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TikTok Is Getting Serious About Search; A Complex Fracture, But Not The Bad Kind

The Great Search

TikTok has made waves because of its organic traction as a new kind of search engine. People use it to look for stores and restaurants nearby, where to travel, where to stay – you name it.

But TikTok hasn’t effectively monetized its search engagement. Not yet, at least.

The company began testing search ads a year ago with invite-only advertisers. That hasn’t changed. There still isn’t even a beta program that advertisers can sign up for. But behind closed doors TikTok sales reps are beginning to push search ads to more advertisers, Insider reports. Current job listings also target engineers with a search engine background who can help develop a “large-scale ads system.”

Rumor has it that TikTok will launch a search ads biz by Q3, right in time for the big holiday revenue push.

Search advertising is where the grownups make real money. Just look at Alphabet, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. TikTok wants some of that action.

“Gen Z is using TikTok for search at a similar rate as they use Google,” says Shamsul Chowdhury, EVP of paid social at digital marketing agency Jellyfish. “If TikTok can capitalize on that usage for advertisers, it could mean a huge revenue boost.”

May I Have Your Attention?

The social media ecosystem is becoming increasingly fractured. That’s good in terms of competition, but it means marketers must spread their dollars across more platforms. They also have to keep up with the latest platform algorithm changes and develop specific content strategies for each social network to reach targeted audiences at scale, Digiday reports.

Gone are the days of mass pop culture. Remember when people used to talk about the same topics at the same time (the ol’ water cooler convo)?

And so broad, generic messaging is also passé. Individualized marketing informed by consumer data and content trends is what’s in right now.

Marketers must also consider the right tone and aesthetic for each platform.

To reach younger audiences, including Gen Z, brands have to focus on authenticity and community, which is spurring creators and platforms to give content a more genuine feel. YouTube, Instagram and TikTok are where the youngs hang out now, but marketers have to pay attention to newer platforms, too, such as BeReal and Hive.

“The platform differences may not be clear to all marketers,” says Liz Cole, US head of social at VMLY&R, “but the differences are clear for their users.”

All Over For The Overlay

YouTube has been cranking out new ad formats lately, including short vertical vids and shoppable carousels in posts. But as of April 6, it will be removing one of its longtime ad slots – the banner ad overlay.

The overlay, which comes in the form of static text and images that appear usually over the bottom quarter or so of a video, is a “legacy ad format,” according to YouTube.

This move is sort of a no-brainer. The display overlays made sense as a way to aggressively monetize every scrap of value and get cheap clicks. But it’s not a format that generates high returns for advertisers – and not for creators, either, since advertisers can choose to only pay if the unit generates a click.

In other words, overlay ads often pop up – literally blocking the video a user has clicked to view – without generating a cent for either YouTube or the account, Ars Technica reports.

The low return together with the poor UX is what spelled the end for overlay ads.

Although advertisers will still be able to buy display units that pop up and block video content, that option will only be available for shoppable product listing ads, since purchase data acquisition is a company priority.

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