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Can TikTok Usurp Google’s Paid Search Dominance? Let’s Discuss the Potential. 

By: Cody Albright    March 31, 2023

When you want to look for information, where’s the first place you go? If you’re like most people over the age of 25, you’re probably turning to Google. Heck, you’ve probably even heard (or said) the phrase “Just Google it,” indicating that if more information about a particular topic is needed, then one should just run a search on Google.  

That said … can you imagine hearing somebody say, “Just TikTok it”? 

As strange as that may sound to you, this would probably make complete sense to somebody from the younger generation (under 25). According to Prabhakar Raghavan, senior vice president at Google, around 40% of young people turn to platforms other than Google when looking for something like what to eat for lunch. Included in these platforms is TikTok, which now has over 113 million active monthly users in the United States and is an absolute powerhouse for content creators and consumers.  

How Is TikTok Taking Advantage of These Search Trends? 

TikTok has already taken steps to monetize this behavior, and in early 2022 started serving sponsored content messages in search results within their app. This allows TikTok to offer brands and marketers a way to get a particular message in front of an audience that’s clearly searching for a particular product or service.  

TikTok appears to be doubling down on search-related placements in 2023 with the unveiling of a new “Keyword Insights” tool at the beginning of March. This tool, which is very user-friendly and even resembles other search insight tools like SEMRush, allows for the ranking of keywords by popularity (number of creatives using a particular keyword), popularity change and current CTR. This data can be broken out by country, industry, objective, keyword type and recency.  

This level of transparency gives marketers a great tool to better plan campaigns on TikTok and helps ease any hesitation marketers are likely to have in shifting budget into a new platform.  

Can TikTok Really Compete Against Google Paid Search? 

TikTok has a history of being a disrupter, so it’s not a stretch to think that TikTok can actually take away from Google some of the budget given by advertisers to run paid search campaigns; however, there are still many roadblocks and considerations at play that TikTok has to overcome.  

First, there’s the topic of whether TikTok will soon be banned in the United States. On March 7, 2023, a bipartisan bill was announced by the U.S. Senate that would give presidential authority to ban TikTok in the U.S. The app is already banned from being downloaded on government phones in the U.S., EU and Canada out of fear of data misuse and potential threats to national security. Should TikTok be banned at a national level, this would obviously put a damper on advertising advances on the platform.  

Also, it’s not just Google that TikTok must compete against in the search space. Microsoft’s Bing has also been ramping up efforts to make their search platform more useful and appealing through an integration with OpenAI, the company behind the hit AI software ChatGPT. While the future of Bing and AI is still uncertain, it needs to be noted that Microsoft has been the long-time No. 2 in the search space and has never been able to chip away effectively at Google’s position. This is not to say it’s impossible for TikTok to achieve what Microsoft has been unable to, but it’s yet another factor that’s part of a much larger picture.  

In Conclusion  

TikTok is still a great way for brands and marketers to reach a younger audience that’s more engaged and spending a ton of time on the app. The ability to place sponsored content alongside search results, while nice, is still only one placement available for marketers and won’t likely be any sort of magic bullet. A sound strategy still needs to be at the root of every message that runs on TikTok to ensure alignment with overall goals and objectives.  

It’s safe to say we’ll be keeping our eyes on this one!