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TikTok Searches Are Changing Google Search, Attracting New Generations of Users

8 minute read
Pierre DeBois avatar
Younger generations of customers are going to TikTok for searches using videos and images, and Google is adapting.

I once wrote that when it comes to search engine optimization, choosing where your keywords go within your content will feel much like arranging furniture in your home. With TikTok becoming more of a search starting point of choice for a new generation of customers, the home of search engine queries is about to be outright changed.

To counter the growing search prowess of TikTok, Google is introducing new features in its search app, Google Lens. These new features are meant to account for images and video in search and brand discovery online. Marketers should use these platform adoptions to note how consumers are adopting image and video in their online search.

The Latest Updates in Google Lens

At Search I/0 this fall, Google noted that 8 billion users use Lens as a starting point for their search queries. To match the growing interest, Google announced a series of updates aimed at enhancing product image queries with more relevant additional information.

The most prominent of these is the Mulitsearch Near Me feature for Lens, a visual search engine that can analyze images and return relevant results for images such as products at locations near landmarks. Consumers can search by snapping a picture or screenshot and then using Lens for search. With Multisearch Near Me, Lens can add a text query to the search. Once the query has been sent, Google will return links to websites or other image suggestions that are relevant to the image. This can help enhance a query for an item a consumer knows visually but doesn't have the precise description, like the brand or model number. It can also reduce the number of queries needed to find a nearby business, increasing convenience for the customer and for the business.

Released in 2017, Google Lens has seen several updates over the years, integrating it with other Google solutions associated with Android smartphones such as Google Assistant and Google Photos apps. But this latest Lens update has strategic significance as Google recognizes an emerging customer behavior. Google noted in its research that 40% of Generation Z consumers like to use social media to conduct product searches. Consumers are looking for a visual representation of what they want.

The Lens multisearch feature complements the current customer experience for mobile, especially for Generation Z customers. It matches how customers point at a real life item, be it an image or video, and ask a question about it in real time. 

This behavior is encouraging customers to skip traditional search platforms, including aids such as Google Maps. As a matter of fact, Google is adding real world immersion features in Google Maps to enhance its usage when customers are looking for shops and services.

Related Article: Google Helpful Content Update Improves Customer Experience and SEO Strategy

Google Confirms the Big Picture of Where Search Is Heading

The Google Lens update does not imply that image queries are replacing keyword queries overnight. Image queries reflect how people are considering more options than a traditional search engine — a staple of the internet. The expansion of search engines has led into distinct query types for some time now, all in gradual measures. Amazon, for example, attracted customers looking for specific products, and became a type of search engine as well as an ecommerce juggernaut. But in this instance customers already had a product awareness before conducting a search on Amazon, so it is not for discovery as it would be for a Google search. Moreover, they are receiving listings dedicated to Amazon or its partner retailers rather than results that could contain new sites or broader sets of information from public sources.

The way SEO works is as well known among marketers as a favorite bedtime story is to a child. When someone searches for a topic in a search engine, be it Bing or Google, the search engine retrieves the best online content it can find by crawling the HTML documents and links of websites and online apps. The search engines interpret categories for your content by examining the content key phrases, the structure of the content and comparing them through the algorithm. Doing this tells them what the websites are about. The best website choices containing well-optimized keywords, links and content will be returned among the search results.

For years now marketers had to consider SEO and social media strategies side by side to establish an online presence that enhanced customer experience. Social media has long been a factor in search query results. Profile activity from Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter can all appear in a search engine results page. All of this capability reinforces Google's popularity among marketers and dominant market share as a search engine.

Related Article: 7 Tips for Selecting the Right SEO Agency

The Rise of TikTok as a Search Competitor

But emerging consumer behavior on TikTok introduces a different aspect to the yin and yang of social media and SEO. People are relying on TikTok for more general information than the product searches conducted on Amazon.

Learning Opportunities

A trend toward alternate search sources has been growing steadily over the years since Google became the search engine of choice. These search alternatives reflect nuanced queries for specific items. Amazon for example has become a default search engine for products. But many consumers were already aware of the product and were just looking for the best price on that product given Amazon's secondary market for products. Pinterest also became a search engine of sorts but there people were looking for specific images for topics such as crocheting, fashion or other specialty interests. And YouTube has long been considered the second largest search engine behind Google.

But TikTok presents a more significant threat to Google's search dominance because of its generational grasp on the online behavior of Gen Zers and millennials. These people might appear to be just dancing, but they are doing way more than that. They are searching and discovering services through TikTok.

It sounds surprising, but think of how long search engines have been in the general public's eye. Twenty years may not be a long time historically, but from a digital tech perspective, it can be totally different eras. That difference is creating the opportunity.

TikTok upends expectations for online search, but some significant issues exist. There are plenty of martech tools that verify search volume on Google. There are no third-party tools on TikTok — at least, not yet. The lack of verification hampers planning content features for consumer discovery.

Another aspect to consider — TikTok is being increasingly criticized for data privacy concerns. TechCrunch reported that Ireland’s Data Protection Commission is investigating TikTok for potential General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) violations regarding data transfers to China. Data transfers trigger questions of customer data rights — do they know? Is there permission for data to be stored for a given purpose. Reportedly, TikTok disclosed for the first time that the Chinese government is among its partners who can access user profile data. Marketers must be more diligent in inspecting what issues platforms are facing with regard to data.

Related Article: The Evolution of Web AnalyticsThe Evolution of Web Analytics

What Should Marketers Do Now to Future-Proof Their SEO?

Keep in mind that any latest SEO news doesn't imply that you should rush into an SEO strategy revamp this second. Reactions to SEO tend to be smaller evolutionary steps rather than big overnight changes. SEO changes in the marketplace are similar to introducing a new feature across automobile platforms. Car owners didn't immediately replace their car with a new one because new models had the latest safety features or wireless phone chargers. It took years for vehicles with the new features to proliferate the market and change customer behavior permanently. Marketers will likely undergo the same type of evolution for using video and text to strengthen search engine strategy.

Marketers must take advantage of evolutionary changes like Google Lens to incorporate site updates that fit the discoveries customers make online. Customers are clearly using visual clues to discover products, services and businesses. Thus these discoveries are part of today's customer experience. The tactics to develop these changes in a search strategy are part of a bigger picture to provide helpful content (see my post for more on Google's Helpful Content Update).

So if you are looking at your brand's SEO tactics, start examining the context that your pictures and videos can bring, and plan to evolve the strategy. That context can alter keyword and phrase choices to bring customers to your landing pages, websites and online apps.

About the author

Pierre DeBois

Pierre DeBois is the founder of Zimana, a small business digital analytics consultancy. He reviews data from web analytics and social media dashboard solutions, then provides recommendations and web development action that improves marketing strategy and business profitability.

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