Fresh Paint: In Search of a Better Way to Search

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Imagine about a year after you purchase your new EV you start hearing this weird noise when you run the AC. Sometimes. Your buddy tells you: “It’s normal. Don’t worry about it.” But the noise keeps coming back. So what do you do? If you’re atypical American consumer, you ask Google for help—and the initial results maybe, well, not very helpful. Your search almost certainly turns up local dealer ads, paid publishers’ posts, blogger rants—lots of options, but not necessarily the answer to your question. 

Unless, that is, you’re from Gen Z, in which case you can probably find the answer in your very first query. 

We know what you’re thinking: Since when can a Zoomer afford an EV? But also: What sort of search-engine voodoo are kids practicing these days? Well, pull up a chair, Grandpa, and we’ll show you how the Z Generation is transforming search—and making the internet better for all of us in the process.

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"The Queries They Ask Are Completely Different"

In case you hadn’t noticed, Zoomers are wired differently than those from older generations—and their search behavior reflects that wiring. As digital natives unfamiliar with life before Wi-Fi, their internet usage is truly second nature—not something they had to learn and relearn and adapt over time. Consequently, when Gen Z goes searching for something online, their queries are likely to be more instinctive, more creative, more precise than those of Gen EverybodyElse.

People are starting to notice. And by “people” we mean guys like Prabhakar Raghavan, a Senior Vice President in charge of Google Search. Recently he said: “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—they go to TikTok or Instagram. We keep learning, over and over again, that new internet users don’t have the expectations and the mindset that we have become accustomed to. The queries they ask are completely different." 

Here are just a couple of examples of what “completely different” might look like:

Smarter Search Queries

Even when young consumers resort to using a “conventional” search engine, they want more control over the results of their searches. So their queries will be very specific and often include a trusted source to add further refinement to what comes back. For example, rather than enter “my EV is making a weird noise,” they might start with“2021Kona EVAC noise Reddit” or “2022 EV6 AC noise kiaEVforums.” By adding source parameters (a publication, social channel, or other community-based qualifier)to their search query, they effectively eliminate much of the sales and promotions that might otherwise clutter the response.

Searches Via Social Platforms

Rather than adding a platform modifier to a standard search engine query, savvy internet users are increasingly going straight to the source, circumventing Google altogether. This isn’t new; it’s just becoming more commonplace. YouTube has long described itself as “the world’s second most popular search engine,” and that’s a fact. But now other social platforms are providing their own unique search box features as well:

  • YouTube – It’s easy to explain YouTube’s “second most popular” status with just a singlestatistic:95% of US adults 18-29use YouTube. Which means that you almost certainly know from personal practice that the search bar is core to the overall YouTube experience. From DYIs to tutorials, vlogs to movies, its 122+ million daily active users are consuming more than a billion hours of video every day. If you want help diagnosing a noise in your car, you can bet that YouTube has a video for that. Actually, dozens of them (we checked).
  • TikTok – The “King of Vertical Video” and the audio-visual experience master has the youngest, most-engaged audience. Short-form video content is the core of this platform, and searching within the app provides visual (and entertaining) results that keep users wanting more. So the good news is you may find what you’re looking for. What is unclear is whether you’ll remember what you learned by the time you finally put down your phone to go do something else.
  • Instagram – Similar to TikTok, people use the search feature on Instagram to get a visual result—increasingly important given the short attention spans of the Millennials and Zoomers who dominate the platform.
  • Reddit – Within this grouping, Reddit stands apart because it’s not built on a search engine platform. What’s more, it provides long, text-based results supplied by its active community. But that “organic” content pays dividends: 82% of Gen Z visitors to Reddit say that they trust the companies and products that are reviewed on the site.

It’s clear that this new approach to search is triggered by the comfort and convenience these popular social platforms offer their users. Why jump to another app or open a new browser window if you don’t have to? If you’re spending 2+ hours per day on TikTok (as the average user does), wouldn’t it simply be easier to “stay home” and start your internet search there? In theory, that’s an easy “yes”—provided the platform can provide answers you can rely on.


It's a Matter of Trust

Regardless of your generation, your regular use of any search platform will depend on whether you find the results of your search credible and helpful. We can assume, therefore, that consumers have come to trust the voice, content, and community that each of their preferred platforms provides—perhaps in contrast to what they might get in return for a standard search query elsewhere. To earn that trust, a platform must deliver on all of the following:

  • Security – Users are now more careful about sharing their personal information; and when they do, they want to feel confident that it will be protected.
  • Credibility – Users have become more aware of deceptive content tactics and “fake” information.
  • Community – Users are looking for a safe, secure place where they can associate with like-minded people. 

So if you want to take down Google with your spiffy new search box, all you have to do is anchor it in a safe community with legitimate content long enough to earn the trust of your users so that they will find it comfortable and convenient to use your platform for their internet searches. Should be easy enough, right?

But It’s Not Like Google Will Go Down without a Fight

As you’d expect, Google is hard at work trying to win over young internet searchers and lure back those who may have left—starting with efforts to make the platform itself more engaging and effective. Here are just a few of the features they hope will make Google irresistible to TikTokers the world over: 

  • Immersive Views for Google Maps – Users will get much more detail about a recommended route: major and minor road designations, alerts for routes that include steep hills or stairs, advance notices of heavy traffic.
  • “People Search Next” – Similar to the kinds of product recommendations you might get while shopping on Amazon, this feature will suggest what your follow-up search query might be based on the previous searches of others.
  • Google Lens Multi-search – Soon users will be able to include both text and images in a single search and ask follow-up questions about results.

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The question is: Will it be enough? As attention spans shrink and short-form video continues its assault on consumer consciousness, it may take more than a few slick, new features to maintain a dominant presence among Gen Z.

So, What Should You Do About It? 

We have four suggestions on how best to respond to these shifts in search behavior:

1. Maintain a strong commitment to “traditional” search. Google retains more than 90% search-engine market share worldwide. That dominance may diminish, but it will not disappear any time soon.

2. Expand your search efforts and strategies to include non-traditional platforms as well. Make sure you have a presence where younger generations spend their time online. 

3. Begin to migrate towards an audiovisual search strategy to give these generations the type of content they are looking for. It is not enough for them just to find you. You want them to connect with what they find as well.

4. Continue to watch, learn, and adapt. As online consumer behavior continues to evolve, make sure your brand is evolving along with it. 

We’re here to help with all of that, of course. As for that noise in your new EV? We suggest you take it to the dealership instead.