20 years of most popular Google searches

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20 years of most popular Google searches

For decades, Google Search has been a go-to source for many people when looking up directions, keeping up with the news, or looking for information on new and unfamiliar topics.

Today, Google processes approximately 3.5 billion searches per day. Due to its dominant market share, Google holds an extensive archive of keyword research which, when analyzed, provides interesting insight into key topics that have captured the world’s attention over the years.

This graph, using data from Google Trends, goes back 20 years and highlights some of the top keyword searches since 2001.

Our editorial team sifted through hundreds of the most popular search terms from global and US data and hand-picked their top picks, which are shown in the chart above.

Trend vs volume

Before we dive in, it’s worth pointing out how top searches differ from popular searches, which are measured by volume.

Buzz searches are terms that have recently gained popularity. They focus on growth rather than total volume, and in this dataset, trend terms measure year-over-year growth.

A good example is donald trump, which appeared in the news cycle during the 2016 presidential campaign. After the election, interest in Trump remained high. But his name doesn’t appear on Google’s trending list after 2017, because by then Trump’s search volume had plateaued.

What are the most popular Google search terms, by volume? To be honest, they are slightly less interesting than the most popular searches: YouTube is number one, followed by Facebook, then WhatsApp Web.

The globalization of search trends

The people and topics in Google’s top trending lists change over time, reflecting wider adoption of the Internet (and Google Search) around the world over time. The first themes are related to American pop culture and technological trends.

Over time, the adoption of social media and smartphones increases the granularity and volume of searches, resulting in cutting-edge trends that are more participatory, diverse and global in nature.

A final variable to keep in mind is that Google itself has started sharing more detailed search highlights each year.

Two Decades of Google Searches: Macro Analytics

Now that we’ve explained what trending searches actually measure, let’s look at some of the key themes that have emerged over the past two decades of Google searches.

① People love sports

Over the past 20 years, the sport has remained a continuous trend.

Every four years, the world Cup appears as one of the most popular keywords in the world. The Olympic Games also makes a regular appearance, with Olympians like Michael Phelps and McKayla Maroney.

Although the United States dominates the list, especially when it comes to athletes, there is still a good variety of international sports that are going viral, especially over time. Over the past two years, cricket, rugby and soccer have all made it into the top five trending lists.

② The emergence of celebrity 2.0

Over time, you may also see a transition from conventional celebrity to celebrity 2.0, also known as social media celebrity.

In the early 2000s, pop culture icons like Britney Spears, Eminem and Jennifer Lopez flooded trending searches, and traditional media forms like TV shows and movies dominated mass media categories.

But in 2011, YouTube stars like Rebecca Black started making their way onto trending search listings. And in 2014, Same has emerged as a top trending category.

This transition is a nod to a larger shift in media, as digital has gradually overtaken traditional media as the dominant form of entertainment.

③ Natural disasters are a priority

Natural disasters are also a key trend in this data set.

Hurricanes are a particularly buzzword, appearing almost half the time – in eight out of 20 years. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ranked second in the most searched category across the globe.

It continued to attract global attention – in 2006, Hurricane Katrina was still among the top five news searches.

Dig deeper into trending Google searches

Our team enjoyed going through 20 years of Google data, and we hope you enjoyed this blast from the past as well. If you want to dig deeper, you can explore Google’s full data set here.

Good research.


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