TikTok Search: How Marketers Can Reach Young Audiences Now

TikTok search is competing with Google for young audiences, but it’s a completely different beast, with different advantages. Here’s how to use it to your advantage.
Fanbytes: TikTok search engine

In 30 seconds:

  • Do people use TikTok as a search engine? The data suggests yes. User behaviour studies show that younger audiences in particular trust the app with their searches.
  • As TikTok search volumes rise, it’s up to marketers to make the most of their TikTok presence to both answer, and direct traffic.
  • By understanding the importance of influencers, as well as how to maximise your visibility via the algorithm, you can boost your next marketing campaign.

TikTok search is itself steadily climbing up marketers’ lists of trends to research. 

It’s not hard to understand why – especially for those brands interested in targeting young people. Data shows that young people have switched important searching habits from Google to social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram – so much so that the leaders of Google have taken note.

In a recent interview, Prabhakar Raghavan, who is a Senior Vice President in charge of Google Search, shared that, “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.”

This is a particularly exciting behaviour change, as elements of TikTok’s unique search function have huge potential for brands who can effectively use it to harness and direct traffic

What is TikTok search? (& how it’s used)

TikTok is, first and foremost, a social media platform. It’s not a search engine, and yet it’s often the first port of call for Gen Zers looking for information, hence its nickname, “the new Google”.

But it’s not just younger users discovering information about the world via TikTok. Ofcom recently found that TikTok is the fastest-growing news source for UK adults.

A lot of the growth of TikTok as a source for research amongst users is down to the community aspect of the app – and the wide ecosystem of influencers and content creators, who are known to be more highly trusted than other forms of advertising, and whose opinion young users therefore search out before making product purchasing decisions, for example. 

But TikTok Search also functions in a few different ways than a standard Google search – and Gen Zers in particular are therefore using it in a few unique and exciting ways

1. Shopping for clothes

Fashion brands have often come under fire for using non-inclusive modelling on their websites – especially in the case of plus-sized and disabled bodies. TikTok search is going some way towards solving that problem for young audiences, who have taken to typing an item’s SKU code directly into the TikTok search bar.

In doing this, Tiktok users can discover exactly what the product they’re browsing looks like on a range of different, real life bodies via TikTok videos – without the touching-up that often happens on official advertising shoots and e-commerce photography.

@heensiestyledme In-store plus size @hm try-on! H&M carries up to 4XL online, but only XXL in-store. Does a size 22 person have any hope finding something that fits in person? Let’s find out! #plussizefashion #hmtryonhaul #plussizetryon #plussizestyle #styleinspo #plussizehmhaul ♬ original sound - HEENSIE | Plus Size + Stylist

2. Viewing pop culture announcements

Both cultural news and TikTok-specific updates are undoubtedly easier to find on the video-sharing app than they are on a ‘traditional’ search engine

It’s one of TikTok’s biggest selling points that the platform is just so reactive – there’s little barrier (and therefore little time) between a user seeing something, shooting a few short video clips, and posting the whole lot to a potentially huge audience. 

And because the TikTok algorithm is just as reactive, the videos containing this sought-after information trend quickly – in a fraction of the time it can take web pages to land at the top of Google search results.

So, when something shocking happens, the trending searches on TikTok’s discover page reflect the influx of new content being posted – and the top trending videos reflect freshly trending information (which has led to another social-specific phenomenon: people lamenting that they’re first learning of newsworthy events via joke reactive posts on the TikTok app).

3. Sharing gossip and discussions

TikTok users like community – 59% claim that they feel a sense of community when on the app, and they are active members within that online community, spanning wide and varied examples of micro-communities across the platform. 

As we discussed in our guide to using TikTok for TV advertising, Gen Z users enjoy participating in online hubs centred around the content they like to consume. They join subreddits, start discord channels, and join in active comment sections on TikTok

This is an important distinction: unlike Google searches, searches taking place on TikTok are not looking for the thing itself – they’re looking for discussion around said thing. 

For example, if they search for a TV show, TikTok users aren’t looking to stream that TV show on TikTok, they’re looking for people’s thoughts on the show, their fun edits, fan creations, or notable clips. 

TikTok Search is therefore fulfilling a completely different role in the discovery process – which is why building a community around your product or brand is so vital to continued TikTok success. 

4. Researching a destination

Similarly, TikTok is a popular starting point for users looking for places to go, and experiences to have, offline. 

Previously the sole remit of sites like Tripadvisor, now users are searching for tagged TikTok videos (or on Instagram) for a glimpse at what they can expect from a trip

These kinds of searches can easily spark trends of their own (like the FoodTok trending Joe & the Juice tuna sandwich, which has inspired copycat recipes, reviews, and more) – or simply provide a jumping-off point for further research. 

Listicle videos are particularly popular in this niche. TikTok content such as ‘Top 5 brunches to try in London’, or ‘Things to do in Portugal’; meaning that regardless of a business’ Google review score, these videos can direct huge amounts of Gen Z users through the doors. 

5. Searching via sounds

This works similarly to how a ‘related images’ Google search will throw up pictures with similar aesthetics to the one a user has searched either with or for. On TikTok, as certain sounds and audios become associated with trends, TikTokers search using that particular audio to find content that fits a similar aesthetic to one they like. 

Harry Styles’ Sunflower soundtracks this TikTok video featuring summer dresses

 TikTok sound meme “how I love being a woman!” soundtracks this video on embracing one’s feminine side. 

This could be seen in action in, for example, TikTok’s ‘Clean girl’ phase, during which a lot of ‘day in the life’ and ‘clean girl product’ review videos used a clip from Harry Styles’ ‘Sunflower Vol.6’, or the recent trend celebrating womanhood attached to an audio clip from the Netflix show ‘Anne with an E’.  

Users who then explored either audio via TikTok Search were able to discover similar content of all different kinds – a clever way the TikTok search allows users to navigate to content they’d enjoy via audio clip, original sound, or song. 

Why is TikTok better than Google? What marketers need to know.

It’s a bold overall claim – and not one we’re necessarily doubling down on – but there’s no denying that in at least some senses, TikTok is better for marketers than Google:

1. It’s where young audiences are

TikTok is Gen Z’s favourite social media site – a staggering 69% of young people reported using the platform. 

That means that brands can be confident that their digital marketing efforts in gaining visibility are going directly towards gaining more views from the target audience they’re interested in – and there’s no need to direct content to a wider audience or battle it out with huge, universally-used, competitors to score the top spot in searches. 

2. The algorithm suggests searches as well as answers them

No longer confined to just the top right corner, now TikTok search can also be accessed via the suggestions that appear at the bottom of your screen (flagged in the comment section) during videos. 

Users simply have to tap the search to see related videos – like ‘outfits for skiing’ suggested on a video of ‘top holiday destinations for winter’, for example.

This cyclical structure means that users can easily bounce around from topic to topic – and gives marketers the chance to widen their content focuses, as posting not only about your specific niche but also related niches may well catch users who weren’t initially searching for your exact content. 

The way the algorithm picks up popular content also means that successful content is further pushed on users’ For You Pages, then inspiring more searches in turn, and creating a cyclical effect of search-inspiration-search that boosts videos.

3. It inspires Google searches

TikTok is ground zero. Nowadays, it’s very often the first place a young audience will encounter something, or search for it themselves, but many of those searches travel off the platform to Google and other search engines, too. 

Further, while 68% of young people have expressed interest in buying directly from their social feeds, a not-insignificant number still choose to navigate elsewhere after having been inspired on a social platform. 

The popular #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt hashtag (which currently has over 32Bn views in the lead up to Christmas 2022) is packed full of evidence of this behaviour. Users talk openly about how, after seeing an item advertised or reviewed on TikTok, they go on to buy it themselves


TikTok marketing loop

#TikTokMadeMeBuyIt is an example of how TikTok is enabling a new customer journey


Data from Google has shown spikes in searches from items that began to trend on TikTok – like a 501% increase in Google searches for a ‘Negroni Sbagliato’ after an audio from Game of Thrones stars discussing the drink went viral.

Excitingly for marketers, Fanbytes by Brainlabs in conjunction with Brainlabs have recently gone even further – proving a direct link between influencers and off-platform action

4. You can leverage influencers to directly inspire search volume

Following a recent campaign, Fanbytes by Brainlabs were able to see – and importantly, measure – a distinct uptick in Google searches as a direct result of an influencer-led TikTok campaign. 

The results of the campaign highlighted that, as the influencer content grew in popularity, related Google searches became more popular – implying that users, having watched the TikTok influencer content, had navigated to Google to search for the brand on the web, eventually landing on the brand’s own landing pages. 

We were even able to isolate the effect of influencer marketing from the brand’s other marketing output to determine exactly how much impact the Tiktok influencer marketing campaign had on Google searches and share of voice. 

This means we can now quantify the effect of influencer marketing – finally proving a quantifiable correlation between TikTok influencer activity and an uptick in Google searches

This work is the first of its kind within the world of influencer marketing, and we’re excited to bring it to new brands. We’re continuing to spearhead new ways of joined-up thinking across influencer marketing, social media and the wider digital marketing ecosystem. 

As we see TikTok’s own search engine capabilities grow, an exciting step is to quantifiably connect the effect of TikTok influencer marketing with TikTok search growth – something that can feed the inspiration-search-inspiration loop and see brands’ share of voice grow exponentially.

You can read more about this phenomenon in our explainer article: Do Influencers Drive Sales? How to Maximise ROI & Measure Influencers‘ Impact.

TikTok search engine = how to find young audiences

TikTok search is disrupting what we know about how young people navigate online, and it’s not only because they’re sticking to their social feeds. 

Marketers should therefore be widening their understanding of the role of the social media app; it’s affecting both in and out-of-platform searches, it’s operating across a few different levels, and it’s not only answering queries – it’s inspiring them. 

This unique active vs passive form of searching means that young audiences can’t just be found by targeting your exact niche, but also by expanding your online offering to respond to a wider field of enquiries

Not to mention, there’s cause for celebration, as marketers can finally prove quantified influencer campaign results off-platform, too. 

And, if the past updates and improvements from TikTok are any indication, marketers should expect to hear more in the new year about the TikTok Search function. It’s well worth getting your pages optimised early – that way, you’re first-in-line to take advantage of any UI updates that will have a material benefit to brands on the platform. 

If you’d like to discuss how we can get your brand discovered on the TikTok search engine – and even create influencer content that will increase the numbers of users searching for your brand, get in touch. We’d love to talk you through how we’ll make your brand the one everyone’s after.

Optimising your TikTok Search and SEO is an ongoing process – but it doesn’t have to be a complicated process. Check out our guide to get you started: 

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