Is Google losing the search war to social media platforms?

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Gen Z prefers to use TikTok to find things on the internet. Should Google worry?

Typically, when older generations want to pick a restaurant to eat at, they’ll Google it and then use Google Maps to get to it. For the newer generations, however, it would seem that TikTok search is the way to go.

Data on audience insights from Google Search and Maps show that for almost 40% of the younger audience, TikTok or Instagram is the go-to search engine.

TikTok has already established itself as the world’s ‘most visited’ website, dethroning Google after about 15 years. The duo is joined by Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple in the top 5 most searched websites on the internet.

However, despite robust competition from social media platforms, the adoption curve of TikTok has been phenomenal. Data show that nearly half of all boys and 70% of girls aged 10–11 are on it.

What makes TikTok so popular? What’s changing about the way younger people interact with specialized search engines? What is Google doing to battle TikTok or Instagram? And what do brands need to keep in mind to stay relevant to Gen Z on the internet? Read on to find out.

Here’s What TikTok is Getting Right

For one, the social media app is perfectly aligned with the values that matter most to young people.

Authenticity matters a great deal to Gen Z, and TikTok’s success on this front is a great sign. Almost two-thirds of TikTok users say they can be their true selves on the platform, making it easy for them to accept and keep returning to it.

Another big success for TikTok is that it has hit the nail on the head when it comes to content discovery.

Its users are able to find and watch images and short videos that resonate with them, and help them discover what’s happening on the wider scene. Audiences even say the content makes them happier and more upbeat – another great sign.

While on Google, you have to find what you are looking for by typing in keywords, on TikTok or Instagram, it is suggested to you. The incredible recommendation systems of these social media apps show users what they want before they know they want it. Combine this with addictive, visually-rich short-form content, and you’ve got a winning formula.

The Way Young People Interact with Search Engines is Different

TikTok and Instagram are app-based and are mobile-first, just as YouTube is. This makes it easier for a Gen Z user to find, consume, share, and create content. With short attention spans and a voracious appetite for the consumption of video and images, TikTok has already overtaken YouTube in terms of the time its users spend on the platforms, respectively.

Another big reason a younger audience is likely to search for information on TikTok is that “people want to hear from people.” They want social proof. They want to “see” what’s trending on a wider scene as opposed to “read” about it. They want endorsements from their favorite influencers and their peers. And no one offers this more completely than TikTok does.

Lastly, as a senior Google executive confirmed, Gen Z has a clear preference for visual search. They’re wired to be more immersed in content, and the success of Meta’s Instagram clearly proves their preference for image-based and video-based information discovery.

Google Search is Updating Itself

So, what does all of this mean for Google?

The search giant is hard at work to attract and retain its successive generations of new internet users, a senior vice president at Google confirmed.

To appeal to younger audiences, Google is aligning itself with more visually rich forms of content. It’s working on features such as the ability for users to pan their cameras around an area to discover insights about the objects in the scene in an intuitive and user-friendly way.

In other words, just as TikTok is becoming an information discovery platform that answers its user’s queries, Google is working on multi-search tools, scene exploration, and short videos.

Adapting rather than fighting the change has been Google’s approach. The tech giant is indexing Instagram and TikTok videos in Google Search, so if a user inputs a keyword search followed by the word “TikTok,” Google will present rows of results of TikTok videos before showing any other site results.

Brands are Leveraging TikTok Search to Attract the Next Generation of Internet Users

The battle for dominance in the world of content search is on – and the largest tech players face robust competition.

In the meanwhile, the best approach a company can take can be to ride the wave of change, and adopt the latest trends, while at the same time keeping in mind its key audience and key goals.

For instance, a company could make the most of TikTok as an influencer marketing platform, a top-of-funnel channel, a brand expression and awareness magnifier, and a place to offer infotainment, information, and discover content.

At the same time, it could leverage the Google search engine as a great medium to attract users organically to its site by means of thoughtful content creation and SEO optimization strategies.

It’s a changing world, and there’s a lot for brands to do to win over Gen Z. Make sure you’re staying on top of the Search game – and you’ll have got yourself an edge.

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