Tiktok remains the platform of the moment and is on track to crack the USD 10B mark in sales for 2022. So far, one of its features propelling the platform’s success is the algorithm and its personalized video recommendations. Now, however, Tiktok seems to have designs on becoming the search engine for Gen Z. “Tiktok SEO” has already been buzzing about making the rounds. Today, we’re taking a look at what’s behind the buzz and whether it’s time you should start working on your Tiktok SEO strategy.

Recently, even Prabhakar Raghavan, Senior Vice President of Google’s Knowledge & Information organization, was forced to admit that young people take to online search differently than previous generations. “In our studies, we’ve seen that 40 percent of young people, when they’re looking for a place to have lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search. They go to Tiktok and Instagram,” he said at a tech conference. Entertainment networks are also on Google’s radar when it comes to search.

“Usage habits have changed a lot in the past few years. Gen Z dates, communicates and learns via social media. So it was only a matter of time before they started searching for interesting content there,” Marie-Josephine Ludewig, Director Creative Strategy at Tiktok agency Joli Berlin, told OMR. In addition, Tiktok itself is making heavy investments in the field. “Tiktok SEO is becoming more and more important. On the one hand, this is of course due to the fact that more content is making its way onto the platform. On the other hand, Tiktok is developing new features—seemingly by the minute—to push SEO further,” Sven Oechler, co-founder of the Tiktok agency Pro & Me, said to OMR.

New features for search

Sven Oechler von Pro&Me

Sven Oechler from Pro&Me

Anyone who decides to play around with Tiktok search will notice relatively quickly what features Oechler is talking about. First, after clicking on the obligatory magnifying glass, the app now displays further suggestions under the heading “You might like” in addition to the user’s own most recent search entries. Via little flame emojis, Tiktok lets users know which search terms are currently hot. “Search results can no longer just be filtered by people, sounds, videos, hashtags, livestreams, but also by publication date,” Oechler said. “You can also target just the videos you’ve watched or liked, so videos are easier to find.” Thus, Tiktok has already implemented popular Google Search features on its site.

On the search results page, Tiktok pushes other new features. Between clips, for example, the “Others searched for” field appears with other similar search suggestions—always after the first four and then the next six videos. And even in the comments under videos, search terms related to the clip are now linked. Overall, Tiktok is now more generous with descriptions. The character limit has been increased to 2,200, so there’s more room to pack more keywords into informative descriptions. “Search has always been powerful and Tiktok is now carving out its own niche,” says Lina Arnold, Managing Director at Joli Berlin. “In the end, it’s about increasing the amount of time users spend in the app when they’re also searching for other interests.”

Search is a massive opportunity for companies

Marie-Josephine Ludewig von Joli Berlin

Marie-Josephine Ludewig from Joli Berlin

“Content on Tiktok is typically entertaining, inspiring or informative. Through Tiktok SEO, it figures to skew more towards information. That plays into the hands of brands,” says Marie-Josephine Ludewig. Lina Arnold adds why it is currently so important for brands to get to know functions like search on Tiktok. “Companies cannot copy many music trends of the creators because of copyright problems. That’s why edutainment content is becoming increasingly important for brand accounts. And that’s what the target audience is finding through search.” What Arnold means by that is that business accounts are not allowed to simply use viral hits by well-known musicians for their Tiktok clips, but only have access to a “commercial music library.”

So instead of chasing the next viral song, brands should think up a content strategy around content that could be well received in the Tiktok community and fit their own brand. “What I have noticed when using it, is that travel topics work extremely well with appropriate keywords. Many search for places for their next vacation,” says Lina Arnold. “Topics like gastronomy, travel, dating and beauty are overall strongly represented and searched for on Tiktok. But there are also niches like household topics that are becoming stronger,” Ludewig told us.

A solid driver already?

And if you are in one of those niches, how do you get to the top of the search results on Tiktok? Some companies rely on a content strategy that is informative, while simultaneously ensuring that it jives with the Tiktok ethos. The dating portal OKCupid, for example, is a great case. They use a spokesperson to explain what various terms mean in the dating context. The brand calls this a “dating lexicon.” Anyone searching for “monogamy” on Tiktok, for example, sees OKCupid’s clip related to the keyword listed in second place, and finds what they were looking for and is then prompted to follow the channel for terms. This is how the brand has attempted to acquire followers using its solid SEO strategy. The monogamy video has now reached over 1.6 million views.

The second important factor in the Tiktok SEO strategy is to identify hot topics and use them for yourself. Because there are still no keyword tools as in the more traditional SEO space, Tiktok functions like currently popular search terms or suggestions for similar keywords after a successful search are ideal for identifying what’s trending. To see just how much currently popular topics can push a Tiktok video via search, just look at small German eCommerce player Wreesmann. When searching for the currently very popular keyword “Christmas decoration ideas,” a Wreesmann video popped up in fourth when we searched the keyword. The clip, which centers around decoration tips on how to make Christmas candle holders out of wine glasses, has been seen over six million times. A similar video from 2021, which ranked sixth instead of fourth, also generated over six million views and 337,000 likes. Most videos from the channel get around 20,000 views, and other outliers sometimes get 600,000 views.

No chance versus creators?

Joli-Berlin-Gründerin Lina Arnold

Joli Berlin founder Lina Arnold

If the content meshes with information, interest and current trends, the main levers left are description and hashtags. “To integrate keywords in Tiktok video content, the platform offers five different options: Via text and language in the video, via captions, hashtags and automated subtitles, you can mark keywords,” says Marie-Josephine Ludewig from Joli. “Companies should be looking for ways to take advantage of all these possibilities to boost their rankings.” Joli Berlin has already adopted taking a very targeted approach to this with its partners: “For our own Tiktok productions, we already create script and shot lists in advance, which our customers approve before production. This now helps us with the SEO strategy as well, because we can think about keywords in advance,” says Joli founder Lina Arnold.

At the same time, Tiktok also seems to incorporate other signals, the app’s focus on the algorithm makes it perfect for analyzing video content. The aforementioned Wreesmann video, which is currently enjoying a very high ranking, does so without any description, hashtags or spoken words. And yet Tiktok recognizes that it’s about Christmas decoration ideas. So the extent to which companies can really help determine their Tiktok SEO fortunes remains to be seen.

And another problem awaiting brands with a Tiktok SEO strategy is that creators have understood more quickly how the game works and are already optimizing their clips for decoration ideas, travel tips, beauty and all the topics that are also exciting for brands. And since Tiktok also rewards the number of views and likes in the search results and includes them in the ranking (clips are awarded the label “most likes”), creators with many followers and name recognition often have an advantage. In many searches for currently popular keywords, which we conducted on a random basis, there are no brands at all in the top positions. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact that few companies are serious about Tiktok SEO. On the other, it may be due to the strength of influencers on the platform. Perhaps now is exactly the right time for brands to find out themselves.