Gen Z is bypassing Google for TikTok as a search engine

"They don't have a long attention span," a social media expert says.

August 17, 2022, 4:36 PM

NEW YORK -- The term "Googling" may be synonymous with "searching" for things online, but for the group known as Gen Z that might be changing.

Nearly 40% of Gen Z members (born from 1997 to 2012, according to the Pew Research Center) prefer TikTok for online searches, according to internal data from Google, which was first reported by TechCrunch.

"They don't have a long attention span; they said that several times," said Adrienne Sheares, a social media consultant, who formed a Gen Z focus group to discuss their searching habits. "They want to get the information really quickly, and get to the meat of it really quickly and not have to sort."

In this June 16, 2022, file photo, signage is displayed outside Google's new Bay View campus in Mountain View, Calif.
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Sheares said Gen Z was dissatisfied with the quality of Google's searches. That's in large part because the search engine forced them to sift through advertisements, which often comprise the first several results in common searches. Sheares said TikTok, by contrast, provides several avenues by which to quickly discover content.

"They use it a couple different ways," said Sheares. "So they could either be looking for it and search kind of similar to how you and I would search. But they also love the 'For You' page that kind of brings the results to them before they're even looking."

TikTok's "For You" page consists of a scrolling feed of videos that the app's algorithm has determined the user may be interested in. As such, searching via the "For You" page is more about discovering content, rather than looking for something specific. TikTok surfaces content based on a variety of factors, including how long a user lingers on a certain type of video, or whether they like or comment on it. Sheares said that algorithm is a big part of why younger users seem to enjoy searching for content on TikTok.

"The chances of [their results] being relevant are extremely high, so they can find information really quickly" she said. "Because if you're an avid user of TikTok, it knows quite a bit of information about you already."

Sheares also said TikTok's use of video is especially appealing to Gen Z users, who feel the format gives them a more comprehensive search result.

"You're seeing a three-sixty view into a destination, or experience, or product," says Sheares. "They wanted to see the makeup swatches; for bars, the thing they kept talking about was the aesthetic, the vibe."

PHOTO: A teenage girl types on her laptop sitting on her bed
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Sheares also said Gen Z tends to search for lighter topics on TikTok - things like recipes, fashion tips and bar recommendations. Meanwhile, they leave heavier topics – like those related to COVID or election information - to Google.

"For the more serious information, they do like Google," said Sheares. "If they do see something on TikTok, they will use other methods to verify, which generally looks like going to Google or a news source to back it up."

The trend of using images and video in online searches could be here to stay. Earlier this year, Google showed off a new feature dubbed "Multisearch," which lets users search with a combination of text and photos.

"Even if people aren't interested in, say, TikTok, I think what we are going to start to see is more visual in search," said Sheares.

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