Will Gen Z Redefine SEO As We Know It? And Everything Else?

November 16, 2023
4 mins read

Gen Z, those born after 1996, are heralding a pivotal shift in how information is searched for and consumed – a shift that cannot be ignored. A recent survey by Her Campus Media, with 1,821 participants, indicates a significant trend: 51% of respondents prefer TikTok over Google for searching. While this sample size may seem limited, it aligns with broader data trends.

TikTok’s influence extends to consumer behavior, as demonstrated in its Why #TikTokMadeThemBuyIt eBook. The platform has a profound impact on purchase behavior, with 41% of users buying products immediately after discovering them on TikTok.

The platform’s impact doesn’t stop at the point of purchase. A significant 79% of users create videos to tag brands or offer tutorials, leading to 92% of viewers taking action after watching a TikTok video. According to Statista 2022, nearly 80% of Gen Z and Millennials have been influenced by social media in their purchasing decisions.

These trends are especially relevant for those in e-commerce and digital marketing. Google’s senior vice president, Prabhakar Raghavan, acknowledged this at Brainstorm Tech 2022, stating that nearly 40% of young people prefer TikTok or Instagram over Google Maps or Search when looking for places to eat. This reflects a significant shift in search behavior.

For Gen Z, TikTok offers a more interactive experience than Google’s text-based search. They rely on TikTok’s crowdsourced recommendations, evaluating the validity of suggestions through comments and responses. Some users perceive TikTok’s results as less biased, seeking different perspectives from the typical Google-optimized content.

Even among Google users, Gen Z and Millennials exhibit distinct search behaviors, preferring full questions or phrases over simple keywords. This trend underscores the importance of optimizing content for long-tail search keywords.

Voice assistants and smart devices are also integral to Gen Z’s search habits, favoring verbal queries. TikTok caters to this preference with quick, relevant video responses. A Morning Consult (2022) survey highlights the substantial time Gen Z spends on social media, with 54% dedicating at least four hours daily on platforms like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Social media’s role in e-commerce is further emphasized by a Deloitte (2023) study, revealing a 50/50 split among Gen Zers and millennials who view online interactions as meaningful substitutes for in-person experiences. Gen Z’s diminished brand loyalty, as compared to previous generations, necessitates a new approach to marketing. This trend is exemplified by a Chinese influencer who showcases products for mere seconds, earning millions and highlighting the shifting dynamics in branding and marketing.

The Challenges Ahead

Social media’s crucial role for marketers is underscored by a 2023 Deloitte study, showing an even Gen Z and millennial split in valuing online interactions as akin to real-life ones. Adding to this, Gen Z’s brand loyalty is markedly lower than previous generations. Reflecting on my 2016 article, commenting on a Havas Media report, it’s notable that most wouldn’t miss 74% of brands, and less than 28% are seen as life-enhancing. This shift is exemplified by a Chinese influencer who effectively sells products in seconds on social media, a stark contrast to traditional branding efforts, highlighting the evolving marketing landscape.

Facing the challenges:

Gen Z’s redefinition of content consumption, information searching, and trust marks a key challenge. This generation spans from those aged 27 to younger teens, each with different spending capacities, forming a substantial collective force.

The assumption is that Gen Z’s search and purchasing habits will continue evolving over the next five years, leading to more diversity within the group. However, the focus must also include Millennials, Generation X, and Baby Boomers, who remain significant market segments.

Communicating effectively across these diverse groups is increasingly complex, with Generative AI tools becoming crucial in digital marketing. For professionals, adapting to and mastering AI is essential to stay relevant; it’s not AI itself but the inability to adapt that poses a job risk.

Visual and Video-Based Product Discovery: E-commerce sites might emphasize visual and video content more to attract Gen Z, who favor the TikTok style. Conversely, they must not neglect others, necessitating AI-driven personalized content increasingly.

Influencer-Driven Marketing: Influencers’ role in driving product discovery and buying decisions may grow, especially on platforms like TikTok and Instagram which heavily use influencer content. However, earning trust will become progressively difficult.

Integrated Shopping Experiences: Amazon’s collaborations with Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Snapchat indicate a shift towards more unified shopping experiences on social media. This presents a significant challenge for competitors against such expansive ecosystems.

Personalized and Social Shopping Journeys: E-commerce is likely to become more personalized and interactive, with features like live shopping and community recommendations. This represents a challenge for established brands but an opportunity for smaller entities, particularly with instant sales and rapid product presentations.

Logistics and Fulfillment Adaptations: TikTok’s new logistics center might lead to quicker, more efficient fulfillment methods to meet young consumers’ instant gratification needs. AI is expected to play a major role here. The future of fully automated logistics centers and autonomous delivery is promising, though costly. Logistics remains an often-overlooked yet crucial factor in e-commerce, significantly affecting profitability, speed, and customer loyalty.

Augmented Reality (AR) Integration: E-commerce platforms may increasingly incorporate AR, enabling Gen Z to virtually try or visualize products in real-world settings, akin to interactive experiences on TikTok. AR has been used in the beauty sector for virtual try-ons for years.

Short-Form Video Product Reviews: TikTok’s popularity might boost short-form video product reviews, offering quick, engaging, and genuine product insights. This could significantly influence purchasing decisions. Many platforms, including Facebook and Instagram, now offer short-form content.

User-Generated Content (UGC) as a Marketing Tool: E-commerce brands could strategically use UGC, encouraging customers to create and share product-related content. This approach reflects content creation trends on TikTok and Instagram. UGC has been popular since 2005.

Social Commerce Analytics: The growth of social commerce necessitates advanced analytics tools for tracking consumer behavior across social platforms. This will help e-commerce businesses tailor their strategies more effectively. However, this presents another challenge for marketers, particularly in the effective use of reports and the implementation of analytics tools. Live social commerce analytics could pose even more challenges than conventional reports.


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Marek Molicki

Marek Molicki, since 1998 in the online industry. Extremely motivated to reach goals. Ideas deliverer, problems solver, finder of new ways, the doer. Social media fan, public speaker, trainer. Constantly looking for new skills to learn. Impossible is nothing, it's only the question of time and being consequent.
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