The year is 2012. You and a record-setting 8 million people are watching live as supersonic skydiver Felix Baumgartner breaks the sound barrier with his 39-kilometre free fall to Earth. In another tab, Psy’s “Gangnam Style” plays for the umpteenth time. In a few months, it will become the first YouTube video to reach 1 billion views. You’re doing all of this, of course, on your desktop, a device that still accounts for roughly 85% of web traffic globally.
That same year, we introduced Think with Google. Our goal was simple: Give digital marketers insights into behavioural and cultural trends based on Google data, all in a single destination.
So much has changed in the decade since. For one, there’s a much higher chance you’re reading this article on a mobile device, as mobile usage now makes up almost 60% of global web traffic. In that time, Think with Google has charted the evolution of consumer behaviour as new digital technologies have emerged — from the rise of apps to the growing popularity of voice searches.
To mark our 10-year milestone, here are 10 illuminating insights that tell the story of that digital marketing evolution.
2012: The shift from TV to online video begins
The opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, held in London, drew a global TV audience of 900 million. By the time the Games were over, NBC declared them the most-watched television event in U.S. history. But already an important behavioural change was underway: As broadband access increased, more and more people were ditching TV programs and heading online.
In a 2012 Think with Google study, 31% of adults aged 18 to 49 said they watched less than two hours of TV per day, while 44% of 13- to 24-year-olds spent more time watching online video than TV.
2013: People rely on Search for both the practical and the poignant parts of life
Even a decade ago, 100 billion searches were taking place on Google every month. Back then, we had a good idea of what people were doing when they searched, and where, when, and how they were searching — information we shared on our Google Trends site. But we knew less about why they were searching.
What we discovered in a 2013 ethnographic study is that people use Search for many reasons — from answering the practical to pondering the poignant.
What we discovered in a 2013 ethnographic study is that people use Search for many reasons — from answering the practical (“Where can I buy these shoes?”) to pondering the poignant (“Who do I want to be?”).
2014: Multiscreen behaviour moves mainstream
In 2010, when sports fans tuned in to the World Cup, the only thing they may have been holding on to were their snacks. As Google data at the time showed, every time a match kicked off, people were so glued to their TV screens that online searches, which still tended to take place on desktops, plummeted.
Ahead of the 2014 World Cup, we drew on data from that year’s UEFA Champions League to make a prescient prediction: “Second screening,” where fans tune in to an event on a big screen while also following along on mobile, was about to go mainstream.
2015: Micro-moments emerge, with a million moments that shape preferences and perceptions before purchase
By 2015, long gone were the days when shoppers had to write up a detailed list before heading to the store. Instead, people were turning to their devices — increasingly their smartphones — the second they wanted to do something, discover something, or buy something.
In 2015, 82% of smartphone users consulted their phones while in-store shopping.
We called these “micro-moments,” and they were becoming increasingly widespread. That year, 82% of smartphone users consulted their phones while in-store shopping.
2016: People are looking for inspiration in real time
A year after we first wrote about micro-moments, we uncovered an additional dimension to this behavioural shift: Not only were people searching for things right now, they wanted them right here. In the U.S., mobile searches that included the phrase “near me” grew 136% year over year.
As Lisa Gevelber, then-VP of marketing for the Americas at Google, wrote two years later in a piece that reflected on this trend, “the use of the search phrase ‘near me’ [is] a crucial bit of information for advertisers. If people are searching for something near them, that’s a pretty strong signal of intent.”
2017: Mobile speed becomes critical to success
In 2017, the average time it took to load a mobile web page was 22 seconds.
That might not sound like much, but according to Google research that year, it was enough to make or break an online business. The research, which analyzed the landing pages for 900,000 mobile ads across 126 countries, found that as page load time went from one second to 10 seconds, the probability of a mobile site visitor bouncing increased 123%.
2018: The rise of video as an interactive, social experience
We’ve all seen people with their faces buried in their phones, unaware of what’s happening around them. Maybe that’s why the internet has long had an unfair reputation as an isolating experience.
In 2018, 7 in 10 Gen Zers said watching videos with others helped them feel more connected.
But YouTube data from 2018 revealed the emergence of a trend that would explode just a few years later: the rise of video as an interactive, social experience. For example, we saw a huge interest in videos that encouraged viewers to do something — study, clean, read — at the same time as a YouTuber and their followers. And 7 in 10 Gen Zers said watching videos with others helped them feel more connected.
2019: Voice assistance is shaping consumer behaviour
The technology that powers voice assistants has been around in some form or another for over a century. In fact, it has its origins in a Thomas Edison invention that predates the light bulb.
Almost 150 years later, the technology was widespread and starting to influence how people behave. In 2019, 27% of the global online population was using voice search on mobile.
2020: Online resources become a lifeline
No amount of search data could have predicted what would happen across the world in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic shuttered offices, stores, and schools.
Many people used the stay-at-home mandates to work on developing new skills. YouTube data revealed that globally, videos with variations of “beginner” in their titles earned more than 7 billion views, and average daily views of those videos increased more than 50% in the first few months of the pandemic.
2021: Collaborative, virtual experiences are here to stay
If anyone thought the behavioural and cultural changes brought on by the pandemic were temporary, Search data from 2021 suggested otherwise.
People were desperate to get back to a sense of normalcy and start doing things they missed. Virtual social experiences never fully went away.
On the one hand, people were desperate to get back to a sense of normalcy and start doing things they missed out on. Around the world in 2021, we saw a 100% increase in searches containing the words “zoo tickets.” But virtual social experiences never fully went away. For example, in the same period we also saw a 90% year-over-year increase in searches containing the term “watch party.”
2022: What we’ve accomplished inspires what we’ll do next
Now here we are, in 2022. We’re crunching the numbers and sharing trends. We’re shedding light on evolving consumer behavior. And we’re sharing the lessons Google is learning, in real time, on topics ranging from inclusion to privacy. In short, the goal that inspired our launch 10 years ago continues to shape everything we do, and it’ll guide us for the next 10. We’re looking forward to it.