Is TikTok Becoming Gen Z's New Search Engine?

Google execs say TikTok is eating into Google’s core products, Search and Maps
Divad Sanders
August 4, 2022
Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash w/ edits by the author

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TikTok’s claim to fame are dancing and lip-syncing videos, right?

If you think that then you’re probably subscribed to Millennial+ (25 and older). We’re looking through the lens of media from the past 10 years.

Underneath the whimsy, TikTok has a way of making the world speak one language. Through cultural touchpoints like popular Netflix series or a 5-second clip of r&b legend Usher, we all get the joke.

However, even with this breakthrough, to think that TikTok has any chance of completely overthrowing a company like Google is asinine. Creators will have you thinking otherwise with tweets like this:

If I may, let me do some autocorrecting:

“I don’t Google anymore. I TikTok.” — Claude Lukks, Product Designer at SohoHouse

Sorry, I’m a stickler for grammar. Shoutout to my guy Lukkz.

But to suggest there can be a verbification of “TikTok” seems a bit premature. Got a question? Google it. Google has become synonymous with search. Google reigns as the world’s go-to search engine for everyday people, not just 40% of the population. It’s been that way for over a decade.

TikTok has reached an incredible height, but its place in the world is not on the level of Google.

Disclaimer. I have a TikTok account. I check my Gmail every day. I actually love them both. I am not a shill for either.

TikTok Revolutionized Social Media

So many platforms have been tempted to take the Instagram approach to combat TikTok’s takeover: copy & paste. Thus, add-ons such as YouTube Shorts were born.

But YouTube still makes its money with long-form content.

Paired with a strong catalog of videos, creators have found that using Shorts is a powerful strategy to attract new viewers to their channel. Shorts can be the bait that hooks viewers and gets them to subscribe. As a feature on the platform, Shorts will never become a go-to of the YouTube app as a whole.

YouTube remains a long-form content platform.

Where else am I going to get the 3-hour long Dark Academia Classical Music video I play as I write articles like this?

Video Makes More Sense Than Images

Reels emerged as a result of TikTok. Video was a feature on Instagram prior to Reels. Why wasn’t it as big of a success for Instagram?

Simply put, they had yet to master the art of immersion: making the viewer feel as though they were right there with you.

When watching a movie on our laptop, we go fullscreen. It becomes a window into another world and we can block out whatever app we were on. In the past, Instagram videos were held in a 1:1 square or 16:9 widescreen format on the user’s feed. Users were in Instagram's world first and the creator’s second.

It lacked the immersive experience.

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TikTok does video better

Companies like Meta (previously Facebook) are investing billions of dollars into creating the future of social interaction with AR (augmented reality) glasses and eye/ear encasing headsets.

TikTok is not a technology company. They had to make the most of the 9:16 vertical aspect ratio and siphon creators from other platforms.

They know most people are not creative. No offense to the sharers and reposters, but people copy to pass off others’ ideas as their own.

TikTok created an ecosystem for content theft and called it “trends”.

This ease of communal fame makes for an echo chamber of regurgitated ideas that get hundreds of thousands of views. “Creators” jump on trending content and TikTok rewards them with views.

TikTok Gives Google the Business

Last year, TikTok moved past Google as the world’s most visited website. Your niece's favorite app has even proven to be a serious threat to YouTube, surpassing it in terms of average viewership in 2021.

“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… they go to tiktok or Instagram.” — Prabhakar Raghavan, Google Senior Vice President

TikTok saw claims as another flash in the pan social media platform and said “SHOVE IT!”

Now home to lifehacks, DIY tutorials, movie trivia, and countless other categories, TikTok made its way to adding education to its entertainment origins. They have to be taken seriously.

Don’t get it confused, Google is still a juggernaut in the search engine business. Google does not need to become the next social app.

Google is a utility platform with inklings of social and community outlets (ex. Gmail, Maps, Search, Translate, etc.). TikTok is a social media app without any movement toward becoming an asset for daily life.

Medium is not safe

TikTok is receiving massive amounts of traffic as people seek out educational content on the platform. Creators have found that these types of videos work well to gain high viewership.

Similar to Medium, create a piece of evergreen content and you can expect to get views years from now as people search for everyday “how-tos”.

The great thing about Medium is that it is indexed. The articles you post here will show in Google searches. One of my most popular articles remains at the top of the Google search page.

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My articles dating back as far as 2019 sit atop Google search pages and receive a substantial amount of reads to this day.

But now TikTok is also indexed on Google.

It’s only a matter of time before platforms like Medium and YouTube start to feel a significant drop in traffic. I just hope we don’t see Medium try to compete by adding a video function.

That would be a big mistake. Huge!

With Medium’s new leadership under Tony Stubblebine (aka Coach Tony), I’m sure this is a major concern.

Final Thoughts

TikTok is changing how more established companies are doing business. My opinion on platforms like Instagram pushing for video is split.

As a consumer, video is an easier and more entertaining form of learning. YouTube videos and tutorials got me through college. Seeing TikTok lifehacks in 1–3 minute clips has upgraded small aspects of my life:

  • How to fold a fitted bedsheet
  • The proper way to use a can opener
  • Planting a seed from a store-bought avocado
  • Too many websites to name

I learn the best basic life information from TikTok.

As a creator, matching the required video output these platforms are setting because of TikTok has been difficult. The push for video means an entire reorganization for creators who didn’t previously need video to grow their channels.

Being on camera is not a skill that everyone wishes to master. Some creators have found ways to circumvent this new standard, but a large amount is holding on to photos, hoping for a Balboa-esq return.

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