For decades, Google Search has been a source for many people to find directions, keep up with the news, or find information on new and unfamiliar topics.
Today, Google processes approximately 3.5 billion searches per day. Due to its dominant market share, Google has a vast database of keyword searches, which, when analyzed, provide an interesting glimpse into the key topics that have captured the world’s attention over the years.
This graphic, using data from Google Trends, goes back 20 years and highlights some of the top keyword searches since 2001.
Our editorial team scoured hundreds of top trending search terms from global and US data and hand-picked their top picks, which are highlighted in the graphic above.
Trend vs Volume
Before diving in, it should be emphasized how top trending searches differ from popular searches, which are measured by sheer volume.Trending searches are terms that have increased in popularity recently. They focus on growth rather than total volume, and in this dataset, trending terms estimate year-over-year growth.
A good example is Donald Trump, who made headlines during the 2016 presidential campaign.Even after the election, interest in Mr. Trump was high.But his name didn’t appear on the Google Trends list until after 2017, as Trump’s search volume had plateaued by then.What are the most popular Google search terms by volume?
To be honest, they’re a bit less interesting than the top trending searches — YouTube is number one, followed by Facebook, then WhatsApp Web.
Globalization of search trends
The people and topics on Google’s Top Trends list evolve over time, reflecting the wider adoption of the Internet (and Google Search) around the world over time. Early themes are linked to mainstream American pop culture and tech trends.
As time goes on, social media and smartphone adoption increase the density and volume of searches, resulting in top trends that are more participatory, diverse and global in nature.
A final variable to keep in mind is that Google itself has started sharing more detailed search highlights with each passing year.
Two Decades of Google Search: Macro Insights
Now that we’ve explained what trending search actually measures, let’s explore some of the key themes that have emerged over the past two decades of Google search.
① People Love Sports
Sports has been a constant trend over the past 20 years.
Every four years, the World Cup appears as the top trending keyword worldwide. Olympic athletes such as Michael Phelps and McKayla Maroney also regularly participate in the Olympics.
While America dominates this list, especially when it comes to athletes, there is still a good variety of international sports that go viral, especially as time goes on. In the last two years, cricket, rugby, and football have made the top five trending list.
② The Emergence of Celebrity 2.0
Over time, you may also see a shift from traditional celebrity to celebrity 2.0, also known as social media celebrity.
In the early 2000s, pop culture icons such as Britney Spears, Eminem, and Jennifer Lopez flooded trending searches, and traditional forms of media such as TV shows and movies dominated media categories.
But by 2011, YouTube stars like Rebecca Black started making their way onto trending search lists.And in 2014 too, Meme emerged as a top trending category.
This transition marks a major shift in media, as digital gradually overtakes traditional media as the dominant form of entertainment.
③ Natural disasters are top of mind.
Natural disasters are also a key phenomenon in this data set.
Hurricane is a particularly modern word, appearing about half the time in eight out of 20 years. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina ranked second in the most searched category worldwide.
It continued to garner global attention—as late as 2006, Hurricane Katrina was still in the top five trending news stories.
Dig deeper into trending Google searches.
Our team enjoyed sifting through 20 years of Google data, and we hope you enjoyed this blast from the past, too. If you want to go deeper, you can explore Google’s full dataset here.