Home » Blog » How Tiktok Is Changing Search Behavior For Gen Z

TikTok users are rapidly advancing the platform from what was once primarily a source of entertainment into a powerful way to shop, find restaurants, and gather information on products and services. According to a recent survey of more than 1,800 U.S. college students, 74% of the respondents attested to using TikTok for searches, with an astounding 51% choosing the platform over Google as a news source, to find products, view relevant content, and discover local businesses with maps.

Marketers need to understand the impact that the evolution of TikTok into a search engine is having on how Gen Z shops. They are exploring new ways to incorporate user-generated content (UGC) and influencer content to attract followers and adapting their SEO and other promotion strategies to capitalize on its phenomenal growth and opportunities.

TikTok had more than 1.5 billion users in 2023, a number expected to grow to 2 billion by the end of 2024, and is the 4th largest social media platform in the world in terms of monthly active users. While Google is still the unquestioned source for searches, the increasing reliance of younger audiences on TikTok, as well as other social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and SnapChat for discovery and information cannot be ignored. According to Google’s own data, nearly 40% of Gen Z prefer to make web searches via Instagram or TikTok instead of Google.

Adopting and Adapting Strategies for TikTok for GenZ Search

For many marketers, this will necessitate new or some tweaking to existing ways of distributing and sharing content and measuring success beyond recording impressions and engagements. With TikTok, creativity and community matter, and content is rewarded for its entertainment value as much as the information it provides. Like other social media, to get the best results marketers should coordinate organic with paid advertising. In TikTok’s case, the platform offers the ability for long-form story-telling with short, attention-grabbing content, and TikTok’s Duet feature allows creators to invite viewers to post alongside their own on a split screen. These features add to the effectiveness of brand influencers and empowers followers to create engaging, user-generated content that can take on a life of its own around your brand.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategies must evolve to not only achieve high page rankings for TikTok posts on traditional SERPs, but also have results appear first on the user’s TikTok ‘For You Page’ or display prominently on the search screen. In terms of paid advertising, TikTok allows you to create ad campaigns and display them in a variety of ad types that include brand takeovers, in-feed ads, and hashtag challenges to accommodate any budget.

Marketers will require a deep understanding of the how TikTok’s AI-driven algorithm delivers search results faster and personalized to the tastes and preferences of the user. Businesses that recognize the growing importance of TikTok as a search have a future that looks promising. A recent study found that nearly three-quarters of the Gen Z respondents purchased a product after seeing it on TikTok.

Why Gen Z Prefers TikTok

TikTok’s meteoric rise in importance both as a social media platform and a search engine to rival Google can be traced in part to the short-form video content created and shared on the platform that users find authentic, organic, and honest. The videos themselves don’t have to look perfect or require high production values to be effective and garner attention.

The important factors are that TikTok posts grab attention quickly and be entertaining. Research has found that the Gen Z attention span is only 8 seconds, which places an emphasis on getting to the point quickly and relying on visuals and a compelling story to keep the user engaged.

TikTok appeals to younger audiences for the following reasons:

  • Visual Sharing – TikTok users don’t want to read pages of web copy. First of all, it’s difficult to comprehend on small smart phones screens, and secondly, they don’t want to take the time to scroll through search results and descriptions on a page. Instead, in a matter of moments, the Gen Zer decides whether to view the video content on the screen or swipe to watch the next video that has been pushed to them by TikTok’s algorithms.
  • Short and to the Point – Gen Z and young audiences have grown up consuming information via video on screens and getting that information fast. TikTok delivers search responses quickly. A viewer can absorb complete stories, watch recipes get made, or watch product reviews in less than a minute in many cases. It’s also possible to add compelling captions to posts to produce call-to-actions in short, understandable bites of text.
  • Community Building – Young audiences go online and follow social media to find others who share their tastes, outlook on life, and interests. TikTok is the social media platform that encourages interaction, invites creative expression, and motivates users to create, as well as consume, information. The result is a vibrant place for people to visit and connect. In many ways TikTok is redefining what community means for Gen Z. According to McKinsey, 66% of Gen Z believes that communities are created by causes and interests, not economic backgrounds or educational levels.
  • Entertainment Matters – TikTok followers are part of a creative generation that shares stories visually with audio soundtracks enriching the experience. They want story-telling and content that feels fresh and new. In fact, according to TikTok, 62% of their users say that the best way for brands to connect with them is through organic content created in collaboration with another brand on TikTok or a TikTok creator. 

How Does TikTok Work

TikTok has done a good job protecting exactly how their unique and powerful AI-driven algorithm works, but they have shared the dynamics that go into delivering fast and personalized content through searches performed on the platform. They are:

  1. User Interaction – TikTok’s algorithm learns from viewing history, comments, likes, and shares, as well as videos that have been saved or marked as ‘not interested’. The platform uses this data to predict with uncanny accuracy what videos to load onto the viewing screen.
  2. Video Information – TikTok looks at the captions, hashtags, and audio in videos that include relevant keywords in titles, descriptions and calls-to-action. The algorithm determines whether the video is relevant or covers trending topics.
  3. Devices and account settings – TikTok also curates videos according to settings like language preference, location, type of device, and the categories selected when setting up the TikTok account. Of the three, TikTok places a lower importance on these conditions.

How Marketers Can Seize on TikTok as a Search Engine

Businesses can capitalize on the emergence of TikTok as a preferred search engine with search strategies that integrate organic, paid, and influencer content and promotions.

Organic TikTok Search

TikTok does not take the numbers of followers into consideration with its SEO ranking algorithm. This means every brand stands an equal chance of landing a video in a ‘For You Page’ as any other. This places a premium on the content created, and an understanding of the best TikTok SEO strategies to get results in order to become the next big viral success story.

Fortunately, creating a strategy to get noticed on TikTok does not involve re-inventing the wheel. TikTok organic search strategies involve most of the same elements deployed in traditional SEO practices insofar as finding keywords that audiences use in searches and embedding them into the content. In TikTok’s case this means both with text and speech. In terms of content creation, like Google, TikTok finds and promotes posts that establish authority, have fresh and unique content, and provide expertise. And as is always the case with any marketing channel, a clear understanding of the user greatly improves the odds for success and the ability of TikTok to push the content shown in the For You Page.

According to a recent survey by Adobe, on average, business owners allocated 15% of their marketing budget for TikTok content creation for 2024. The most searched-for content types include:

  • Product or service reviews - A study by The Female Quotient on the shopping habits of Gen Z found that for that age group searching for and discovering new products is more important than brand loyalty.
  • Video tutorials – Gen Z prefers to learn how to cook watching videos of recipes being created rather than reading recipes and they find inspiration to tackle arts and craft and DIY projects by viewing TikTok posts.
  • Personal Anecdotes – Many TikTok users welcome authenticity and TikTok inspires users and creators to share experiences through rich story telling delivered in short, impactful posts. According to Nielsen, 88% of TikTok users find content on TikTok to be unique and different than other platforms.
  • Challenges, Trends, and Memes – TikTok users want to be part of the latest craze and creators are always coming up with new video challenges to promote causes, attract brand awareness, and generate engaging user-generated content. TikTok is also used to follow and keep track of the latest trends in fashion, shopping, or music.

Paid TikTok Search

TikTok also has paid advertising options. Costs vary, but businesses can integrate affordable paid ads into the TikTok marketing to capture interest. The five most common include:

  • In-Feed Ads
    In-Feed ads on TikTok have the look of organically created content and appear as just another video as a user scrolls through their For You Page. These posts, optimally between 20 and 35 seconds, let viewers like and share the content, and the ad includes a call-to-action that leads to customized landing pages.
  • TopView Ads
    Top View ads are the first thing a user sees when opening TikTok and the ad appears for 3 seconds before showing clickable video posts that can last up to 60 seconds and are shown before any other content on the platform. According to TikTok, 71% of users agree that TopView ads are effective for grabbing attention.
  • Brand Takeover Ads
    Brand Takeover ads appear immediately when users open the platform as a full-screen ad that converts into an In-Feed ad. These ads offer exclusivity in their advertising category and, for an entire day, TikTok will prevent other ads in the category to be seen. These are great for product launches, but are TikTok’s most expensive ads.
  • Spark Ads
    The only difference between Spark Ads and In-Feed Ads is that rather than create their own content, marketers repurpose successful user-generated content developed by influencers and talented creators. Spark Ad campaigns are easy to launch and have been shown to be extremely effective, generating a 43% higher conversion rate than normal In-Feed Ads.
  • Hashtag Ads
    These ads are used to encourage users to create their own content around a specific challenge. They feature a hashtag and are integrated alongside In-Feed or TopView ads. This ad format can result in a lot of user-generated content that will get shared and can be repurposed in Spark ads.

Influencer-Driven Search

Influencers have played a large role in making TikTok so successful and, as the platform continues to grow, they are gaining even greater importance. Social media has always benefited from the contributions of influencers, but their impact is more profound on TikTok. It’s vital for businesses to find the right influencer to promote their brand. According to the Small Business Blog, TikTok micro-influencers have an engagement rate of 18% as opposed to Instagram’s micro-influencer engagement rate of 3.86%.

TikTok influencers can be categorized by the number of followers they have. The six most common influencer types are:

  • Nano Influencers – Typically have between 5,000 to 50,000 followers. While they may not have a large following, they can be useful reaching niche audiences
  • Micro Influencers – The most common type of influencer found on TikTok, they can have between 50,000 to 150,000 followers. Ideal for small businesses with tight budgets.
  • Mid-Tier Influencers – The next step up, with between 150,000 and 750,000 followers, this group of influencers usually has a devoted admirers based on shared hobbies, interests, and life styles.
  • Macro Influencers – This group tends to cover more diverse topics and may be seen as trendsetters by their 750,000 to 2,500,000 followers. They offer greater exposure, but to be truly effective campaigns should have an organic association with products and services that match with the influencer’s brand.
  • Mega and Celebrity Influencers – With the possibility of reaching 2,500,00 or more followers of these influencers, partnering with this group will definitely draw a lot of attention to a brand and help a post go viral overnight.

TikTok influencers can also be categorized based by the target niche of their expertise and fame. These include gamers, sports and fitness experts, bloggers, photographers, travel guides, and beauty and fashion gurus. Regardless of the size of their following or area of knowledge, marketers can capitalize on the high esteem by which influencers are held on TikTok. A recent study found that 61% of Gen Z trust influencers and brands more than family or friends for recommendations.

TikTok’s growing influence as a search engine for Gen Z marks a momentous change in the way marketers sell products and services on social media. It reflects the emphasis this age group places on short, entertaining video as their preferred means of gathering information, staying on top of trends, and forming communities. Marketing.com can help you connect the dots to find ways to harness the importance younger shoppers are placing on TikTok and take advantage of the opportunities it offers.