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  • Writer's pictureJay Thandi

The rise of TikTok SEO: Is TikTok a Search Engine or Social Media Platform?



TikTok Billboard, TikTok Search Bar London Underground Advert


Introduction

We're only in January 2024 and already the biggest question in SEO has become “Is TikTok a Search Engine?”

 

Over the past week TikTok launched a OOH advertisement featuring a search bar which captured many people’s attention, but the rise of TikTok and other social media platforms growing influence Is TikTok a Search Engine or Social Media Platform?


1 month in to 2024 and the biggest question in SEO has quickly become “Is TikTok a Search Engine?”

 

Over the past week TikTok launched a OOH advertisement featuring a search bar which captured many people’s in attention, but the rise of TikTok and other social media platforms growing influence in this space actually began a couple of years ago.

 

Back in 2022, Senior Vice President of Google, Prabhakar Raghavan, stated 40% of young people (Gen Z) were turning to TikTok or Instagram ahead of Google Maps or Google Search. HerCampus expanded on this with a survey in the US stating 73% of Gen Z were turning to TikTok as a search engine.

 

TikTok also recently launched it’s “It starts with TikTok”, with the campaign appearing on some of the UK’s biggest billboards, across radio, podcasts, social and in-app, and on TV screens which shows how the impact searching on TikTok can bring. This shows how TikTok sees itself as bigger than just a Social Media platform and will continue to grow in the Search space. During the past week I was served an advert on YouTube as part of their expansion.

 



 

We’ve also seen Google shift to incorporating TikTok videos in their SERPs (Search Engine Results Page). This means businesses can optimise a social strategy which will impact their SEO.

 

As this is an area that’s quickly evolving, we asked some industry professional for their thoughts on TikTok and SEO for 2024:

 

  • Do Search and Social Media need a more integrated approach in 2024?

  • Should businesses prioritise TikTok over YouTube?

  • How does TikTok impact discoverability?

  • And who should be responsible for formulating the TikTok strategy (Social Media, SEO, Branding, Content, all of them etc...)?

 

JR at Seen Connects shared his thoughts below:


  • Do Search and Social Media need a more integrated approach in 2024?

 

Absolutely, we’ve seen over the last 2 years how platforms are becoming more and more aware of how consumers are utilising apps like Instagram, TikTok and Pinterest as search engines. These platforms have continued to increase their search functionality to meet that demand. Also, with the changes we’ve seen in the SEO industry and social content even being served in the SERPs on Google, its important now more than ever to integrate search and social strategies. 

 

  • Should businesses prioritise TikTok over YouTube?

 

It really depends on the business, target audience and content styles. My advice would be to do a deep dive into your target demographic and understand where they’re showing up. TikTok does over index across multiple audiences but if you’re trying to reach an older demographic YouTube might still be king for your business. 

 

  • How does TikTok impact discoverability?

 

TikTok’s algorithm rewards content that is deemed entertaining, rather than most other platforms that built their algorithms on a social graph of engagement. This changed the game for discoverability on social, what was once reserved for the “social elite” has become available for everyone through the FYP. On top of this over the last 12 months, TikTok have pioneered social search with their new search functionalities and even released analytics on search. Google have even recognised the value of TikTok content by adding short form video content from the platform in search results – if discoverability is your goal, TikTok is the platform for you. 

 

  • And who should be responsible for formulating the TikTok strategy (Social Media, SEO, Branding, Content, all of them etc...)?

 

In my opinion, it’s a joint effort – for too long all of these teams have worked in silo of each other but for brands to win they all need to work together. Social teams can learn a lot from SEO teams and visa-versa. Aligning on wider brand strategies across each business entity will definitely become more commonplace.

 

 

Rejoice Ojiaku, an SEO professional, industry speaker and Co-Founder of B-DigitalUK shared her thoughts below:

 

·      Do Search and Social Media need a more integrated approach in 2024?

   

Absolutely. The integration of search and social media is crucial in 2024. With platforms like TikTok influencing search behaviour, especially among Gen Z, businesses need to understand how social media content can enhance their search visibility. An integrated approach ensures that content strategies are synergistic, leveraging social media trends and search insights to create a cohesive online presence. It's not just about being found anymore; it's about being relevant and engaging where your audience is spending their time.

 

·      Should businesses prioritise TikTok over YouTube?

   

This depends on the target audience and content style of the business. TikTok, with its short-form, highly engaging content, is a goldmine for capturing Gen Z's attention. However, YouTube's long-form content appeals to a broader demographic and is excellent for in-depth storytelling and brand building. It's not about choosing one over the other; rather, it's about leveraging each platform's strengths. For immediate engagement and trend-setting, TikTok is key. For comprehensive content and broader reach, YouTube remains essential.

 

·      How does TikTok impact discoverability?

   

TikTok significantly boosts discoverability through its algorithm, which favours user engagement over follower count. This means even new or small brands can achieve wide visibility if their content resonates with the audience. Additionally, TikTok's content often ranks in Google SERPs, offering a dual benefit – visibility on both TikTok and Google. The key is creating content that is not only engaging but also optimized with trending hashtags, relevant keywords, and engaging narratives.

 

·      Who should be responsible for formulating the TikTok strategy (Social Media, SEO, Branding, Content, all of them, etc...)

   

The TikTok strategy should be a collaborative effort. Social Media teams bring expertise in platform-specific trends and audience engagement. SEO teams can integrate search insights and keyword strategies. Branding teams ensure content alignment with the overall brand voice and image. Content teams contribute to creative storytelling and quality content production. A unified approach, where all these teams work together, results in a TikTok strategy that is not only engaging and trend-savvy but also aligned with broader marketing objectives.

 

SEO Consultant Dhanya Nair shared her thoughts on the matter:


Of late (on LinkedIn), the SEO community is up in arms about whether TikTok is a search engine. As a marketer and user, I use TikTok as a search engine, especially during the initial discovery stage of any search. This does not mean I only use TikTok. Search is not a linear process and rather than debating whether TikTok is a search engine or not, as marketers we need to have an integrated approach. 


As mentioned above, TikTok is great for discovery. As a consumer, I have discovered several upcoming brands, publications and even different hot takes on TikTok. The personalised algorithm is one of the main reasons why I keep going back to TikTok. That being said, my search ends up in Google. Because with Google you can understand a brand’s expertise and authority in the field. 


One of the main drawbacks of TikTok is there is no EEAT element (at least not yet) and it is difficult to establish the veracity of content. Especially for more serious topics, be it health, finance or even politics, searches still get completed in Google. The other drawback is there are still no tools out there that give organic search volume information. So, sometimes it can feel like you are throwing darts in darkness. 


So should you use TikTok or not? Gone are the days of siloed SEO work. Integrated teams and SEOs should already be using TikTok in their Search strategy. as I said search journey is rarely linear and to improve your brand visibility, your reach, and your bottomline have a cross-channel strategy. 

 


Our thoughts

Businesses should utilise TikTok marketing as both an SEO and Social Media channel, which will require an integrated approach. If audiences are beginning to utilise TikTok as there go to Search Engine, then businesses will need to priorities this as a channel for their customers. Also with TikTok videos showing on Google SERPs this means content must be optimised to both channels, which can be challenging.

 

TikTok is a way to signal “experience” by showcasing how actual users incorporate a businesses products and services in their daily lives. It’s an opportunity to help building brands. Also audiences sharing content (UGC) on different platforms such as TikTok and Pinterest will indirectly increase brand visibility, help build trustworthiness and develop authenticity, which can support a businesses SEO activities.


Anyone arguing TikTok isn't a search engine should keep in mind YouTube SEO only searches within YouTube, Amazon SEO within Amazon and ASO on within a certain app store.

 

Tiktok has quickly become a search engine, because users are using it like one, and because of this businesses will need greater integration between their Social Media and SEO teams, to find a new way of formulating a broader organic digital marketing strategy to reach audiences.


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