Google search data reveals how brands can help during the coronavirus pandemic

Tara Walpert Levy / April 2020 / Research & Data, Thought Leadership

I considered baking my own bread the other day. Seriously. And I’ve bought over a dozen DIY projects. I even completed a few. For anyone who knows me, these are sure signs of everyone’s new favourite phrase: unprecedented times. And I’m not alone. No doubt many of you now find yourself doing things that you would have never anticipated just months or even weeks ago due to the coronavirus. Search interest in “do it yourself” has spiked globally in the past few months, especially in the U.S. and Malaysia. And while some of this is about making your own hand sanitiser or protective equipment, there’s also a rise in topics like sprucing up your patio or building your own greenhouse.1

While a silver lining to all this turbulence may be finding hobbies or nurturing new skills, the stark reality is that the normal course of business and daily life is … well, no more. All organisations will be touched by this pandemic. Consumer behaviour is changing daily, and the question I’m getting most often from people right now is how we as marketing professionals can be more helpful to our customers in these fluctuating moments.

Google data can give us insight into that. At a high level, there are five behaviours we see playing out in Google data across markets, reflected in how people are searching.

5 behaviours reflected in how people are searching during the COVID-19 pandemic

Magnifying glass: Assembling critical information. People icons: Discovering new connections. Checklist: Adjusting to changes in their routines. Gold medal: Praising everyday heroes. Hand holding a heart: Taking care of themselves and others.

Assembling critical information and content during coronavirus outbreak

The coronavirus has made normal life anything but normal these days. With retailers adapting to delivery or online models, schools closing, and much of the workforce staying home, people are looking for clear, specific information about where, how, and when to get the things they need.

Search interest related to retail has spiked globally over the past few months as people try to find things they need.2 And as people limit their trips to grocery stores, there’s growing search interest in things like “can you freeze” '("mrozić") in PL3 and “home delivery” (“livraison à domicile”) in France.4 We’ve also seen rising search interest for “short term work employee” (“kurzarbeit arbeitnehmer”) in Germany5 and “mortgage rate suspension” (“sospensione rate mutuo”) in Italy,6 for example.

How brands can help consumers: Be useful as people’s needs evolve

  • Acknowledge the new reality.
  • Give people credible, detailed, and current information about your operations. Reinforce that you’re there to help.
  • Regularly update communications across your website, blogs, social handles, and even your Google My Business page to ensure people are in the know.
  • Be flexible. Help customers with cancellations, refunds, and customer service.

For example: Cottonelle, one of the world’s largest suppliers of toilet paper, is encouraging people not to stockpile. Hotels.com is using its fictional spokesperson, Captain Obvious, to encourage social distancing.


Discovering new connections and nurturing relationships

Even as people physically distance themselves, they’re discovering new connections and nurturing relationships, whether virtually or in their own household. On YouTube, for instance, we’ve seen a rise in with mevideos, where people film themselves going about ordinary tasks like cooking, cleaning, or shopping. In the U.S., views of videos containing “study with me” in the title are 54% higher compared to the same period last year.7 And YouTube creators are inviting audiences to join them by creating content like “bulk cook with me” or “disinfect with me.”

People are also looking for new ways to connect with people from afar. Search interest for multiplayer video games has spiked globally in the past few months, especially in Italy and Canada.8 And search interest for “virtual happy hour” is rising, especially in the U.S.9

How brands can help consumers: Forge new communities and connections

  • Look for ways to connect your customers, locally and globally.
  • Consider if your brand has a role to play in creating or enhancing shared experiences, virtually or otherwise.

For example: Ikea in Spain is tapping into the emotions associated with home to encourage people to stay inside. (English version)


Adjusting to changes in their routines

As routines and schedules change to meet the demands of isolation, so do people’s online habits and expectations. For example, search interest for “do it yourself” peaks midday on the weekend in the U.S. and Canada, but sees a slight uptick nightly around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.10

Workout routines are getting an overhaul all over the world too. There’s growing search interest for “stationary bicycles” worldwide, especially in Spain and France,11 and "dumbbells, exercise bicycle" ("hantle, rower stacjonarny") in Poland, for example.12

One adjustment we’ve all noticed whether consuming local news, national news, or even late-night shows, is that production value is necessarily taking a back seat as people film in their homes. And people seem to have an appetite for this scrappily made content, as we’ve seen Jimmy Fallon’s and Stephen Colbert’s homemade late-night shows trending.13

How brands can help consumers: Adjust to people’s nonroutine routine

  • Let people know that solutions are available whenever, wherever.
  • Assess when people need you most, whether through your own first-party data (like site analytics or email opens) or Google Trends, and adjust your communications strategy accordingly.
  • Update or publish often. There’s a need for content that informs, entertains, connects, and promotes wellness.

For example: State Farm insurance recognises the new normal and is encouraging customers with financial burdens to speak to a rep so they can help.


Praising everyday heroes

We’ve all noticed a growing appreciation for the new everyday heroes among us. Whether health care workers on the front lines or cashiers and delivery people keeping us supplied, many are risking their own health or safety to help others.

For instance, there’s been increasing search interest worldwide in “clap NHS workers” as the U.K. recently celebrated its National Health Service workers in a moment of solidarity. And even beyond the U.K., the notion of “thank essential workers” has taken a sudden upturn in search interest worldwide.14

How brands can help consumers: Support heroes

  • Look for people who are helping, and find ways to support or celebrate them.
  • Consider who the heroes are among your employees, your customers, or even your local community.
  • Consider whether you have nonhuman heroes that can contribute, like your technology, your operational rigour, or your equipment.

For example: Walmart is celebrating and thanking its employee heroes in towns across America. Deliveroo partnered with 20 Hong Kong shopping malls to help food and beverage tenants expand delivery service during the crisis. LVMH is converting its factories into hand sanitiser production lines.


Taking care of themselves and others

As boredom, anxiety, and uncertainty set in, people are taking care of their own physical and psychological needs as well as those of friends and loved ones. We’ve seen rising search interest in “puzzles” in the U.S., Australia, and Canada especially.15 And between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. in the U.S., search interest has been peaking for “relaxation,” perhaps as people need help falling asleep.16

There’s also rising search interest in “virtual tour” (“visita virtual”) in Spain17 and “live zoo” in the U.K.18 as people look to experience something beyond the walls of home. And even outdoor home projects seem to be trending with rising global search interest in landscaping, especially in Australia and the U.S.19

How brands can help consumers: Find ways to enrich people’s lives

  • Facilitate virtual collaborations with outdoor spaces and the cultural institutions people yearn to visit.
  • Join the conversation about home-based health and well-being.
  • Pivot to platforms and formats that make sense for people staying home.

For example: Guinness is encouraging folks not to toast physically, but virtually, and raise one another up in this time.


The more helpful brands can be, the better they’ll fare now — and even more importantly, in the long run. Eighty-four percent of U.S. consumers surveyed say that how companies or brands act during the current market is important to their loyalty moving forward.20 These are trying times, but we’ll all get through it together and hopefully come out even stronger on the other side.

Tara Walpert Levy

Tara Walpert Levy

VP, Agency and Brand Solutions at Google

Sources (20)

1,2,9,11,15,19 Google Trends, Global, past 90 days, ending March 31, 2020.

3 Google Trends, Poland, March 1, 2020–March 20, 2020.

4 Google Trends, France, March 1, 2020–March 20, 2020.

5 Google Trends, Germany, March 1, 2020–March 20, 2020.

6 Google Trends, Italy, March 1, 2020–March 20, 2020.

7 YouTube Data, U.S., videos with “study with me” in the title, Jan. 1, 2020–March 10, 2020.

8,14 Google Trends, Global, past 90 days, ending April 30, 2020.

10 Google Trends, U.S. and Canada, past 7 days, ending March 31, 2020.

12 Google Trends, Poland, March 1, 2020–March 24, 2020.

13 YouTube.com, U.S., trending page, March 19, 2020.

16 Google Trends, U.S., past 7 days, ending March 31, 2020.

17 Google Trends, Spain, March 1, 2020–March 20, 2020.

18 Google Trends, U.K., March 1, 2020–March 20, 2020.

20 Benenson Strategy Group, U.S., The Pulse of America, 1,500 A18-65, March 22, 2020–24, 2020.

3 ways retailers can help shoppers during the coronavirus outbreak