Tuesday 6 October 2020
We all know our habits have changed dramatically since the start of this year. COVID-19 and the changes it has bought to our lives has forced us into new habits and behaviours in all aspects of our life, both personally and professionally. With this in mind, we decided to take a slightly lighter look at life in these darker times and see how our Google searches have changed and how that reflects what’s been going on.
Our team in the MAXIS Data & Digital Innovation Lab used Google Trends data, which tracks how people are using the search engine, to get a snapshot of nine search trends across three key themes: work, health and leisure. You can look at them more closely in the dashboard below.
To find out more about how the data was collated, scroll to the bottom of this article.1
Not that surprisingly perhaps, searches for standing desks accelerated as the crisis struck globally (up 189% since 16 March 2020) and office workers around the world found themselves working from home. And it seems the interest in standing desks has only increased as we have moved through the pandemic and employees adapt to the idea that they could be at home for a few months yet, and probably more regularly on a permanent basis.
While the increase is not quite as pronounced as some of the other searches, it has continued to rise and maybe that’s because months of sitting at the kitchen table is beginning to take its toll causing a rise in back pain... but more on that later.
Train times dropped off as a search term by 36%, maybe not as much as you’d expect given that both social journeys and commutes all but stopped when many countries entered their various states of lockdown. And while they’ve picked up again more recently, it’s likely that even with the easing of some restrictions, people have become more reluctant to take public transport. Perhaps we can expect it to stay low for a while yet.
And, of course, we don’t need to travel as much now that we’ve all discovered Zoom and Teams and the many other web conferencing apps that have become so key for businesses with entire workforces working remotely. And, let’s not forget, those apps have also became an important social tool too – who can forget all those virtual quiz nights that helped keep us sane. Not surprisingly then, the biggest change on our trends chart was searching for ‘Zoom’ with a huge 789% growth.
As we’ve had to rethink how we travel, the search for bicycles has surged. Of course, cycling has the added bonus of helping people stay fit too. And speaking of fitness, interest in home workouts grew dramatically as organised sport stopped and gyms closed. The interest didn’t last though – maybe people have a routine sorted now, or perhaps facilities reopening and better weather over summer in the northern hemisphere saw the trend for home workouts die off. Or maybe home workouts are a trend that’s just not destined to stick as people look for the social interaction that group exercise offers.
Not all health trends have been positive however, as the spike in back pain searches show. We don’t have the data to test it, but it would be fascinating to know how much of this was driven by workers adjusting to homeworking – often without the right equipment. It seems the adjustment (whether that’s buying standing desks or another remedy) may have been successful as the search rates are now close to their pre-COVID scores.
A slightly more fun category, but what have people been searching for when it comes to leisure activities? One huge spike in search traffic came from people searching for hair clippers for their home haircuts – although this might have seemed more necessary than leisurely! Searches grew by 727% but as you can see in the graph, things dropped off quite quickly. This is most likely driven by people buying what they needed or barbers and hairdressers reopening.
Hot tubs (up 187%) may have provided relief for those home-based sporting injuries and bad backs… and for those with more modest means, maybe there was a growth in paddling pool searches? And of course, streaming services became more popular as we looked for entertainment. Searches for Netflix were up 130%... How else were we all going to watch Tiger King back in March?
It’s still too early to know if the ways we work and relax have changed for good, but it’s fun to analyse how this strange year has changed our online search behaviours… and It’ll be interesting to see if the changes really are just short-term.
A note about the data
The Google Trends data is global, and we have adapted the search scores to show weekly trends. Each chart represents a search topic rather than a specific search term, meaning that it includes similar search terms too.
The percentage change shown in the top right of each chart represent the change in average search volume between pre- and post- 16 March (the peak of searches for COVID-19).
1 Google Trends data (sourced September 2020)