The ultimate guide to TikTok SEO - everything you need to know
Carrie Rose CEO & Co-founder
13 min read
Friday, 22nd July 2022
Everything you need to know about TikTok SEO
What do air fryers, ribbed leggings and Little Moons mochi ice cream have in common? They're all TikTok sensations! Thanks to the social media platform, air fryers are now one of the most popular kitchen items around the world, despite most people having never heard of them three years ago. TikTok is also the platform that made Little Moons go viral at launch, causing them to sell out of all stock in the UK and making the delicious mochi ice cream balls harder to come by than a golden ticket. Not forgetting in 2020 when ribbed leggings were the ultimate fashion must-have and thanks to TikTok they were the most searched item that year.
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The social media app has become one of the most powerful brand awareness tools as well as demand generation platforms for products and services but now it’s becoming even bigger than that.
TikTok is overtaking Google Search and Maps for informational and discovery search queries for Gen Z 🤯. People are going to TikTok to find the best foundations, authentic reviews of the Dyson hairdryer, and the coolest spots in New York City. And this is usually where it all starts.
Okay, you might be thinking "but that’s just GenZ, what about everyone else?" GenZ and Millennials are always early adopters of new ways of using technology and influence other generations to follow suit. So, do I think TikTok will become a popular search engine for all? Yes, I do. Will it completely take over Google? No.
But just because it won’t unseat Google doesn’t mean that TikTok isn’t going to play a major role in search, going forward. In fact, Google has already started to show TikTok short videos in Google's SERPs.
And that’s not just for searches with 'TikTok' mentioned in the query. You see this in searches for football players, too.
40% of 18-24 year olds, when looking for a place to go or eat, turn to TikTok over Google. In the fashion or beauty space, we’re now seeing TikTok become the place that refers the most traffic and demand, with a conversion rate as high as 80%. From our own data, it's not just restaurants or travel advice - users are heading to TikTok for e-commerce searches and purchases too. "TikTok made me buy it" is real.
Consumers are becoming impatient with Google
So, why is this happening? Truth is, consumers are becoming more impatient and want fast results for their queries. The faster you can make the buying journey, all the way from awareness to conversion, the more you will win as a brand. Short-form content is therefore becoming the answer that users want and therefore Google will sooner or later reward short-form content too.
At Rise at Seven, we are one of the first search agencies in the world to monitor trends on TikTok and the impact they had on search demand on Google - and we even won an award for the most innovative social strategy in 2022 as a result.
But now things are changing. Clients are investing in TikTok SEO, to ensure their visibility when users are searching on the platform and to drive both direct traffic and brand awareness too (without ever going to Google).
When we look at the consumer journey, TikTok is now driving not only awareness and consideration but also conversions.
So, what is TikTok?
TikTok is a video-sharing platform, primarily focused on short-form video (as little as 15s) content and although we're starting to see signs of it becoming a search engine, the differentiator remains as a social media platform with video at its core.
In 2020, people used TikTok for 38.6 minutes each day, just less than Facebook’s all-time high of 39.8 minutes - but 2020 wasn't a normal year as people around the globe were in and out of lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, TikTok shot past Facebook’s time spent record, reaching 44 daily minutes per user - that’s now more than Instagram and YouTube worldwide. TikTok has grown so fast it’s broken the models.
Is TikTok a search engine?
Right now, no, it doesn’t call itself a search engine. But TikTok is going toe-to-toe with YouTube and starting to beat Google because of this.
TikTok has started showing signs of applying search engine features, raising questions about its ability to not only take over YouTube search but Google search as well.
It started with a search bar, then paid ads within its search results page, and now it’s even showing suggested search terms when viewing a video’s comments section.
The truth is, users are becoming unsatisfied (and impatient) with Google's search results. SEOs have historically relied on long-form keyword-heavy content in order to improve rankings, but in reality, users just want the answer quickly and clearly. Some even question whether SEOs actually ruin SEO? Ultimately, Google is and always will follow the suit of their users, looking at how they behave and changing the algorithm to suit.
The only problem: many are arguing whether the content presented on TikTok can be trusted. Studies show that Americans trust Google significantly more than TikTok, which was found to be the most distrusted tech giant - mostly due to the way they handle their user data.
But as content on TikTok come directly from creators, trust in reviews and recommendations on the platform is growing. Trust is a key factor in whether TikTok will not just survive but thrive as a search platform.
What does TikTok mean to search marketers?
As mentioned, TikTok is gaining more and more visibility across Google by the day.
Recently, we are starting to see TikTok videos appear in search results, this time ahead of Instagram and Google’s own product (YouTube).
Visibility has yet to exceed that of YouTube or Instagram overall but does seem to have stolen rankings and visibility, mostly from the image platform Instagram.
But TikTok is now a platform that people are directly searching ON. The app is not only a driver of search (making a user want to buy a product or service in the first place) but a facilitator, too.
It’s now a platform that people seek out when they're searching for a fast answer or recommendation/information regarding a product or service. Word of mouth is an extremely powerful tool and since TikTok’s content comes directly from creators, what better marketing strategy than word of mouth on a global scale? I don’t see why putting a face, a voice, and a human behind the content wouldn’t drive more trust. Especially as creators become more and more professional (and credible).
TikTok is rapidly becoming a threat to other social media sites, and therefore search marketers should start thinking about working more closely with social media terms to make full use. How does Tiktok drive demand for what you sell but also what are people searching for, and how can you create content that facilitates that search query in order to sell your products/services?
On top of that, TikTok is also becoming a traffic driver, with links to shopping pages, Amazon storefronts, and more. Plainly, it’s becoming a social media platform that drives (not just receives) traffic too.
We saw Pinterest turn from being a social media platform into a search platform, so any place where users begin seeking content, answers, or products through search on a regular basis is a place where marketers should pay attention and participate, so long as they have a meaningful story to tell, of course.
How does TikTok's algorithm work?
If you haven’t explored TikTok yourself, there are two feeds of continuous video: people you follow, and a "For You" page. The For You page is filled with content that TikTok serves you, based on what they know (and learn over time) are your interests. Despite what you might think, the For You page is actually the section where users spend most of their time.
However, there isn’t one For You page that services the platform’s one billion monthly active TikTok users. There are a billion For You pages tailored to what each user watches, likes, and shares - even down to location.
While a video is likely to receive more views if posted by an account that has more followers, neither follower count nor whether the account has previous high-performing videos are direct factors in the algorithm.
Instead, TikTok displays new videos each minute of the day, based on popular hashtags, trending songs, trending filters or edits. It’s unique to each consumer but it’s likely that your friends will come across the same videos as you - because TikTok knows what people want to see for entertainment, education, or insight.
4 tips to getting more views and dominating the For You page:
1. Jump on current trends
Leveraging what's trending at the time (including sounds, memes, challenges, and hashtags) is the number one tip for generating high-reach content and increased visibility.
Trends are the currency on TikTok, where the most popular can inspire thousands of spin-off videos, and the algorithm will push the most popular out to more users, garnering more videos, more views, more engagement…
Knowing what the trends are is the first step to getting involved, or starting one yourself
2. Use the right hashtags
Using the most popular hashtags on TikTok will make you more visible to the right users. More on hashtags below.
3. Familiarity principle
Use faces people are familiar with (influencers/content creators). If your strategy relies on creating content, why not use a specific face that people attach to your brand OR faces people recognise. This helps capture attention and views and fuels the algorithm to push it further.
Gymshark has famously done this well across all channels with the Gymshark athletes.
4. The cliffhanger
Keep people watching - watch time is a big part of the algorithm. Spend the first 5 seconds hooking viewers in for a big reveal. You'll see this strategy plays a major role in a lot of trending videos.
How to find what's trending on TikTok
To discover the most relevant trends for you, it’s important to start engaging with TikTok yourself. Search for hashtags in your niche, then like or comment on the trending videos you see. The For You page (FYP) will adapt to show you more trending videos in your engagement-led niches. Assess what you see, and act fast! TikTok creators who are too slow to join trends get lost in the noise.
With 88 percent of TikTokers saying audio is "essential" to their overall experience on the app, knowing how to find trending sounds on TikTok poses a massive potential for brands to grow on the platform.
There are MANY ways to find the top trending sounds, but here are the four easiest…
1. There's a website that does this for you called TokBoard. It’s third-party and updated weekly but still one of the best sites to use to get quick access to which songs you should be using for your content.
2. Head to the TikTok creator centre, click sounds, and you will see the most popular of all time and breakout entries, much like the music charts.
Select 'Breakout' to see the most trending right now as TikTok moves fast when it comes to new emerging sounds and trends. The difference here is this: you get to see the full analytics too - including when it started trending, audience demographics, location, and related sounds.
3. Scroll the For You page and you will get a quick glimpse at the sounds that are most used. Like and comment and TikTok will serve you similar content, and more trending sounds.
4. Head to the search bar and type in "trending sounds" or "viral sounds", click sounds and you will be presented with the most popular ones.
The TikTok creator centre also shows trending hashtags, which you can break down by industry. Here, we can see the top trending fashion and apparel hashtags, complete with a report that shows full analytics, including the top creators using the hashtag, a great way to identify potential creators for collaborations.
The easiest way to find trending challenges on TikTok is by searching the #TikTokchallenge or #challenge hashtags. You’ll see related hashtags and can view the top trending challenges each day.
So, how do you optimise TikTok content for search?
Optimising TikTok content to appear in TikTok search results is different to understanding the algorithm to get views.
Also, views and likes AREN’T a ranking factor for TikTok search, remember that.
Many people post content on the platform, and they expect to get quality results instantly. One of the major benefits of TikTok is how keywords and hashtags can work to generate views in the millions by ranking in search. In this context, SEO would aim to optimise your TikTok content for views, so they can connect you to more people who want to watch your content. Here’s how to do that…
1. Add your search keywords in the text on your video
When you create a video, you can add text to the screen. TikTok reads this text and serves the user your content based on any keywords mentioned.
We recommend adding keywords into your text on screen, specifically within the first 1-5 seconds of the video.
As you can see here, when searching for "best foundations", the video that ranks first is a video with "best foundations" as the keyword text added to the screen. Note that "best foundations" isn’t mentioned within the caption, showing how powerful in-video text is on rankings.
When comparing this video to other results on TikTok for the same search term, it’s clear that likes and views aren’t influencing the search results as much as in-video text. Another video further down the results page has 250k views but ranks significantly lower than the video with 54k.
The most-liked video also sits further down the results page. Don’t get caught up too much on views or likes - focus on facilitating search demand.
To get a list of top keywords people search for in your niche, in-depth keyword research is needed. Tools like keywordtool.io and Semrush are best for this kind of analysis.
2. Keywords in captions
Make sure you take advantage of the 500-character caption limit by including keywords your customer will be searching for - we often use the same keywords people are searching for on Google and YouTube on TikTok. Keep your captions natural, placing the keyword in a sentence rather than keyword stuffing.
3. Using Hashtags to rank
Hashtags are one of the most important parts of TikTok SEO. In a similar way to how Instagram SEO works, hashtags will power your ability to optimise your content for the TikTok search engine.
Across TikTok, specific demographics of people subscribe to certain hashtags based on their intent. Use 3-6 keyword hashtags, strategically using both high volume and low volume keywords. Make sure to use both broad and niche hashtags, too.
Of course, this wouldn't be a proper TikTok guide without including my top three tips in a TikTok video
How Do I Find Popular TikTok Hashtags For SEO?
Other than trending hashtags explained above, you should consider both informational and commercial keywords as part of your hashtag strategy. Here is how we generate TikTok keywords that are effective for SEO:
- Choose long-tail keywords with under 100k volume to begin focusing effort on
- Update previous posts with new keyword selections
- Select high-volume keywords that are your final targets
- Use a combination of both long-tail and high-volume keywords on your posts
Can TikTok Help Website SEO?
TikTok is a very effective tool in both driving and facilitating search demand on the platform and directly on your website. There are many ways you can integrate TikTok into your site strategy - specifically on-site content. But pointing people to your website from TikTok alone is an essential way to start growing your website’s authority - as well as getting analytics on how the two interact.
Can you see search volumes on TikTok?
Not yet, however, we are seeing a similarity in the way people use YouTube and TikTok. Therefore, the keywords people use are likely the same on both platforms, and keyword data for YouTube is readily available on Keywordtool.io.
Alternatively, you can track trending searches on Google for your products or services off the back of TikTok. We created our very own tool and built a dedicated team, Rise Live, to track and react to trends in less than 60 minutes. We then use PR, social, and paid to put our clients at the centre of those trends.
Putting this into practice
Hopefully, we've given you the tools to get started on your TikTok SEO journey. Get in touch if you want to both drive and react to TikTok trends - and create better-optimised content. Or, download our guide below which takes you through actionable ways to convert TikTok demand on site.