TikTok surpasses Google as a search engine for Gen Z, and brands want their day in the spotlight

Everything at TikTok seems to happen fast: the platform’s top-performing videos last about 30 seconds and its content trends are notoriously transient. The platform itself is growing with exceptional speed, reaching the billion-user mark years faster than other social-content giants such as Facebook and YouTube. 

Perhaps even more shocking is TikTok has overtaken Google's dominance as the world's most popular web domain, ending a 15-year streak. As Google processes an astounding two trillion searches yearly, the roughly 5.7 million searches per minute are only enough to slide into the second most popular spot.

But is the rise of the TikTok search engine a flash in the pan, or is it a sign that searching the internet has changed forever?

More than just a social strategy

For many, it may seem impossible that tech giant Google could possible lose so many users to the TikTok search engine. However, the momentous shift has been spurred on by a shift in Gen Z’s online user behavior, which bucks the search trends we've seen in prior years. For specific subjects, 40% of Gen Z searchers turn to TikTok or Instagram before performing a traditional Google Search.

TikTok is moving from just a social media platform to a refined search engine — a consolidation of social media and search behaviors that is becoming more evolved in the digital and consumer behavior landscape. To accommodate user behavior, TikTok has made improvements to their search engine with predictive text and an AI recommendation engine that considers CTR, watch times, and reports among other factors.   

"Brands should make sure their social media profiles are properly optimized and maintained – especially if you are part of industries such as travel, dining and CPG," said Greg Walker, Manager of Strategic Consulting and Search Expert at Epsilon. "Make engaging content that potential consumers are already looking for on TikTok: provide financial tips, share experiences from your customers, or make fun of your own brands and products. Amongst that, ensure that your posts are following both social media and SEO best practices so you give yourself the best opportunity to show up within searches and the For You Feed."

Because TikTok surpasses Google as the preffered search engine for younger people, more brands are considering joining this upstart platform that can seem at first glance like a frenetic Gen-Z playground. However, jumping onto the Gen Z TikTok search engine requires more than creating content according to the latest trends. To do so successfully requires finding points of alignment between your brand’s personality, your marketing goals, and TikTok’s unique character.

As Digital Strategy Director Ginevra Adamoli emphasizes, "brands need to start working alongside search teams to create content on TikTok. You need to take a close look at what societal events are happening daily and hourly and within digital channels that could convert into viral content. A TikTok strategy that works requires to shift to an agile digital approach, all driven by real-time consumer data."

Driving real results

@crocs Back by popular ka-chow! Get ready for Disney and Pixar Cars' Lightning McQueen adult clogs on 9.8.22 at #crocs #croctok #sportmode #lightningmcqueen ♬ original sound - Crocs

No one was expecting the power of the TikTok algorithm to uproot the conventional ways marketers have used their ad spend in the past. However, those who capitalized on the TikTok search engine early have seen great results. For example, let’s look at the revival of a shoe most of us forgot about: Crocs.

What’s behind the resurgence of Crocs? Is it the pandemic-era embrace of casual wear? Celebrity collaborations with Justin Bieber and Post Malone? Or the fact that Crocs is deeply embedded within the TikTok-verse?

The recent, high-fashion rebirth of Crocs obscures the fact that a few years ago, this brand was the antithesis of Gen-Z cool. Indeed, Crocs didn’t even join TikTok until 2019.

But when it did, it did so with a flourish, attracting 100,000 followers in its first week on the platform. Now, Crocs has more than half a million followers. Thanks to a combination of influencer collaborations and user-generated content prompted by campaigns such as the brand’s annual #Croctober event, Crocs is using TikTok not only to reach its fans and customers, but also to reinforce the brand’s position as a fun, playful, versatile footwear option.

That content, and the positive vibes it engenders, also sets the table for more strategic announcements. For example, Crocs released a series of slick promo videos to tease a collaboration with designer Salehe Bermury, the first of which garnered over 600,000 views.     

@scrubdaddy Scrub Decor. #scrubdaddy #smile #cleantok #cleaningtiktok #americasfavoritesponge ♬ WE CANNOT ESCAPE WE CANNOT COME OUT - Emile Morgan

So goes the story of Scrub Daddy, an unlikely brand using the social platform to its advantage, which is a simple dish scrubber. And there’s not much about any dish scrubber, regardless of its quality, that would seem to make it a candidate for breakout TikTok fame. 

But Scrub Daddy made it happen. A combination of the willingness of CEO Aaron Krause to star in absurdist videos that capitalize on TikTok trends and the decision to produce an enormous version of the Pennsylvania company’s signature, smiley-faced product have helped the brand achieve success in the space.

Now the company has 1.8 million followers, and many of its videos have racked up millions of views. A sub-series that features the Scrub Daddy mascot interacting with Duolingo’s plush green owl is even more popular. 

@kitchenaidusa Taste bud teaser! Check out some of the delectable recipes chosen to be in the #MadeWithKitchenAid ♬ Makin It - KitchenAid

KitchenAid is new to TikTok, posting its first video to the platform in summer 2021. By then, however, the brand’s signature appliance already was a TikTok star. This is an example of a business that took advantage of people using TikTok as a search engine to find new recipes or learn how to cook. 

Cooking instruction is a thriving TikTok subgenre; while Instagram may have cornered the market on photos of elaborately plated meals, TikTok is a haven for young chef-influencers crafting their creations and sharing their secrets. KitchenAid launched its channel with sponsored posts from well-known chef-influencers such as Eitan Bernath, Hajar Larbah and Jenny Martinez, using the hashtag #makeittogether, racking up more than three million views.

@canva *insert evil laugh here* #Canva #CanvaDesign #GraphicDesign #SmallBusiness #SmallBusinessTip ♬ original sound - Charlie Mosey

Canva, an Australian company that makes cloud-based, DIY graphic-design software, focuses on quick tips and tutorials, presented in a funky, TikTok-native style. Canva’s channel—like its brand—is focused more on utility than flash. That approach is working, as the brand has more than 83,000 TikTok followers, and its most popular videos have surpassed a million views. 

To master Tiktok, brands need a strong strategy

The TikTok video search engine reigns supreme today, but is it enough to create a comprehensive marketing strategy? While TikTok is a key social channel, it alone cannot feed a strong, robust strategy. Brands looking to dip their toes in these social waters have an advantage if they already understand their customers. Content that aligns with the brand, is well made and uses strong tactics like proper tagging and SEO, can drive better engagement. It’s complimentary to a strong digital strategy overall, which includes good website management optimized for Google search.

Brands also need to maintain their regular channels. While Google was dethroned (for now) there are still billions of searches a day. Other channels, like CTV, display, mobile and more can also drive huge returns if fueled by a strong identity graph, like Epsilon CORE ID. 

Interested in learning more about how your business can leverage the TikTok search engine? With our digital strategy tech and expertise, Epsilon is happy to help your brand navigate the shifting social and search landscape and define your digital ambitions.