Will TikTok overtake Google as the new Search King?

December 6, 2023

Social media has undoubtedly influenced every aspect of our everyday life. From keeping in touch with family and friends to learning about the most recent news, trends, and fashion. We now rely on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, X (R.I.P. Twitter), and TikTok to connect and find out information.

What if I told you, though, that social media is on the verge of developing into something much more potent? Something that can potentially cause havoc with the fundamental principles governing how we obtain and use information online? Welcome to the search engine landscape of the future, where social platforms rule supreme.

With its superior algorithmic skills and unmatched index of web pages, Google has long been the undisputed king of search engines. But the tides are progressively turning as user behaviour continues to go ‘social first’. With the first glimpse of this in 2021 when, according to Cloudflare, TikTok briefly surpassed Google as the world’s most popular domain.

Consider the last time you searched on Google for a product review or a restaurant recommendation. Most likely, you instead looked through TikTok or asked your friends via Instagram.

Even Google’s own Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan noted at Fortne’s Brainstorm Tech 2022 conference that “In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

Why not, then? These formats are much more appealing than a list of search results because they give us real-time, authentic suggestions from people we trust.

This pattern, however, extends beyond just personal recommendations. Businesses are using social media more and more to communicate with customers directly. Companies like Nike, Gymshark and Airbnb are abstaining from conventional search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques by sharing product updates, discounts, and customer assistance via Instagram and X. These businesses may now contact their target audience faster and more effectively than ever before because of the millions of followers at their disposal.

Naturally, there are still a few bugs to iron out. Finding relevant material can occasionally feel like looking for a needle in a haystack because social platforms continue to prioritise user experience over search functionality. AI can help in this situation.

Social media networks are already incorporating artificial intelligence algorithms to enhance content discovery and relevancy, ensuring that users only see the most relevant posts and advertisements.

That's exactly where we're going: a world where your social feed also serves as your search engine. So it’s no surprise that this year TikTok has begun exploring a partnership with Google to bolster its search traffic capabilities.

So, what does this all mean for the future then?

Will TikTok become the next leader in search? Possibly.

Should it impact where and how brands show up? Absolutely.

Does it change how we approach long-term brand building? Not really.

Although social signals do influence search rankings, content quality and relevancy still take precedence over social signals. With many viral content hacks going the way of old-fashioned keyword stuffing, great for short-term gains but ultimately falls short of building long-term brand efficacy.

While it’s impossible to ignore the strength of trends, such as TikTok Made Me Buy It which has amassed over 7.4B views on the platform, forward-thinking marketers must continue to build for their audiences, where their audiences engage.

This isn’t a newfound epiphany but a welcome reminder that new platforms and consumption habits will continue to come and go. Such as previous runs from the likes of Yahoo, MySpace and Clubhouse.

One thing is certain as we look to the future: social media will continue to influence how we communicate, get information, and use it. The seismic shift that is taking place right in front of our eyes must be recognised, whether you are an experienced marketer or a casual consumer. Accept the change, and you might find yourself completely redefining what it means to "search" for something.

Words by Blair Ellis.