TikTok Google Search
In this article

For 18-year-old Shan Sivakumar, TikTok is her go-to platform for cafe-hopping recommendations. From cafes tucked in the quiet corners of the streets to Instagrammable brunch spots in the bustling areas of Singapore, TikTok lures her in with authentic and honest food reviews.

On the other hand, 21-year-old Sharon Wong hones her cooking skills by looking out for tutorials on creating meals from different cuisines. Even the most challenging recipes and techniques can be mastered by Sharon by watching short videos, which break down every step of the process in an easily digestible way.

Taking the world by a storm, TikTok is now giving Google a run for its money as it steadily rises to the top as a powerful search engine.

The platform has now grown beyond an app where people show off their quirky dance moves to a treasure trove for users to discover new products, places and user reviews, ending Google’s 15-year streak as the most popular web domain globally.

“My friends use it, my family use it, even some of my lecturers use it,” said Shan. With over three billion downloads worldwide, can TikTok eventually take over Google as a search engine?

TikTok has captured the attention of SEA’s rapidly growing audience

According to insights from a survey done by Milieu Insights, about 27 per cent of Southeast Asians use TikTok to look for information, and this is especially common in Indonesia and Vietnam, with 37 per cent of the population utilising TikTok as a search engine.

This number almost doubles when it comes to those between the ages 16 and 24, which suggests a generational shift towards TikTok as a source for gathering information on products and services.

Results from the study also found that more than half (56 per cent) of those who utilise TikTok as a search engine find the short video platform to be more useful than a traditional search engine like Google when it comes to looking for information.

In Southeast Asia, TikTok is used as a search engine for multiple reasons, from finding new eateries, to looking for movie and TV show recommendations. Singaporeans in particular, look to discover new places to eat and drink.

But what exactly is enticing Gen Zs to shift from Google Search to TikTok?

Gen Zs want content that comes from a real place

recording a tiktok
Image Credit: Alison Reeves

Based on Mashable‘s interview with a number of Gen Zs, the usage of TikTok as a search engine boils down to three factors: credibility, ease of use, and geolocation.

Tired of Google’s algorithm that prioritises search engine optimised (SEO) blogs, Gen Zs are turning to TikTok for original and ‘real’ content from brands and content creators.

Content at the top of Google’s search engine results page is often created by businesses and marketing professional following SEO rules, which is exactly what Gen Zs do not want.

“It just feels more authentic and comes from a real place, instead of scrolling through pages and pages of words,” said Shan.

Sharon agrees, adding that she often sees the same restaurants and brands recommended on Google, whereas TikTok gives her more options and she gets to “more or less know the vibe of the location” before heading down to said location.

This comes especially handy when it comes to looking for travel recommendations. From Tokyo to India and even Antartica, you name it — TikTok allows you to “virtually teleport” to a location even before you visit it to get a better feel of the country.

With multiple content creators posting up to date travel content, people can adjust their expectations through authentic content as opposed to the same regular recommendations you can find on websites such as TripAdvisor and Agoda.

TikTok provides accessible and up-to-date information

Besides this, information on businesses and restaurants are often not up to date on Google — some might display that the business is up and running despite being shut down for months.

Personally, I have headed down to two restaurants which I presumed to be open based off of Google Search but I ended up being disappointed when I was greeted by a closed sign.

In contrast to this, TikTok provides visual proof that the business is still in operation, which instills better trust in the content on the platform. Coupled with the authenticity you get from the platform, Gen Zs would take TikTok anytime over Google Search.

In fact, the study done by Milieu Insights cites that 43 per cent of people prefer using TikTok as a search engine because of information that is up-to-date.

The ease of use is also a key differentiator between Google Search and TikTok. Long-winded articles and blogs are often hard to navigate and are not optimised for mobile use, making it harder to navigate.

In contrast, TikTok’s content is often presented in a way that is bite-sized and straightforward. As TikTok has to grab attention in a short time span, the short videos address these key issues in less than a few minutes.

“Rather than scrolling through the entire life story of a blogger before getting to a recipe on Google, recipes on TikTok puts the focus on the content instead of the creator,” said Sharon.

TikTok’s geolocation feature is a lifesaver for many

TikTok Taiwan recommendation
A user on TikTok provides travel recommendations in Taiwan / Image Credit: Screengrab by Vulcan Post

TikTok’s highly personalised algorithm that recommends content based on the location of a user is another push factor for TikTok’s adoption as a search engine.

For example, if you’re in New Zealand and want to head down to get the best coffee in the area, you’re likely to find an up-to-date, geo-specific recommendation on TikTok.

When 22-year-old Naveena Lee moved abroad to the United Kingdom to pursue her law degree, her TikTok feed was almost immediately refreshed with the latest content on local restaurants and tourist attractions, among others.

These offerings, such as nearby cafes and skincare brands, were also highly personalised to her tastes — she was always on the lookout for cafes to enjoy a hearty brunch and goes the extra mile when it comes to skincare.

This is because TikTok’s algorithm curates content on your feed based on your previous interactions such as liking, sharing or commenting on posts.

I myself was greeted with a flood of TikTok videos recommending me the best places to dine at in Bali during my recent vacation there a few weeks ago. Most of these places simply cannot be found on Google unless I went through pages of search results.

TikTok is bolstering its capabilities as a search engine

While these factors definitely contribute to TikTok’s success as a search engine, TikTok is also upping its game in this area to further optimise its capabilities as a search engine.

Just recently, it rolled out a new test feature which highlights keywords in video comments, linking them to search results for the term on the platform. This new feature positions TikTok as a bigger threat for Google Search.

TIkTok comment hyperlink
Image Credit: Olivia Deng via Twitter

Aside from this, TikTok also plans to test a feed with local content in Southeast Asia which will enable people to locate businesses and events near them.

That being said, there still are some areas that TikTok will not be able to surpass Google as a search engine.

For one, there has been a plethora of misinformation on TikTok — from inaccurate medical advice to the Russia-Ukraine war, about 20 per cent of the content circulated on TikTok is wrong information.

“Honestly, while I do use TikTok as a search engine, the content I look for on TikTok differs from what I look for on Google. On TikTok, the information I seek is more opinion based, like skincare or hair routines, but on Google, I look for more informative content,” explained Naveena.

In addition to this, Naveena only uses TikTok when she has spare time on her hands. “If I’m in a rush, I will definitely be using Google instead of TikTok — for instance, I would Google eateries near me and it would take me to Google Maps, which I find very convenient. I don’t have the time to scroll through multiple TikTok videos when I’m in a rush.”

Besides that, the core value of TikTok is also entertainment, while Google is more focused on delivering information at a moment’s notice, which is why 24-year-old Justin Roy feels that Google serves him more purpose than TikTok. He adds that Google outweighs TikTok in importance due to its reverse image search feature as well.

Ultimately, it boils down to the purpose of platform and what kind of information it can provide its users.

At the end of the day, TikTok will not be able to entirely replace Google as a search engine — TikTok runs an internal search model which retains users on its platform to fulfil their needs, while Google indexes the web and redirects users to other websites.

Featured image Credit: Olive Burd/ BuzzFeed News

Unlock the knowledge of
Asia's tech landscape

Subscribe to our premium content for just S$99.90 a year.

Monthly Package

S$9.90 / month
(or S$0.33 / day)

Gain access to all Vulcan Post Premium content for S$9.90 per month.

Annual Package

S$99.90 / year
(or S$0.27 / day)

Gain access to all Vulcan Post Premium content for S$99.90 per year.

or login to existing account 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated with Vulcan Post weekly curated news and updates.


Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)

Vulcan Post aims to be the knowledge hub of Singapore and Malaysia.

© 2021 GRVTY Media Pte. Ltd.
(UEN 201431998C.)