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‘How To’ Google Searches Are Changing During COVID-19

April 23, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_502228213 Family Using Tablet And Computers

Behaviors change during a crisis, especially when everyone is stuck at home as they currently are because of coronavirus (COVID-19). These shifting behaviors are evident when analyzing what everyone is searching for on Google

Overall, “how to” searches are climbing while people are in quarantine. This activity indicates that people are actively trying to learn how to do more things themselves, and, possibly that they have more time to root around for answers to questions they might have previously ignored. With Google holding 92% of search engine market share as of February 2020, “how to” questions executed during Google searches can reveal a lot about the state of mind, priorities and needs of people around the world, but “how to” searches aren’t necessarily indicative of lasting changes

Google Searches Reflect The Current Needs Of Consumers 

An article in Ad Age in early April shared the most common Google searches for March, with “how to make hand sanitizer” topping the list. As soon as the public started to understand the gravity of coronavirus, hand sanitizer flew off the shelves, and homemade hand sanitizer options became a necessity for consumers who couldn’t find any of the factory-produced product. Google Trends data also indicates that, in the early weeks of March, “how to find hand sanitizer” was ranking as well. Both search terms drastically fell off after their peak in those early days, but “how to get hand sanitizer” has recently seen a modest uptick, since people are likely beginning to run out of what they bought or made. 

Similarly, as the country accepted the new reality of wearing masks, “how to make a mask with fabric” ranked highly April 5th-11th, but that search, and all mask related searches, have almost entirely flattened with “no-sew masks” seeing a slight swell recently.

Lifestyle Changes Lead To An Uptick In Tech And Trend Searches

Zoom, a popular video-conferencing tool, is another example of a search term gaining popularity because of lifestyle changes around the world, with “how to raise hand in zoom” and “how to change background on zoom” both trending. Students and employees worldwide were suddenly studying and working from home and urgently needed to learn how to Zoom, driving the growth of Zoom-related searches. Since the first week of April, Zoom searches have slowed but not nearly as precipitously as hand sanitizer and masks, perhaps illustrating that increasing comfort with these newly required technologies is ongoing. (“How to look like a potato” also had a hot week in Google searches, when people bored of the standard video-conferencing call wanted to opt into potato avatars. This trend has since moved on.)

Other trends driven by self-isolation popped up in a more recent look at Google search trends. “How to make whipped coffee” and “how to cut your own hair” were both trending in recent weeks, along with gaming and baking searches. Minecraft-related “how to” questions continue to peak, and the stuck-at-home trends of sourdough starter and banana bread both led to high rankings for the week ending April 18.

Search Trends Are Going To Ebb And Flow With Behavior Shifts During The Pandemic

Although the days may all feel the same lately, news about the virus changes regularly, impacting how the public responds. One day it’s hand sanitizer, a month later it’s masks, and a month after that it could be “how to safely go back to work.” Searches during a period of volatility are constantly morphing and may not be reliable indicators of permanent behavior changes from the public. However, because search behaviors reflect mindset, they should be reviewed and considered in advance of launching campaigns. 

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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