TikTok SEO: is social media search the new Google?

28 September 2023

Your search habits reveal a lot about your age and demographic. For example: if you get the latest headlines from a news site, or search Google for the best pizza place in your town, the chances are you’re over 25. If, on the other hand, TikTok is your first port of call for these types of information and updates, it’s likely you’re among the growing number of GenZ-ers who are cutting out the search engines completely and heading straight to social media. 

As digital marketers, we’re used to thinking of Google as the ultimate destination, the biggest place to focus our SEO efforts. This swing to TikTok represents a significant change in search habits. So if GenZ is part of your target audience as a business, what does it mean for your social media and search marketing strategies, and how can you capitalise on TikTok SEO? In this blog we’ll look at social SEO as an emerging new digital marketing discipline, explore the algorithms behind the social search results, and offer tips on getting your content found on TikTok. 

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What is TikTok and why is it so popular?

Launched in 2016, TikTok is a social media platform for short-form video content, which has the potential to be shared easily. Since its launch it has continued to grow in importance among all age groups,, with millions of people all over the world creating and consuming TikTok content daily. Today, the platform has over a billion active users, who spend just under an hour a day on average, catching up with their favourite TikTokers and – importantly – searching for what interests them.

One factor in TikTok’s popularity has to be the way it tailors content to individual interests and preferences. TikTok’s algorithm employs machine learning to analyse user behaviour, including the content they engage with, how long they watch videos, and more. This data is used to offer personalised content recommendations on users’ “For You” pages, making it easier for users to find and connect with like-minded individuals.

The rise of TikTok as a search engine

Delivering the content people want to watch means that TikTok is a trusted platform for its users. And there is evidence that TikTok is strategically moving into the search arena, perhaps with the aim of rivalling YouTube (which is owned by Google) as a search platform for video.

Today, you can use the TikTok search bar, see paid ads when you search, and even get helpful suggestions on what to search for, all within the platform. 

This functionality makes it really easy for people to find content within their chosen niche. They can search using keywords (like on Google), or explore hashtags and trending topics. Either way, it means that businesses can (and should) use TikTok SEO to improve their chances of being found by the right user base. 

Keywords or hashtags?

It can be hard to keep up with the ever-changing social media search landscape. Since the inception of Twitter (now X), hashtags – labels consisting of one or two words, starting with a “#” sign – have been a simple way to keep track of emerging trends and find content on particular topics. But while hashtags have traditionally been the best way to discover new TikToks, the evidence now shows that they may have had their day. 

Instead, because people are using regular search terms to find content just as they would on Google, marketers need to start optimising their TikTok content, using a dedicated TikTok SEO strategy just as they would with Google, to get their videos seen in search results.

TikTok keyword research: how to optimise your posts

In search marketing, keyword research is a fundamental part of your strategy. It helps you to understand which words and phrases people are searching for (and how many people are doing it). TikTok keyword research works on the same principle, for search within the TikTok platform.

TikTok has its own keyword insights tool which can help with keyword inspiration, giving you information about the latest trending words and phrases. 

Another great way to gather keyword ideas is to use the TikTok search autocomplete function. It works by using its algorithm to predict what you are likely to be looking for, based on its record of billions of user searches. It’s a similar idea to using Google autocomplete for SEO ideas – this is an idea that works for traditional search, so why not TikTok autocomplete for TikTok SEO?

Here are some other important tips for TikTok SEO:

  • Add text on the screen in your video content, using the keywords you want to rank for. Do this right at the very start of your video, in the first few seconds. (Importantly, this needs to be done within the TikTok app rather than created elsewhere in order to help your search ranking).
  • Use your keywords in your video captions, but make sure to keep these natural. Don’t just “keyword stuff” – make it human-sounding.
  • Don’t forget about hashtags altogether – they are still useful for visibility, and can emphasise the focus of your content.

Does TikTok SEO also boost Google search results?

All of that work on TikTok SEO is likely to yield results outside the platform, too. The figures show that TikTok videos are now appearing in their own right, as search results on Google. What’s more, they often rank more highly than Instagram posts and even Google-owned YouTube videos. That’s a sign that TikTok SEO could really pay off for you in more ways than one, with the potential for higher-ranking content on Google. Getting your TikTok content seen outside the platform could also help you to increase your audience. 

Need both SEO and social media expertise? Work with Wagada Digital

TikTok SEO is a unique challenge, because it combines two different, specialist disciplines. So if you’re going to get it right, you’ll need in-depth knowledge of both search engine optimisation and social media. You might also want to think about paid social media advertising, which takes advantage of search traffic to serve up relevant ads to the right audiences.

That’s where we can help! At Wagada Digital, our friendly team of passionate experts work together to pool our knowledge and create holistic strategies to get results across the board.
If that sounds good to you, why not contact us for a chat? We can’t wait to hear from you.