Younger generations of customers are going to TikTok for video and image searches, and Google is adapting.
I once wrote that when it comes to search engine optimization, choosing where your keywords go within your content will be a lot like arranging furniture in your house. With TikTok becoming more of a preferred search starting point for a new generation of customers, the search engine query house is about to completely change.
To counter TikTok’s growing search power, Google is introducing new features to its search app, Google Lens. These new features are designed to take images and videos into account in online brand search and discovery. Marketers should use these platform adoptions to observe how consumers adopt image and video in their online search.
The latest updates to Google Lens
At Search I/0 this fall, Google noted that 8 billion users use Lens as a starting point for their search queries. To match the growing interest, Google announced a series of updates aimed at improving product image queries with additional, more relevant information.
The most notable of these is the Mulitsearch Near Me feature for Lens, a visual search engine that can analyze images and return image-relevant results, such as products in locations near landmarks. Consumers can search by taking an image or screenshot and then using Lens to search. With Multisearch Near Me, Lens can add a text query to the search. Once the query is submitted, Google will return links to websites or other image suggestions that are relevant to the image. This can help improve the lookup of an item that a consumer knows visually but lacks the precise description, such as brand or model number. It can also reduce the number of inquiries required to find a nearby business, increasing convenience for the customer and the business.
Launched in 2017, Google Lens has seen several updates over the years, integrating it with other Google solutions associated with Android smartphones, such as the Google Assistant and Google Photos apps. But this latest update to Lens is of strategic importance, as Google recognizes an emerging customer behavior. Google noted in its research that 40% of Gen Z consumers like to use social media to search for products. Consumers are looking for a visual representation of what they want.
Lens’ multi-search feature complements the current mobile customer experience, especially for Gen Z customers. It matches how customers point to a real-life item, whether it’s an image or video, and a question about it in real time.
This behavior is encouraging customers to bypass traditional search platforms, including aids like Google Maps. In fact, Google is adding real-world immersive features to Google Maps to improve its usability when customers search for stores and services.
Related article: Google’s useful content update improves customer experience and SEO strategy
Google confirms the big picture of where the search is headed
The Google Lens update does not mean that image queries will replace keyword queries overnight. Image queries reflect how people are considering more options than a traditional search engine, a staple of the Internet. The expansion of search engines has given rise to different types of queries for some time now, all in incremental measures. Amazon, for example, attracted customers looking for specific products and became a type of search engine as well as an e-commerce behemoth. But in this case, the customers already knew about the product before doing an Amazon search, so it’s not discovery like it would be for a Google search. Additionally, they are receiving listings dedicated to Amazon or its partner retailers instead of results that might contain new sites or broader sets of information from public sources.
The way SEO works is as familiar to marketers as a child’s favorite story. When someone searches for a topic in a search engine, whether it’s Bing or Google, the search engine retrieves the best online content it can find by crawling HTML documents and links from websites and online applications. Search engines interpret the categories of your content by examining the key phrases of the content, the structure of the content and comparing them using the algorithm. In doing so, it tells them what the websites are about. The best choices of websites that contain well-optimized keywords, links and content will be displayed among the search results.
For years, marketers had to consider SEO and social media strategies side by side to establish an online presence that improved the customer experience. Social media has long been a factor in search query results. Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter profile activity may appear on a search engine results page. All of this capability reinforces Google’s popularity among marketers and dominant market share as a search engine.
Related article: 7 tips for selecting the right SEO agency
The rise of TikTok as a search competitor
But emerging consumer behavior on TikTok introduces a different aspect to the yin and yang of social media and SEO. People trust TikTok for more general information than product searches on Amazon.
The trend towards alternative search sources has been steadily growing over the years since Google became the search engine of choice. These search alternatives reflect nuanced queries for specific items. Amazon, for example, has become a default search engine for products. But many consumers were already aware of the product and were just looking for the best price on that product given Amazon’s secondary market for products. Pinterest also became a sort of search engine, but there people looked for specific images for topics such as crochet, fashion or other special interests. And YouTube has long been considered the second largest search engine behind Google.
But TikTok poses a bigger threat to Google’s search dominance because of its generational dominance over the online behavior of Gen Zers and millennials. These people may look like they’re just dancing, but they’re doing a lot more than that. They are searching and discovering services through TikTok.
It seems surprising, but think about how long search engines have been in the public eye. Twenty years may not be a long time historically, but from a digital technology perspective, they could be entirely different eras. This difference is creating the opportunity.
TikTok is changing the expectations of online search, but there are some big problems. There are many martech tools that verify search volume on Google. There are no third-party tools on TikTok, at least not yet. Lack of verification makes it difficult to plan content features for consumer discovery.
Another aspect to consider: TikTok is increasingly criticized for data privacy issues. TechCrunch reported that the Irish Data Protection Commission is investigating TikTok for potential violations of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in relation to data transfers to China. Data transfers trigger questions about customer data rights – do they know? There is permission to store data for a specific purpose. TikTok reportedly revealed for the first time that the Chinese government is among its partners that can access user profile data. Marketers need to be more diligent in inspecting what issues platforms are facing when it comes to data.
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What should marketers do now to future proof their SEO?
Keep in mind that the latest SEO news doesn’t mean you have to rush into an SEO strategy revamp this second. Reactions to SEO tend to be smaller evolutionary steps rather than big overnight changes. SEO changes in the market are similar to the introduction of a new feature in car platforms. Car owners did not immediately replace their car with a new one because the new models had the latest safety features or wireless phone chargers. It took years for vehicles with the new features to proliferate on the market and change customer behavior permanently. Marketers will likely experience the same kind of evolution to use video and text to bolster their search engine strategy.
Marketers must take advantage of evolving changes like Google Lens to incorporate site updates that adapt to what customers are discovering online. Customers are clearly using visual clues to discover products, services and companies. So these discoveries are part of today’s customer experience. Tactics for developing these changes in a search strategy are part of a bigger picture of providing useful content (see my post for more on Google Useful content update).
So, if you’re looking at your brand’s SEO tactics, start by examining the context your images and videos can bring and plan to evolve the strategy. This context can alter your keyword and phrase choices to drive customers to your landing pages, websites, and online apps.