Short-form video is winning - what does that mean for SEO?

Tik Tok recently surpassed Youtube in engagement. As a result, ad monetization on Youtube has slowed down. What does this mean for SEO?

For the past few years, Youtube and its contribution to Alphabet’s revenue grew fast, but Google’s Q1 ‘22 earnings show a slowdown. The relative share revenue contribution shrank from 11.4% in Q4 ‘21 and 10.8% in Q1 ‘21 to now 10% in Q1 ‘22. In absolute terms, Youtube drove 6.8 billion USD in Q1 ‘22 compared to $8.6b in the previous quarter and $6b in Q1 ‘21. While Search is still growing at almost +25% YoY, Youtube falls short with a meager +14%. What’s happening?

Besides economic factors like inflation and the slowdown of ecommerce, TikTok seems to be the main culprit of Youtube’s falloff. In How Google helped Tiktok take the throne, I describe how TikTok started to beat engagement on Youtube in 2021. Now, more stats are coming out that show the same trend for the youngest consumer platform. [1]

Ironically, Google helped TikTok grow through its video carousel integration and non-branded traffic. Many TikTok celebrities have more search volume on Google than most SaaS brands. But Google cannot exclude competitors from Search without facing severe anticompetitive consequences. In order to keep their neutrality as a platform, they have to watch TikTok grow on Google Search.

Youtube vs. Tik Tok

Tiktok is set to compete directly with Youtube on two fronts.

First, providing more upside for creators. One reason for Youtube’s stunning success is that it shares revenue (~50%) with creators, which makes it especially attractive for new content. But now TikTok has started to test a similar revenue share model. It’s limited to accounts with more than 100,000 followers and certain categories, but could quickly expand from there. [2]

Second, Tik Tok announced to expand into longer form content of 10 minutes, which is also the sweet spot for video length on Youtube. Short-form video is entertaining, addictive, and educating. However, for complex topics, a minute-long video is not enough. [7]

Both, creator monetization and longer-form videos tighten competition with Youtube. To be fair, Youtube started its story format “Shorts” first. Though not a direct shot at TikTok, it competes directly in the short-form format.

How Tik Tok is different

Over 40% of Instagram’s revenue is driven by stories and its revenue contribution grows faster than revenue from the main feed. Twitter is to text what Tik Tok is to video and even United Airlines’ mobile app has Stories. The appeal of short-form video is that you can consume a lot of different pieces of content in a very short amount of time. Every new piece is a chance to be entertained and provides dopamine shots like Las Vegas slot machines. [3]

Youtube Shorts now generate 30 billion daily views. Compare that with “only” 5.6 billion searches on Google per day and you get an idea for the attention short-form videos get. [4]

8b people search on Google every day

But TikTok has two stark differences from social platforms like Youtube, Instagram, Whatsapp, and Co. First, Tik Tok’s product is short-form video without compromise. Whereas other products add Stories to their main feature, Tik Tok is all in on short-form video.

Second, Tik Tok is not a social network but a content network. The content you see is not driven by your network but by an algorithm that understands your preferences. That’s what makes Tik Tok so effective and dangerous. It’s closer to Google Search than to Facebook with the difference that users aren’t searching for new content but voting with swipes.

What does the short-form video trend mean for SEO?

The short-form video trend has two implications for SEO.

First, attention is finite. Users spending more time watching videos can take away from time searching. Especially “how to” queries might lose search volume over time because more users are looking to learn through video. In my mind, this is one of the reasons why Google shows more videos in Search for such user intents. The key question is how big that trade-off really is. Are we talking about -5% fewer searches due to more video consumption for such terms or -30%?

Second, I wonder if Google might take this trend to push its own Stories product more in Search? At least it seems so based on more sightings of Web Stories in 2022. [5, 6]

The challenge for Google will be to provide Stories with enough organic traffic to provide an incentive for SEOs to create them. First stabs are partnerships with publishers to create Web Stories and offer ad monetization. [7]

Stories are not short-form video but also not far away. If Google succeeds in driving more Web Stories (and maybe showing them in Google Discover, too?), they might be able to open new results for SEOs to “rank in” and provide more engaging direct answers in the search results. At least, creators can monetize that traffic.