Google's internet dominance is undisputed, right?
Google.com has been the most visited web domain since 2010, and Google Search currently accounts for nearly 93% of the global mobile search engine market. The technology company also owns many of the world's top internet services, including YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps.
However, Google's reign as the go-to search engine may be coming to an end.
Cloudflare recently revealed that TikTok overtook Google as the most visited website in 2021. The video-sharing app has become the fastest-growing social network of all time and now boasts more than 1 billion monthly active users worldwide.
But how could an app known for videos of dancing teenagers dethrone a trillion-dollar tech giant? The answer lies in how consumers, particularly Gen Z users, search for information.
TikTok as a search engine
For most people, Google is the Internet: Over 53% of all Internet traffic starts with a Google search, according to a BrightEdge organic search report. If a user goes online, chances are they started at Google.
In the past two years however, Gen Z users are increasingly using TikTok to search for everything from clothes to restaurant recommendations, instead of "Googling" for search queries.
TikTok has even become a fast-growing source of news. According to a U.K. survey conducted by Ofcom, 28% of teenagers rely on TikTok for breaking news stories.
The TikTok threat to Google's core businesses hasn't gone unnoticed. Google SVP Prabhakar Raghavan, who oversees Google Search, acknowledged the behavioral shifts at Fortune's Brainstorm Tech conference.
“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,” Raghavan said. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.” The numbers were based on Google's internal survey of U.S. users between 18 and 24.
He also added that younger internet users tend to discover information through immersive content, rather than traditional SEO keywords or textual information.
Contrary to popular belief, TikTok is more than an app for sharing memes and dance videos. According to Statista, some of the most popular content on TikTok include fitness, home renovations and DIY, beauty, cooking, and life hacks, categories that have long been dominated by Google.
Gen Z’s platform for learning
While many people have dismissed TikTok as a platform for viral trends, it has been masterful at positioning itself as a platform for discovery and learning.
So how has TikTok become such a popular learning platform?
TikTok is designed to make it easy for subject matter experts to share valuable information and find an audience. This has given rise to thousands of micro-communities, each one dedicated to a specific subject like digital marketing, sexual health, or gardening.
Users also appreciate having direct access to content creators, who often dispense specific advice, answer questions, and reply to individual comments. Top creators on the platform have created communities centered around their brand, driving better exposure in the algorithm.
Some education experts have touted TikTok’s potential as a teaching and engagement tool. A Harvard study has shown that active-learning strategies have improved learning outcomes among students.
Unlike traditional education, which favors standardization, TikTok learning actively engages the creative and social aspect of education. Creators take great pains to make their educational videos fun and engaging, and their followers watch their content by choice, sparked by a genuine interest in the topic and not of grades or tests.
What TikTok search means for digital marketers
The shift towards short-form videos for consuming information has real implications for anyone working in digital marketing. Gen Z users will soon become the largest and most powerful consumer group, and brands that want to capture this market will have to appeal to their digital expectations.
Tech giants are doubling down on short-form video in response to this shift:
- Google is pushing Web Stories, a web-based version of the short-form video, on mobile search results and Google Discovery.
- YouTube content creators can now create short-form videos, called Shorts, from existing content in their libraries.
- Meta announced that all new videos uploaded to Instagram will be shared as Reels.
Digital marketers who dismiss TikTok as a social platform for dance videos risk falling behind the curve. The app has proven to be a powerful tool that users have utilized to effect business and cultural change:
- A coordinated effort by TikTok users disrupted Donald Trump's rallies, leaving hundreds of seats empty at venues, The Guardian said.
- A Variety report revealed that 75% of TikTok users discover new music through the app, propelling many artists to the record charts.
- More and more businesses are selling on TikTok, with hugely successful live events attracting hundreds of millions of views.
Your next steps as a brand
The popularity of TikTok presents many marketing opportunities for small and medium-sized brands, especially for those that haven't made the jump from Google and Facebook.
Brands can leverage TikTok's massive reach in three key areas:
- Organic content
- Influencer marketing
- Paid ads
Marketing success in TikTok hinges on your brand's ability to produce original and engaging content. But that doesn't mean that you have to start a new trend to create awareness; many brands pay close attention to current trends and create content that rides on the wave of attention.
While content creation for TikTok is not too dissimilar from Instagram, YouTube, or Facebook, it’s important that brands follow a few basic principles to ensure that the videos conform to user expectations. For starters, TikTok users value honesty and abhor pretense (i.e. they can see right through you), so make sure that your content comes from a place of transparency. Many content creators also invest in tools to make their content compelling, so feel free to experiment with camera angles, music, and visual effects.
TikTok's large influencer community has also been a huge driver of marketing success for many brands. Since influencers already have an established foothold on the platform, brands can leverage their popularity to introduce their products and services to a new audience. It pays to research who are the up-and-coming influencers on the platform, especially if you occupy a specific niche.
And through TikTok's own advertising platform, TikTok for Business, brands can pay to insert their content into users' feeds without looking out of place or seeming too salesy. TikTok ads often see
2.5X ROAS, and the CAC is some of the lowest in the industry.
Building your TikTok strategy
Many brands' marketing teams remain geared toward advertising on Google or Meta. Brands that want to explore TikTok as a marketing platform must have access to new skills that allow them to navigate its unique algorithm.
For instance, a Growth Marketer who specializes in TikTok can optimize your existing funnel for the platform to ensure maximum growth. They can also identify which marketing opportunities work best for your brand, leveraging data to find overlooked strategies that will improve your bottom line.
Brands will also benefit from working with a Social Media Manager (and no, we're not talking about an intern with a Facebook account) to drive that strategy further, help with posting cadences, wrangle content partners and influencers, and ensure that your brand understands your audience on the platform and build a community that sings your praises.
TikTok as a driver of growth
It's clear that consumers, especially in the Gen Z cohort, are pivoting from legacy platforms like Google Search and YouTube to TikTok.
The message is simple: Brands need to follow their people. If TikTok is where your consumers are going, then that's where you need to be.
As TikTok grows in popularity, brands must rethink their existing marketing strategies to maintain relevance in an increasingly crowded market.
One of the best ways to expand your reach is to work with a TikTok marketing expert. A MarketerHire social media strategist and growth marketer combined will help your brand market effectively to your desired demographic and make a mark in this increasingly relevant space.