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How America is Searching for Coronavirus — Earliest queries

Laura Lippay
Mar 20 · 9 min read

I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything like this in the search industry. With the coronavirus putting much of the planet on lockdown in order to slow the spread in recent weeks, the spike in coronavirus searches has far surpassed the top behemoth search terms people typically enter into Google every day like “Google”, “Facebook” and “Amazon”.

search index for coronavirus spikes more than 3x larger that the typical largest search queries
search index for coronavirus spikes more than 3x larger that the typical largest search queries
Global coronavirus query trend compared to some of the typical top-searched terms in Google

This is likely just the beginning. The queries are changing and will continue to change as the world continues to react and adjust to our “new normal”.

So, what’s on the America’s mind this week? So. many. things.

Here’s the TL;DR

  1. First and foremost, people are educating themselves. A sizeable chunk of early coronavirus searches are for symptoms - how does it spread, and what underlying conditions should people worry about, even “coronavirus for dummies”. Plus coronavirus origins, maps & locations, data & trends, what to do, how to stay updated, and what about our pets?
  2. Who has it? Most early queries are around celebrities and world leaders — who has it and/or what are they saying about it?
  3. What’s happening? People are searching for coronavirus news and fake news, how is it spreading, how is it affecting travel plans, events and institutions, is our food safe, and what about the relief bill?
  4. Is there a cure? Searchers want to know about coronavirus tests — is there a shortage? Are they free? And where is the vaccine?
  5. Tech: People are looking for coronavirus memes and gifs to share, as well as discussions on Twitter, Quora, and Reddit or YouTube videos. People also want to know about the Google coronavirus help that was mentioned, and is there a coronavirus app? And if you’re an SEO, you’ll appreciate the pop in “coronavirus near me” queries.
  6. Fringe: Is coronavirus a conspiracy? Is it a bioweapon? Is it in the bible? Is it a zombie virus? Is this the end of times?
  7. Oddities: Some of my favorites so far are “coronavirus quotes”, “coronavirus jokes”, “coronavirus for kids”, and “coronavirus pick up lines” — query modifiers that might also look familiar to those of us who study online search terms. Some interesting news-related queries include “coronavirus journalist missing”, “coronavirus harvard arrest”, “coronavirus found in toilet paper” and “coronavirus good news” — the world could certainly use some of that.
  8. What does the future look like? Will coronavirus kill millions? Will it kill us all? Will it ever end? What of the economy? Will banks close? Will we go into recession? What does it mean for the housing market, small businesses, or if I cant pay my bills? What are the predictions, the outlook or the worst case scenario?

America has a lot on its mind concerning coronavirus. It’s important to note, the research done here is solely based on people’s search queries before 3/17/20 in the US that contain the word “coronavirus”. There are millions more queries related to coronavirus that don’t contain the term and therefore aren’t as well-represented here, like school closures, event cancellations and local happenings related to the outbreak.

Google’s Coronavirus Data tells us more

Google Trends is an interesting place to follow the , that considers some of the other types of queries correlated to queries containing “coronavirus”, and shows where people are searching for them. Here’s a couple I found interesting in the US:

From 3/19/20:

Online searches for hand sanitizer, for the win:

Top trending US queries on unemployment, 3/19/20:

(screenshot of top 5. .)

jobless claims, ides unemployment insurance, nevada unemployment insurance, mn unemployment application, iowa workforce
jobless claims, ides unemployment insurance, nevada unemployment insurance, mn unemployment application, iowa workforce

Top trending US queries on , 3/19/20:

(screenshot of top 5. .)

And again, this is going to change daily as our entire world scenario is changing fast. Keep an eye on if you’re curious.

Nerd alert: Deep dive on the queries

If you’re curious to dive a little more into the details of the different types of query intents mentioned in the TL;DR above, here we go.

(If you’re curious where the data came from, it’s at the end.)

Cram session: The world turns to Google to learn about coronavirus

Symptoms & characteristics:

As coronavirus is hitting the US, we’re turning to Google and Bing to investigate the symptoms, the relationship to other existing conditions, and comparing it to other health afflictions.

These are, by far, the broadest range of queries in this set.

Some samples of what people are searching here include:

  1. Symptoms & underlying conditions: “coronavirus symptoms timeline”, “coronavirus quiz”, “coronavirus for dummies”, “coronavirus” + cough, without cough, fever, without fever, sneezing, HIV, diarrhea, diabetes, ms, asthma, anxiety, headache, heart disease, lung damage, rash, runny nose, sore throat, high blood pressure, vomiting, for smokers…
  2. Origins: “where did coronavirus come from”, “how coronavirus started”, “coronavirus bats”, “how coronavirus is formed”, “why coronavirus started in china”, “coronavirus patient zero”…
  3. Spread & contagion: “coronavirus airborne”, “coronavirus quarantine”, “coronavirus roomates”, “can coronavirus live on” +clothes, cardboard, packages, dog fur; “can coronavirus spread through” + food, eyes, water, the mail…
  4. Treatment: “can coronavirus be treated”, “can you get coronavirus twice”, “coronavirus “ + elderberry, gargling, lysol, xeljanz, xanax, zinc…
  5. Is it deadly: “is coronavirus deadly”, “can coronavirus kill”…
  6. Who it affects: “coronavirus youngest victim”, “can coronavirus affect” + dogs, babies, children, elderly, pregnant women, 30 year olds…
  7. Comparing it: “coronavirus vs” + flu, bird flu, swine flu, spanish flu, cold, pneumonia, rhinovirus, h1n1, sars, ebola, mers…

Coronavirus origins, maps, locations, trends, what to do, how to stay updated, and what about our pets?

Samples of these types of queries include:

  1. Maps & locations: “coronavirus map”, “where coronavirus spread”, “will coronavirus come to us”, “coronavirus near me”, “coronavirus by state”, “coronavirus” + (cities, counties, states, countries)…
  2. Data & trends: “coronavirus numbers”, “coronavirus forecast”, “coronavirus vs sars graph”, “coronavirus cases in”+ (location), “coronavirus” + statistics, reports, cases, fatality/survival rate…
  3. What to do: “coronavirus” + tips, guidelines, hotline, to do list, CDC, WHO…
  4. What can I do: “coronavirus can i” + go to the gym, go for a walk, go outside, walk my dog, go to the store…
  5. Pets: “coronavirus” +pets, dogs… (surely cat queries are close behind)

Who has coronavirus? Inquiring minds want to know.

Reports of cities shutting down across the globe were flooding global news as we started hearing who might have the disease among our world leaders and celebrities like Tom Hanks, one of the first American celebs to publicly state he (and his wife) have the disease.

Interestingly, you can in fake news queries at the same time the Tom Hanks coronavirus” queries spiked. It would also be interesting to know what the following March 16th spike in “fake news” queries was correlated with.

The interest in “fake news” queries peaks on the same day as queries for “tom hanks coronavirus”
The interest in “fake news” queries peaks on the same day as queries for “tom hanks coronavirus”
“fake news” queries spike in Google the same day as “tom hanks coronvirus” queries

Samples of the early people queries include:

  1. “coronavirus” + tom hanks, xi jinping, bill gates and donald trump. There’s going to be a lot more people queries popping in more recent data as more news breaks on this front each day.

What’s… happening..?

In a matter of days coronavirus swept through cruise ships and slowed and halted airline travel, before it had affected local public transit systems. At this point we were only beginning to talk about local institutions and warehouses and brands, so that data is hardly even reflected here yet, but starting to trickle in. Americans have been looking to keep up on the latest.

  1. News & fake news: “coronavirus press conference”, “coronavirus updates”, “coronavirus news”, “coronavirus fake news”, “who coronavirus twitter”, “coronavirus found on toilet paper”, “coronavirus missing journalist”, “coronavirus whistleblower”, “coronavirus harvard arrest”, “coronavirus” + cnn, fox news, yahoo, reddit, youtube, quora…
  2. Travel: “coronavirus and cruise ships”, “coronavirus is it safe to fly”, “coronavirus travel restrictions”, “coronavirus qatar airways”, “coronavirus lax”, “coronavirus yvr”, “coronavirus diamond princess”…
  3. Events & institutions: “coronavirus yale”, “coronavirus xfinity”, “coronavirus zenni optical”, “coronavirus xm”, “coronavirus gym closures”, “coronavirus yankees”, “coronavirus olympics”…
  4. Government: “coronavirus” + relief bill, emergency bill, bill hr 6201, abortion bill…
  5. Are we overreacting? “coronavirus” + overreaction, overblown, hysteria, hype…

Is there a cure?

As the pandemic swept across the ocean and across the United States, the news reports of a shortage of test kits and lack of vaccine quickly followed. American’s wanted to know if they can get tested, if it’s free, if there’s a cure, where is the vaccine, and who’s making it?

  1. Tests: “coronavirus tests”, “are coronavirus tests free”, “why coronavirus test shortage”, “how coronavirus is tested”…
  2. Cures / Vaccines: “coronavirus cure”, “is coronavirus curable”, “coronavirus vaccine progress”, “coronavirus vaccine company”

Coronavirus and technology: Is there an app for that?

A few tech-related queries trickled in early — it didnt take long for app searches to appear.

  1. “coronavirus google website”, “coronavirus twitter”, “coronavirus near me app”, “coronavirus memes”, “coronavirus gif”, “coronavirus xbox live”…

Fringe and conspiracy theories: Who, us?

As someone who enjoys tapping into my overactive imagination, this is a category I find pretty fun & cant wait to see what else pops up. In early trends we have queries like:

  1. “coronavirus bioweapon”, “coronavirus or germ warfare”, “coronavirus and the bible”, “will coronavirus end the world”, “coronavirus conspiracy”, “coronavirus zerohedge”, and “coronavirus” + zombie, zombie outbreak, zombieland, zombie apocalypse…

Quotes, jokes, pick up lines and “coronavirus for kids”

Until covid 19, the top “for kids” queries were things like activities and games and fun places to go. Welp…

“coronavirus for kids” queries are indexing far over the typically popular “fun places for kids” queries

And before The New Normal, pick up line queries were mostly cheesy and funny.

Let’s try a

“Does the coronavirus give you a temperature? Because you’re hot!”

No? How about this one:

“I think you’re the cure I’ve been searching for.”

Or my favorite (any takers?):

“Do you want to be my date to the end of the world?”

Of course it wouldn’t be a keyword if people didnt search for quotes and jokes. Which they are. Already. How about these?

“Remember, despite all the current events, there is no crying in baseball.” — Tom Hanks

What does the future look like?

We keep hearing that this is just the beginning, that things will get worse before they get better, that coronavirus is not going away. Before questions about quarantine details and shutdowns (which are surely already appearing in the data now, two days later), we wanted to know if coronavirus will affect markets and the economy, and if it will kill us all.

  1. Economy: “coronavirus economic impact”, “coronavirus cant pay bills”, “coronavirus for small business”, “what coronavirus means for the housing market”, “will coronavirus” + affect the stock market, cause a recession, close banks…
  2. What else will it do?: “coronavirus predictions”, “will coronavirus get worse”, “coronavirus worst case scenario”, “Will coronavirus” +affect construction, go away in summer, change the world, kill millions, kill us all…

Method & Data Sources

Source & Date: The data informing these early queries is taken from Answer The Public’s english coronavirus queries in the United States on March 17, 2020. Answer The Public aggregates the search suggestions that Google and Bing make in the search bar when queries are conducted. No query volume (number of queries) is included.

Method: Queries were categorized based loosely on similar query intents. You can view all queries used in this assessment .

I, Laura Lippay, am a keyword research nerd with two decades of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and researching search trends under her belt, however I prefer to identify as an .

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Laura Lippay

Written by

A veteran tech nerd who identifies as an artist. Curious, by both definitions.

The Startup

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