TikTok now lets brands buy ads that appear in the app's search results

TikTok announced today it's adding a new place for advertisers to reach its audience: within the search results page. The new ad buying type dubbed the "Search Ads Toggle" will allow advertisers to target the platform's users who are specifically seeking to learn more about new products or brands by typing queries into the app's search box.

This is TikTok's first ad placement that lets brands target users engaged with searches related to the brand's business. However, the Search Ads Toggle is an extension of an advertiser's TikTok video ad buy -- and is not a standalone ad product.

The company also promises brand safety as a part of this offering, noting that the advertisers have the option to add "Negative Keywords" to each ad group which allows them to avoid having their ad served against queries that don't align with their brand.

According to internal tests run in July, 70% of ad groups with the Search Ads Toggle set to "on" saw a lower cost per action (CPA) thanks to more efficient conversions from the ad placement, TikTok claims. The company had been testing these ads since last year.

Early testers include brands like Clinique and DIBS Beauty. Clinique saw a 441% increase in conversation rates, a 51% increase in click-through rates and a 7.4% lift in ad recall, TikTok says. In addition, DIBS saw an 8% higher conversion volume, a 6x higher conversion rate and a 22% decrease in CPA compared to their non-search ads.

The addition of the ad slot could also pose a challenge to Google's search ads business, given that the search giant even admitted that younger users today are now often starting their searches on social apps like TikTok and Instagram, not on Google.

“In our studies, something like almost 40% of young people, when they’re looking for a place for lunch, they don’t go to Google Maps or Search,” Google Senior Vice President Prabhakar Raghavan said at a conference last year. “They go to TikTok or Instagram.”

TikTok has taken its time to capitalize on its position as a search engine for Gen Z, and brands may not yet fully understand the shift that's underway when it comes to how young people are looking up information on today's web. It's also not yet clear how well these search ads will perform, when compared with more traditional ad buys that marketers are used to. Still, given the influence of TikTok on users' shopping behavior, it wouldn't be surprising to see more brands experiment with this offering in the months to come.

"Search, among many other functions on TikTok, empowers users to discover diverse content, communities, brands, and products on TikTok," said Ray (Jiayi) Cao, TikTok's global head of Monetization Product Solution & Operation, in a statement about the launch. "The Search Ads Toggle gives advertisers a new ad placement where qualified, high-intent users are searching for content relevant to their business, allowing advertisers to further connect with the TikTok community in authentic and engaging ways," he added.