Why Google becoming TikTok matters

One of the most enduring digital designs of your lifetime is dying. Here's why it matters and what it means moving forward.

The Social PHD by Tom Miner

You’ve already been warned before. But after last week’s news, I thought I’d say it once more for those in the back.


Last week Google announced changes to its search and maps to feature more images and video in search results. The updates are designed to account for massive shifts in how people (especially younger generations) are searching for information online these days.

But I just about spit my coffee on my phone when I read an article from WIRED that stated the following:

“One of Google’s changes will bring a feature called Exploration to the Google mobile app. It displays search results in a continuous scroll of tiles showing photos and videos that more closely resembles a social media feed than a list of links.

More closely resembles a social media feed? That’s putting it mildly. This new Exploration feature IS a social media feed! Not only will search results include more visual, experiential media, but much of this media will be videos scraped directly from Instagram reels, TikTok, and YouTube Shorts.

But, so what? Why does this matter?

For starters, just look at the magnitude of what’s being disrupted here. We’re talking about Google’s results page. Google’s FREAKING RESULTS PAGE!

Not only do Google searches dominate the direction of most internet traffic, but the company’s results page is one of the internet’s most timeless experiences. A quarter century after the search engine’s rise to prominence, it’s safe to say that there’s a certain status quo in the content – and our consumption behavior of said content – on Google.

Just look at what a search for “Drake Hotel, Chicago” looked like back in 2000.

google search results from 2000

With a couple of minor pixelated exceptions, this really isn’t much different than what the results page looks like today. But that’s about to change according to WIRED.

“Not even Google’s search results page, one of the internet’s most lasting designs, can resist TikTok’s power.”

The TikTokification of Google

What exactly is it about TikTok’s power that has Google making such wholesale changes?

According to Google Vice president Cathy Edwards, these changes are intended to help people searching for inspiration rather than facts or specific answers to a question.

“We know there is a class of user who really likes the results that they see on TikTok, and I think part of that is because TikTok reduced the barrier to entry for content creation, so there's some really good content there. We are looking at more ways to bring that into our search results.”

Because the Exploration feature will initially be limited to travel and tourism searches, that same search for “Drake Hotel, Chicago” will now look a lot different. Suggested topics in search results may include live music, a tour of the amenities, or a live look at the vibe around Chicago landmarks.

Speaking of vibes, another new feature – aptly named Neighborhood Vibe – was announced for Maps. This provides a much more immersive, TikTokesque view of what’s trending in a community. According to Google, this feature was inspired by today’s consumption behavior where people are favoring a more visual approach that makes information faster and easier to digest for young and old alike.

Neighborhood Vibe will use a mix of human decision making and algorithms to determine what content to show in a given area at any time.

These features are important because it’s a clear sign of the times. Any brand, marketer or creator not seeing the writing on the wall is going to get left behind. But there’s another lesson in here too. And one that has a strong bearing on our own content strategies.

The 3 Levels of the Content Pyramid

There are three primary reasons why people consume content: to learn, to be inspired, and to be entertained.

3 levels of organic content strategy

Google knows this and they’ve wisely decided it’s time to change their approach to content. They recognize that in order to continue growing they need to serve content that appeals to a larger audience (younger generations primarily). And so, after 20+ years of serving the world as an educator, they are moving to the next level: inspiration.

How successful Google will be in this new frontier remains to be seen. Are they overreacting? Or are they already too late? Regardless of the outcome, this is the direction we should all be heading in at some point in the near future.

We can all teach somebody something. Even if this is as simple as teaching customers about how we most recently improved our product or what we learned from a recent event, the first rung of the content pyramid – educating – is the easiest.

I recommend most brands and creators to start here because the criteria for success is the most objective of the three levels: did you teach somebody something or not? Or, in Google’s case, did you answer their question or not?

But the downside of the first level is that it has the smallest reach. There are only so many people who are interested in the niche you’re teaching. There are only so many people looking for specific answers to specific questions at a specific point in time. And as time goes on, you’ll likely notice higher rates of audience churn. Because what do we do once we’ve learned something? We move on to learn something else from somebody else.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we were 100% altruistic creatures. But because we’re all in the business of growth, there comes a day when we need to evolve our content strategy in order to expand our audience pool and reach new segments of the population.

And the easiest next step in this evolution is inspiration.

Levels 2 and 3

What inspires us and what entertains us is subjective. Which makes the next two levels of the content pyramid more challenging for brands and creators to execute. But the reward for solving these challenges is increased reach and visibility.

Here’s a perfect example:

In his book Minimalist Entrepreneur, Sahil Lavingia writes the following about physicist Richard Feynman.

“There are only so many people who are interested in learning physics, but Richard Feynman is much better known than any physics teacher would otherwise be because he talked about something grander than that. He took his insights from physics and turned them into insights about life.

At some point, he started motivating people, inspiring them to lead better lives. As physics became a subset of what he was teaching, his physics students became a subset of his new audience; far more people want to live better lives than want to learn physics.”

And there’s only one thing we humans crave more than leading better lives: entertainment.

The third and final section of the pyramid carries essentially unlimited reach because we all want to be entertained. But entertaining people is hard, that’s why so few people “make it” in the entertainment industry.

Despite the difficulties, entertainment is the future. The war for attention is getting fierce, and entertainment is the battleground. Don’t @ me when you hear about Google launching a streaming service. It may only be a matter of time until the first search result for “Drake Hotel, Chicago” is a Google Original series about the Drake Hotel starring Drake.

After all, it would only be a natural evolution of an effective content strategy.

1 Strategic and 1 Tactical Takeaway/Action Item


We too should be thinking about the evolution of our content strategy. Let Google be our canary in the coal mine on this one. And they just came up squawking loudly (singing loudly? Whatever noise canaries make).

Spend time reflecting on this: what does inspirational content from our brand look like, sound like, and feel like? What exactly are we inspiring? Who do we want to inspire?


Your short form video work needs to kick start into hyperdrive. This medium spread like wildfire on social media platforms first and now it’s jumping everywhere else. Which isn’t a surprise now that you know all media is becoming social.