TikTok made a massive splash on the social media scene in 2016 and has only grown in popularity and capability since then. While some initially regarded it as a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon for teens, the platform now reports over 1 billion users worldwide, with over 150 million in the U.S.
Of course, marketers want to go where the people are – so brands that sat out the early days on the platform are starting to get involved. Now, the competition for your target audience’s attention is fiercer than ever before.
If you’ve decided it’s time to expand your presence on the platform, a good starting point is a TikTok SEO strategy. In this post, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about optimizing for organic visibility on TikTok from actionable tactics to ongoing analytics.
What is TikTok?
TikTok is an ultra-popular, short-form video content app. While a desktop version exists, the app is primarily mobile-based vertical videos. Creators can make videos up to 10 minutes in length and have an arsenal of video effects available to explore their creativity while boosting engagement. If you frequent platforms like YouTube or Instagram, you’ve likely seen a repost from TikTok with someone lip-syncing, dancing, dueting, or trying some type of viral challenge.
In a recent Ted Talk interview, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew described the idealistic goal of TikTok being a community that provides people with “a window to discover, a canvas to create, and a bridge to connect.”
Why is TikTok SEO an Emerging Trend?
As users flock to the platform, brands and creators alike are naturally curious about maximizing their reach on the platform and building their audiences. While TikTok ads are always an option, there’s an increasing interest in a free way to boost your visibility: TikTok SEO.
One of the foremost reasons that brands are planning SEO strategies for TikTok is the platform’s ability to successfully appeal to Gen Z. Some experts even predict TikTok supplanting websites like Google among the Gen Z demographic – in 2022, a Google executive referenced an internal survey indicating 40% of their respondents (U.S. users aged 18-24) were likely to start their search journey on TikTok or Instagram instead of Google.
For brands targeting this core demographic, TikTok may be the best way to reach them, but it isn’t just the younger demographic pushing growth for the app. TikTok is appealing to various demographics and regions, demonstrating strong growth across older users. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that one day the general public may use TikTok’s search function to find anything from local restaurants to their new favorite household product.
Another reason TikTok SEO interest is increasing is that more TikTok videos appear directly on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). So, a TikTok search optimization effort doesn’t only improve visibility within the native TikTok platform, but can also help with visibility on mainstream search engines.
As we consider macro trends for organic search, we anticipate results will continue to be increasingly visual. If TikTok videos begin to appear consistently on the Google SERPs – like YouTube videos and carousels do today – TikTok could take over a substantial portion of the SERP. And if brands don’t create and optimize content in this format, they’ll lose SERP real estate to brands that do.
The large number of users on the app could also shift user behavior over time, with individuals looking for more short-form video content as an easy way to digest information.
TikTok provides an entirely different search experience. For users who value social proof, want to see someone they know and like using the product, or go into detail about why they love a good or service, their results on TikTok can be much more compelling than a detailed blog post providing similar information.
As was the case previously with classic SERP features like “People Also Ask,” product listings, knowledge graphs, video carousels, and image carousels, SERP real estate is valuable.The more of it you can claim, the more likely it is you’ll turn knowledge-seekers on the search engine into customers of your brand.
The main thesis for SEOs to pay attention to this emerging trend is that TikTok is growing so large, so quickly, that Google can’t ignore it. In order not to have it significantly cut into its business, Google is likely to continue to integrate TikTok results to encourage users to continue searching with them to find the content they want.
We’ve already seen the introduction of YouTube shorts as Alphabet’s answer to this, and we don’t see this content format becoming less relevant in the near future.
If nothing else, the range of outcomes with TikTok is fascinating to marketers. Only time will tell if it will become an ecommerce titan to rival Amazon, a direct Google competitor in search, or face irrelevancy with an outright ban in the United States.
Knowing these potential outcomes, how your customers currently use the platform, and the tactics available, will help you determine how to approach TikTok SEO and paid campaigns.
How to Use the TikTok Algorithm for Search Engine Optimization
While intimate details of TikTok’s algorithm haven’t been leaked recently like Twitter and Baidu, there are signals we know influence their recommendation system that increases the likelihood of being discovered in For You pages.
Personalization heavily influences results, so no two users are guaranteed to see the same recommendations. Demographic details, such as age and region, factor into the algorithm, but the most significant inputs derive from how users interact with content on the app. Interaction signals are then applied through machine learning to cross-reference similar users and introduce related content the user might also like.
If you’re just getting started, here are some of the most essential signals worth your attention.
Use popular hashtags
Like other social media platforms, hashtags are critical in categorizing topical content. By incorporating hashtags relevant to your brand’s niche, you’ll increase your ability to be found by an audience likely to appreciate and engage with your content.
Work with influencers
While TikTok makes it easier to be discovered without starting off with a massive audience than some other platforms, partnering with influencers can still help boost your brand reach.
Since authenticity is in the DNA of the platform, it’s crucial to partner with influencers who align with your brand voice and values.
Creating niche content that resonates with their followers increases the potential for virality with a single post more than on other social channels.
If you’re interested in finding out how to find the right influencers on TikTok, we recommend working with an influencer marketing agency that can guide you through the process and ensure your partnerships align with your campaign goals.
We also recommend incorporating this content onto your website when possible. If you have the usage rights to use the content on your website as well, then embedding influencer content into blog posts or other types of informational content on your site can maximize the investment of an influencer partnership.
Use keyword-rich text on videos
TikTok uses straightforward keyword signals similar to website page titles and header tags. One of those signals is the text you can add to your videos. This readable text provides valuable context about your video’s content. It also increases the likelihood of showing up when users search for related topics or in the For You feed of interested users.
Put your keywords in captions
Another keyword signal is in the video captions. By including relevant keywords within the character limit for captions, you can reinforce keyword relevancy for your video. As with any keyword signal, you want to be precise with your keywords to describe the content accurately. Otherwise, you’ll end up frustrating your viewers.
Capture attention in 6 seconds or less
The human attention span is short, and on a platform with endless content merely swipes away, you have a short amount of time to hook your viewers. Whether your video is 10 seconds or 10 minutes, you need to grab attention immediately if you want people to take the ride with you.
Jumping in on trends is a great way to demonstrate brand personality and show you’re an engaged community member, not just an intruder trying to sell. Seeing what’s trending with your community and getting involved is a great way to excel with the engagement signals paramount to growing organic visibility on the platform.
Finding Popular Keywords & Hashtags for TikTok SEO
With how quickly trends come in and out on TikTok, the best place to find popular keywords and hashtags that capture the culture’s zeitgeist is on the Discover page. If you’re capitalizing on a popular trend, you can replicate the hashtags others are using.
Or, if you’re building a community in a specific niche, use the hashtags that are resonating most with that audience to drive engagement.
TikTok has a search bar that will provide some keyword suggestions as you begin typing, but you can also use the organic research tools you use for standard SEO activities. While the insights won’t be specific to the platform, they can be directionally helpful to incorporate into your video content.
As you create videos and get data from TikTok, you’ll be able to see if your SEO keyword research tools are helpful for your content or if you get better direction from your community on the app.
Can TikTok Help with Your Website’s SEO?
Like YouTube videos, embedding TikTok content on your website can also increase your visibility directly on Google.
With several algorithm updates aimed at helpful content over the past few years, it’s clear Google is placing a premium on quality content in user-friendly formats.
Google still prefers YouTube results over TikTok videos in most cases, but we could see this balance out in the future, especially if there are more lawsuits around Google’s competitive practices. Additionally, depending on the query type, especially those including “TikTok” in the query, there are more TikTok results in the SERP.
Similar to ChatGPT and the evolution of search with advances in generative AI, TikTok will likely create a big enough shockwave to carve out its own space in Google search, and result in opportunities to help your SEO program.
What Types of SEO Analytics Exist for TikTok?
TikTok offers three main categories of analytics to help you evaluate performance on the platform:
In your profile, nested under the “Analytics” section of “Creator tools,” you can find metrics such as the total number of likes, comments, and shares your video has received. You can also view metrics like average watch time to see if users are falling off of your videos before completion.
One of the most valuable sections is under the Follower tab, where you can see the times when your audience engagement is highest.
All in all, the in-platform analytics aren’t the most robust, but it’s helpful to provide direction on whether your content strategy
TikTok’s growth trajectory and the macrotrend of increasing visual search results make TikTok SEO a topic you can’t afford to ignore.
By incorporating short-form video as part of your content strategy, you’re not just capitalizing on a new tactic; you’re taking a future-looking step to continue providing the right content at the right time in the right format.
Brands that consistently put in the effort to create quality content to meet their customer’s expectations will see more organic success, while brands that ignore it will slowly see their organic traffic dwindle as the landscape changes.
If you’re looking for an SEO team that stays on top of the relevant trends and can provide the technical and content strategy recommendations you need to be competitive in today’s landscape, reach out to our SEO services team or contact us today.