There seem to be an abundance of takes recently about how Tik Tok is eating into Google’s search business. It may have all started from a remark by a Google exec at a tech conference where he shared some thoughts on how “new internet users” are engaging with search.
Saying things like “In our studies, something like almost 40% 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.”
I think there is truth to this, and I’ve been the person searching for new restaurants on Tik Tok, but it’s a relatively narrow use-case. Searches like “places to eat in New York” are obviously going to be quite fruitful. You’re still left with the question of the location and if you can actually get into this place.
Tik Tok search can solve the “this looks like a cool place to eat” problem. Google has dropped the ball on this category.
But Tik Tok can’t solve the “how far away is this place and do they have any reservations for Saturday night” problems.
You can imagine a world very soon where you can say you’re looking for something to eat, and you’ll get back content that is:
- Prioritized based on your location and restaurant availability
- Contextualized to your preferences and habits
Tik Tok is getting us a little closer to this future with its powerful algorithm tailored to your interests and engagement. But solving the logistical hurdles of locations, availability and preferences would deepen their domination of this use case.
For example, I would like to go to dinner tomorrow night. I’m not sure where. My wife and I might spend an hour+ looking at Instagram, Tik Tok, maps, OpenTable and Resy just to figure out what looks good and what works logistically.
I didn’t intend to write so much about the “what to eat tonight” use case, but here we are. An analogous usage would be the “what to do tonight / this weekend” which carries a lot of the same challenges around what looks cool, what do we like doing, and what works logistically.
From here, you can imagine a system that is both serving outputs to a user, but also taking in criteria about what the user wants. Maybe users are searching for things like “river float near me” but there are no opportunities to do this. I can envision this creating opportunities for businesses to start, or expand to meet the demonstrated needs of users.
The next generation of search will be both information-rich (like Google business cards) but visually driven. Consumers will be able to SEE clearly what would be cool, but also immediately get the details about the spot.
I started by saying that what to eat and what to do are relatively niche use cases. Granted, in cities, they may be more common as there are an abundance of new restaurants and experiences. Living in a smaller town, there are certainly a few hidden gems I’ve never heard of, but my need for discovery is lower. I have the places I like and I go to frequently. Also, searching for what to eat and do is a small reason people search for things. Information about a business’ website, hours, contact information, staff, etc… is still best found through a text-based search engine.
The future of search will be more visual, more video, more contextualized. But the future of search is not here yet. Tik Tok and Instagram have just filled a niche neglected by Google to this point. But the evolution will continue to accelerate and we’ll all be here to watch.