Search is on… TikTok, YouTube, Instagram

By Yair Yaskerovitch, COO, Zoomd

Already in 2022, when Google’s SVP of Knowledge and Information Prabhakar Raghavan was asked where young consumers were searching at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference, he said “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.”

Based on our data, this trend already began before 2022, and has only accelerated since then.

According to research from agency Rise at Seven, TikTok is leading Google in travel and fashion, and that makes sense. If you’re considering a vacation to Sicily or Hawaii, a video of the local beaches and attractions can provide more value than 10 links to entice you to book your next vacation.

What’s more surprising, according to the data from Rise at Seven, is that TikTok leads Google Search for queries in the automotive and finance categories. BMW has 10x more searches on TikTok than on Google Search. But in the automotive category, Google-owned YouTube is the dominant platform, with queries for BMW about 35% higher on YouTube than on TikTok, as is the case for most automotive queries. YouTube also leads TikTok in most fashion search categories as well.

Where Google still leads, based on data from Rise at Seven, is on searches for activities nearby, including events and entertainment, ahead of both TikTok and YouTube.

According to audience targeting company GWI, the strength of YouTube and TikTok in search isn’t surprising. Their research found that users aged 16-24 and 25-34 are more likely to search on a social network than on a search engine. Though ‘finding information’ was the top reason for using the Internet, based on the company’s research, search engine (or web portals) are only the third most popular types of apps or websites visited (81.8% of users surveyed) versus social networks (94.6%) and chat and messaging (94.8%).

While search on TikTok has been in the headlines, Instagram is also benefiting from the changes in search behavior among consumers under 26. Research from Her Campus Media found that TikTok was the preferred search engine by women under 26, but those women surveyed still spend more time on Instagram than on TikTok, with 95% of women surveyed visiting Instagram daily versus only 80% visiting TikTok daily.

When asked why they liked TikTok for search, the respondents to Her Campus Media’s research cited the video format of the results (69%), more relatable answers (65%), and personalized answers (47%). There clearly has been a ‘pivot to video’, which is benefiting TikTok and also Instagram, and YouTube.

Users younger than 35 prefer to search on a social network instead of a search engine, according to data from GWI. They’re seeking video answers to their queries from the creators and influencers that they trust. This should serve as a call-to-action for marketers whose products and services can be recommended to create and implement a creator video program to generate videos that will rank high when prospective users query in the various social and video platforms.

These data points indicate that marketers need to add video to their Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) programs as part of a broader video content strategy. Marketers need to test strategies to ensure that they’re effectively addressing each platform’s optimization algorithms.

Despite the growth of search on video-focused platforms, this trend is predominately with consumers under the age of 36. Google still has 77.5% of the US search market and 83.5% of the global search market, according to data from Search Engine Land.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t bet against Google with the AI-driven changes that it’s implementing in search with Bard and later Gemini, and the company’s ownership of YouTube. That said, video still needs to be part of your SEO and SEM strategy.