The battle of the search bar

How do people find information in 2024? 

We tell kids “not to believe everything you read on the internet”, but that’s a hard rule to follow when it’s the go-to source of information. Whether we want to understand the latest news update, do research for work, or spend hours poring over a restaurant menu ahead of the reservation, a quick internet search provides all we need.  

There’s no denying it, the world wide web is our lifeline for information; but the way we’re using it is changing…   

In fact, TikTok is the #1 search engine for more than half of the Gen Z population. So, it’s clear that search functions on social media platforms are giving Google search a run for its money, but there are a few factors to understand which search engine ultimately comes out on top across the board…  

Does glitz and glam override the facts?

Everyone loves the occasional self-help content, and what better place to go for that than TikTok? Whether you want to find a fancy recipe to whip up in the kitchen or need realistic money saving tips, it’s become a popular advice-stream platform. But, if TikTok is about providing information creatively – and from anyone that decides to upload – where does that leave credibility and reliability?

*Google search enters the chat…* 

Google was designed to give people authoritative search content. So, for those that need ‘receipts’ or ask questions like ‘but how do you know this?’, Google is more reliable (when you’re looking in the right places). It may lack the fun factor in the way it delivers information, but you don’t see people adding data sources to their TikTok content – so there’s no arguing that Google search can be more trustworthy.  

The battle of the generations 

Since Google search is more proficient in providing credible sources of information, it raises the question: why are some people making TikTok their preferred choice? It’s all about pace. In our world of one-click shopping and instant downloads, we want things immediately – and that goes for information too. TikTok offers bitesize insights in video form – removing the need to skim through numerous articles to find the answer. And you can even play TikTok videos at double speed, helping you get to the information even faster.  

However, when it comes to attention span, we aren’t created equal. Research shows that attention span increases throughout generations – sitting at around 8 seconds for Gen Z audiences and 20 seconds for Baby Boomers. Perhaps this is because everyone over 35 will know the complexity of sourcing information before the internet – after all, Google wasn’t founded until 1998. And the process of combing through book after book looking for information is certainly a good way to teach patience that’s simply not needed in 2024. 

This might explain why older generations, in general, aren’t using TikTok as a search engine in the same way as Millennials or Gen Z.  

The power of algorithms  

It’s no secret, the way we search for information is changing and algorithms have a part to play in this shift. On TikTok, especially, content on your ‘For You’ page is dictated by what you watch and engage with. And brands can make the most of this technology, by using hashtags to help categorise the content, improving its chances of landing on the right audience’s page. How is this beneficial when searching, though?  

It means that we’re sometimes given informational content before we even need to search for it. By interacting with a video on a specific topic, we’ll be handed similar content – just like the way we’re served product ads across the internet. Despite SEO specialists working against the clock to manage Google’s algorithms, the amount of time spent on social media allows this to be the perfect place for targeting focused audiences. And this, again, ties into our unwavering desire to access information instantly. After all, who’s reading beyond page one of Google search or waiting more than five seconds for a webpage to load before heading elsewhere?  

Is ChatGPT stealing the show? 

Let’s not forget about another search platform to blow up the internet, ChatGPT, which launched in November 2022. For many, this AI model has helped tweak CVs, fact-check and proofread, and even come up with responses to passive-aggressive emails. But for the AI platform to take over the likes of Google search, it would need to get every generation on board. And that doesn’t seem to have happened yet. A simple search shows that the platform’s still learning and stores data that only dates back to January 2022, and so often reminding you that it can’t guarantee the accuracy of its responses. And for ChatGPT to knock down TikTok and Google search, it would need to bring authority and conviction with its answers. 

So, what does the future of searching for information look like? The truth is… there’s space for all. TikTok is the place for looking for recommendations, seeing first-hand experiences, and watching tutorials. Google search is the home of authoritative, data-based information – the kind we all tap into for work. And ChatGPT is great for those who need extra help with natural language tasks like grammar, phrase checking or translating text. 

The way we consume content will continue to change; that’s why our teams of digital experts stay on the pulse of trends and algorithm advancements, providing clients with the insights they need to stay ahead and to make the most out of this ever-changing digital landscape.