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What were Americans Googling in May?

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Every month Google releases data on search trends in the United States, culminating in an annual lookback on trending topics. Hot topics typically involve sports, extreme weather events and celebrity gossip. But did that hold true last month? Let’s take a look at Google’s trending searches in May. 

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Why look at Google search data?

Why is this data important? With 2020 being categorically unlike any year in recent history, we wanted to see what people across the U.S. are thinking, reading and talking about on a monthly basis. With live sports knocked out of the equation by the COVID-19 pandemic, and celebrity news seemingly taking a backseat to front-page headlines of racial injustice and social unrest, would Google search data mirror our nation’s tumultuous odyssey? 

We examined the top 20 trending searches per day in May to see what people were really interested in last month. The results may surprise you. Here’s what we found.

What makes Google the authority on trending topics?

Using Google to look for information online has become so ubiquitous that the term “googling” is synonymous with “searching.” As of May 2020, Google had over 92% of the search engine market share worldwide, according to StatCounter, with the next highest contender being Bing, clocking in at a relatively paltry 2.61% of the market share.

In other words, looking at what’s trending on Google is one of the most democratic ways to gather information on what concerns and interests people at any given time. 

In fact, Google runs “at least 63,000 searches per second,” according to Search Engine Land. That equates to over 5.5 billion searches per day. Google, more than any other news or entertainment outlet, has its finger on the pulse of the nation.

Entertainment and pop culture topped the charts at the beginning of May 

As shown in the stacked area chart above, the categories of entertainment and pop culture made up the majority of searches at the beginning of the month. 

Pop culture interests in May included celebrity and quasi-celebrity news ranging from Elon Musk’s baby’s name to celebrity deaths. The passing of Roy Horn, Little Richard and Jerry Stiller garnered plenty of interest, as did the deaths of professional wrestler Shad Gaspard and YouTuber Corey La Barrie. Discredited scientist Judy Mikovits also had a flicker of viral social media fame, thereby ranking under the pop culture/celebrity category instead of the science category. 

Holiday queries about Cinco de Mayo and Mother’s Day, which fall into “Other Categories” on our chart, were predictably popular as both of those holidays took place in early May. 

Entertainment, which covers topics like gaming, TV, music and streaming, was also an understandably common point of interest at the beginning of yet another month of quarantine. 

COVID Phase 1 reopening takes precedence mid-May

Midway through May, pop culture searches remained strong, but topics dealing with science, the pandemic and politics began gaining momentum. These three categories went from 14.29% to 21.02% of search volume collectively over the week of 5/4 to 5/11.

What spurred the interest in these areas? Most states that had been on stay-at-home orders began lifting restrictions and entering Phase 1 of re-opening offices, restaurants and other gathering places on or around the third week in May. 

The most often searched terms from this time included “hydroxychloroquine,” “IRS stimulus check” and “Midland, Michigan,” where catastrophic flooding forced residents from their homes amid the pandemic.

Tragedy, protests and calls for widespread social change end the month

As May came to a close, a huge spike occurred in one category in particular. Current events gripped our nation’s collective interest, and in so doing, momentarily overshadowed nearly every other search category, including the pandemic, politics, entertainment, sports, science and business. Even the pervasive pop culture category shrunk from its monthly high of holding 39% of internet search volume to a low of 20%. 

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, was the driving force for this sea change in the public’s interest. “Protests,” “George Floyd” and “Minneapolis” all had a daily search volume of over one million between 5/26 and 5/30.

“Derek Chauvin” spiked as a search term on May 29 when he was arrested on charges of second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder, a charge that was later upgraded to second-degree murder.

What did we learn from Google Trends in May?

Even amid revolutionary protests taking place in all 50 states, pop culture ended the month with almost 30% of the total May search volume, followed by current events at nearly 18% and entertainment at 13%. 

However, more Americans are starting to demand attention to the country’s racial and social inequities. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Sean Reed. The names and stories of these victims, among many others, are captivating public consciousness and galvanizing social impact on a large scale. 

Even still, throughout the many critical and unprecedented events that took place in May, pop culture never dropped below 20% of Google’s total search volume. Whether people were looking to celebrity culture for a mental vacation, or it’s just an inescapable fascination of our society is up for debate. 

Check back for more internet news and trends at the Resource Center or follow our experts on Facebook and Twitter.

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Lisa Iscrupe Lisa Iscrupe
Lisa Iscrupe

Staff Writer

@allconnect

@allconnect

Lisa uses years of experience in sales and customer service for internet-TV providers to inform her writing on broadband. Her work has been referenced by CNN and other national sources. … Read more