Searching for the Coronavirus: What can Google data tell us about the pandemic spreading across the world

Since the start of the year, one topic has dominated headlines across the world. Covid-19 or Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic in March. It has brought the world to a standstill with over 148,000 cases and 5,500 deaths (as of 14th March).

But what can a global issue tell us about search behaviour in different countries? How do people within these countries react to such news? Do people across the globe demonstrate different search intent?

We’ve taken a look using Google data to see the key insights.

The UK saw increased searches from the first reported case. Italian searches only increased following the first death.

The first death from the virus in Italy was reported on the 21st February 2020. Despite the first case being reported in the country 3 weeks earlier on the 30th January, people were seemingly unconcerned by the virus at this point.

Before the first death was recorded, searches on Google in Italy were minimal. Following the announcement of the first death searches for ‘Coronavirus’ surged over 1,800% in a single day – by far the biggest response shown online across any country at any point throughout the pandemic.

UK vs. Italy Coronavirus search demand

Interestingly, search behaviour in the UK doesn’t appear to react to this news in Europe. Rather, searches increased gradually from the 22nd February. In fact when the first death was announced in the UK on the 5th March, this appeared to have no impact on online searches – a complete contrast to behaviour in Italy.

People in the US are focused on symptoms and self-diagnosis, in the UK searches show more of an educational intent

In the UK, top Google searches over the last 90 days are focused around the virus itself. In fact, only 12% of the ‘Top 25 Search Terms’ show intent around the symptoms of the virus.

UK coronavirus searches

When comparing this to the US, the search intent differs significantly. In the US 76% – or 19 of the Top 24 Search Terms are related to specifically understanding the symptoms.

US coronavirus searches

There are many possible reasons for this difference in search intent. One potential hypothesis could be that those in the UK have been better informed of the potential symptoms through the media compared to those in the US.

UK cases are growing significantly faster than search volumes

When the first case in the UK was announced on the 31st January 2020, the rise in search volumes were minimal. Search demand actually continued at relatively low levels until the 24th February despite there being 9 confirmed cases in the UK by this point.

Coronavirus cases and search demand

Not until a number of cases were reported on the Diamond Princess cruise ship did searches show a step-change in volume – this was also reflected (on a smaller scale) in the US. It could be argued that people only really started to take notice and understand the potential pandemic of the virus from the 24th February following the media coverage around the Diamond Princess and the quarantine of 30 Britons in Merseyside.

The increases in the number of cases was inevitable, but it’s important people continue to stay updated with the latest news and advice either through digital or offline media channels.

Summary

Regardless of how people are searching online, one thing is clear. The world is taking notice and is united in the fight against the virus. The fact search volumes are consistently increasing across the board can only be positive, it indicates people are looking for more information and the more educated people are on the subject the better.

The latest information from the UK government can be found here.

Get in touch today to see how we can use Google trend data to help your business growth.

Sources: Google Trends, Arcgis.com both accessed 14th March 2020

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