Why Gen Z Prefers Using TikTok and Instagram for Search Over Google

TikTok may have entered the social media scene as a lip-synching app, but today, it’s one of the most useful and engaging platforms on the market. Younger audiences have especially embraced its power, with new research from Google highlighting that Gen Z prefers TikTok and Instagram over Google for search.

Google has monopolized the search space for decades, but the demand for a video-based search experiences has accelerated in recent years. So, what led to Google’s dethroning among Gen Z users, and what does it mean for content creators? Keep reading for everything we know about the current landscape and how it may affect marketers.

What Google’s Data Shows

First, the facts: Prabhakar Raghavan, a Senior VP at Google, shared in July that almost 40% of young people are using TikTok or Instagram for search instead of Google. Gen Z users have confirmed the phenomenon directly, sharing that they prefer the visual nature of TikTok search results for everything from product recommendations to step-by-step instructions to travel itineraries. 

In Raghavan’s talk, he even addressed one of these common use cases: searching TikTok for a place to eat lunch. While older generations might use Google Search, Google Maps, or other alternatives like Yelp to find a suitable restaurant nearby, Gen Z is using TikTok for moment-by-moment recommendations.

Raghavan also pointed out that the nature of Gen Z search queries is inherently different than older generations. While the visual elements of the TikTok experience may sway some users, the app may also be better tailored to the way younger users engage with search. Gen Z users are more likely to use natural, everyday language in their search queries, and TikTok seems to be keeping up more effectively than Google. 

How TikTok Excels at Search Queries

There are a few other elements of the TikTok experience that contribute to its search success. Here, we’ll explore four key factors: TikTok’s visual search results, its affinity for bite-sized content, its ability to supply additional context, and the personalized nature of its featured opinions.

Visual Results

As we shared above, Gen Z users like that TikTok’s search results are entirely visual in nature. Google may have image- and video-based search results on its page, but those options are interspersed with regular text-based links. On TikTok, the experience is guaranteed to be visual. 

For many types of searches, these visual details are helpful. When Gen Z-ers are contemplating buying a new product, for example, seeing it in action via TikTok may be more useful than reading a summary of its features on Google. 

Bite-Sized Content

TikTok’s max video length is ten minutes, but the majority of videos still come in far below that threshold. For users, this means that the right video can answer their search query within a matter of seconds. 

When users’ attention spans are short, knowing that the answer is contained within a bite-sized video response is more appealing than investing time in reading text-based answers.

Additional Context

One of the underrated elements of TikTok’s search experience is the additional context built in to each video. As a content creator talks, you get additional cues from their tone or body language about the information they’re sharing. Then, users can check the comments for outside opinions on the same topic. 

Often, the comments are a gold mine for those seeking information. In a video recommending a restaurant, for example, commenters might share the best time of day to visit or which dishes on the menu to skip. Digesting the crowdsourced information is ultra-efficient, and it adds important depth to the original video result itself.

Personalized Opinions

Finally, there’s something to be said about the power of hearing directly from another person. When you enter a search term on Google, most of the results will feel like they’re coming from an unknown, anonymous entity. Even if there’s an author listed, most people don’t feel a direct connection with that source. 

On TikTok, most information is delivered by another human being on the other side of the screen, which adds some legitimacy to the experience. And since Gen Z-ers may be more likely to trust recommendations from their own age group, it helps that like-minded users are well-represented on the app. 

Google may have revealed this internal data to shed light on how TikTok is taking over the search space, but it’s unlikely to go down without a fight. The company is currently evolving its own Search and Maps features to try to keep up with TikTok’s precedent and attract a younger audience. 

Additionally, while TikTok may not pose a serious threat to Google Search just yet, it may affect users who currently use YouTube (also owned by Google) for video-based searches. YouTube has already adopted a short-form focus with its YouTube Shorts offering, but we may see other changes that lean into TikTok trends. 

What should marketers learn from Google’s data? It’s clear that video is continuing to push the boundaries of traditional media, and even Google isn’t immune to its effects. If you’re not heavily featuring video content in your marketing strategy, follow Google’s lead and start now. If you are already using video, this data is an important push to keep iterating, embrace content that feels personal, and remain open to the way Gen Z is changing the industry. We all have a lot to learn from their digital content prowess!

Alexa Nizam

Alexa Nizam