TikTok Search ads: how can brands ready themselves for what may come?

By Mohini Lakhani, Digital Account Director for Campaign Magazine.

For quite some time there has been a near duopoly in the search ad market, dominated by Google and Microsoft and worth an estimated $112bn. However, times are changing and search advertising will be significantly shaken up by the launch of TikTok search ads.

The social platform has been making waves in the search space as social media behaviour continues to evolve. A place for discovery, the easily digestible, short-form video content is increasingly becoming the go-to for answering questions that benefit from a visual solution.

The best local restaurants, demystifying the latest tech, trending holiday destinations: TikTok has it all. Research indicates people are even turning to the app for their news, with 7% of all UK adults and 25% of all adults in the US checking the platform for the daily round-up of current affairs.

Google is, rightly, monitoring these shifts that are inevitably being driven by Gen Z and found that 40% of 18- to 24-year-olds are turning to TikTok in preference to more traditional search engines.

TikTok has been building up to this launch for some time. It boosted its algorithm for SEO optimisation last November, increasing the character limits for its video descriptions, from 300 to 2,200, allowing more opportunity to include keywords and hashtags.

In addition, its “keyword insights” tool can be overlaid on top of existing targeting signals, including demographics, user-defined interests and hashtags. Keyword bidding and buying seem likely to follow.

TikTok is clearly influencing conversion; #tiktokmademebuyit has achieved 50.7 billion views. So, how can brands best prepare for the launch of TikTok Search Ads?

Establish brand presence if you haven’t already

Given the incredible growth of TikTok’s user base, all brands, global or local, should build an organic following with relevant content on the platform now.

While this may divert internal marketing resources away from other digital channels, it is just as important as those efforts employed in organic SEO rankings within the search engine results pages.

Be brave and start testing

More and more brands are investing in TikTok advertising to increase engagement. By diversifying paid media investment and introducing TikTok into the mix, it means that testing is under way early, and brands can stay ahead of the curve.

In addition, understanding performance using TikTok’s existing targeting strands will help differentiate incremental returns when testing keyword buying once released.

Ensure harmony across paid channels if currently siloed

SEO is no longer just constrained to search engines. Search term data from TikTok should be used to generate insights for Google and vice versa.

The intent here may differ, but brands must cross-test to uncover this and recognise trends. If teams working on these channels are siloed, ensure that they are speaking to each other or change structure accordingly. We have The Kite Factory digital department acting as biddable specialists, so we can maximise synergy across channels.

Keep an eye on the road ahead

This is just the first of many product updates from TikTok, and these will likely continue to cause disruptions across many areas of the industry.

This, together with TikTok use figures unlikely to drop off any time soon (assuming no further US laws are imposed), means it is imperative that brands keep on top of the latest changes.

The next few product updates from TikTok are expected to be strategically led, giving advertisers time to test and learn about the different targeting capabilities that the platform has to offer (hopefully including keyword-level bidding), before the expected hike in budgets in Q4.

Time will tell whether the uptake of the TikTok search feature is as substantial as intended, but this is certainly an interesting space for brands to watch. The app shows no sign of slowing down and, as its influence continues to rise, brands need to ready themselves.