We’ve all heard the TikTok stats.
Around one billion people use the app. Now for context, there are about 8 billion people in the world.
That means one in every eight people (on the entire planet) use TikTok.
What’s more, as you can see from Similarweb data, Tiktok’s audience growth is exploding.
There is a question that comes up regularly.
Is TikTok a real search engine?
And of course, the follow-up:
If it is, how do I create a TikTok SEO strategy?
In this post, I’ll address the first question. I’ll save actionable TikTok SEO tips for another post.
That said, let’s jump in…
Why SEO and TikTok?
So before I get into whether TikTok is a search engine, you might be wondering why I’m even addressing the question.
I mean, no one ever asked how to do Twitter or Facebook SEO!
So before we get into definitions, it’s important to understand the difference between a traditional social media platform like Twitter and a searchable social media platform like TikTok.
Traditional social media store large amounts of data to be presented in a feed style without the ability to index documents.
Without the ability to index documents, there is no way to make historical searches.
At best, all you can do is search for the latest mentions of your search query, but once the latest mentions are gone from its buffers there is no way to search for them.
This means you can’t optimize documents to be found in searches.
Now, TikTok does present users with this feed-style content in their For You feeds. But, TikTok has another aspect to it.
TikTok Search presents a way for its users to search through video content in a searchable index. This means users can make historical searches.
The entire conversation around SEO on TikTok is how you can optimize your content to be discovered on TikTok search. Having your content show up on its users For You feeds is a subject for another post and involves working with the TikTok algorithm.
With that out the way, let’s examine if TikTok fits the definition of a search engine.
Is TikTok a Search Engine?
According to Wikipedia:
“A search engine is a software system designed to carry out web searches. They search the World Wide Web in a systematic way for particular information specified in a textual web search query.”
Looking at that definition, TikTok is certainly different from a platform like Google, because, TikTok search is only designed to search for videos on its own platform.
But, the same article mentions:
“Some search engines also mine data available in databases or open directories.”
This implies that a search engine can be anything that searches any body of data for specific information specified in a textual search.
Whether TikTok really fits the definition of a search engine or not, gen Z-ers are using it like any other search engine by turning to the TikTok search bar to find answers to their questions.
Yes, although TikTok functions like any other social media with its ‘For You’ feed, TikTok is searchable in a way that’s similar to YouTube.
And, although Google is the undisputed search heavyweight, according to Prabhakar Raghavan, Google is losing search market share in some areas to sites like TikTok and Instagram.
He was quoted saying:
“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to TikTok or Instagram.”
That said, it’s still difficult to compete with the sheer size of Google. TikTok is still a relatively small player.
TikTok Traffic vs Google Traffic
According to Similarweb, Google got 82 billion visits on internet browsers over a twelve-month period while TikTok only got 1.46 billion.
But, if we compare the performance of the TikTok app to the Google app, we see a different picture.
Similarweb shows us that Google has 1.385 billion users, while TikTok has 330.3 million monthly users. On mobile apps, TikTok has a much greater market share.
That’s in terms of traffic metrics.
Now let’s compare how the functionality of TikTok search compares to Google Search.
TikTok Search Functionality vs. Google Search Functionality
TikTok simply can’t compete with Google when it comes to answering complex queries. Google has been honing its search algorithms for years and can answer both simple queries with SERP features like Featured Snippets and more complex queries with its search journeys and SERP features like Things to Know.
But, TikTok does seem to be showing signs that it wants its users to use its search capabilities. For instance, Lidia Infante recently tweeted that if you mention a topic keyword in the comments, TikTok adds a link to search for that keyword.
So if TikTok doubles down on its search capabilities, in a year or two, it could evolve with machine learning.
With enough data, it is possible to simulate statistically accurate predictions, allowing it to evolve and become better at answering complex questions.
Now you might be wondering why Google is losing market share to TikTok and Instagram.
Perhaps the reason is, as an internet generation, we are beginning to use specialist search engines to find specific things. For instance, if you are looking to buy something, you might go onto Amazon.
When it comes to TikTok searchers are looking for short answers to questions.
And, as content on Google and YouTube has become longer over the years, TikTok’s short video format is surprisingly refreshing. It allows you to find super quick answers to questions that are created by actual users.
Now, you might find short videos on YouTube, but from experience, you may have to do some sifting to find the exact point you are looking for.
Some are even saying that for Gen Z, TikTok is replacing Google.
Is Google taking this lying down?
In September 2020 YouTube introduced YouTube Shorts.
What’s more, Google has introduced a Short Videos carousel to Search:
Now from my perspective, this looks like an attempt to win the ‘short video’ market back.
Will Google win this war?
I have no idea. But the fact that Google is putting up a fight indicates that there is traffic to be won on TikTok.
And if that’s where your target market is hanging out, it might pay to try the platform out.
Now, it’s time to address the fact that there are no tools designed to track content on the platform.
TikTok SEO Tool
At Similarweb, we pride ourselves on being trailblazers. This means we are always looking to create new tools where we see a need.
And, since TikTok search is getting so much attention, we felt it’s time to create a tool that digital marketers can use to track their TikTok campaigns.
Because let’s face it, if you are marketing to Gen Z-ers, you should go where your audience hangs out, especially if TikTok’s traffic continues growing at its current rate.
As you can see from the screenshot above, TikTok is steadily gaining traffic, while Reddit’s traffic growth is relatively static.
So, we went ahead and did it.
We created the world’s first TikTok rank-tracking tool. Now the tool is in beta, but once we’ve tested it, we’ll release it into the wild.
From our perspective as an SEO tool, we are treating TikTok as a search engine and pretty soon you’ll be able to select it when setting up a campaign.
You might be wondering how the tool works.
How Does Similarweb Track TikTok?
As I mentioned above, users can use the TikTok search bar to search for videos it has in its index.
When you enter a query into the search bar, the feed presents twelve videos in a grid-like format.
The Similarweb rank tracker can now track these SERPs.
As a user, you can enter a list of keywords to be tracked. But, you’ll still need to tell Similarweb which videos you want to track by setting up a target URL for each keyword.
By using the search operator *, you can set a generic URL that adds a ‘wild card’ to your URL. The wild card will tell Similarweb to track any URL that comes from your channel.
The URL is broken down into /@yourchannel/video/*
For example, the target URL below will tell our tool to match all videos on the @esglo channel to the keyword you are tracking.
Now, let’s look at an example.
So, as you can see in the screenshot below, a URL that we are tracking is in position #6 for the keyword ‘shem’.
This is what that looks like in the TikTok search feed.
As we are expecting TikTok search to develop over the years, we hope this tool will provide you with endless possibilities.
Is SEO on TikTok Really Possible?
Is TikTok really a search engine? Is TikTok search optimization really a form of SEO?
Well, colloquially we’ve come to define a search engine as something like Google or Bing. In other words, we think of a search engine as a software system that searches the web and not as something that searches its own database.
This implies that TikTok is not a search engine. But definitions do change over time.
Adding a level of complexity to the question, besides for the search bar, TikTok is primarily a social media site as I suspect most traffic opportunities are in the ‘For You’ feed.
Whatever you think the answer to this question is Gen Z-ers are searching TikTok more and more and that’s something to pay attention to.
This means, if your target audience includes Gen Z-ers, creating TikTok videos might be the best platform to gain targeted traffic and build awareness for your business.