How Google helped TikTok take the throne

TikTok recently became the largest site on the internet and kicked Google off the throne. The irony: Google helped TikTok get there!

How Google helped TikTok take the throne

Google dethroned by the young ‘padawan’ TikTok” is the title of Cloudflare’s 2021 review. In the smart content marketing play to push its product Radar, Cloudflare announced TikTok got more traffic in 2021 than Google! [1]

Cloudflare Radar provides “aggregated data from the Public DNS Resolver that has been anonymized in accordance with our privacy commitments for the resolver and external data sources. is a free service from Cloudflare and APNIC that maps IP addresses to domain names in an encrypted and faster way. In other words, Cloudflare sits between browser and server for over 25 million internet properties. That creates a robust set of data and explains why the news was shared by so many news outlets. [2]

Radar data groups domains like and together under Cloudflare looked at global traffic for the 2021 review. Even though Google’s apps and sites are very popular, the 2020 champion couldn’t defend the top spot.

Mind you we’re not talking about organic but total traffic. If we were looking at organic traffic in the US, we’d see that Google is clearly the bigger domain. on SEMrush doesn’t even come close. on Google

TikTok’s non-branded traffic is growing and even outgrew its branded traffic even though I hinted at massive rendering issues on the site in the October 2020 article Where TikTok’s SEO strategy fails.

The kicker: Google helped TikTok capture the throne. TikTok became the world’s number one site in 2021 and significantly grew non-brand traffic with Google’s help.

You don’t help a competitor win every day. The only reason to do so is when you benefit more from them winning with your help than without.

In late 2020, Google tested a short videos feature at the top of search results that featured results from TikTok, Youtube, and other social networks. In late 2021, The Information reported that Google is in negotiations with TikTok to index content through an API similar to the deal with Twitter in 2015. [3, 4, 5]

TikTok reels on Google

The screenshot below shows how organic traffic started growing in April 2021, which seems to be the time when Google rolled TikTok reel carousels out across more queries. The term “non-brand traffic” is a bit misleading here because the queries Google gets most traffic from are names of famous TikTokers like Charli D’amelio.

I assume if Google showed only Youtube results in video carousels it wouldn’t look good under the regulator spotlight it’s already under. And what alternatives are there? Instagram and TikTok! So, in a way Google has to show diverse results to prove it’s not a monopoly, on the other hand that strengthens competitors.

TikTok, on the other hand, should be concerned about entering a partnership that gives Google insight into what videos work well. A lot of data could help Google reverse engineer TikTok’s algorithm. The important difference between TikTok and other social platforms is that TikTok has an algorithm that profiles users with scary accuracy and shows them more of the content they like. Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, though, look at the semantic relationships between videos to keep people on the platform. If you follow a channel on Youtube, you’ll see more videos of them.

On TikTok, the next video is defined by an algorithm that’s trained on many millions of users (even before TikTok and Doujin). The algorithm understands user preferences to such a fine degree that it’s agnostic to language or location. It’s not limited to follows or likes but taks many engagement signals into account.

That’s both a huge risk and asset for Google, which knows a thing or two about killer algorithms. PageRank was an algorithm that erased almost every other search engine on the market.

Showing TikTok in Search could keep Google relevant as universal search engine for every platform (sometimes, you find Tweets better through Google than on Twitter itself) but also funnel even more users to TikTok.

Are TikTok stories now an organic growth lever?

Google never succeeded in starting a social network and tried to compensate by integrating non-threatening platforms in Google Search. Twitter wasn’t strong enough, Facebook was too hot. Ad dollars paint the path: Annually, Tik Tok gets about $1.3b in US ad revenue compared to the $2.2b for Twitter, $2.6b for Linkedin, and $48 for Meta and Google. Now, with the massive popularity of short-form video Google tries to, once again, get a seat at the table. [6]

Google attempted to bring short-form video to Search twice without success: Web Stories and Cameos on Google. The later is an app that lets celebrities and “public figures” answer common questions via video that show up in Google’s knowledge graph. The only successful stories format are Youtube Shorts, which more than doubled views in 2021. [7, 8]

Are TikTok stories a scalable growth strategy now that they’re indexed by Google? No! It’s people who go viral. Not brands, which can jump on the bandwagon through ads or sponsored influencer posts. Even Google’s integration of TikTok reels doesn’t change that.