Media & Entertainment

TikTok’s latest test feature aims to improve the app’s search capabilities

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Image Credits: TOLGA AKMEN / Contributor / Getty Images

TikTok is testing a new feature that enhances the popular short-form video app’s search functions. The new feature highlights keywords in comments and links to search results for the term. TikTok’s search function already allows users to discover content and trends, but the new feature would take the app’s search capabilities even further. The test feature also shows that TikTok is interested in competing with more than just its social media competitors, as it’s now looking to cut into Google’s core products as well.

It appears that the feature is currently available to a small group of users who are part of a limited test. When we reached out for comment about the test, a spokesperson for TikTok said the company didn’t have anything to share at the moment.

There’s already talk about TikTok acting as a search engine for Gen Z, and the new feature would position the app as an even bigger threat to Google.

The test comes as Google itself has acknowledged that TikTok is cutting into its Search product. Senior vice president Prabhakar Raghavan, who runs Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, recently noted that younger users are often turning to apps like Instagram and TikTok instead of Google Search or Maps for discovery purposes. He outlined that younger users are looking to discover content in new and immersive ways.

For instance, Raghavan said nearly 40% of young people go to TikTok or Instagram when looking for a place to eat, as opposed to Google Maps or Search. He had noted that Google plans to enhance Google Search to meet younger users’ demand for visual content, which indicates that the threat it faces from TikTok is forcing it to rethink its strategy.

TikTok has been able to successfully function as a search engine due to its ability to quickly surface relevant and short videos based on what you’re looking for in that moment. For instance, if you’re looking a for a banana bread recipe, you may be able to find a better one on TikTok, as opposed to Google Search. When you search for the recipe on Google, you’ll likely be presented with search results that prioritize lengthy blog posts where you have to scroll for a bit before actually getting to the recipe. On the other hand, TikTok will present you with quick recipe videos that are to the point and short.

All this goes to show that TikTok is already successfully eating into Google’s core products and that it plans to get better at doing so.

However, if TikTok is looking to position itself as a search engine, it will have to ensure that the results it surfaces are high-quality and actually good, not just popular. For instance, just because a recipe has gone viral doesn’t mean that it’s the best one. People have found ways to optimize their pages on Google using SEO for maximum exposure, leading to subpar results in some cases, which suggests that creators could end up doing the same thing on TikTok with videos that are designed to go viral. The new keyword test feature could change the way TikTok operates in some ways, as creators may start to include popular keywords in their posts to make their content rank higher and reach more viewers.  All of this begs the question of whether visual search with algorithmic ranking on TikTok will actually lend better results than Google.

There’s also the issue of trust and accuracy, as some young users may use TikTok to search for medical information. Young users may be keen to trust medical information on TikTok simply because it’s relevant to them and has lots of views, just like how some people may trust the search results that are optimized to be displayed on the first page of Google Search, which raises questions around trust.

It’s also worth noting that TikTok’s take on a search engine would differ from Google’s Search model. For instance, Google indexes the web and sends users to other websites, whereas TikTok is trying an internal search model that keeps users on its app while still fulfilling their search needs.

TikTok has already proven to be a dominant threat in the social media industry and looks to be gearing up to take on Google Search next by enhancing its search functions even more. 

Google exec suggests Instagram and TikTok are eating into Google’s core products, Search and Maps

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