Google Not What It Used To Be? Try TikToK.
Recently, while plotting our next holiday to Krabi, my wife and I began looking for the best places we could stay and fun things to do during our well-deserved beach getaway. Sounds like a simple exercise in Google-fu? Well, not quite.
If scrolling through pesky ads wasn't annoying enough, every search result yielded paragraphs after paragraphs of barely coherent SEO word soup offering nothing we don't already know and information we don't care about. 50+ opened tabs, and hours later, we were more undecided than when we started.
Out of curiosity, I entered the same terms on TikTok, and the results were night and day. I discovered new places, gathered helpful tips and vibed with content that felt refreshingly human, something I could never experience with the countless reviews, landing pages, corporate websites, images and video results I got from Google. Barely 30 minutes into the TikTok rabbit hole, we sorted our travel plans and called it a day.
Here's an example of results on both platforms when searching for “Best Krabi experiences".
Google is not what it used to be
80% of Google's revenue comes from advertising, so it makes commercial sense for Google to prioritise paid links. Google any reviews, services or products, and you will see brands that have either spent a truckload of money to appear on the first page or engaged SEO wizards to game their way to the top. Sadly, more often than not, none of these search results is ideal for the user, as they are either clickbait riddled with ads or simply lack any validation for quality or both.
We saw this coming, didn't we? That when Google decided to double down on its pay-per-click advertising model, it will impact the quality of its results. It will also influence how we perceive and search for high-quality answers. We have come to a point where we intuitively understand that googling for, say, the best chicken rice in Singapore won't lead us to the best but to the brand willing to bid the highest for your click.
And do you know who else saw it coming? None other than the co-founders of Google themselves, Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page, in 1998:
"Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users…we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers…Furthermore, advertising income often provides an incentive to provide poor quality search results."
Much like Google, TikTok controls the content you will get to see. But unlike Google, TikTok serves you hyper-relevant content; more importantly, they are on point. How often have we needed to scroll through a blogger's entire life story to get to a recipe on Google? Whereas on TikTok, most recipe videos are concise and to the point as it deftly grabs your attention. What's more, TikTok's secret sauce algorithm combines what's trending and helpful and is validated by users with likes and comments. Its community's culture of authenticity has made it a more trusted social media platform, notably with younger users.
Here's an example of a result on both platforms when searching for “Mutton Biryani Recipe".
Gen Zs understand these fundamental differences very well and are increasingly using TikTok, not just for entertainment but also to look for things to do, discover new places and seek out news. According to Google, nearly 40% of Gen Z prefer to search on TikTok. It is not hard to see how the growing trend is shaping how we search, discover and consume content in the future.
Is Google dying?
No, of course not. Despite what some doomsayers say, the most dominating search engine for the last 25 years isn't going away anytime soon. For many, it remains the go-to source for numerous categories, especially factual information. However, if you want to discover something new or tap into the wisdom of the crowd, then Google will most definitely come up short. And no one knows this better than Google, as it has begun indexing and serving TikTok videos top of its fold, along with introducing a host of new ways to meet the expectations of evolving user behaviours.
Today's users are increasingly breaking out of Google's filter bubble and leaning on like-minded communities for answers. I probably should have realised this sooner, just as brands are now grasping its potential as a content marketing tool. Whether TikTok works for older audiences or brands with more serious personalities remains unclear. But as a discovery platform, it's a wonderland. So the next time you are not feeling what Google is serving you, why not give TikTok a spin?