We can’t avoid hearing about TikTok. This social media app is constantly in the news, for reasons good and bad. And among business people, it’s talked about as an extraordinary opportunity to boost brand awareness and sales. In recent years, the upstart app known for quirky videos has made itself into, as the New York Times put it, a “digital advertising juggernaut.” In 2022 TikTok was expected to rake in $10 billion in ad sales.

Ads are being viewed by millions and millions of devoted TikTockers. Who spend, on average, more than an hour and a half per day on the app. And to capitalize on evidence that young people in particular are using TikTok as a search engine, TikTok started testing search ads on the platform in the spring of 2022. This program still seems to be in the early stage. However, smart marketers should be looking ahead to how they might implement TikTok search ads.

Ads on TikTok: The Basics

The essential rule is to just forget what works anywhere else. TikTok is unique. TikTok’s own advice page on creating ads stresses that advertisers should “show up authentically” and focus on creative “that’s made with a TikTok-first mindset.” Common TikTok ads would be in-feed ads that appear in a user’s feed as they scroll, Spark Ads where advertisers can boost their own organic content as in-feed ads, and Search Ads.

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Is TikTok Really a Search Engine?

A major appeal of TikTok is that content is continually served to the user, essentially unleashing an endless flow of entertainment. But TikTok’s own metrics show that users are increasingly using the app’s search bar. A March 2022 article in the respected SEO news site Search Engine Land noted TikTok’s beta tests of search ads could be a major development. As the app could get products in front of vast audiences with high purchase intent.

The New York Times, in September 2022, reported on the rise of TikTok as a search engine among younger people. In a featured example, a high school student who wanted advice on a specific part of applying to college – getting recommendation letters from teachers – found videos made by teachers on TikTok. Those were easier to understand than material typically found via a Google search. The article in the New York Times also noted that a Google vice president, speaking in the summer of 2022, alluded to a study noting that “something like 40 percent” of young people used TikTok for some types of searches.

How does TikTok Search Ads work?

It is worth mentioning that TikTok Search Ads appear in the search results when users search for specific keywords or phrases on the app. When a user enters a search term on TikTok, the app displays a list of related videos and also shows relevant ads in between the results. These ads appear as sponsored content, and they can include a video, an image, or a carousel of images.


By using TikTok Search Ads, businesses can effectively reach an engaged audience. By targeting users based on their search behavior and interests. These ads are visible on both the TikTok app and the TikTok Lite app.

Some Tips

Use the autocomplete

TikTok search automatically completes the user’s search by giving suggestions based on what users are typing in the search bar. They also incorporate trending topics and other hot searches that you can use in your ad campaign.

Brainstorm Search Terms

Put some thought into how you would implement search ads on TikTok. A basic starting point is to spend time experimenting with TikTok’s search bar. Search for terms relevant to your niche and analyze the results. You may want to get creative and come up with closely focused terms that will boost your exposure. Someone who was involved with the 2022 beta testing of TikTok’s search ads summed up his advice: “Every brand that’s invested in the platform is now ranking in the top 6 videos under key search terms for their product. Just gotta hone in on those search terms.”

Think About Answering Questions

Up until now, you’ve been creating TikTok content, assuming it may wind up in a user’s feed. So the general good practices – hook a user early, be entertaining, use a quirky sense of humor, and do the unexpected – have already been working for you. Now is the time to start thinking of a curious user searching on TikTok.

  • What problem can you solve for them?
  • What product could you dazzle them with?
  • What answer will you provide to them?

This Thinking Can Inspire You Now

The best part of experimenting with providing highly useful answers to curious users is that the content you create can already turn up in the feed of TikTok users as well as in organic search results. And when the time comes to put some money into advertising with search terms, you will already have a proven idea of what works for your brand. The idea of TikTok as a powerful and effective search engine isn’t some idea cooked up on a whiteboard in a meeting. True to TikTok trends, it just seemed to emerge and ride its own momentum. And there’s no turning back. If TikTok users want to search, they will search. And you should be thinking of how your brand will be what they find.

Can you bid on keywords for TikTok Search Ads?

As of March 2023, it is not possible to bid on keywords for TikTok Search Ads. You simply need to let the algorithm do its indexing work for you. For example scanning content, text, sound, and subtitles. Which it’ll then use for placing the ads in the search tab placement.

Which keywords should we use for TikTok Search Ads?

As of March 2023, we are not provided with any statistical analysis. E.g. which keywords can be beneficial to your business? As the search ads function is in continuous development, you should expect more clarity on which keywords you can use on TikTok, by the end of 2023.

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