TikTok and Instagram Challenge Google for Gen Z Searches

TikTok and Instagram Challenge Google for Gen Z Searches

Google has a new challenger for product searches: TikTok and Instagram.

At a recent conference, a Google executive went on record as saying, “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.”

This was a surprisingly candid admission from a company whose YouTube app has been battling TikTok especially for leadership in the video space. (Insider Intelligence predicts TikTok’s advertising revenue will overtake YouTube by 2024.)

Although Google is easily the world’s most popular search engine, when it comes to searches for things to buy, the company is not quite as popular. For example, Amazon is the Number One website for people to do product searches: according to a 2018 Jumpshot report, from 2015 to 2018, Amazon overtook Google in this area, with Amazon growing to claim 54 percent of product searches while Google declined from 54 percent to 46 percent. According to Marketplace Pulse, a majority of Amazon searches—78 percent, in fact—are nonbranded. Instead of pinpointing a specific company like lululemon, say, many customers are making broad searches such as “yoga pants for women” and seeing what comes up.

And we all know how easy it is to buy something on Amazon once you are done searching, right?

Well, Google has been trying to make itself a stronger destination for shopping amid Amazon’s ascendance. For instance, Google recently launched new commerce-related features such as:

  • Swipeable shopping ads in search. A new ad display pairs organic shopping results with shopping ads, which makes online shopping more visual. The new swipeable shopping feed is available for apparel brands via Search or Performance Max campaigns. These will be clearly labeled as ads and will be eligible to appear in dedicated ad slots throughout the page.
  • Product feeds for a shoppable YouTube experience. Advertisers will soon have the ability to connect product feeds to campaigns in order to create shoppable video ads on YouTube Shorts. With YouTube Shorts, people can quickly and easily create short videos of up to 15 seconds, similar to how TikTok and Instagram Reels are used. Shoppable video ads on Shorts helps Google capitalize on social shopping.

The problem with Instagram and TikTok is that they appeal to the surging Gen Z population, who look especially to TikTok for recommendations for things to buy.  According to The New York Times, two-thirds of TikTok users have been inspired to shop, even if that wasn’t their original intent when accessing the app in the first place. The phenomenon has gained enough attention that it even has a hashtag: #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt has garnered more than 16.7 billion views on the app.

Even more worrisome for YouTube, TikTok and Instagram are both launching social shopping tools. For instance, TikTok recently launched the TikTokShop to make it easy for people to buy things right int the app. Instagram has launched a number of tools as part of Instagram Shopping, including:

  • Instagram Checkout, which facilitates simple, convenient, and secure purchases made directly from Instagram. Shopping from Instagram means protected payment information is kept in one place. So, Instagrammers can shop multiple favorite brands without having to log in and enter intel multiple times.
  • Instagram Live, which allows checkout-enabled businesses to sell products through “live shopping.” In live shopping, consumers might be inspired by a creator or brand’s live video content and subsequently buy promoted products in real-time.

In fact, 130 million people tap on an Instagram Shopping post and engage with Instagram Checkout every month.

All told, social commerce is exploding. eMarketer predicts that by 2023, 2021, U.S. retail social commerce sales will rise to $56.17 billion.

Google is also responding to these challenges. In addition to the features noted above, the company is making search more immersive and engaging by incorporating rich visual features and augmented reality. These should help the company make the search and shopping experience livelier.

Google is making progress. Morgan Stanley says that in November 2021, 57 percent of shoppers first went to Google platforms (including Search and YouTube) to research a new product, up from 54% in May 2021. In addition, the number of Amazon Prime subscribers turning to Google for initial searches increased to 56 percent from 51 percent in the same period.

What Businesses Should Do

  • Understand your audience. Are you reaching out to Gen Z? Boomers? Not all social commerce platforms are the same. As noted, TikTok and Instagram resonates with Gen Z. Boomers tend to gravitate to Facebook. Ask yourself: who am I trying to reach, and where can I find them?
  • Learn how to use the tools available to you. Each platform has its own requirements for creating content. In addition, these popular sites demand a strong understanding of how to use visuals — anymore, it’s essential that brands know how to create powerful imagery.
  • Capitalize on Google’s advertising tools that are designed to be more visually appealing. For instance, Google recently rolled out Discovery ads, which are image-rich ads designed for a more “laid back” search experience (more about that here). Google is clearly doubling down on the visual web, and advertisers should expect more visually appealing ad products as it attempts to become a stronger e-commerce player.
  • Take a closer look at video advertising and organic content sharing, given Google’s interest in building out a more robust search experience on YouTube.

Meanwhile, TikTok and Instagram will most certainly dial up their own advertising products to attract companies that want to have their sponsored content appear alongside search results. Gear up for more ad choices!

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