Everyone’s been talking about TikTok SEO, but is it really what the gurus say it is? Let’s dive in!
TikTok Replacing Google
Over the past several months, I have seen so many coaches and marketing gurus talk about TikTok SEO. I’ve even made recommendations on how to leverage keyword targeting on TikTok and Instagram for more visibility on those platforms, BUT, truth be told, these tactics aren’t really SEO. So today we are going to set the record straight on whether or not TikTok SEO is even a thing (hint, it’s not).
But the reason I’m chatting about this here with you today is because a the beginning of January, I saw a business coach post a statistic that stated if you’re not leveraging TikTok in 2023, you will be left behind in the dust because 40% of Gen Z users are now using TikTok for search instead of Google.
And I had to put my phone down and laugh because I have seen this statistic touted all over the internet since it was first published in July and it’s 100% misquoted and taken out of context. But it gets your attention, right?
So Where Did This Stat Come From?
This statistic comes from an interview with a senior vice president of Google Search from July 2022, in which it was quoted “In our studies, something like almost 40 percent 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.”
The bold emphasis is mine, because that’s the piece of information that is conveniently left out when people have quoted this stat. A quick Google search shows that even the Position Zero result (the holy grail of SEO) is misrepresenting this statistic. Moreover, this was taken from survey results of 18-24 year olds. This isn’t based on actual usage data, but rather, people’s feelings.
But context matters, right? This Google exec was talking about for very specific searches, and it 100% makes sense that people are going to go to TikTok for things like “who has the best pizza in New York City?” “Where’s the best bakery in Prague?” TikTok is primed find for those type of searches because so much of the platform is based on user generated content and when it comes to recommendations and reviews, UGC is incredibly powerful.
So when you see influencers saying get on the TikTok bus or risk irrelevance, and they cite that stat, just know they’re misrepresenting ONE statistic that took the internet by storm.
Ok, But TikTok IS Really Popular, But…
There’s no doubt that TikTok is a popular app. It’s the fastest growing social media app and it is absolutely bringing over Gen Z users from Google, especially for certain types of searches. There is zero doubt about that. But I think the context is really important. And that’s what’s missing when we’re having this conversation.
TikTok Is Only One Part Of The Search Solar System
And just to refresh, let’s talk a little bit about what SEO actually is, because when we’re discussing TikTok vs. Google and SEO on either platform, how search engine optimization works is really important to understand.
SEO stands for search engine optimization and it is the art of making your website and content more visibile, aka more easily found in search engines. It has many components (the Google algorithim alone has 200+ factors) that include things like E-E-A-T (experience, expertise, trustworthiness and authority). As well as core web vitals like how quickly your website loads and the overall user experience. So without going into too much more detail, it’s relatively easy to see that SEO can’t be isolated to just one thing like keywords.
TikTok Is Video Content Only
A platform like TikTok is a video and entertainment platform, period. You can’t find blog posts, you can’t find YouTube videos or scholarly articles. It’s a video platform that has a predominantly short shelf designed to keep you entertained. And the way it does this is primarily through UGC content. And when you search for something on TikTok, the only results that show up are other TikToks.
But what happens when you search for something on Google? All different kinds of content pops up, right? Everything from podcasts to Tweets to blogs and news articles, YouTube videos, TikToks, etc.
Google is like a search solar system, and TikTok and Instagram are like the Earth and Moon. They’re here, they’re orbiting, part they are merely components of a much bigger, bigger thing.
And this isn’t to say that Google doesn’t index a bunch of crap, because it does. It’s by far a perfect system, but this also begs the question if that’s a byproduct of SO much content creation happening, or the platform itself.
So What Does It All Mean?
So knowing that there are so many different components of SEO, where does that leave TikTok SEO? Here’s the thing, when it comes down to it, TikTok SEO is really about one thing and one thing only.
And let me just say, there is 100% value in providing contextual keyword context to your videos, captions, titles, hashtags, etc., to help both the platform and users understand what your content is about. But that’s where it ends.
So when influencers are talking about TikTok SEO, what they’re really saying is stuff your content with keywords black hat SEO style circa 2002, which is how Jamar Diggs described it so perfectly in a recent Instagram post.
You can easily see how you can beat the system? There is zero vetting process. There is no back end system that says, hey, this is a quality piece of content that matches what you’re searching for, which is essentially the WHOLE point of SEO.
Google Stille Dominates
The other really important thing to understand is that Google has 92%ish of the total search market share. Yes, even with TikTok on the scene. That’s huge. And Google can reach people at multiple different stages of their customer journey. And by that, I mean, it encompasses the entire funnel. So if somebody’s in the beginning stages of looking for an organic mattress, they’re going to go to Google and figure out what they need to look for, maybe search for what type of materials are best, things like that. That’s what’s known as an informational search. They’re going to spend some time reading different blogs, they’ll probably go to TikTok and check out some UGC content.
Then based on their research, they will have narrowed it down to a few brands and continue to do research on those specific matresses. They’re going to read reviews, visit specific websites, etc. They might even get on the email list and maybe wait for a sale and the boom, they purchase a new mattress.
And Google played a fundamental role in pretty much every single stage of that customer’s journey. This is really important to understand. TikTok does not have that. It might someday, but it doesn’t right now. Tick tock is really reaching people at the top of the funnel, which makes it amazing for cold discovery, but it’s not really an integral part of the consumer funnel (yet).
Who Is TikTok Good For?
So now that we’ve laid out that TikTok SEO really isn’t a thing, what types of content or businesses is it good for?
Basically anything that works on Pinterest is great for TikTok too, that’s my general rule of thumb. Think DIY, food, fashion, lifestyle, mom hacks, all of those specific niches where short-form video can really pack a punch. But here’s the thing, all of that same video content you’re using on TikTok can easily live on YouTube and then be embedded onto your website, right? And then that gets indexed by Google. So in theory you have your website content, YouTube content and TikTok all being crawled and indexed by Google and meeting different users at different stages of their journey.
What To Do In Addition To TikTok
And when you’re thinking about creating content that has longevity, that can help to build your brand or business as a legacy over time, TikTok is only one small piece of that puzzle because it’s really a discovery tool at best. It has a short shelf life. And yes, people talk about how a TikTok video can go viral months later, but that is the exception, not the rule until I’m shown data that says otherwise.
Long form written content, videos or podcasts, those can live indefinitely are best for SEO. And if you’re creating content around topics that are evergreen, that don’t have a shelf life and that can be relevant five years from now, that’s how you build an online legacy. So don’t get tricked into thinking, ooh, TikTok SEO, I need to be doing this, and it’s going to be good for my visibility. It’s only going to be good for your visibility on that platform, especially if you’re in certain categories, but it’s not ACTUAL SEO.
If you need more resources on how to leverage SEO to build an online legacy, check out my Podcast or my other blog posts. I also share tons of free tips and resources on Instagram and if you’re a business owner looking for a kick-ass community and a place to learn all things digital marketing for your business, check out the Visibility Co. Club!