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We ask marketers: what will the post-TikTok, post-AI search landscape look like?


By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

June 19, 2023 | 11 min read

Audiences are increasingly satisfying search queries in social apps (especially TikTok) or with generative AI (like ChatGPT). What does this mean for search? We asked nine leaders from The Drum Network.

Someone looking through a lens

How is TikTok and AI changing the search landscape? / Evgeni Tcherkasski via Unsplash

Gabs Roman, senior content strategist, Signal Theory: “The early days of the internet brought us small and highly-engaged forums. Now we’re living in a vast expanse of sea with endless options. AI is going to drive this forward, making the choice endless. Choice overload will paralyze users. What does that mean? It’s going to get niche again. Subscribe to a magazine? No, users will pay to read their three favorite writers. Those people will be giving recs that subscribers faithfully follow. It’s going to get small and it’s going to get specific. And everyone’s journey is going to be completely different.”

Laurent Olver, head of marketing, GreenJinn: “Our Gen Z employees are only using TikTok to buy, search and… everything. Those of us over 30 didn’t feel old until now, but now they’ve shown us how they use it, we’re hooked.

“Gone are the days of searching multiple sites for restaurants and products by reviews online; we’ve cottoned on to the fact that these are likely to be bought or fake. Instead, see it for yourself in action on TikTok and decide there and then, on the same app, whether to purchase.

“Gen Z really is using TikTok for everything. A colleague has just returned from a week's holiday; she said she used TikTok for every aspect. Where to go, which restaurants to book, things to do that aren’t just touristy – even buying the viral Ryanair-approved bag to fit all their clothes in.”

Conor Kingscott, paid search strategy director, Croud: “Last month, Google announced that it’s testing its AI-powered Search Generative Experience (SGE) in the US. This experimental iteration of the search engine uses AI to produce contextual responses to user queries on the search engine results page (SERP), aiming to enhance the search experience through the discovery and consideration phases.

“This will change the way users interact with Google. We’ll see a shift from short, direct search queries to more explorative search queries. While the SERP has always acted as a stepping stone, with SGE the Google SERP will likely become more of a platform for users to explore topics, improving their ability to compare and consider products, without entering a single website. We’ve already seen Google moving in this direction with SERP features like Google Maps, info boxes, and the ‘people also ask’ feature.

“At first glance, this might sound like bad news for paid search marketers, with fewer clicks to websites being a likely outcome. However, with Google Search being by far the biggest revenue generator for Alphabet, we can be confident that this will be protected. Ads will be served alongside SGE but will require marketers to re-evaluate the reach of their accounts and the strategies they employ. Last year, Google claimed that 15% of all Google searches have never been searched before, and SGE will likely only accentuate this.”

Alistair Robertson, creative partner, Nucco: “Search user journeys and online behaviors are all driven by the rush for increased, higher-quality, personalized results. That’s moving us from ‘content that’s related to what you asked’ to ‘here are options on the exact thing you wanted; here’s what you can expect; here’s how you buy it, use it, enjoy it, etc.’

“YouTube and TikTok have increased these expectations. Younger audiences obviously prefer watching over reading. That trend will grow through all audiences over time.

“But the integration of AI into search will drive personalization further. AI will enhance engagement and deliver more comprehensive answers. Partly through services such as Google’s SGE, which aims to compile resources from different sources and then generate one response. A search personal assistant, if you will.

“We can also expect further integration of video search, and possibly even AR and voice interfaces, especially if Apple can make Vision successful: allowing search to empower us all in discovering through the power of watching and even experiencing.”

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Carmen Domínguez, head of organic, Hallam: “Users are starting to get pickier with what they purchase, because of both trust issues and economic reasons. That means that, before making the final decision, they’ll want to see how the product looks (perhaps Pinterest research), how it’s used (YouTube) and what other people think of it (social media) before purchasing.

“This means that the decision-making time is longer. It now takes months before the user makes the decision. The knock-on impact is that marketers need to curate more of the funnel; they need to be ever-present with all types of content across all types of platforms. Channel attribution will become more difficult, causing headaches for marketers to explain to clients (especially when it comes to budgets).

“So, what do we do now? Agencies need to get better at educating clients around this change, and marketers need to collaborate more.”

Federico D’Uva, marketing lead, Rawnet: “As 59% of the global population spends an average of 2.5 hours daily on social media, it’s expected that these platforms will undergo significant changes. In the retail sector, there is a growing trend toward native e-commerce experiences, allowing users to make purchases without leaving the app. Advertisers are being incentivized with additional support to enable this functionality, and return on ad spend (ROAS) can be higher compared to website-based advertising.

“But this doesn’t mean that search engines will become obsolete. Some users still cross-reference information they see on social media with search engines, particularly for informational and commercial intent searches. The role of search engines may shift toward serving as a verification or deeper information resource, complementing the content found on social platforms.”

Ben Woollams, platform partnerships director, Influencer: “Gen Z has spearheaded a major shift in the way that consumers undertake research and discovery, and the social platforms have followed suit, developing products and tools (like TikTok’s new iPhone search widget) which facilitate this.

“Not only does this mean that, within the apps they engage with most, there’s now an easily accessible and straightforward element of search. It also highlights a deeper level of credibility and trust among users in what they are viewing on social media.

“We’re closely following to see whether media budgets shifts from Google ads and SEO to platforms such as TikTok and speculating whether there are options for brands to buy ad space when using search discovery on platforms.”

Kevin Quinn, search engine optimization strategist, The Mx Group: “A new paradigm has emerged where users navigate to their preferred platforms to find valuable information aligned with their needs.

“As a B2B agency, we already see these shifts impacting clients. Younger buyers prefer social media apps for discovery, and they often seek a self-serve buying experience over purchasing through a human relationship. Rather than get left behind, vendors should seek to exploit these trends and turn them into competitive advantages. TikTok for business? It’s happening; B2B businesses are now marketing on TikTok.

“As ‘everywhere search’ becomes the norm, all businesses will need to adapt. Using the platforms where your audience’s relevant searches aggregate will be crucial. The answer won’t be to have a presence ‘in all places, all at once’. Rather, it will be to evolve your brand messaging and strategies to connect with audiences in the most impactful way possible.”

Elea Hendy, senior content strategy consultant, Builtvisible: “Social-first search is becoming second nature for many of us, where immediate information isn’t preferred; it’s expected. There isn’t the effort of switching apps, instead relying on a familiar interface where short-form engaging videos are presented by trustworthy experts (in the form of creators).

“Answers to top-of-the-funnel queries will likely continue to dominate on social, but for anyone who wants to consider or compare their topic or simply do more in-depth awareness research, then that information should exist elsewhere for them to easily find. Although it might seem like social could be stealing the traffic limelight, the organic customers that do convert to site are likely to be even more valuable. The best way to protect these valuable customers is to have content that’s tailored, authoritative and considered to their needs.”

Agencies Agency Leadership Search

Content created with:

Signal Theory

Signal Theory is a brand development, marketing and design firm with offices in Kansas City and Wichita. Our job is to help people and brands connect in ways that mean something, which is more complicated than it sounds.

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GreenJinn is a triple-digit growth UK platform for connecting great consumable brands with relevant consumers. Through our platform we work with some of the most exciting and cutting-edge brands to help them drive awareness, increase trial and get access to real-time, detailed consumer insights they can’t find anywhere else.

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Croud is a global, full-service digital agency that helps businesses drive sustainable growth in the new world of marketing. With a rich heritage in performance, we apply that mindset to everything we do; brand planning, strategy, integrated media, social, creative, and data.

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We are communication experts that change behaviour and perspectives.Part of UNIT9, we are powered by one of the world’s leading creative, digital and content production groups. We use insight-led creative to create digital campaigns and content for advertising, marketing and internal communications.

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We’re a multi-award winning full-service digital agency based in the UK, and a trusted partner to some of the world’s biggest national and international brands.

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Rawnet is a digital agency that defines, designs, delivers and drives strategic products and services that create a long-term positive impact.

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We are the originators of influencer marketing.

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Made possible through technology, made personal through data, made powerful through content. Bringing people, communities and brands together like never before.

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