With the rapid rise in Covid-19 cases throughout the Western world, it's no surprise that many of us are turning to Google for information. We're not just researching the virus itself; Covid-19 is changing how we search for travel, entertainment, and financial information.
To understand how the rise in cases is affecting our search behaviour, I used the Google Trends API to pull data on a range of different search trends which either positively or negatively correlate with the rise in searches for coronavirus. Below are some of the most interesting graphs that I found.
It's no surprise that the increase in Covid-19 cases globally has had a large impact on our attitudes to travel, and subsequently what we're searching for. With cases rising in popular holiday destinations, and the ever-growing threat of border closures, more and more people are asking how to cancel their flight bookings:
It's not just cancellations that are on the rise; those with travel plans are increasingly looking to claim on their policies, and take out new ones:
Whilst searches for price aggregators like Skyscanner have gone down, there has been an increase in the number of people looking for cut-price flights through more generic search terms:
This doesn't necessarily mean that people are still booking flights. The fact that search volume has shifted from branded keywords ("british airways") to generic keywords ("flight deals") might suggest that consumers are simply researching what's out there, without intent to purchase just yet.
One of the talking points over the last several weeks has been the impact that Coronavirus fears have had on the global financial system. With huge percentages of industries having their supply lines affect by the Coronavirus outbreak, it's no surprise that consumers are worried for their financial futures.
One immediate impact of this has been a rise in searches for people looking to move their assets out of the stock market, or even to capitalise on the uncertainty:
With the current market turbulence, it's hardly surprising that consumers have become increasingly worried about the prospect of a recession. This graph tracks searches for recession over the past 3 months, to truly emphasise the rise in concern and how closely it's correlated with interest in coronavirus:
One of the interesting things about the graph above is how searches for recession don't appear to increase significantly during the first rise in coronavirus searches, at the end of January. This was when cases were rising in mainland China, but few cases had been observed in the West.
This suggests that it took a rise in Western cases before the average Google user became genuinely worried about the possibility of a recession.
With a number of sporting fixtures and event already called off, one large question still remains: will the Tokyo Olympics go ahead?
While the answer to this question isn't known at time of writing, there are mounting fears from consumers that the games will be cancelled:
Regardless of whether the Olympics do go ahead or not, search volume trends show that demand for tickets has dropped significantly since consumers have become more concerned with Coronavirus:
With Coronavirus being, you know, a health epidemic, it's no surprise that the rise in cases has affected how we search for information about our health.
One way of cutting the data which I found interesting is to look at searches for Covid-19's main symptoms:
It's interesting to note that searches had been more or less steady for these terms until the middle of March, when they rise steeply. This could be due to increased incidence of these symptoms as Coronavirus spreads in Western countries, where Google is most commonly used.
Alternatively it may be that, amidst the panic surrounding Coronavirus, people are more likely to Google these symptoms to confirm or reject whether they have Covid-19. After all, most people are familiar enough with sore throats that they wouldn't ordinarily search for information online. Faced with the prospect of having Covid-19 though, it's plausible that many more people are likely to turn to Google regardless of whether they actually have the infection or not.
Another interesting health trend concerns the types of health information that users are looking for online. While searches for online doctors have (surprisingly) stayed fairly flat, people have begun to turn to online symptom checkers more and more for medical advice:
As more companies in the West have shut down their physical offices, searches for remote working and video conferencing have seen large increases:
Particularly interesting in the above graph is the fact that the orange and green lines don't really start to rise up until around the 8th of March. This likely reflects how, despite growing cases of Covid-19, few companies had implemented remote working before the week commencing Monday March 9th.
Much has been made in the news already of how team communication software brands like Zoom and Slack have benefitted from the shift to remote working, and a look at their search volume reflects that:
Whilst the most obvious feature on the graph above is the huge jump on the far right, it's also worth noticing that both Zoom and Slack have seen steady increases in search volume over the past two months.
This may be due to a number of non-Western companies adopting these these brands earlier on, as they moved to remote working.
Last but not least, the rising concern around Coronavirus in the West has also shifted behaviours when it comes to our free time. One stark trend which has already been called out by OpenTable's COO, Andrea Johnston, is that consumers are becoming increasingly reluctant to eat out:
It's not just restaurants that are being hit hard by Coronavirus fears though, cinemas are also seeing drops in search traffic:
Both of the trends above are fairly predictable; who would want to be in an enclosed space, with potentially hundreds of other people, in the midst of an epidemic?
Some other trends that you might expect to see don't appear to have occurred yet. Many expected companies like Netflix to prosper throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, as more people stay inside. So far though, Google Trends doesn't show any data that supports this:
Other brands which many expected to thrive in this environment are Peloton and Zwift, two of the most popular indoor-workout providers:
The data above shows that neither has seen significant gains in search traffic and may, if anything, have seen a decrease in recent weeks.
Perhaps it's too early for indoor-friendly brands like Netflix and Peloton to expect to see a boost. Perhaps we'll have to wait for more Western countries to impose quarantines before interest in these brands starts to pick up.
The graphs above show that the rising concern about Coronavirus correlates with some interesting changes in search behaviour; whether it's the financial advice we search for, or the medical information we seek.
Without doubt many of these trends could look completely different in a few weeks, and we'll likely see new trends that we can't even predict right now.
Do you have any ideas for trends to look at? I'd love to hear your thoughts on Twitter: @mackgrenfell