TikTok’s Play for the Next Generation of Search

In late September, TikTok made a slightly under-the-radar announcement that it was expanding the character limit of its video descriptions from 300 to a whopping 2,200 characters. Anyone who dismisses this as yet another feature update from a social media platform may be missing a bigger trend: TikTok’s emergence as a search and discovery powerhouse, especially for Gen Z.

Interestingly, one of Google’s leaders, SVP of Knowledge & Information Prabhakar Raghavan, had laid out that trend clearly in July, saying in a Fortune conference that Google’s data showed almost half of Gen Z using TikTok or Instagram before Google for certain searches.

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Where Does TikTok Stand in Search?

More than anything, TikTok is already a discovery platform for entertainment, music, and trending activities. For a social platform, it boasts relatively low levels of social exchanges and messaging; much of its power comes from the For You page, where users discover new creators, content, and trends. 

Screenshot of the TikTok For You Page.

The search character expansion is a big step toward TikTok making discovery easier – creators, artists, restaurants, etc. will have much greater flexibility to include relevant keywords, phases, etc. to get in front of their target users.


What’s Next for TikTok?

Obviously, TikTok has made major inroads into the Gen Z demographic; the next year or two will show whether they’re able to reach a broader audience with their discovery function. Everyone’s copying each other, which isn’t new in digital marketing; YouTube came out with Shorts, Instagram and Snapchat are trying to mimic the functionality of BeReal (which is emerging extremely quickly). Time will tell if any of these copycat moves help platforms take market share from each other.

On the advertising side, TikTok is rolling out features and updates very quickly. While the search character expansion is, on its face, more of a user update, it could be geared toward turning TikTok into more of a search engine that has an edge on its competitors into what’s trending (restaurants, music, influencers, etc.), which could eventually be monetized in a number of ways. More than Google’s expanded text and sitelinks, TikTok can provide a more intimate, immediate, personalized search that mirrors the trending nature of its content. 


What Will TikTok Never Be Able to do Better Than Google?

All of that said, Google searches tend to have higher, more measurable intent. Google searches are explicitly designed to lead users to other properties to buy products, sign up for demos, etc. TikTok conversion and direct response will be harder to demonstrate, especially since the platform may, more than Google, want to keep its users on the app itself. And since Google has been the gold standard for search depth and relevancy for almost two decades, it will serve as the search default for the foreseeable future (if you don’t see what you’re looking for after a TikTok search or two, you’re turning to Google – but the same isn’t necessarily true in reverse).

Long story short: TikTok sees a future as a search and discovery platform, especially in the world of entertainment, and especially for younger users. Time will tell how they plan to use this to their revenue advantage.



Thinking of running a Paid Search campaign on TikTok? Contact Jordan Digital Marketing to find out how we can help!

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