We’ve all seen those cringy T-shirts while holidaying abroad, you know, the ones centred around Google; “no need to Google, just ask my wife” or “my dad has all the answers… but I Google just in case”. Well, according to new research, some users are switching out Google for the likes of TikTok or Reddit in that moment of need for an answer. 

“How I feel about the brand has changed quite profoundly,” Clint Choi, a 26-year-old marketer in London, told the Washington Post. “When I was just starting to access the internet, Google was an authority, but … the parent company that owns Google has misplaced the consumer’s trust. We don’t see Google as the central authority on search anymore.”

To be clear, Google is still certainly dominating the search engine market, 90% of it according to SimilarWeb. Most of the swaying 10% belong to Gen Z favouring opinionated and more visual answers when searching. 

Back in 2021, a study by Cloudflare, a web security firm, found that about 40% of Gen Z prefer to search on TikTok over Google. This was supported by data presented last year by Prabhakar Raghavan, a senior vice president at Google.

The horizon doesn’t look all that different with Google’s share of revenue from search advertising in the United States expected to fall to 54% this year, down from 67% in 2016, according to eMarketer, a research firm. Google itself is aware of this issue and recently announced a slew of updates to the service, including new AI-generated search results at its annual conference.

“Google successfully helps people with the billions of searches they do each day, but we are always working to make it better,” said Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search. “We’ve continued to apply technologies like AI to enable new ways for people to search and make sense of what’s out there. Where there’s room to improve, we prioritise it, exemplified by our work to bring more helpful content from experts and everyday people into search.”

What hasn’t helped Google’s case is a plague of SEO spam, which crowds out relevant search results, often AI-generated or full of poor quality information, that are designed to rank high on Google’s algorithm. Such an amalgamation of issues has weakened Google’s own ranking system to the point where a link’s presence among the top results for a Google search is correlated with scams, not relevance. 

Another shortcoming remarked by Ed Zitron, CEO of EZPR, a media relations firm is that “Google’s content is very much what Google wants you to find rather than the right search result […] Google has categorically failed as a steward of the web, and over the course of about 10 or 15 years, [has] effectively just turned on customers entirely. It’s almost as if you have to trick Google into giving you what you want.” As a result, users have found themselves doing more digging than they would like to recently. 

Google isn’t just facing an erosion of trust in its core product due to SEO spam; it’s also struggling to find its place in an increasingly fragmented online environment. Fifteen years ago, search was the primary access point to the broader web. Now, not so much. More users are discovering content on social platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram and more.

Gen Z content creator, Chelsea, a.k.a @ChelseaUGC Tweeted the following only two weeks ago;
“TikTok is my Google.. It’s how I search for product recommendations, how to do things, where to go, even apartment tours! TikTok is slowly changing into Google especially with their update that is coming soon. I’m excited to see how this helps and benefits creators + brands.”

To navigate this shift, Google has begun integrating more content from social media platforms like TikTok, directly into search results. Recently, the company announced that it would soon roll out several AI-related updates to its search functionality. Soon, when a user Googles something, they may receive a clearly written, natural language answer written by AI.

But in a world where users increasingly value authenticity, those updates may not sway enough users, especially with younger users expecting the type of authenticity TikTok is so organically good at offering. 

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