Last year was, to make an incredible understatement, an interesting one. People were upended from their lives and had to adapt to a new and often frightening world. They were put into uncomfortable situations and, there was much to learn and so much we did not know. Our traditional sources of reliable information conflicted with each other or changed their minds on the dime.
Yet while there was turmoil, the internet helped ease us through, making it so that we could still communicate and learn whatever information we needed. While most of us would be bored inside all day, the internet also provided us with endless distractions and entertainment, all just a few keywords and a click away. Finally, the Internet was our primary research tool, whether we intended it or not.
So, what drives all this traffic and information? For better or worse, we all rely on search engines for it. Billions of searches happen every single day, and more searches take place every single second than you could possibly comprehend. Companies spend billions trying to understand what people search for and how to get to the top of the search rankings, and Google probably has more control over our lives than any other company.
What does this mean for you? While ultimately it will not affect the individual too much, it makes the subject of what people search for and what topics people want to read about even more interesting. If we look over what we searched for last year, we can learn a lot about what happened and what people want to know about most.
However, most questions we search for are evergreen and simply the result of curiosity. People have the same problems as ever, and whether it's weight loss or TV troubles, people use the internet and search engines as their first solution to an inquiry. Therefore, we will be going into some of the most common questions in general over the decades.
We would also like to note that while we would love to include search statistics from around the world, they simply are not available in their entirety in some places. We also grouped similar keywords and topics together where it made sense (except for SEO purposes, there is little difference between "what is my IP" and "what is my IP address").
We will provide further info where we can, but sometimes the numbers conflict or are limited. In truth, for this discussion, we find the general information far more important than the specific numbers, as we are looking for a cultural and historical portrait of the year and the internet.
Without further wait then, here is some of the key info:
The Big Topics of 2020
The exact listing of top keywords from 2020 might not surprise you. It would contain the usual things people look for every day, like social media keywords and common websites. However, in between those keywords, there were some clear trends and differences.
Here are 12 notable topics from last year in terms of searches, in no particular order:
How Do I Make My Own Hand Sanitizer?
At the start of the pandemic, there was a rush on most cleaning products, especially hand sanitizer. Efforts were made to increase production to keep up with the demand, yet many stores (both retail and online) sold out quickly, leading people to wonder how they could make their own. People and later companies got in on this, leading to even places such as distilleries helping out with the supply.
Alternatively, more people were interested in making things independently and trying to stay away from stores as much as possible. As a result, they started to make do with what they had, creating hand sanitizer at home.
People learned a few methods for making sanitizer and learned other sterilization methods in the process. It wasn't just wipes and standard sanitizer that sold out. Cleaning products of all types were in demand, leading to a spike in searches relating to DIY cleaning products of all sorts. While there were other searches for guides on DIY projects, none of those topics ever reached these heights.
While this question and topic might have come in various forms, ultimately, everybody in the United States and beyond was interested in the 2020 election results. Everyone had an opinion on what happened and why it happened, which only drove additional traffic to the topic for the rest of the year. Few events can completely dominate search traffic and the public consciousness, but a presidential election is one of them.
You could not miss the "Biden Won" headlines all over the news and the internet sometime after the polls closed, but people wanted to learn every last detail.
Furthermore, there was a lot of alternative information spread about the election results, and the internet can spread misinformation like wildfire. This ultimately led to further searches about the election results and any issues at the polls people should know about. In short, search traffic for this was already going to be massive, and the surrounding circumstances and events only drove the numbers even higher.
Joe Biden and Donald Trump
Naturally, the president of the United States and the main challenger in the 2020 United States Presidential race would both receive a lot of attention on search engines. There were plenty of searches both during the race and after for both individuals.
As for who got more searches, that is a difficult question, as it would depend on the time frame and the context of the search. While Trump dominated searches for most of the year, Biden did start to pull ahead closer to election day. Searches of and between the two also mattered by region, with many battleground states finding more search traffic for the individuals than would be expected.
For the sake of comparison, in 2016, Trump almost always got more searches than Hillary Clinton, and we will have to wait until 2024 to see where the search winds blow.
Even in an election year, there was no bigger story than the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. There is still a lot we do not know about the coronavirus. People were naturally curious and concerned about the pandemic and wanted to know whatever was out there to know. Frequent searches were made, especially at the start of the pandemic, to determine what to do, what plans to make, and everything else you can think of related to the virus.
Over time, the questions about the coronavirus itself changed. First were questions about how easily it was transmitted, followed by inquiries into symptoms, effects, and just how dangerous it was. People following the story more concretely were looking up the transmission and infection rates in their area, as well as death tolls.
People also looked up regulations, closings, and restrictions related to the coronavirus in their area.
Face Masks have become a health issue, a political issue, and effectively a symbol of the last year. Naturally, people would make internet searches about them, whether to buy one, try to debunk their effectiveness, or learn about how effective they were and how to wear them. Once they became mandated in most public places, searches expectedly skyrocketed.
People were also searching for information on how to make face masks. Much like hand sanitizer and many cleaning supplies, there simply were not enough masks to go around for the initial wave of demand, at least in terms of medical masks. This led to the adoption of more cloth masks. Since basic cloth face masks are simple enough to create on your own with sewing supplies, many people took it upon themselves to make them, often in interesting and complex patterns.
One of last year's major news stories was the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a helicopter accident. Due to the circumstances surrounding the incident and its suddenness, people across the United States and around the world poured out in support of him, his family and were also curious about what happened. Kobe Bryant had only recently retired and was one of the greats of basketball, with a long and prestigious life ahead of him.
This is a sad yet common trend with celebrity deaths. While we do not expect a major spike of continued searches about Kobe Bryant, there will be more celebrity deaths and similar trends and situations in the future to not look forward to.
Another prominent figure to sadly pass away last year was Chadwick Boseman, an accomplished actor and star of the enormously popular Black Panther. After a long and private battle with cancer, he passed in August of last year. Again, once people learned the news, they wanted to learn more about what happened, about his life, and discuss his impact on the acting world and culture in general.
After the initial shock of his death, people also wondered what would happen to his character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and whether there would be any changes to the MCU in general (we still do not know the details.) This led to a series of different searches alongside those of his life and career.
Another massive issue and topic of the last year were the stimulus checks related to economic recovery from the coronavirus. Whether related to the first wave last year or the debate surrounding what to send people (if anything), stimulus checks were a hot topic.
People initially searched the political debate around the checks and whether they would be happening at all. How large would they be? How quickly would they be able to get out to people? Would there be any strings attached?
After the checks were released, there were many searches on how to get the check or how long it would be until people received theirs, whether they were eligible, etc. While many people already had the details, the sheer universality of the stimulus check made it a common search topic.
As further stimulus checks were released, we found similar search results came up, and the trend (mostly) repeated.
Unemployment and Unemployment Benefits
Unfortunately, one of the effects of the pandemic was its heavy toll on the economy, especially for the restaurant, tourism, events, and service sectors. As people could not go out to eat, go on vacation, or go to events, many large companies and small businesses alike had to lay off employees. There were not many jobs to replace them at the time, at least jobs in sectors where those laid off would have experience. While the industries restarted in 2021, many people had to rely on unemployment benefits for a year or more.
As a result, searches for how to get set up with unemployment benefits across the United States spiked. Also, how to make the most of benefits and the details around any changes being made. The websites relating to unemployment benefits were backed up for hours or simply crashed, with people finding the most luck applying for help at about 3 AM or so.
Working from Home/Remote Work
Working from home became a key feature of 2020. People needed to learn how to set up a home office (whether proper or makeshift at the kitchen table) and needed to learn the ins and outs of remote work, including what apps to use, what devices might be required, and how to get the most out of their internet connection.
Of course, some of us were already working remotely for a long time before the pandemic hit. Many seasoned remote workers offered help and advice on stocking up on the supplies they knew would be heavily used before the tidal wave of remote workers hits. The remote work lifestyle suddenly became incredibly popular, and bits and pieces of that culture spread into the mainstream.
We can only anticipate that remote work topics will be more commonly searched for in the future. Plenty of people who started remote work or partial remote work due to the pandemic do not plan on going back. People searched for larger homes to accommodate home offices and office rental spaces panicked, with many businesses not renewing leases after realizing remote work is treating them just fine.
How this will affect long-term search trends is yet to be seen, and we will need to see whether the surge dies down more once everyone is set up.
If any service or company benefitted from the pandemic, it was Zoom. The meeting app and program allow for multiple forms of functionality and effectively powered schools, offices, and more through the pandemic by allowing for regular video meetings. While there have been other similar apps, it appears none of them captured attention like Zoom did, becoming the app of choice for most Americans and many others around the world for remote work.
Yet while Zoom is relatively easy to use and get, people need to learn more about how to use it and how to install and manage it. Best Zoom practices became a thing in 2020, and people searched for tips and guides on using it on a variety of devices. Whether Zoom will remain so popular remains to be seen, but people certainly were comfortable searching for it.
Among other things, the PlayStation 5 release rounded out the tail end of last year alongside the Xbox Series X. While gaming became more popular as a whole last year, the PlayStation 5 gained a lot of attention because they were tough to come by, even though there were similar shortages for both the Xbox Series X and high-end graphics cards. This is all the result of a chip shortage, impacting several industries.
While many searches might have been about the console itself and people trying to figure out if it is the system for them, many more were likely trying to buy the console and searching for methods to get one. To this day, people are doing daily searches to check if a store has restocked, and those restocks run out in a matter of minutes, continuing the cycle of searches and disappointment.
We can expect the more frequent searches for the console to continue until the shortage ceases or everyone who desperately wants one gets one. Based on reports, that is not likely to happen until 2022 at the earliest.
Commonly Searched Topics and Questions
While all of the above dominated everyday conversations, some topics never go away. Here are some of the most common:
The Most Popular Websites
If we were to list the most searched terms, we would find that we would simply get a list of the most popular websites. Whether it is Facebook, a Google website, YouTube (also a Google website), Yahoo, or one of many retail or online service sites, people often know exactly what they want from their search. They just want an easier way to get there, which Google and other search engines provide. If you look at a list of what is popular in the US in 2021, you will get the picture.
Therefore, we mostly restricted our terms to unusual topics or questions, things people want help with or answers to. Therefore, when reading the rest of these, never forget that these are the exceptions and noteworthy trends.
What Is My IP Address?
An IP address is an important thing that can be hard to find on your own but is easy to look up. So it stands to reason that millions of people look up their own IP address every month. A simple search using this query can usually help you figure out an answer, and with that, you can copy and paste your result to wherever you need instead of writing it down.
This query also has a few other uses, such as helping people figure out whether a VPN is working or whether someone can track them, making it a matter of security as well as convenience.
What Time Is it?
While practically every device can tell you what time it is now (you can probably just look at the corner of your screen), people often use search engines to tell them what time it is in some variation. Many people will search for it from time to time, even just to check their clocks against the internet (which is presumably more accurate)
Alternatively, in an increasingly connected world, people need to keep track of time zones, and looking up the time allows them to learn more about the time in other zones as a matter of course. With planning tools built into search engines, users put their minds at ease by checking that they are not three hours early or late for a meeting.
How to Tie a Tie (and Similar Questions)
Many of us do not learn some of the skills we are expected to know later in life. Maybe we did know but just need a refresher from time to time. One of the most common questions is how to tie a tie, something many people do not learn perfectly or do not have to do often. There knowledge gaps for each of us, and we search for how to fill those gaps in skills or knowledge. Whether it is about cars, kitchen appliances, fashion, or more, many of these fundamental questions have a fair amount of search traffic.
As long as people continue to grow up (which they always will), there will continue to be questions like this. There will be results to answer those questions, often in increasingly helpful ways. These types of queries are going nowhere.
How to Lose Weight
People like food, but they do not necessarily like the extra weight that can come with it. Additionally, some people need to lose weight for health reasons, and all sorts of people turn to the internet for advice on how to do it. The question itself gets a lot of traffic, but there are further inquiries into specific diets (low-carb diets, keto diets, intermittent fasting) and foods too.
We do not expect searches for weight loss topics to ease up anytime soon, considering many people's "quarantine weight." We can instead only hope that the search results lead people down healthy paths and yield positive results.
People often need to convert measurements when cooking (or for other reasons) and use a search engine to help them. Whether ounces to gallons or ounces to tons, search engines often have built-in tools to help and can provide a quick answer. There are calculators available for even the oddest of conversions, making it quite handy wherever people go.
Other conversion rates people look for are how many weeks there are in a year or given month, conversions between different systems (metric and imperial), and even more obscure ones like conversions between time or calendar systems. The search engine acts as a translator for people who do not want to do all that math in their heads.
Can I Run "X"
Sometimes a program or game can be too demanding for a computer, especially laptops, and people want to know whether they can run something on their device. Most programs and games list minimum or recommended requirements, but they often do not provide the complete picture. There are also so many variants of graphics cards or processors that extra help is needed.
A search along these lines usually brings someone to a tool or support page that can better analyze a device and its components to see just how well it will run a program. You can trust that there will be some tool available to help people figure out exactly what they can run or otherwise figure out what parts or devices are needed to run a specific program or game. This ultimately leads to many people trusting the search query more than the back of the box.
How to Register to Vote
The election last year was, for many, the most important in their lifetimes. There was a lot of fervor about registering to vote on all sides of the aisle. Since people are not automatically registered to vote in all circumstances, many people wanted to make sure they could vote when November came around. People looked for how to check if they were registered (there was usually an online system) and what requirements there were in their area.
Yet while people were particularly active last year, it wasn't the first election. People have always been interested in figuring out how to vote, making this an evergreen search topic, albeit with spikes. There might be variations for each state or even a local area, with people also hoping to learn how to register to vote online.
What Song Is This/Lyrics
People often hear a song on the radio or remember some lyrics but do not know the artist or the track title. Various apps can recognize songs when they are playing, but you cannot always bring your phone out and wait for the app the analyze the song at that moment. Whether they want to recommend a song to a friend or just have been infected by an earworm, search engines can be a source of salvation.
Combine thousands of songs with someone wondering about it, and you have a trend. We question how long the trend will last, though, as more information about what song is playing is readily available in many situations.
When Is "X"
Holidays or the dates of significant events can change each year, and people do not always have a calendar handy. People will often search for things like "when is Mother's Day" or "When is Easter this year." Once again, a quick result will pop up showcasing just how quick and easy search engines are to use and how much we rely on them.
This can also pertain to events such as election day or a major broadcast or game. You can find all the answers you need either directly from the results page or find a schedule among the listed results. In any case, it is a quick answer to get and often better than a standard calendar.
While we would like to talk about search engines other than Google, the reality is they are not all that relevant globally, with Google getting the vast majority of search traffic. While there will always be other search engines, the ones that are not Google make up less than eight percent of all traffic, with Bing being the greatest among them at 2.27 percent. Things can always change, but Google dominates for the moment and the foreseeable future.
- If you are interested in learning more, we strongly recommend that you learn how to use some of Google's tools. Whether for your own website or just for your curiosity, Google Trends is a fantastic resource for current metrics. You can spend days lost in there like many SEO and online professionals do.
- We should note that you can measure search popularity in different ways. Is a search term relevant because it suddenly received several hundred percent more traffic despite it not being relevant before? Or, should one focus mainly on the topics and terms that always get a high amount of hits? There is no right or wrong answer here.
- There are, of course, other trends and terms that are important that we didn't mention. There are a nearly endless amount of terms. We hope that we provided a general overview and some good examples.
There will always be more questions and even more potential answers. The above information is a time capsule of sorts, showing us our hopes, fears, and what we wanted to be distracted by last year. It was a challenging year for practically all of us, and we learned a lot from the experiences.
Remember that what you search for matters, as well as how you interpret the results. There are so many ways to use the internet. You can get lost just looking into the statistics and forget the human element behind all of it. We wish you the best of luck with your searches and whatever your next endeavor is.