Despite popular belief, the TikTok algorithm isn’t a total mystery. This post explains how TikTok ranks content and ways brands can “beat” the...
TikTok SEO: How Search Works + 5 Ways to Rank for Terms
Is TikTok SEO on your radar? This post breaks down how TikTok search works and the steps brands can take to help their videos rank for relevant search terms.
“Okay, so what’s the deal with TikTok SEO?”
Recently, a Google exec casually revealed that ~40% of Gen Z turn to TikTok over the search giant to find places to eat. This might not seem like a big deal at a glance.
Still, the news got marketers asking:
Are consumers actually treating TikTok like Google? Is social search having its moment?
Recent trends since have cemented TikTok’s status as a search hub. In fact, 61% of TikTokers actively research products on the platform.
Ranking for relevant TikTok search terms should be a priority for consumer brands.
If you want to know how to make it happen, we can help. In this post, we’ll break down:
- What TikTok SEO actually is (with examples!)
- How search works on TikTok (ex: keywords, hashtags, content discovery)
- Low-hanging ways for brands to help their videos rank
And if you want even more actionable tips, make sure to check out our TikTok SEO webinar!
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What is TikTok SEO, Anyway?
If you’re familiar with social SEO (search engine optimization), the concept of TikTok SEO is simple.
As more shoppers turn to TikTok, brands must “rank” there just as they do on Google or Amazon. Brands should explore opportunities to optimize their videos for visibility. This means researching trends and making content that satisfies searchers on TikTok.
And so when we talk about TikTok SEO, we’re talking about…
- Thinking of TikTok as a search engine (hint: not just a content distribution channel)
- Identifying search trends to inform your TikTok strategy (and vice versa)
- Creating videos that satisfy search intent and rank in the TikTok algorithm
✅ What TikTok SEO is
❌ What TikTok SEO is Not
We’ll bite: the concept of TikTok as a search engine might seem eye-roll-worthy at a glance.
The reality? The platform is in a unique position to become the go-to social search engine. Here’s why:
- Social search has been on the rise for years now. A 2021 report from Hootsuite and GWI notes that 45% of people use social platforms to search for products. Fast forward to today and social search is even more universal.
- TikTok is an unprecedented app. Consider that TikTok just cracked the top 20 most-visited websites online. That doesn’t even factor in the one billion monthly active users searching via the TikTok app. The platform is home to a massive community of searchers eager to learn and shop
- How search works on TikTok is similar to other major search engines. This includes recommended searches, autocomplete and an algorithm to rank content. TikTok feels more like a search engine than Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.
Why Brands Should Watch TikTok Search Trends
Again, trends point to TikTok’s potential to dominate as a social search engine. Below are key signs that brands can’t afford to sleep on TikTok SEO.
More Product Discovery and Research Are Starting on TikTok
Consumers aren’t just stumbling on brands or things to buy on TikTok. Instead, they’re treating the app like Google for viral products.
Consumers Crave Bite-Sized Videos Over Blogs and Articles
Searchers today seek out short-form videos as an alternative to long-form written content.
Consider how digital natives have grown up consuming smartphone video their entire lives. This isn’t just a trend among the younger crowd, though. 66% of all consumers have watched videos to learn about products and brands in 2022.
TikTok Search is Evolving
TIkTok just announced the expansion of their video character description limit to 2,200 characters. This signals a future where creators can optimize video descriptions like YouTube. This includes more keywords, #hashtags and contextual phrases to feed the TikTok algorithm.
The Rise of “Searchandising”
The more searches happen on TikTok, the more trends can inform your Google SEO strategy. On the flip side, searches on-site can translate into TikTok ideas and trends. This has led to the rise of “searchandising” — the process of curating search results to drive sales.
The recent rollout of Google’s new visual search features also seems to signal that TikTok SEO is here to say. Social videos are becoming more common in the SERPs.
What are Some Examples of TikTok SEO in Action?
While TikTok SEO is a relatively new concept, its impact is already well-documented. Now, let’s review how SEO staples like keywords and ranking are taking over TikTok.
Brands and Products Ranking in Shopping Searches
The boom of social shopping on TikTok is well-documented. Data says 48% of consumers are now willing to purchase products from TikTok directly. The stakes are high to rank for shopping-related search terms and hashtags.
Brands Earning UGC by Ranking in TikTok Hashtags
Note that 62% of consumers want to see videos with real people before making a purchase. Brands ranking for general and brand-specific search phrases with UGC is incredibly valuable.
TikTok Videos Popping Up in the SERPs
This is common with both educational queries (ex: “brow tutorial”) and shopping (ex: “makeup kit”). Brands can now double-dip their social content with their SEO content. That’s because it’s becoming one and the same.
How Does TikTok Search Work, Though?
The inner workings of any social algorithm are complicated. TikTok is no exception. As social platforms go, TikTok’s native search features are surprisingly powerful. It’s easy to navigate, too.
Below is a quick breakdown of how content discovery and ranking work on TikTok.
TikTok Native Search
The demise of the “Discover” tab means native search is the sole way to browse TikTok directly. This includes content, hashtags and accounts. Everything else comes from the #ForYou page or accounts you follow.
TikTok serves content based on search terms and hashtags in your video descriptions. The algorithm then ranks videos based on which are most “relevant.” This is primarily determined by engagement and interactions.
You’ve probably noticed that the top-recommended videos boast high view counts, right? Likewise, this is why you might see videos rank well in TikTok search. The platform also recommends related search terms based on trending searches and content.
The TikTok Algorithm
Like the Instagram algorithm, TikTok uses AI and machine learning to rank content. The algorithm is capable of identifying “what” a piece of content is and serve it accordingly.
Back in 2020, TikTok stated that #ForYou results are presented based on factors such as:
- Interactions (ex: likes, comments)
- Video information (descriptions, captions, sounds)
Figuring out how to rank often requires a combination of a lot of trial and error (and a bit of luck). This applies to TikTok and Google alike.
For more context, check out our deep dive on how the TikTok algorithm works for brands.
As noted above, TikTok hashtags play a role in how content is both ranked.
More importantly, hashtags categorize your content and make it discoverable for searchers.
For example, someone looking for viral recipes might dig into the #EasyRecipe tag. Yet with 14+ billion views, this might be overwhelming. Maybe you narrow your search to a cuisine tag (like #VeggieBurger with 41 million views).
Again, the most “relevant” videos on a tag are often the ones with the most engagement.
5 Ways to Improve Your TikTok Search Presence and Rank for Relevant Terms
To wrap things up, let’s review a few tips and best practices for brands that want to improve their TikTok SEO.
Pssst! For a more in-depth breakdown and examples of these tips in action, make sure to watch our TikTok SEO webinar!
1. Create Videos That Answer Specific Questions
This might seem like a no-brainer, right?
But many brands on TikTok struggle because their content strategy is a free-for-all.
The key to winning with TikTok SEO is to treat it like, well, SEO.
Just like brands create blog posts and long-term content related to customer questions and pain points, you can do the same on TikTok.
- How-to and tutorial videos
- Explainer videos (think: ingredient breakdown videos from skincare brands)
- Reviews and recommendation videos
TikToks are perfect for teaching viewers “how to” or “what is” in a matter of seconds. Consider how you can answer common product questions in bite-sized videos.
According to TikTok, videos categorized by hashtags saw 151% more views last year. Again, hashtags boost discoverability and also help the app categorize your content.
Good news for brands: it’s easy to balance promoting products and getting view in hashtags. That’s because product-related tags are among the most popular on TikTok. This includes:
- #TikTokMadeMeBuyIt (23.7+ billion views)
- #AmazonFinds (28.4+ billion views)
- #ProductReview (~1 billion views)
3. Mind Your Content Previews and Thumbnails
Did you know that 90% of top-performing videos on YouTube contain a custom thumbnail?
Apply the same principle on TikTok by treating video previews like SERP previews. Done right, thumbnails provide a sneak peek of your content and entice viewers to tap through.
4. Using Autocomplete Results from TikTok to Inform Your Content Strategy
This is a spin on a tried-and-tested SEO tactic. Autocomplete results can clue you in on what people are actually searching for. This can serve as timely inspiration for your next TikTok videos.
5. Publish and Engage on TikTok Consistently
Just like publishing content to rank via Google, TikTok is a sort of numbers game.
And to be clear, that does not mean you should spam videos to satisfy the algorithm.
You won’t know what’s working and what’s not until you publish on TikTok consistently. Over time, you can get a better sense of which formats and hashtags perform best. More content means more opportunities to rank via hashtags or get picked up on the #ForYou page.
If you need to ramp up your content output, consider how TikTok influencers can help. Consistent engagement from creators is a nice bonus for your TikTok SEO. Data says creators with <5,000 followers have the highest engagement rates, too.
Beyond that, the ability to fill your content calendar with creator videos can help you rank as well. It’s no surprise that many of the best brands on TikTok have content strategies based on creators.
How is Your Brand Tackling TikTok SEO?
Given the growth and popularity of TikTok, brands need to learn ASAP how to rank on the platform. Competition is only going to get more crowded. The tactics above can keep you ahead of the curve!
This is especially important and more and more brands prioritize social search.
And again, we invite you to learn even more in our in-depth TikTok SEO webinar!
We've seen firsthand how influencers help brands boost their TikTok search presence. By working with influencers at scale, you can quickly publish content that pushes your brand to the top of search queries relevant to your audience. The more content you publish, the likelier you are to rank.
There's a window of opportunity for brands that capitalize on social search sooner rather than later.
That's where Statusphere's platform can lend a huge hand. Our micro-influencer platform enables brands to source high volumes of authentic content from our community of vetted creators.
Statusphere's advanced matchmaking and fulfillment technology makes it possible for brands to work with influencers at scale in a fraction of the time it would take on your own or with other platforms. We've saved our brands a collective 11,000+ hours to generate 75,000+ pieces of authentic content.
Want to see how our platform can make it happen? Get in touch with one of our experts to see how our software can scale your micro-influencer marketing campaigns.
This article was first published in November 2022. It was last updated June 21, 2023.