TikTok’s Search Engine is becoming a threat for Google

TikTok’s ad revenue predicted to overtake YouTube by 2024.
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In 2021, Google held a global market share of 92.47 per cent in worldwide online search. However, TikTok’s rising popularity among younger audiences for search queries could pose a threat to Google Search. 

In Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, 2022, Senior Vice President–Google Prabhakar Raghavan revealed that, according to an internal study conducted by Google, nearly 40 per cent of young users between ages 18 and 24 in the US preferred to use ‘TikTok’ or ‘Instagram’ over ‘Google Maps’ or ‘Google Search’ when looking for a restaurant. In-depth results of the study are expected to be made public soon.

Why does Gen Z prefer Tiktok?

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It is possible that younger audiences prefer platforms like ‘TikTok’ and ‘Instagram’ instead of ‘Google’ for search purposes due to their highly visual engagement. For instance, finding all one needs to know about a restaurant nearby in a 12-second clip is more appealing than reading multiple reviews or a 4-minute long blog.

New internet users do not have the same type of expectations and the mindset that we often become accustomed to”, Raghavan elaborates.

Older age groups too prefer to engage more with an audio-visual medium if they want to learn something new instead of reading an article or a book. Additionally, users now have shorter attention spans and expect crisp deliveries of informative content. For instance, if a user is looking for a tutorial to change the tyre of a car, it is plausible to assume that they would prefer a 1-minute clip explaining essentials instead of a more detailed explainer on YouTube.

TikTok also improved its search tools over time. For instance, predictive text feature, which suggests common searches, has limited the need for users to go off-platform. A simple search query of a restaurant nearby could provide them with clips for ten other restaurants in the same locality. 

Many young adults also explore such audio-visual platforms to discover new artists and music. A study by MRC Data and Flamingo Group found that 75 percent of TikTok users say they discover artists on the platform. In addition, nearly 63 per cent cite it as a source to find alternate music. 

According to YPulse research, users between 13 and 39 years of age do not rely solely on ‘YouTube’ to discover new music. In terms of variegated searches, Instagram (60 per cent) and TikTok (54 per cent) are steadily gaining prominence.

Google’s take

Google understands the threat posed by the audio-visual platforms like Tiktok and Instagram. Although Google does not yet consider it a cause for concern, the company is attempting to introduce more engaging features to stay competitive.

“Our goal with ‘Search’ is to provide people with the most relevant and useful information available. People have more ways to search for information than ever before—and increasingly this is happening outside the context of only a search engine”, Google explained in a blogpost.

In an attempt to attract younger users to its platforms, Google announced an immersive view for its ‘Google Maps’ at Google I/O conference, 2022.

“With our new immersive view, you’ll be able to experience what a neighbourhood, landmark, restaurant or popular venue is like—and even feel like you’re right there before you ever set foot inside. So whether you’re travelling somewhere new or scoping out hidden local gems, an immersive view will help you make the most informed decisions before you go”, says Google.

Earlier in 2022, Google launched a new feature called ‘people search next’ which allows mobile users to see popular searches based on their search queries. It also announced a new ‘multi search’ feature in ‘Google Lens’ which lets users search using text and images simultaneously.

Google needs to pay heed

Tiktok is redefining social media to the extent that YouTube recently introduced ‘Shorts’—a short-form video-sharing platform similar to TikTok to revive its engagement. 

According to a report by MoffettNathanson, YouTube’s ad revenue is on a cascading decline. It is predicted that YouTube could lose USD 275 million in ad revenue in the third quarter. On the other hand, TikTok’s ad revenue is reported to possibly overtake YouTube by 2024. YouTube’s ad revenue in 2021 was USD 28.84 billion.

Further, it is often claimed that TikTok’s recommendation engine is one of the finest among platforms with similar features. It is believed to be a significant contributor to the platform’s massive user engagement.

In 2020, TikTok overtook Meta to become the most downloaded app. On an average, it is estimated that a user spends 52 minutes of their day on the platform.

Most downloaded apps in 2021

(Image source: Statista)

TikTok’s recommendation model studies quantifiable data such as the click-through rate, watching time, likes, comments and reposts. The objectives are achieved using AI algorithms like collaborative filtering model, regression model, factorisation machine and deep learning. It uses a real-time online training protocol—meaning, users’ actions and behaviours are captured which their feeds reflect instantly. For instance, if a user watches a whole video or rewatches the same video, the personalised recommendation instantly refreshes to show similar content.

While TikTok’s algorithm is not yet a direct threat to Google, its capabilities could help TikTok dethrone Google to become the top search engine in near future.

Pritam Bordoloi
I have a keen interest in creative writing and artificial intelligence. As a journalist, I deep dive into the world of technology and analyse how it’s restructuring business models and reshaping society.

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