The complete list of TikTok SEO strategies and search ranking factors, sourced from experiments, TikTok patents, and more.
Why TikTok SEO is Important
For the first time in 15 years, Google is no longer the most visited site – it's now TikTok and users there are increasingly searching, as opposed to spending time solely in their feeds.
Nearly 40% of Gen Z default to searching on TikTok and Instagram over Google when looking for a place to eat lunch, according to Google's own data.
This is in large part because Google results have deteriorated, and consumers want quicker answers to their problems. In this same vein, many consumers have started adding “reddit” at the end of the Google queries in an effort to get quality, human-written, non-sponsored results.
And this is just the beginning as TikTok is aggressively trying to get users to use search more. The company has been running ads promoting search features and even introduced a "People also searched" section on the results pages. Most telling though is TikTok's roll out of a search-ads beta program in March 2022 to take a hit at Google’s $250B+ search-ads business.
It’s clear that TikTok believes search is a critical part of its long-term strategy and that it will become increasingly important on the platform.
And yet, nearly everyone on TikTok plays follow-the-leader when trying to figure out what content to produce. The smartest creators, though, are looking at search. They’re seeing what consumers are looking for, directly, and creating content around those topics. They know that looking at search intent gives a peak into the minds of consumers and is the best way to know what they're actually interested in.
And while the search engine optimization (SEO) world is saturated on Google, TikTok SEO – the process of optimizing content to improve its rank in TikTok’s search results – is nearly untouched. This has created a massive opportunity for early movers to dominate TikTok SEO for their niches.
Beyond the basics – an engaging script with a strong hook – we dive in below to the TikTok SEO tips that'll get you ranking in search results.
The Simple Playbook to TikTok SEO
- Find the relevant keywords + questions users are searching for using the tools below — See the full strategy here -->
- Include these keywords in the first 3 seconds of on-screen text, first 3 seconds of voiceover, and in the description — See the full strategy here -->
- Include the name of your niche in your account's profile name — See the full strategy here -->
TikTok SEO Strategies & Ranking Factors
- Create content around topics and questions that users are searching (use this tool to see what users are searching on)
- Target longtail keywords – these are the longer, more specific keywords like “keto diet for diabetic dogs”. You’re more likely to rank for these, than more competitive keywords like “keto”, letting you build up authority over time. Longtail keywords are also higher intent, and are therefore more likely to covert viewers into customers if you’re advertising a product. On Google, for example, advertisers currently pay $358 when their ad on search results for “lawyer for car accidents” gets a click, while they only pay $4 for “lawyer”.
- Build up a collection of videos targeting a cluster of longtails, like “how to invest in Apple stock”, “how to invest in Microsoft stock”, etc. rather than jumping straight to “how to invest”. By building up an audience over time across these longtails, you’ll build up the authority that'll make it easier over time to rank high in search for the broader, higher-volume keywords.
- Including the keyword as well as variations of the keyword multiple times in the description, voiceover (the sooner, the better), and on-screen text will signal to the TikTok algorithm that that's the topic your video is focused on.
- On-screen text appears to be weighted similarly to saying keywords out loud, and weighted more than putting keywords in the description. The sooner the keywords appear on screen, the greater their impact, so try to place them there within the first 2-3 seconds of the video.
- While the loophole has since been patched by TikTok, some users historically front-loaded videos with a massive amount of keywords hidden just outside of the frame in order to rank for hundreds of keywords at the same time. While some users still make keywords smaller and put them in less noticeable on-screen spots, it's logical to assume the algorithm more heavily weights text that's larger, closer to the center of the screen, and has maximal contrast.
- Saying the primary target keyword within the first few seconds of the video is critical. TikTok turns anything you say into captions whether or not you manually turn on captions.
Add your primary keyword to your account name
- Use your TikTok name for SEO. For example, with contently_lena, her name is "LinkedIn tips for creators". Having this in the name section helps rank in search results.
- Completion rate – the percent of viewers that watch the whole video – is a critical metric that TikTok uses to rank content, both in search results and on the For You page. It's a similar metric to audience retention – how much viewership drops off over the course of the video. These metrics are comparable to how Google looks at time-on-site as a measure of page quality. TikTok has also come out specifically highlighting the importance of this metric:
A strong indicator of interest, such as whether a user finishes watching a longer video from beginning to end, would receive greater weight than a weak indicator, such as whether the video’s viewer and creator are both in the same country.” 1
- TikTok strongly considers hashtags when calculating the relevance of a given video to a user's search.
Share count & Save count
- Similar to audience retention, share count and save count are strong indicators (much stronger than like count) that the content really resonates with viewers.
- Similar to audience retention, a given view can be considered as greater than 100% audience retention if the user watches the video more than once, whether by literally watching it multiple times or even by rewinding to watch part of it again. Both of these actions are a sign of strong engagement.
- Some creators have tried to take advantage of this by looping the end of their video really smoothly with the beginning so that viewers don't even realize the video ended and end up watching a few seconds of the beginning again. Other creators try tricks like having the peak moment of the video happen really quickly so that viewers rewind or pause the video. Some even try revealing the peak moment really quickly, by whispering for example, so that viewers need to turn up their volume and rewind to hear the punch line.
- Ultimately, while tricks like this may have a positive impact in the short term, many viewers report being annoyed by these tactics. Having said that, annoying followers, in the long run, matters a lot more on platforms like YouTube, where videos are distributed to followers in a tight loop. On TikTok, the number of users a given video can reach is much less tied to the number of followers - a video is often shown to non-followers, so this matters less.
TikTok SEO Tools
TikTok’s “Others searched for” section
Type your topic into TikTok search and scroll down to see the “others searched for” section. You can then click on one of these keywords and scroll down again, which will load more keywords.
Here you can see top searches related to any keyword. Though these are Google searches, they still provide a good sense of what consumers are looking for.
The Creative Center allows you to see the top trending hashtags, songs, creators, and videos. You can filter by industry and time period (yesterday, last 30 days, last 90 days). The data is very limited, though, and they only let you filter by 8 categories.
Unfortunately, the 8 category limitation means you're limited to seeing only the highest volume categories; no niches. The results are too broad and therefore too competitive.
As well, many of the trends listed here spike over the course of a week, or even just a few days, before crashing. The best keywords to rank for are evergreen keywords – topics that will be around for a long time. The effort needed to make a video is roughly the same whether you're targeting evergreen keywords or fad keywords that'll no longer be relevant in 1 week, so you may as well put that same energy into ranking for terms that will maintain search volume for years. In essence, the ROI on evergreen keywords is significantly more.
Local TikTok SEO
TikTok is known for having one of the best recommendation algorithms of all time and one key reason is the personalization based on location. When new content is first posted, TikTok initially pushes it to a small group of people to test its performance, using this data to decide whether to push it more broadly. This initial group is based largely on location – the content is shown mostly to those nearby geographically.
TikTok has industry-leading sophistication when it comes to figuring out where you’re located. Beyond looking at IP address, TikTok looks at SIM card information, which is much harder to spoof. This means that if you’re an American on vacation in Peru, your posts will be much more likely to go viral in Peru if you switch to a local SIM card.
More recently, TikTok has also been rolling out the ability for users to add location tags to their content and has begun testing a new ‘Nearby’ feed that displays local content. Both of these features further emphasize that TikTok believes its userbase cares deeply about local discovery.
Through testing done here at Glimpse, we’ve seen that users are often looking for top things to do and, in particular, to eat. For example, here are the top searches related to Houston, Texas.
Our data reveals some other interesting insights. Using proprietary search volume estimates, we can see that ‘Houston chiropractor’ has more search volume than almost any other local activity. For a content creator focusing on creating local Houston content, this can give you insight into how to prioritize which content you create. They could also use this data to go do a partnership, for example, with a local chiropractor - showing them that there’s actually search volume makes this pitch much more compelling.
The good news for local TikTok SEO: based on our testing, location influences search ranking much less than it influences whether content is featured on users’ For You Page (TikTok’s personalized home page, curated with videos based on what a user engages with). This means there’s a big opportunity now for brands to create local content targeting location-based keywords, like Houston food spots and activities.
TikTok SEO Myths
Myth #1: SEO doesn’t matter on TikTok because seach results change so frequently.
False. First page search results for “how to tie a tie” maintained a >85% overlap during the course of 3 months. We replicated these results across numerous keywords and geographies so it’s safe to say that there’s certainly some stickiness to rankings.
Myth 2: SEO doesn’t matter on TikTok because search results are so different depending on region.
False. Similar to the experiment above, we compared the first page of search results for 30 question queries, including “how to tie a tie”, across 7 different cities and 5 countries – the results were consistent: an average 77% overlap in terms of the posts that ranked on the first page of search results. As a result, it’s safe to say that geolocation doesn’t matter a ton when it comes to search results.
Myth 3: TikTok isn’t made for search, it’s made for discovery.
False. While TikTok started out designed exclusively for discovery, the company is increasingly going out of its way to push users to search. It makes sense; they want to unlock the massive business opportunity that is high intent search, as advertisers pay google hundreds of billions every year.
If you think the idea of using TikTok for search is crazy, you’re in a bubble: According to Google’s own data, nearly 40% of Gen Z default to searching on TikTok and Instagram rather than Google when looking for a lunch spot.
It’s been said that the next great search engine will look nothing like Google and it’s clear we’re now seeing this play out with TikTok.
Myth 4: You can just look at autocomplete because TikTok ranks autocomplete suggestions in order of search volume.
False. Unfortunately, TikTok doesn’t sort autocomplete results by search volume – their ranking is instead a combination of search volume, growth, relevance, and more.
Why Invest in TikTok SEO, Today
History has shown us that there is a massive advantage to being an early-mover when it comes to SEO – brands have made hundreds of billions of dollars with SEO on Google. Ranking early for keywords drives clicks, and because views and engagement are key factors when it comes to how TikTok ranks search results, clicks strengthen your SEO position, which drives more clicks, and so on. Success begets success.