6 Google Trends perfectly catching Coronavirus outbreak in Italy

Wherever you come from, I bet that these last two years have stamped indelibly in your mind since they have dramatically changed our lives, habits and perspectives.

What I tried to do was to identify some of the impacts we’ve been witnessing in this period by elaborating data on the popularity of specific keywords of Google searches.

Two notes before deep diving:

a. I used Google Trends with Italian keywords and analysed searches in Italy; I believe trends are shared among the majority of countries so this does not represent a big deal. What you have to know is that the first Italian Covid-19 outbreak was found out on the 21st of February, while the first national lockdown was established a couple of weeks later, on the 9th of March.

b. as you might know, Google Trends provides the interest generated by a keyword or a group of keywords in a specific timespan. Interest is calculated as an index ranging from 0 to 100. First, I looked at the trend of single keywords identifying high peaks or falls in Covid outbreak periods. Then I joint all the keywords in the same graph comparing their popularities.

1. Home Fitness

Covid-19 outbreak turned literally everyone around me into a professional body builder, yoga guru or long distance runner. I could perfectly understand the disappointment of those people who were used to practice sport frequently. Suddenly being locked at home changed their work-out schedule and so they had to come up with a new plan. What I couldn’t imagine was that even my laziest acquaintances started to practice physical activity during the lockdown. A lot of people suddenly decided that training for a marathon was their new primary goal, since running was one of the few reasons why a person was allowed to leave her place. The unexpected appearance of new Bekeles raised attention and anger towards runners, since infections were rapidly spreading and only top priorities were popularly accepted as a valid reason to go out. As a before-covid-era runner, I was rather upset to be accused (not personally, but as a member of a category) of lacking civil responsibility. At the same time I ackowledged that my need of leaving my place for a couple of hours and training was not more important than the same need of brand new joggers.

Controversy aside, sport at home undoubtedly became more popular in those months. According to an Italian institution research (Sport e Salute) more than one Italian out of three has increased his/her frequency of training compared to before the pandemic.

Interestingly, March 2020 peak has been an isolated case: with the gradual decrease of lockdown restrictions most of the fake athletes came to light, returning to the old habits.

2. Smart working

Conversely to the home gym trend, smart working has permanently entered in our new routine. This is reflected by the tail of the interest generated by the keyword: work-life balance has never been so close to be reached, and after several months of forced remote working, many employees don’t aim at regressing to the old 5/5 in the office.

According to a Wall Street Italia survey, due to covid outbreak the percentage of people working from home grew from 3% to 34% in 2020. The challenge will now be to maintain this high level of flexibility, but apparently companies, especially tech and big brands, have perceived the relevance of the topic for new workers. In the end you just need a laptop and an internet connection, don’t you?

3. Google Meet e Microsoft Teams

One of the things I have appreciated the most about the enforced period of remote working is that the time I’ve spent in inefficient work meetings has decreased tremendously. Honestly, during these months I’ve sometimes missed the face to face contact and live brainstorming during meetings. Yet, I’ve enjoyed calls for many reasons randomly listed below:

A. I could attend just the meetings I was necessary to. I could also leave when I was not needed anymore, saving time for other activities. Yes, I could have done it before covid as well, but can you tell the difference between suddenly standing up during a meeting and walking away instead of just leaving a call? I can

B. Sharing the screen and working together on the same document during a call is extremely efficient. Yes, even more than Google Drive

C. I’m very bad at self organizing my work load. Remote work calls gave me the chance to take part in a meeting while (when I was not pivotal of course) carrying on with other tasks. I guess this is not considered as a healthy work-life balance but that’s time saving for sure.

Anyway, being or not being a supporter of online work meetings, we all have been forced to them in the last two years. And unless you are either a US citizen or a yoga teacher, you might haven’t been using Zoom but either Google Meet or Microsoft Teams.

The popularity of the two tools has grown to huge proportions as they suddenly found themselves as the only bridges connecting us with the rest of our worlds. In the weeks following the first Italian lockdown, Microsoft observed a 775% increase in Teams’ calling and meeting monthly users. After the first quarter of 2020, Google announced that G-Meet service was growing at a +3 million users per day pace.

4. Homemade pizza

Take everything but my pizza”. Restaurants are closed due to imposed social distancing? No problem, let’s cook pizza at home. Can you tell me a more Italian reaction than this? Literally nothing else to say

5. Guitar

Have you ever started a new year with an ambitious list of good intentions? They might sound like this: since January the 1st I’m gonna do exercises everyday, I will reduce the daily number of coffes, I’m gonna quit smoking.

It seems that one of the most popular good proposals for the new year is related to learning to play the guitar. As a matter of fact you can spot cyclical peaks in December when considering the interest generated by the italian keyword “guitar”.

Yet, Coronavirus outbreak entered in this loop as it did in our lives. March 2020 is the period in which there has been the highest interest as far as the “guitar” searches are concerned: the lockdown gave everyone the chance to resume old habits or to discover new passions. The long and dull outside of work moments had to be filled in some ways and many people thought about picking up an instrument; as an example, consider that between February and March 2020 the keyword “free online guitar class” (corso di chitarra gratis) witnessed a +700% growth. I guess that the sudden availability of a lot of free time gave everyone the chance to catch up with some old dreams.

Afterall, as a Chinese saying goes: “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”. Maybe what we needed was, indeed, just time.

6. Flights drop

Surely this trend is not surprising anyone; among the many things we had to give up, travelling is definitely one of the most painful. The losses of the tourism related industries are huge. Specifically, the airline sector has been dramatically resized by the effects of the pandemic. It has been calculated that in Italy, from March 2020 to June 2021, 1.2 million flights have not been held and that the average number of flights/day is 67% lower than that of 2019. No one, neither healthy successful companies like Ryanair (-197M euros loss and -80% of passengers in H1 2020, first negative financial result in the history of the Irish company) has been spared.

The seeming recovery of the trend in Summer 2020 has been quickly wiped out by the return of the nightmare across October and November 2020, when the second huge wave of infections hit the country.

Moreover, it’s not a coincidence that starting from April 2021, when the Italian vaccination campaign remarkably sped up, the popularity of Ryanair searches grew and remained stable to levels still lower than those before covid but at least apparently leaving behind the black hole ranging from March 2020 to March 2021.

Therefore, I’ll use my totally absent and groundless influencer power to provide you reader with this innovative motivational quote: do you aim at posting cool pictures of amazing places around the world on your Instagram again? Then get inoculated.

Also, it’s interesting to notice the differences occurring when considering the searches related to an airline company (Ryanair once again) and a hotel website (booking.com): the trends are often aligned except for Summer 2020 when Booking raised relevantly while Ryanair just slightly; this is due to the fact that the health emergency didn’t make people feel confortable enough to leave the country, therefore the majority of holidays were spent within the boundaries, inflating the popularity of hotel websites but not that of airlines.

The right perspective

I love how Google Trends is able to draw a clear and simple picture enclosing many variables like external events, social reactions to these, the effect of time and so on.

Yet, I’m aware that one thing that has been missing up to this point is a comparison among the different keywords: I’ve just checked the popularity of a topic over time, not in relationship to other arguments.

Well, below you can find how these trends relate to each other:

It makes me feel so nostalgic to see how popular was Ryanair before the pandemic. Of course I acknowledge that a single airline keyword might not be representative of the entire industry trend, but given that the drop is undoubtedly caused by external policies hitting indistinctly all the players of the sector, I took just a company as a symbol and to make the representation cleaner. Also, pretty sad to see how the blue area switched with the green one in those months we’re never going to forget.

Well, one last thing: it’s crucial to take a look at things from the right perspective. Always, as a rule of life, and specifically when considering data.

As said on top, I decided to focus on the Italian scenario, since I knew the development of the events and the social background better. Therefore, this final chart below is fundamental to simply put everything at the right place.

It’s all about priorities.

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I like data, when mixed up with colours and shapes I like them more. Sometimes I run half marathons, other times I write. Both with good music in my headphones.

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Francesco Giliberti

Francesco Giliberti

I like data, when mixed up with colours and shapes I like them more. Sometimes I run half marathons, other times I write. Both with good music in my headphones.

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