Data Discoveries

Date: 8 April, 2020

Google Search reveals a new normal

Joe Ronan

By Joe Ronan

Media Connections Strategist

In 2018, the most searched terms in Ireland were ‘world Cup’, ‘Meghan Markle’ and ‘what is the backstop?’. In 2019 this changed to ‘Rugby World Cup’, ‘Gay Byrne’ and again, ‘what is the backstop?’.

Now, just 3 months into 2020, our ‘celebrities’ are those stacking shelves and donning scrubs, major sporting events like the Olympics have been cancelled, and Brexit seems like some fond memory of a simpler time.

Very few things act as a better barometer for society than what people are searching for. Search can often feel like holding up a mirror to mankind, accurately reflecting our biggest fears and greatest needs. In times like these, search tells a story of human beings and their remarkable ability to adapt to change.

Here’s just a few examples of what we’re searching.

Self-Sufficiency is Soaring

Social distancing and mass closures of services deemed ‘unessential’ have caused an 83% plummet in visits to places Google categorises at ‘retail and recreation’. This has given rise to a new trend – one of self-sufficiency.

‘How to cut your own hair?’ has been a breakout search with many amateur barbers taking to the clippers for the first time. Not ideal, but needs must! And it’s not just their own hair, we’re also seeing spikes in searches related to dog grooming too, bad news for lil’ Milo perhaps, but good news for your wallet?

With restaurants and cafes closed and people spending more time at home than ever before, this newfound self-sufficiency is making its way into kitchens too. If your Instagram feed looks anything like mine, for the past two weeks you’ve probably seen enough banana bread and fakeaways for a lifetime. Across YouTube there’s been a 49% increase in video views for content around ‘cooking’ and ‘pantry meals’, as people try to get creative with whatever’s in their cupboard.

Across the board there has been massive increases in search terms containing ‘for beginners’, with people trying their hands at everything from painting rooms to gardening and DIY. But does this present a problem? Our chefs, gardeners, bakers and barbers have been hit hard by this pandemic. The vast majority of their customers will return once normality does, but perhaps they all won’t – and therein lies a problem.

IRL Unnecessary?

Part of our new normal has meant getting used to our home being more than just our home. It’s now our office, our gym, our favourite restaurant and our local pub. For those with kids, from 9am-3pm it’s also a school.

Just a couple weeks ago, searches for ‘yoga online’ overtook searches for ‘yoga near me’ for the first time as people strived to keep up their fitness regimes. Creators the world over have responded to this demand for fitness content and YouTube has seen a 57% increase in daily uploads for videos with ‘workout at home’ in the title. While gyms across the country have closed their doors, home fitness equipment is sold out everywhere online.

Students struggling to adapt to their new learning environment are watching ‘study with me’ videos with views up 52%. This is exactly what it sounds like – you sit and study while watching another person study in the background. A strange concept in many ways but what isn’t right now?

Houseparty, an app no-one had heard of up until a few weeks ago is now #3 in the Irish app store. Socialising has become two-dimensional with team quizzes, casual pints and first dates finding new homes inside our devices. Shared viewing has even evolved with searches for ‘Netflix party’, Netflix’s shared viewing plug-in, spiking in the past weeks.

Again, what does this mean in the long term? Will people still be willing to pay €50 a month to sweat it out in a crowded gym? Does the risk of an awkward first date sound so excruciating now that it’s socially acceptable to meet virtually first, in the comfort of your own home, knowing the ‘end call’ button is conveniently within arm’s reach?

Silver Tech Explosion

When China first put the city Wuhan on lockdown back in late January, an interesting change started to occur. Elderly people, no longer able to leave their homes, began to move  at a rapid pace to online purchasing, using apps for home delivery as well as entertainment. Online retailer Alibaba claimed the number of grocery orders placed by users born in the ’60s was four times higher than normal and online orders for medication related to chronic diseases (including high blood pressure, diabetes, and arthritis) increased by over 200%.

We’re starting to see that here already. Questions across search like ‘how to order groceries online?’ or ‘who delivers groceries?’ are up 446% compared to the same period in 2019. Online retailers such as Tesco have had to put out messages asking consumers to shop instore and prioritize delivery slots for the elderly.

With visitor restrictions in place, hospices and hospitals are putting out requests for donations of old iPads and smart phones to allow elderly patients to stay in touch with family and friends. Meanwhile, some senior centres are transitioning from in-person classes to online formats, something which would have been next to impossible pre-Covid.

This rapid migration provokes some interesting thoughts. Are the elderly the next big growth market for the tech industry? Will this often ignored segment offer an exciting, perhaps unexpected, source of growth for e-commerce and online business? And as we design products for the future, is it no longer just socially responsible, but also commercially advantageous to design online tools and products with the needs of our aging population in mind?

Will it stick?

That’s the big question, isn’t it. We know habits and routines have been temporarily thrown out the window since Covid-19 went and upended the way we live. Surely, when this is over, things will return to normal again… right?

In a recent thought piece, The Economist detailed how the London tube strikes of 2014 impacted travel behaviour in the long term. When the strike hit, it forced people to change their route to work. So, like humans have done for millennia, Londoners adapted. They started cycling, they walked, they took the bus instead. What’s interesting though; once the strike ended, about 5% of commuters kept up the behaviour change. 5% might not seem like an enormous number, but we’re talking about a transport service that accommodates two million passengers daily. That’s 100k less people crammed into the tube each day.

Let’s take that same logic and apply it at a national level in Ireland. On average, a man will go to the barbers 5.84 times a year. A 5% change to the number of men getting their haircut professionally would mean (roughly) 700,000 less haircuts in Ireland every year for the male population alone. Imagine that same effect applied across every sector impacted by this pandemic. That’s a lot of pints, take-away coffees, meals, gym memberships… you get the drift.

The beginning of this new decade is full of uncertainty for many brands and industries. But it’s also a time rife with innovation and opportunity. We’re seeing new audiences coming online for the first time ever and people making positive changes to the way they live, work and consume. Right now, search can’t predict the future (I hear Google are working on it), but the familiar adage ‘adapt or die’ feels more relevant than ever before.

(If you enjoyed nerding out over these search trends, check out this report from Google on How brands can help during the coronavirus pandemic)