Updated Apr 13, 2024 - Technology

Google who? Gen Z is searching on TikTok, YouTube instead

Illustration of the Google searching page with a big "Z" spray painted on top of it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Gen Z is turning toward social media as a search engine, seeking quick, relatable answers amid dissatisfaction with Google's results.

Why it matters: Young internet users' behavior marks a clear departure from that of millennials, who came of age in a golden era of online search and take pride in their "Google-fu," the art of searching like a pro.

  • It's also a headache for Google, a nearly $2 trillion company that's still heavily reliant on ad revenue tied to search results.

Driving the news: 46% of those ages 18-24 start their information quests by searching on Google, per data shared exclusively with Axios from YPulse, a youth research firm.

  • That's compared with 58% of those ages 25-39.
  • 21% of 18- to 24-year-olds start with TikTok, while 5% start on YouTube.

The big picture: Social media platforms have "shifted so much from being a place to connect with friends and family to an information superhighway," MaryLeigh Bliss, chief content officer for YPulse, tells Axios.

Reality check: Google is still top overall for initial searches, followed by TikTok and YouTube.

Between the lines: Some users prefer to search on social media to get more authentic answers, especially as Google and others increasingly promote sponsored results.

  • "You're getting more information in smaller bites from more, different sources," says Fred Cook, director of USC's Annenberg Center for Public Relations.
  • Gen Zers are also true digital natives, having grown up in the social media era with no memory of Google's early days.

Zoom in: For news and quick answers, Jordan Alperin, 24, says she heads to Google, but for inspiration and personal stories, she uses social media.

  • Alperin, an associate creative strategist at Day One Agency, a communications firm, says she has gravitated to social media more lately compared to traditional search engines. Reddit and TikTok have been her go-tos.
  • "Content feels more relatable on these platforms and their comment replies fuel trust as people share niche experiences and perspectives," she said by email.

What they're saying: "People have many choices when it comes to accessing information," a Google spokesperson said.

  • "We're focused on continuing to make Search a place where you can find high quality, reliable information as well as a variety of firsthand perspectives."

State of play: Google recently expanded its AI-powered results tool, Search Generative Experience, which compiles information about a search as well as reviews or comments.

  • 18- to 24-year-old users have reported the highest satisfaction scores with using this AI tool, the company said.
  • Late last year, Google also launched a feature that highlights results from forum websites such as Reddit, as well as one called Follow to automatically see updates on a topic tailored to users' interests.
  • Google also began spotlighting the sources of information coming from profile pages.

Yes, but: Users have been increasingly dissatisfied with Google's search results, says Danny Goodwin, managing editor of digital marketing and tech site Search Engine Land.

  • Low-quality results are well optimized to show up high on Google search result pages, per a study published this year by researchers in Germany focused on product searches.

What's next: An increase in AI-generated content could exacerbate those issues, the researchers warned.

  • "The line between benign content and spam in the form of content and link farms becomes increasingly blurry — a situation that will surely worsen in the wake of generative AI," they wrote.

Go deeper: Google drafts search engine to "ground" AI results in truth

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from Jordan Alperin.

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