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The battle for search: Google vs. Tiktok & Instagram

Google have announced at its Search On event that both its Search and Maps interface are to undergo several changes with new features being introduced that aim at making it easier for consumers to explore content. These updates are in reaction to Google’s internal research suggesting that Gen Z have started using the likes of TikTok and Instagram as their first choice of search engine. Prabhakar Raghavan, Google Senior Vice President, stated that around 40% of those aged 18-24 will use Instagram or TikTok instead of Google Search or Maps to answer a question like ‘where to go to lunch’. The goal of the changes is to make the search experience more visual, with more images and videos in the search results (including from TikTok itself), drawing inspiration from the way the younger users interact with the web, where Gen Z prefer easily navigable visual information.

One of the biggest changes is in results pages highlighting different multimedia hosting “the most relevant and helpful information, including content from creators on the open web”.  This will result in, for instance, if you search for a place, you may find photos, a small map showing its location, directions, weather, and even short videos. These aren’t presented as a list of links or in a text-heavy format, but rather in colourful, card-style blocks interspersed with media and imagery overhauling the whole user’s Google search experience.

One of the other notable changes to the interface will be the introduction of shortcuts to some of Google’s helpful tools directly on the home screen of the Google app, under the search box. Here, users will be presented with buttons that let them take quick actions such as translating text using their camera, solve a maths equation, identify music, or shop from screenshots, making online content more easily navigable, adapting to the way a person asks a question.

Google aims to make visual search work more naturally, improving the Lens function with the introduction of multi-search, a completely new way to search using images and text simultaneously, similar to how a person might point at something and ask a friend a question about it. This capability will be taken even further with “multisearch near me” functionality, enabling you to take a picture of an unfamiliar item, such as a meal or plant, then find it at a local place nearby, like a restaurant or gardening shop.

What this shows is that there is a very real sense amid these updates that Google is trying to adapt its business to a world where users are often no longer starting their queries on its own platform. While Google won’t go so far as to admit Gen Z’s web usage is driving the change, they did acknowledge their influence.

As Google looks to emulate some of the capabilities of TikTok and Instagram, so must marketers need to ensure they stay across these changes in behaviour and regularly assess how this applies to their target audiences. As the marketplace becomes increasingly fragmented and the functionality of platforms continue to evolve agencies must look to test and learn new opportunities. Brands need to be prepared for a blurred line between text and asset campaigns through the Google stack, capitalising on new campaign types and ensuring they have an engaging visual suite of assets fit for the new types of search.

Sources: Google, Wired, Insider Intelligence