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Should You Invest in Search Ads for TikTok? Challenges, Best Practices & Recommendations for Navigating the New Shiny Object

Are you considering advertising on TikTok? It can be a great platform to increase your reach, but it’s not without its challenges for advertisers. One of the most talked-about ad products on TikTok is search ads. In this blog, we’ll review the challenges, best practices, and recommendations for search ads for TikTok based on our experience testing the product at Chacka.

Challenges of Search Ads for TikTok

The first major challenge of TikTok search ads is the ad interface, which requires tedious and inefficient steps that are manual, as bulk functions tend to error. The next challenge is building up statistically significant audience data, as TikTok’s approach to building audiences is different than other platforms. TikTok requires building pixel activity initially derived from TikTok in-app activity. This makes it costly to gather enough data to progress down the funnel and optimize toward conversions. Overall, these limitations can be frustrating for businesses and may deter some from investing in TikTok as an advertising platform, unless it is seen as an awareness initiative.

According to our TikTok representatives/clients with products that have high search volumes have experienced better results with TikTok search ads than with in-feed ads, but there are no case studies to validate this claim yet. While other advertisers have also reported some initial success with search ads, we have not seen publicly available case studies or data sets demonstrating how any industry or category has benefitted from this feature. There is also a lack of documentation from TikTok on Search Ads, so you must be an advertiser that has budgetary room for experimentation and a team that thrives on paving the unpaved road.

Lastly, TikTok’s culture and aesthetic are focused on entertainment and viral trends, rather than commercial messaging. This can make it challenging for companies to create Ads that feel native to the user experience, especially if a company has limited creative resources or creator/influencer connections. We expect to see Search Ads evolve over time within TikTok to become more native in nature.

Best Practices

There are three things you need: Money, Patience & Realistic Expectations. A testing budget without expectation for direct ROI is necessary if you want to try TikTok ads. The next thing you need is patience. You are headed into uncharted territory, so be prepared to test, learn, and share just like we are doing here.  Finally, you need to set realistic expectations. Set goals around what you hope to learn or around engagement metrics. Expecting a positive ROI from the start is not realistic.

Recommendations for TikTok Search Ads:

As of now, targeting is the same within in-feed and search-based placements, so you have little control over which keywords you’ll show up on, but here are some areas you can focus on: 

Data and insight capabilities

When allocating your budget between in-feed video and search ads, distribution is based on the availability of ad space. It is important to keep in mind the exact placement of a search ad is influenced by the relevance of the user’s search query and the ad group to which the ad belongs. This means that you can focus optimization efforts on relevancy of desired queries to your ad groups.

If you are interested in reviewing search term data, there are a few ways to access it at the campaign level and ad group level, but not at the ad level. It is a manual process to view the data within each campaign and/or ad group, and of course, more data is available at the ad group level than at the campaign level.

  • Metrics available at the campaign level: Cost, Impressions, Clicks, CPC, CPM, CTR
  • Metrics available at the ad group level: Cost, Impressions, Clicks, CPC, CPM, CTR, Results, Cost per Result, Conversions, CPA, CVR
    • Note: Conversions is different than Page Events – Page events are data attributed to your ads, and Conversions are achieved ad outcomes based on the campaign objective and settings


While TikTok’s platform has a large and engaged user-base for creatives and influencers, it can be challenging for some advertisers to set-up and optimize ads effectively. Before hopping in to search ads for TikTok, you should think through if you have the budget, patience, and realistic expectations to see it through to success.

About the author: Maria Aumaitre is an Associate Director of Digital Media at Chacka Marketing. She has over eight years of experience in the industry serving some of social media’s largest advertisers. Learn more about Maria.

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