Cultural shifts come in many shapes and forms, and some are harder to measure than others.
Google search volume provides an easy avenue for measuring large-scale cultural trends. And, as Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes, because Google makes up more than 90% of all internet searches in the U.S., looking at what’s trending on Google is a good way to understand the shifting questions and interests that are captivating society at any given time.
This animated map by V1 Analytics provides an overview of the top trending Google searches in every state over the last decade. It sheds light on what types of new information, events, and stories received the most attention in the last ten years—and more generally, it shows us what the U.S. population has been thinking about.
Trending Searches versus Top Searches
Before diving into the top trends of the decade, it’s worth taking a moment to distinguish between “trending searches” and “top searches”:
Trending Searches: Keywords that had the largest increase in traffic, in a specific period of time
Top Searches: The most searched keywords in a given time frame
This video would look a lot different, and a lot less interesting, if it showed Google’s top searches. To give some perspective, here are the Top 10 Searches in the U.S. (as of 2020):
Understanding the difference between trending searches and top searches is important because it gives us insight into why certain keywords trend in some places, but not others. For instance, in March 2020, the word “coronavirus” was trending throughout a majority of the U.S., with a few exceptions—it wasn’t trending in Massachusetts, California, Texas, Nevada, or Arizona.
It’s easy to make the assumption that people in these states were not concerned about COVID-19—however, that’s not necessarily the case.
It’s important to remember that trending searches are measured by the increase of traffic, not just the overall amount of searches. Therefore, in states where it wasn’t trending, the word “coronavirus” may have already been a popular search term for a while, so the keyword didn’t see a sudden spike in interest like it did in other places.
In the last decade, there were moments when the entire country was googling the same thing. Some keyword trends lasted a day, while others lasted over a week.
Here’s a look at keywords that took over the whole U.S, and when they were trending unanimously:
It’s interesting to look at the variety of topics that dominate the population’s collective thoughts. There’s a unique mix of popular culture, entertainment, electronics, prominent figures, and public scandals.
Something else worth noting is how country-wide trends became a lot more common in the latter part of the decade—in 2019 for example, 9 keywords trended unanimously. This was more than in the entire first half of the decade.
While the secret to going viral remains a mystery, one thing remains clear—the public certainly has a broad range of interests. So really, it’s anyone’s game.