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Why we need to monitor Google Trends as COVID-19 develops

Posted on March 18, 2020

 

The COVID-19 outbreak is an unprecedented situation throughout the world, and as a result, people have started to use the internet differently.

A look at Google’s Trending Searches over the past few days shows that almost all the main searches are related to the virus or the knock-on effects of it on companies like the Carphone Warehouse and Laura Ashley. Despite that, St. Patrick’s Day somehow managed to be yesterday’s biggest UK search despite being something of a no-go, with the UK public discouraged from going to pubs and bars.

Until mid-January, ‘coronavirus’ was a word many of us had probably never even heard before. Indeed, I’ve noticed that the spellchecks on Facebook, Twitter and WordPress don’t even recognise the word, despite how much it’s cropping up online.

The above graph shows the change in UK search volumes for ‘coronavirus’ over the last 90 days. The first signs of upward movement were on January 21. Volumes actually dropped for most of February, but shot up towards the end and have rocketed in March. Last Thursday, March 12, saw the most searches to date, likely because it was the day on which the government first announced its strategy.

Retail has been heavily affected and reported upon, especially the current demands on our supermarkets. The below graphs show how searches have boomed for two highly valued commodities this month.

A search for ‘pasta’ is interesting. Traditionally searches for the Italian foodstuff peak on Mondays and drop on Fridays. I’ve no idea why this is and would be interested to hear any suggestions – perhaps because people are doing their shopping for the week ahead? In any case, that’s gone out of the window over the last few days as supermarkets began to experience shortages of dried foods as a result of shoppers stockpiling, helping ‘pasta’ reach its highest search levels of the year on Sunday. Data since then has yet to be processed.

On the other hand, there are some subjects we’re just not very interested in Googling at the moment. One of them is ‘holidays’, which is declining by the week. Even accounting for the fact that January is usually a peak month for bookings, it’s clear the sector is suffering.

Sport, too, has been hit hard. Note the plummet in searches for “football fixtures” last weekend. That will be because almost all of them were called off, leaving clubs looking for other ways to entertain their fans online.

How can businesses use this information?

Obviously, shops know which products are popular right now from the gaps on their shelves, but Google Trends has been known to act as a bellwether and foretell what is about to happen, including the results of the UK’s 2016 EU Referendum and the US Presidential Election of the same year, both of which went against expectations.

Businesses may be able to get an insight into any products and services the public is thinking about, even if they are not buying them yet, by entering them into Google Trends. They can then either stock up on these items or invest in online marketing geared towards them. Of course, if you need any assistance with the latter, we’re here to help at Engage Web.

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