Every year, people around the world perform trillions of searches on Google. The past year has not been exempt from this. It has turned our lives upside down, but also our online searches. Take a look at these new trends.
Each of the questions posed to the silicone oracle that is Google leaves a mark. A confidential trace, certainly, but which makes its way to the public space. The company offers a tool, called Google Trends, accessible to all, which makes it possible to compare the relative frequency of all the words submitted to its search engine.
Raw statistics are not available. Rather, an index is assigned, on a scale of 0 to 100, which corresponds to the popularity of a keyword in relation to all searches during a chosen period and in a given territory. The duty presents in the graphs below some key keywords of the last year in Quebec.
Unexpected words thus had their moment of glory in 2020. The culinary field was particularly fruitful. D’s tartletsr Arruda were momentarily all the rage in April. After thousands of years of popularity, bread has also experienced a resurgence in the spring and during the holiday season – the recipe of a certain Ricardo has also been enthroned at the top of Quebecers’ culinary requests.
On the side of the masks, we see two peaks in the curve: one associated with the initial debate on the merits of wearing face coverings, the other in July during the adoption in Quebec of a regulation in the matter. Note, however, that the masks we search for online are not all recommended by Public Health. As proof, in the last week, it was rather the requests for “Daft Punk mask” that were popular.
Gaspésie has not only experienced an invasion of its beaches and campgrounds: it was also the object of a digital assault last summer. The number of searches was about 50% higher than in the previous five summers. Travel, for its part, has experienced a numerical tumble: every year there is a drop in the number of searches at the end of winter, but nothing that compares to the landing of March 2020.
Search engine data also confirms that five syllables is way too many. After favoring the term “coronavirus”, at the start of 2020, Internet users in Quebec massively made the transition to “COVID-19” and “COVID”. The trend, which can also be heard in spoken language, now seems well established.
Google Trends data is not only a source of entertainment: it also feeds scientific analysis.
At the end of winter 2020, economist Abel Brodeur was looking for a way to assess in real time the effect of confinement on the well-being of populations. Huge socio-economic experiments were underway, but no data was yet available to understand their consequences. It was then that this professor at the University of Ottawa had the idea of using Google statistics.
Mr. Brodeur and his colleagues therefore chose thirteen keywords: boredom, satisfaction, divorce, depreciation, loneliness, panic, sadness, sleep, stress, suicide, well-being and worry. They compared the frequency of online searches for these subjects before and after the announcement of the confinement in nine European countries and in the American states.
“Ennui” won the sad pandemic palm. On both sides of the Atlantic, the start of the confinements coincided with a sharp increase in the number of searches with this keyword. Loneliness, worry and sadness have also grown in popularity; stress, suicide and divorce lost. In any case, the effects on digital queries were only temporary.
The fact remains that the exercise made it possible to confirm very quickly, in a statistically valid way, which aspects of the well-being of the population were the most disrupted by the confinement.
Google Trends data has an advantage over surveys: it derives directly from the behavior of Internet users. “People can’t lie,” argues Mr. Brodeur in an interview. On the other hand, there is no easy way to modulate Google’s data to increase the representation of certain groups that use the search engine less, such as the elderly.
If Google Trends has been in vogue in scientific circles for a few years, the pandemic has really popularized this tool in recent months. For example, researchers have predicted a historic 15% drop in births in the United States in 2021 based on the decline in searches for certain pregnancy-related keywords. Other scientists, analyzing Twitter data instead, unearthed tweets heralding a wave of pneumonia in Europe in early 2020, even before the first cases of COVID-19 were officially recorded.