How COVID-19 Has Affected Search Trends in 2020

Home is where the search is...

Chances are, you’ve searched a few things online in the past few months that you normally wouldn’t have been very interested in. 

“How to make hand sanitizer.” “Where can I buy yeast?” “Which grocery stores offer curbside pickup?”

It’s been over two months now since the World Health Organization classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a global pandemic, and life has changed a lot for most Americans. We’ve altered how we work, play, and socialize in the wake of the virus – and many of us are spending more time online at home than ever before. 

As consumer behavior shifts in these unprecedented times, we’ve seen some interesting changes in online search trends as well…

Evolution of Search Trends

Google recently published some insights on search data, shedding light on five main behaviors shown by people using Google search during the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Assembling critical information and content they need to get by. 

People are searching for clear, specific information about topics central to their new “nonroutine routine,” like grocery delivery options, what foods do well in the freezer, and how to make protective face masks.

  • Discovering new connections and nurturing relationships. 

Search interest in content that brings people together online is on the rise, such as “study with me,” “disinfect with me,” and other “with me”-type YouTube videos, plus multiplayer video games, virtual happy hours, and more.

  • Adjusting to changes in their routines. 

Self-isolation means people are searching for things like “online yoga” instead of “yoga near me,” and search interest in “do it yourself” is also experiencing a peak as social distancing continues.

  • Taking care of themselves and others. 

People are searching for ways to address physical and psychological needs while sheltering at home, such as methods of relaxation, puzzles and games for boredom relief, virtual tours to explore the outside world without going out, and exploring outdoor home projects like landscaping. 

  • Praising everyday heroes. 

There is a growing appreciation for the essential workers who are risking their own health on the front lines of the pandemic – there’s been a sudden uptick in search interest for ways to thank and support essential workers like doctors and nurses.

Search behavior directly reflects people’s priorities, so it’s fascinating to delve a little deeper and see which search terms in various categories have exploded in interest and which ones have dropped off the radar…

The Rise and Fall of Search Interest

Google Trends reveals what topics have been of interest in the U.S. during the first few months of the pandemic. 

Despite stay-at-home orders in many communities and the need for social distancing, people understandably don’t want to stay cooped up indoors! Searches for “outdoors” and “hiking,” for instance, have increased drastically. Finding safer ways to get exercise has clearly been a priority – which explains why search interest in gyms and fitness centers has dropped precipitously while “home workout apps” and “online yoga classes” are looking pretty attractive lately.

And although interest in bikes and accessories has gone up (including stationary bikes), there’s been a substantial decrease in interest toward all vehicle-related topics. Buying a car seemingly isn’t much of a priority these days…

But the opposite appears to be true of housing. Search interest in “new home” and “mortgage” has increased dramatically, especially in the early weeks of the pandemic. Of course, this may have a lot to do with the recently lowered interest rates, but interest in affordable housing has definitely been on the rise while real estate, in general, has experienced a drop in search interest.

Shopping has changed overall, too. Not surprisingly, e-commerce is doing great! There’s been a surge in sales for major e-commerce categories like electronics, which peaked at an incredible +300% change in mid-April compared to the same time last year. 

Search interest in “ordering groceries online” has experienced extraordinary growth, as well – more than a third of all Americans ordered groceries online for the first time ever in April! Not to mention interest in “restaurant delivery” and “curbside pickup” has substantially increased, too

Apparel and fashion haven’t fared as well, but that’s not terribly shocking… Who’s going to care what clothes they’re wearing when they barely leave the house anyway?!

Speaking of, when it comes to leisure, people haven’t been searching very much about activities like going clubbing or even bowling. Instead, areas of increased interest include board games, ebooks, audiobooks, and video games. Plus, things like “virtual tours” have dramatically picked up in interest – possibly both for exploring interesting locations around the world as well as remotely viewing homes for sale or rent.

Another category with skyrocketing search interest? Online education. Whether that’s learning things just for fun, or remote schooling for K-12 and college students, searches related to “online learning” have increased exponentially across the board. 

One particular search category that has stayed about the same throughout the pandemic is pets and animals. Pet stores haven’t closed, for the most part, and Fido still needs the same amount of food and resources as ever…

However, the sector suffering the most is probably travel. Search interest has understandably nosedived for all related terms, like “air travel,” “travel agencies,” and “cruises.” How soon these make a comeback is anyone’s guess.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is, the world has changed. The impact of COVID-19 has been widespread and in many cases quite severe, resulting in changing trends across all industries. (See our previous post on some of the positive things that are happening…)

As lockdowns and restrictions are lifted, it remains to be seen what sorts of behaviors and trends are here to stay. Our CEO Anne Ahola Ward makes some predictions in her recent article about living in quarantine and 2020 adventures in futurism – check it out!