TikTok’s Unexpected Effects in Search

Melissa Harden & Isabelle Halpern & Lydia Whitaker
Published August 29, 2022

Trends that go viral on TikTok are quickly made visible to millions of consumers. These trends have begun to impact Search by generating demand and influencing consumers’ buying decisions.


Three search categories we’ve seen that have the strongest impact include:

  1. Existing products that receive a new surge in popularity and search demand due to a TikTok reintroducing them to consumers.
  2. New search terms that stem from coined phrases or products introduced within TikTok.
  3. Trending concepts that increase search demand for related products to execute the concept or trend.

Where TikTok Fails, Search Picks Up: A New Buyer Journey

TikTok has become a prevalent part of younger generations' consumer journey, but due to a lack of further interactivity within the native app, users leave TikTok after consideration and move over to Search to finish out the transactional portion of the consumer journey.

TikTok Made Me Buy It: Consumer Buying Decisions

TikTok has quickly become a space for consumers to search, discover, and review new products and services more than any other social media platform. Due to the combination of product introduction (or reintroduction) and entertainment, TikTok leads users to spend 14% more when TikTok is part of the buyer journey.

A recent Path to Purchase study conducted by Material found that 37% of users will immediately buy a product after discovering it on TikTok, and 35% will buy a product they have seen on the app later on. TikTok has a younger demographic of users where the majority are between the ages of 16 and 24, and 26% are between the ages of 25 and 44.

Brands can leverage TikTok and Search together to create powerful media purchasing strategies.

TikTok is an effective way to introduce new trends, products, and ideas, but it fails to complete the full user experience by providing more details on the trends, which is where Search enters the buyer journey.

With well-optimized pages on a website that target new trends, products, and ideas introduced on TikTok, brands can use existing products to build new collections that target the trends.

Due to the lack of native search features within TikTok’s interface, users are turning to Google or other search engines to seek additional information on items featured in videos and trends they’re engaging with. Ultimately, this has led to a rise in search volume for a number of search queries and has increased the importance of having well-optimized landing pages for brands selling these products.

It is not only essential to have landing pages optimized for the viral products themselves but also to include the language that TikTok users associate with them. For example, the term ‘brami’ was used by TikTok users when referring to a built-in bra camisole top. If a website were to sell a similar ‘built-in bra’ top, it would be important to optimize for the term ‘brami’ due to the rise in the use of that term. Where TikTok drops off, Search picks up to complete the remainder of the consumer's journey to purchase.

TikTok & Search: The 3 Pillars of the #ForYou Effect

1. Reintroducing Products in TikTok Leads to Significant Increases in Searches in Google

This pillar refers to products or concepts that have existed for years prior to these TikTok trends, but saw a surge in popularity and search volume due to reintroduction on the app. When we examine the impact on Search for this type of TikTok trend, we see a rise in exact phrase match of keywords.

Example: Lululemon belt bag - Product; Original Video Posted Early November 2021

The Lululemon belt bag has existed for years but did not show a rise in search volume until a TikTok went viral in November 2021. The phrase has now grown +1,275% in search volume since last year.

Lululemon SEO Search Trend Increase

Example: Cheugy - Phrase; Original TikTok Posted March 30, 2021

The phrase ‘cheugy’ (pronounced "chew-gee") has been around since 2013, but the search volume for the term did not rise until a TikTok reintroducing the phrase went viral on March 30th, 2021.

2. Something Old Can Become Something New

This pillar also refers to products and concepts that existed prior to their TikTok trends, but when we examine the impact on Search for this type of TikTok trend, we not only see a rise in exact phrase match of keywords, but also related product keywords.

Example: Slugging

Slugging is a Korean beauty technique that has been around for over 100 years. This beauty practice consists of covering your face with a thin layer of Vaseline or another type of moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated and prevent water loss. Slugging was introduced to  a wider audience by a TikTok user and became a popular topic of viral videos across the app in December 2021. Now, the #slugging hashtag on TikTok has 280.3 million views.

Around the same time that slugging was prevalent on TikTok, searches also began to spike on Google. The graph below depicts the dramatic upsurge in search interest around slugging starting around the end of December 2021 into January 2022.

Slugging SEO Trend Increase

While searches for the term slugging drastically increased by 233% in January, related searches for different lotion brands used for slugging like CeraVe and Aquaphor increased simultaneously, as depicted in the graph below. CeraVe Healing Ointment and Aquaphor are both popular slugging products that Tiktok videos featured.

Example: Gua Sha

Gua Sha originated in China as traditional Chinese medicine, where a professional will use a smooth-edged tool to gently rub areas of the face and body to improve circulation, promote healing, and reduce inflammation. The tool and act of Gua Sha were featured in a TikTok video that went viral in mid-February 2021, showing a more sculpted face and jawline from using the tool. Now, the #guasha hashtag on TikTok has 974.3 million views.

While popularity around Gua Sha rose on TikTok, users started searching for this tool on search engines. As the graph shows below, search interest around Gua Sha started to spike around March 2021. After reaching peak interest, Gua Sha related searches started declining rapidly in May 2021. This drop in interest did not last long; however, as more videos went viral on TikTok about the beauty tool, searches began to rise once again in December 2021.

While search interest for the Gua Sha tool began increasing in December again, consumers started expanding their searches for similar skin care tools. While search demand for the Gua Sha tool increased by 82%, ice roller related searches increased by 174%, and ‘jade roller’ queries were up 83% in the same month.

3. New Products. New Words. New Trends. New Searches in Google.

This pillar refers to products and concepts that did not exist prior to their TikTok trends. They are phrases coined by TikTok creators that, while casually stated in a video, have transitioned into a now formal term for what they represent. The search volume for these phrases increased significantly, along the same timeline that their popularity grew on TikTok. When we examine these trends, we see a rise in search volume for the exact phrase, as well as rises in search for the products required to emulate the trend.

Example: 12-3-30 Workout; Original TikTok Posted November 2020

The ’12-3-30 workout’ is a treadmill incline workout coined by a TikTok user in November 2020. Since then, the search volume for the term has grown significantly. Similarly, related terms have also grown in search volume- users seeking treadmills or looking up more information on the benefits of incline walking.

Example: Whipped Coffee; Original TikTok Posted March 2020

Whipped Coffee was coined by a TikToker in March 2020, right as the initial COVID-19 lockdown began. The phrase, along with ingredients needed to make the coffee, saw significant rises in search volume after the trend went viral.

Whipped Coffee SEO Trend Increase

What This Means For…

Retail Markets

TikTok has recently partnered with Shopify, one of the biggest eCommerce platforms, to design and launch in-app shopping and purchasing options. However, this new shopping feature design is not the most user-friendly, where users will have to search and click on businesses’ TikTok profiles to access their online shop. In the future, we should expect TikTok to refine and streamline in-app shopping, allowing users to have the option to shop right from videos on their For You Page

Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs)

Right now, Google is working on deals with TikTok and other social media platforms such as Instagram to index different videos from their platform on the search engine results page. We can already see this happening with viral tweets being indexed and ranking, so we can expect to see this happening with viral TikTok videos as well in the near future.

The SEO Industry

A common misconception is that search engine optimization only refers to search engines like Google and Bing. In reality, SEO actually takes place in any space where search is the primary action on the interface. For example, Amazon and YouTube are also considered popular search engines as their primary function is the search feature.

More and more, we see TikTok modifying the use of search engines. SEO marketers and experts should expect to start taking essential steps to optimize TikTok videos and profiles with SEO best practices similar to what we do on YouTube today.

How To Make TikTok Work #ForYou

TikTok’s relationship and influence on Search is powerful. Brands will be able to tap into these insights to stay ahead of the curve with emerging trends and enhance their awareness. Aside from having an active TikTok brand account, marketers should pay attention to these trends and use them to guide their other media, content, and search efforts.

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