‘Tis the season for year-end round-ups, and the team at Victorious isn’t about to miss out on the fun. Chances are you’ve already seen Google’s 2020 Year in Search video. (If you haven’t, be prepared for all the feels and have a hanky at the ready.)
You’ve probably seen a few listicles out there about the most popular searches of the year. When we dug into 2020 search data, we weren’t only interested in the most common searches — we were also interested in what searches were less popular during this highly unusual year.
Leaning hard into our love of the internet as a curiosity machine, we focused our research on what questions people were (and weren’t) asking this year.
We used SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool to run reports for ten different question modifiers, sorted the results by search volume, and then looked at the trend graphs to spot interesting activity. Every query that made our list landed in the top 100 results for each type of question. (Of course, there’s a fair amount of subjectivity at play here. We were looking for the moments that, to us, seemed to define 2020.)
Note: The graphs below represent searchers’ interest in a particular query over the last 12 months. The metric is based on changes in the number of searches per month, and charts illustrate month-to-month trends within each query rather than an absolute comparison of search volume between queries.
Top 10 “What” Questions
- What is my IP?
- What is Juneteenth?
- What is martial law?
- What is today?
- What day is it today?
- What is mean in math?
- What to do when you’re bored?
- What is a verb?
- What is a pandemic?
- What is a prime number?
- What is coronavirus?
Understandably, searches for “what’s a pandemic” spiked in April as U.S. searchers scrambled to understand what was happening with COVID-19. Historically a high volume search query, “What’s my IP,” spiked in March and April, when we imagine many office workers shifted to working from home and were trying to figure out how to set up VPN connections to company servers.
We love how many people were prompted to learn about the history of Juneteenth. We were also interested to see how many “what” queries seem to be coming from parents trying to help their kids with math and English.
Top 10 “Who” Questions
- Who won the debate?
- Who gets a stimulus check?
- Who invented the light bulb?
- Who plays football tonight?
- Who won The Voice 2020?
- Who is George Floyd?
- Who signed the Declaration of Independence?
- Who killed Alexander Hamilton?
- Who is the frog on The Masked Singer?
- Who was Jim Crow?
Naturally, there were a lot of people wondering who would qualify for a stimulus check during the first months of the pandemic, and we love that the Disney+ release of Hamilton spurred a spike in curiosity about American history.
Speaking of American history, in the wake of the civil unrest and soul searching that happened after the murder of George Floyd, many U.S. searchers went to Google, hoping to understand more about the Black experience in America.
Top 10 “Why” Questions
- Why is the sky blue?
- Why do dogs lick you?
- Why haven’t I received my stimulus check?
- Why am I so tired?
- Why do cats purr?
- Why is there a coin shortage?
- Why are flags at half staff today?
- Why is everyone buying toilet paper?
- Why is it called coronavirus?
- Why is Joe Exotic in jail?
Maybe we’ll look back someday and laugh at the great toilet paper shortage of 2020. Maybe. And remember Tiger King? We indulged in our new guilty pleasure during the first weeks of lockdown — watching the slow-motion trainwreck of Joe and Carol’s feud unfold — blissfully unaware that the downward spiral of events in the docu-series would presciently set the tone for the rest of the year.
On a cozier note, our smaller, domestic, fur-friends were happy to have us home more, with searches on “why dogs lick you” and “why cats purr” trending up during lockdown.
Top 10 “When” Questions
- When will coronavirus end?
- When does the PS5 come out?
- When to use a semicolon?
- When will COVID end?
- When will I get my stimulus check?
- When did slavery end?
- When does school start?
- When is quarantine over?
- When is the new iPhone coming out?
- When did coronavirus start?
In the spring, we were all keen to know when we’d live in a coronavirus-free world. As time wore on, searches looking for an end to the pandemic tapered off, as we waited for news of a vaccine. And again, with joblessness skyrocketing and the promise of stimulus money on the horizon, lots of us wondered when those checks might come.
Increased awareness around social justice issues sent more of us looking to better understand the history of racism in America.
Top 10 “Where” Questions
- Where am I?
- Where is my stimulus check?
- Where did coronavirus come from?
- Where to get tested for COVID?
- Where to buy toilet paper?
- Where do I vote?
- Where to buy hand sanitizer?
- Where is Minneapolis?
- Where to buy Lysol spray?
- Where did the Spanish flu start?
Just as everyone was stocking up on toilet paper, hand sanitizer was also in short supply. Remember when local distilleries pivoted to produce ethanol-based hand sanitizer? Many of us turned to Google to figure out how and where we should vote during the pandemic.
People were curious to learn more about the Spanish flu pandemic and unfortunately, if we didn’t know before, most of us now know where Minneapolis is.
Top 10 “How” Questions
- How do I register to vote #election2020?
- How to make hand sanitizer
- How to tie a tie
- How to get away with a murder
- How long does coronavirus last
- How to make buttermilk
- How long does COVID last?
- How long will coronavirus last?
- How many people die of the flu each year?
- How many people have died from coronavirus?
The thing we found most interesting about this set of queries is that the number of people wanting to know “how to tie a tie”, dropped off at the same time the volume of searches on “how to make hand sanitizer” spiked.
We loved seeing more people take an interest in baking (and getting creative about what to do if they didn’t have buttermilk). We thought that queries for “how to get away with murder” might be an indication that folks were feeling a little stir-crazy, but it turns out it’s a historically popular search, which makes us a bit nervous, to tell you the truth.
Top 10 “Does” Questions
- Does Trump have COVID?
- Does FedEx deliver on Sunday?
- Does hand sanitizer expire?
- Does hand sanitizer kill viruses?
- Does chlorine kill COVID?
- Does jughead die?
- Does benzalkonium chloride kill coronavirus?
- Does heat kill coronavirus?
- Does the COVID test hurt?
- Does UV light kill coronavirus?
Most of the “does” questions were COVID-related, and we saw what looks like a pandemic-related uptick in concerns about package deliveries.
It also seems that staying safe-at-home gave folks plenty of time to catch up on Riverdale and wonder what really happened to Jughead Jones. (Spoiler alert!)
Top 10 “Is” Questions
- Is TikTok getting banned?
- Is coronavirus airborne?
- Is the DMV open?
- Is Disney World open?
- Is there going to be a second stimulus check?
- Is there a cure for coronavirus?
- Is COVID airborne?
- Is Ikea open?
- Is Starbucks open?
- Is a square a rectangle?
During 2020 we couldn’t take for granted what might be open. Whether we had a hankering for a latte, flat-pack furniture, or some good old fashioned escapism, we all learned to check first before making plans to go anywhere.
As for whether or not a square is a rectangle, we can only say that parents who were helping their kids with remote learning undoubtedly have a renewed respect for America’s teachers.
Top 10 “Can” Questions
- Can you get COVID twice?
- Can dogs get coronavirus?
- Can you freeze milk?
- Can you get coronavirus twice?
- Can you have coronavirus without a fever?
- Can you freeze cheese?
- Can cats get coronavirus?
- Can you have COVID without a fever?
- Can allergies cause fever?
- Can an impeached president be re-elected?
We don’t want to get anything started here, but from what we can see, it looks like cat owners and dog owners were equally worried about their pets at the onset of the pandemic, but cat people might have had a harder time letting go of their concerns. (Disclaimer: Although we have plenty of cat lovers on team Victorious, this post was written by a dog owner.)
There were lots of questions about fevers and how they relate to coronavirus, as well as how many times you can get the virus. Clearly, we were all trying to get the facts straight.
Top 10 “Are” Questions
- Are we getting a second stimulus check?
- Are mermaids real?
- Are viruses alive?
- Are movie theaters open?
- Are beaches open?
- Are eggs good for dogs?
- Are hotels open?
- Are national parks open?
- Are we done yet?
- Are we in a recession?
When we compare these two trends, we’re tempted to wonder if there is a more sustained curiosity about mermaids than there is about viruses. Or, is it simpler to determine the answer about viruses being alive than it is to know, definitely if mermaids are real? Possibly, a fair number of us are ever-hopeful that magic exists.
On a similar note, we couldn’t tell if Ice Cube’s 2007 movie, Are We Done Yet, enjoyed a surge in popularity over the summer, or if we were all wishing that Google would tell us that yes, indeed, we are done.
The Curiosity Gap & SEO
After examining one hundred high-volume search queries that defined 2020 (in our opinion), we came away with a true appreciation for human curiosity and the power of search engines to close the gap between what we know and what we want to know.
Understanding why people are conducting specific searches can provide compelling insight into how we can meet that curiosity with information. In other words, digging into search intent helps us meet people where they are with answers to the questions they have.
You can learn more about search intent from our comprehensive guide, Everything You Need to Know About Search Intent Optimization.