At the end of last year, a senior vice president of search at Google noted that 40 percent of young internet users are regularly turning to TikTok or Instagram for search. I too am guilty.
In two weeks, I will be going to Barcelona for four days to celebrate my birthday with my partner. Neither of us have been before and honestly the first place I turned to for recommendations was TikTok’s search bar. Why, you might ask? Well, no amount of Google stars for Bar Boqueria will give me the immersive insight that TikTok will. Furthermore, the video’s content creator will probably also be a 24 year old female like myself looking for an authentic and romantic setting with her partner. It just feels as if I’ll get more personal results with more visual information.
If you’re a boomer, this may surprise you; how could a twitchy video app filled with dancing teens, cat memes, food hacks, and cringey stunts help you find a financial adviser or a train timetable, or even search results for yourself? But in 2021, content delivery network Cloudflare reported that Tiktok.com had overtaken Google as the world’s most visited web domain.
The beauty with TikTok’s search feature is that its algorithm definitely feels more tailored than Google. The more you use the app, the more likely it is to know what you’d like. For example, if myself and a bunch of other 24 year old women search for ‘Barcelona best restaurants’ on Google, we are likely to all get the same results. Whereas on TikTok, while we may be the same age and gender, TikTok notices that I consume a lot of Mediterranean and vintage inspired content whereas my 24 year old friend Renee prefers more glossy commercial Michelin Star content. As a result, TikTok is likely to show us better fitting videos and therefore, restaurants, even if we search for the same thing.
Another thing TikTok search has over Google is its visual guidance. This is great for ‘how to’ searches. Searching ‘how to get rid of acne’? Where Google will send you to various medical websites, TikTok presents you with a before and after skincare routine of Shelly, 31 who has suffered with acne since she was a teen and has managed to cure it in just four months.
Where TikTok may fail in comparison to Google, however, is accuracy. TikTok search is a portal to, well, TikTok and therefore multiple videos expressing individual opinions. TikTok isn’t going to direct you to the Gov UK help line now, is it? In fact, the other day I opened TikTok, and it recommended an account called “oldloserinbrooklyn,” particularly this person’s 2023 predictions, the top of which is “more print magazines closing.” I mean, we all could have guessed that now couldn’t we?