The COVID-19 pandemic, protests, wildfires and a high-stakes presidential election: 2020 was one chaotic year, and a surge of people turned to Google for answers. Now the search giant has released the Year in Search, its annual snapshot of the year's most important search terms, news stories, entertainers and politicians.
To create the annual list Google aggregates trillions — yes, trillions — of queries over the course of the year, filters out junk data like duplicate queries, then tabulates a list reflecting the events the company says most defined the year. To identify trends, Google's algorithm looks for the percentage increase in searches for a term over a period of time, relative to other searches.
This year, searches for "election results" topped the list, and searches related to "coronavirus" were ubiquitous across categories. "Kobe Bryant," "Joe Biden" and "stimulus checks" were also widely searched search terms.
"One thing that has been incredible to see in the data is the unprecedented shifts in people's information needs," said Google's data editor, Simon Rogers. For example, Google launched a COVID-19 news page when its internal trend tracking tools flagged a spike in searches related to coronavirus.
Instead of presenting a traditional page with search results, searches related to COVID-19 display timely and accurate information from vetted medical sources, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and local news sources.
"We worked with partners at the international, national and even local levels to connect people with the critical info," Rogers explained. The page also used public data sources to display updated information like COVID-19 statistics in Google Maps.
There were other atypical trends this year, Rogers said. The most interesting topics reflected how people adjusted to "a new normal. Queries about "Dalgona coffee," a popular comfort-food trend on social network TikTok, and "banana bread recipes" hit an all-time high, and questions about how to cut your own hair remained popular all year. "Fires near me" and "earthquake near me" were two of the top trending local queries this year.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Google's Year in Search. "Nostradamus," "osama bin laden" and "eminem" were the top queries when the list launched in 2001. At the time, the zeitgeist nature of the list was intended to demonstrate the scope of the fledgling startup's search technology and user base and to differentiate Google in a once-crowded search-engine market, which included competitors like Yahoo!, AskJeeves and Inktomi.
When the list launched it was just one simple webpage with a few subcategories. Today Google publishes hundreds of "trending" categories in multiple languages.
Here are some of Google's top trending search queries for 2020:
The full list is here.