopping to medical advice with a backlog of knowledge dating back to 1998, whereas TikTok only has 6 years of content and a lot of that lacks evidence. Your search queries serve you with more information and provide more business-curated responses.
So, is TikTok going to be the next search engine? Will TikTok completely replace Google? I don’t think so, but I think it’s fair to say search volumes for some information streams are swaying towards TikTok, especially for me and other people in the popular TikTok demographic. I think it all depends on how familiar someone is with the app and what kind of answer they are looking for. Ultimately Google has a huge head start in the world of search, but they should definitely keep one eye on TikTok as it continues to grow in users, evolve its algorithm and searching behaviors change.
Written by Paige Winchester