TikTok takes on Google and Microsoft in the search ads game

Does Google have cause for concern as TikTok aims to provide the answer to effectively targeting younger generations, or are the brand safety risks warning advertisers off?

Game on, says TikTok, as advertisers see promise for the next new competitor in the search ads race.

Rumours and reports are saying that TikTok is getting closer to launching its own search ads platform, where businesses can bid on keywords, putting it in direct competition with search giants Google and Microsoft.

Google’s SVP Prabhakar Raghavan noted the shift of younger generations from search to social last year: “40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, don’t go to Google Maps or Search, they go to TikTok or Instagram.” 

The Chinese video platform rolled out beta testing in early 2022, which showed that advertisers could collect the search terms responsible for conversions and use the high click-through rate terms as headlines for their best-performing TikTok videos.

“By entering the ad search market, TikTok exemplifies how social media is increasingly playing a key role in all our lives,” commented Cat Anderson, Global Head of Marketing at Sprout Social.

“But the move will also have a direct impact on marketers and advertisers as well as TikTok influencers who can now reap the benefits of high performing content. It’s an interesting development as the move crucially provides an alternative advertising platform for businesses, and one which can reach younger, more engaged audiences who are notoriously difficult to reach through traditional advertising channels.”

PMW spoke to brands and agencies in the game to find out their feelings towards TikTok’s proposition and whether Google is in danger of some serious competition as we get closer to launch.

Search advertisers need to change their game

“TikTok entering the search ads business makes a lot of sense,” said Jennifer Sudo, Managing Partner at M&C Saatchi Performance. “People are already using the platform for discovery and in many cases, over Google. 

“The product has not been officially launched but advertisers will want more control over how their videos are surfacing. A recent change in the platform now allows us to see which keywords are driving views for our videos and we can use this directionally to inform content in the future. As for brand safety, the concerns are valid but we will need to wait and see how the ads are rolled out.”

Brands and agencies alike are welcoming the rumoured launch, with the tool making a promising, and expected, addition to search. But search itself is not what it used to be, and marketers are going to have to think differently.

Samsung’s Senior Digital Marketing Manager, Neil Mandell, is also excited about the proposition. He added: “Hashtags are already a key targeting option within TikTok, so it'll be interesting to see how the updates align with this existing tactic, assuming similar data points are considered by the platform. 

“The release presents questions on if the media buying either sits within Paid Social or Search teams. If the latter, Search advertisers may need to become more savvy on best practices for video ads and step outside of their comfort zone if they're only used to writing text ads. Although I may be proven wrong since it's difficult to tell how the ads will look at this stage!”

“TikTok is the platform Google should be worrying about”

Lloyds Banking’s Head of Paid Digital Marketing, Nic Travis, said: “The search market and user journeys in general are fragmenting, as people seek alternative sources of information and different forms of content. TikTok is increasingly being used not just for entertainment, but for help, support and guidance on all manner of topics and issues, so the ability to target advertising around specific keyword or search terms is a welcome development that brands in many verticals will have to give serious consideration towards.”

Bing began to shoot fire at Google’s top of the podium position with it’s integration of OpenAI’s ChatGPT, but posed no real threat to the Alphabet-owned search dominator. Mandell commented on LinkedIn: “Just as we're all talking about Microsoft gaining ground with ChatGPT, TikTok is still the platform Google should be worrying about when it comes to advertiser spend at least.”

Sam Holt, MD, Performics UK added: “The way in which people find and consume information online has fundamentally changed and will continue to do so at light speed over the next 12 months. Where Google used to provide a single point of entry for every intent state, we’re now seeing a range of options for product searches – like Amazon and retailer search – and exploration-based searches, such as TikTok, chat-based search engines. 

“What is abundantly clear is that there is real competition in this space now and brands and agencies alike will have to re-frame what search really means to them.”