Is TikTok Really Gen Z’s Biggest Search Engine?

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Think of a search engine, and there’s probably one name that springs straight into your mind. That’s right, it’s the one with the colourful logo that begins with a G. What you may not know is that there’s a new kid on the block. It turns out that they’re actually pretty popular, too! Nope, AskJeeves hasn’t had a glow up and returned for 2024. The unlikely new search engine favoured by Gen Z is actually TikTok. Since its launch back in 2016, the social platform has gained huge popularity as a place to share video content. With viral trends aplenty, TikTok is a place where content moves fast. But has it really evolved so quickly that it’s now giving Google a run for its money?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that TikTok is just all about copycat dance routines and viral hacks. Instead, it turns out that it’s actually a pretty handy search tool, too. If you’re a proud member of Generation Z, that is. Of course, for millennials, boomers, and pretty much everyone else, this is all probably new information. But is it really true? Is TikTok really the search engine of choice for Gen Z? Keep reading as we dive deeper into this subject and find out:

What the numbers say

TikTok is best known as a platform for entertaining content. But it turns out it’s pretty useful as a search engine, too. Well, according to Gen Z, anyway. So, how do we know that Gen Z uses TikTok as a search engine? More importantly, how do we know it’s the biggest search engine for this demographic? The only real way to separate facts from the fiction is with some cold, hard numbers. So, what do the figures say?

  • Statista reports that TikTok was downloaded a whopping 672 million times in 2022. This makes it the most downloaded app globally for the year 2022.
  • According to a survey conducted by Adobe, more than 2 in 5 Americans use TikTok as a search engine.
  • Adobe’s research also shows that one in ten Gen Zers now choose to use TikTok as a search engine over Google
  • Google says that 40% of younger users turn to TikTok for search queries, such as where to go for lunch, rather than using Google Search or Google Maps.

Why do Gen Z use TikTok as a search engine?

The numbers may show clearly that Gen Zers are turning to TikTok as a search engine. The figures also show how TikTok is becoming the most preferred search tool for this internet-savvy bunch. But exactly why are Gen Zers using TikTok as a search engine instead of that way more established stalwart Google? Here’s what you need to know:

Traditional Search Engines Don’t Always Meet Gen Z Expectations

While many of us immediately Google everything and anything we need to know, this isn’t true for Gen Z. Google itself even acknowledges that its extensive suite of online tools sometimes miss the mark with the younger generation.

In an interview with Fortune at Brainstorm Tech 2022: Organizing The World’s Information conference, Google’s Senior Vice President, Prabhakar Raghavan, shared his thoughts. 

Explaining why Gen Z may prefer using TikTok over Google, Raghavan said: “The queries they use are completely different. They are not what you and I are used to typing, 2.6 keywords queries. They don’t do that. Beyond that, younger people do not come with preset expectations.

“So, I’ll give you two examples. In studies, something like 40 percent of young people when they are looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or search, they go to TikTok or Instagram. So think about it, right, so the journey begins in different forms.

“People are coming online for the first time, whether it’s young people or new users in emerging markets. They’ve never seen a paper map. Yet Maps products today look like a paper map stuck on a phone, which is wrong. So, we’re not meeting those users’ expectations, so we’ve got to change.”

Recognising the challenges that Google faces, Raghavan added: “So, we have to conjure up completely new expectations so that takes all new technology underpinning them.”

Gen Z Wants More Expressive, Relatable Content

Gen Zers don’t want to type some keywords into Google and then scroll through reams of text looking for the answer. They actually want to be surprised, to be inspired. They also want content that’s relatable. TikTok delivers on all of this. 

Type in your search query on TikTok, and you’ll be presented with content that’s visual, has audio and is delivered by an actual person. In an age of influencers and online communities, this is the content that really matters.

Gen Zers don’t want hard facts. They want content that’s engaging. They don’t always want established information. Instead, they want to hear about the newest trends and to receive the freshest content. Gen Zers want to know about the best kept secrets and must-visit places ahead of their friends. This is where TikTok content excels.

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Why it matters

We now know that Gen Z uses TikTok as a valuable information source. But as a blogger or business owner, does this really matter to you? In short, yes. As we all know, trends come and go. Right now, Gen Zers hold a lot of influence over what’s in and what’s out. After all, this is the generation that condemned skinny jeans while bringing back scrunchies and Ugg boots. These people have power! 

Gen Z is a massive market – there are 12.7 millions Gen Zers in the UK alone. So, failing to reach this audience means you miss out on a huge market segment. If you want to engage with Gen Z, you’re going to need to meet them where they’re at. In this case, it’s TikTok. 

Developing content for TikTok could be just the in you need to reach this new audience. So, to capture the attention of everyone from Boomers to Generation Alpha, embracing the opportunities that TikTok brings is a must. 

What does it mean for the future of search engines?

There’s no doubt that TikTok is emerging as a big, albeit, unlikely contender to the title of top search engine. With Boomers the generation that use TikTok less frequently for search queries and Gen Z using it the most, a distinct pattern has appeared. Older generations prefer to search using Google. This is shown by the number of users turning to TikTok for searches rapidly increasing through each generation. 

It’s easy to label Boomers as technophobes and argue that they don’t want to move with the times by choosing to stick with Google. But this is not just about familiarity with the search engine. Instead, it’s also related to the way they interact with online content. The type of experience and results delivered by Google matches how Boomers prefer to receive their information. 

In short, users search for content that answers their questions. But they also want the answers delivered in a way that appeals to them. Gen Z is known for focusing on aesthetics. They want content that’s visual and appealing. TikTok delivers this, alongside a generous dose of relatability, as you can see and hear the content. This stimulating content is a huge contrast to the text-based search results you receive on Google.

So, what does this mean for the future of search engines? The use of TikTok as a search engine notably increases through each generation from Boomers to Gen X to Millenials and finally to Gen Z. So, we can pretty much predict that Generation Alpha will follow the same trend. For search engines, this means that they need to evolve to meet the demands of the new generations. 

As younger users seek out visual, expressive content that’s relatable to their interests, TikTok looks set to continue its ascension in the world of search engines. For Google, this presents significant challenges and more questions than answers:

  • Can Google evolve to appeal to Gen Z without alienating its loyal users of previous generations? 
  • Will Google develop their technology fast enough to compete on a level with TikTok? 
  • Does the Google brand personality resonate enough with Gen Z to appeal to this demographic?
  • Will other, more visual social platforms, such as Instagram be used increasingly as a search engine?

None of us really know where technology will take us. Algorithms will continue to change, and technology will continually evolve. For businesses and bloggers, understanding these changes is essential. Gen Z represents the future of social media, after all they are the generation that will shape how it’s used. 

The number of TikTok users is expected to reach 16.8 million in the UK alone this year. So, whether TikTok is really the biggest search engine for Gen Z or not, it can’t be ignored.