TikTok: The Gen Z Search Engine

When Google CEO Sundar Pichai said "competition comes from nowhere" during a conference in California back in 2022, he was referring to TikTok.

“You know, none of us were talking about TikTok three years ago," Pichai said at the time. Now a study from Adobe suggests that among Gen Z consumers and business owners, one in 10 say they are more likely to rely on TikTok than Google as a search engine.

Adobe surveyed 808 consumers and 250 business owners to understand how TikTok is reshaping search behavior and marketing strategies, despite the pushback from U.S. government agencies. 

Some 49% of millennials and 29% of Gen X say they have used TikTok as a search engine, but only 14% of Baby Boomers can say the same. 

The top five search topics range from cooking to workout routines. Some 36% of survey participants said they search TikTok for new new recipes, while 35% look for new music, 34% look for DIY tips, 30% search for fashion advice, and 29% look for fashion advice. 



What’s the attraction to TikTok? The Adobe survey shows that 44% cite short-form video formats because they are easier to view.

Some 34% cited storytelling in the videos, while 31% cited more personalized content, 29% cited information in current events, 29% cited interactive and immersive experience, 27% believe the platform is more integrated with social media browsing habits.

Some 62% cite video tutorials as the content consumers prefer most when using TikTok as a search engine, followed by product or service reviews at 39%. Personal stories and anecdotes came in at No. 3 at 38%.

Consumers participating in the study rate TikTok low when it comes to providing authoritative content, although it received high marks for expertise and experience. Adobe used Google’s search engine optimization (SEO) concept called E-E-A-T (expertise, experience, authorization, and trustworthiness) to evaluate the ranking systems on whether they provide helpful and relevant information.

The study also showed that about 1 in 10 consumers rely on ChatGPT to search for information, with 1 in 20 going as far as asking it for personal finance advice.

Adobe also surveyed business owners, who said they navigate TikTok to meet search intent. The data looks at how entrepreneurs leverage TikTok, comparing it to traditional search engine results pages (SERPs).

The findings show 54% of business owners surveyed use TikTok to promote their business, posting an average of nine times monthly.

Some 22% said video tutorials outperformed traditional SERPs, followed by 21% cited creative tangential content related to company products, 18% said product or service reviews, 15% said trending challenges of memes, 12% said personal stories or anecdotes, 10% cited short slide shows, 7% guides, 7% Q&As, and 6% influencer recommendations.

One in four small businesses have used TikTok influencers for product sales or promotions, but only 33% have converted TikTok engagement into sales, 32% have increased followers, 29% created content that appealed to a diverse user base, and 29% said there are time constraints require to consistently product content.

Business owners on average, per the study’s findings, allocated 15% of their marketing budget for TikTok content creation.

The types of content they have invested in includes product or service reviews, 36%, video tutorials, 35%; personal anecdotes, 29% and trending challenges or memes, 25%.


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