Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, people relied on search engines to find answers. To find clarity. To get advice and even peace of mind. Within this time, we’ve seen search behaviors evolve just as rapidly as the pandemic itself; ebbs and flows have fluctuated with global infection rates and vaccine rollouts.
In the U.S., we’re seeing vaccines become more readily available and, in turn, total adult vaccination rates continue to climb. Our “new normal” is taking shape before our very eyes. So how do these national search behaviors reflect a global reality? Are we seeing similar shifts or are international search trends still highly localized?
We decided to investigate.
Digging deeper into search data, it is clear that information needs still vary significantly by region. Given that the pandemic is still extremely volatile on a global scale, we’re seeing unique trends based on where specific territories are in the vaccine rollout and recovery process.
Mask mandates and guidelines have always been a point of interest, even contention. However, there has been a multitude of new developments on a global and national level that have sparked a surge in mask-related searches. For example, the CDC has provided new guidance that vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors and can essentially resume all activities they did prior to the pandemic. In the U.S., state governments are lifting mandatory mask guidelines and are encouraging businesses to make final decisions about what happens in their locations. As a result, large retailers are sharing news and updates around mask rules, with some variance across state lines. It’s clear that vaccinated individuals in particular are looking for clarity around the guidelines and want to fully understand the level of flexibility they have. They also want to understand possible risks that still exist, even after they’re fully vaccinated.
When we drill into specific areas in the U.S., we’re also seeing some fascinating local search trends. It is clear that specific states are driving spikes in searches inquiring about when they can stop wearing masks. Meanwhile, states such as Florida and Texas didn’t rank in the top 10 states. Their government has been vocal in their criticism of mask mandates and therefore, this has likely set a precedent for citizens that they do not need to worry about wearing one.
States in the Northeast have largely been driving the surge in mask-specific searches. However, cities in Ohio also tracked very high: the state had the highest search activities related to mask mandates, which could tie to the state’s stark differences in implementing and following mask guidelines.
As we see vaccines roll out at a national and global scale, we’re not just seeing a boost in vaccine-related search terms and phrases; we’re also seeing queries take shape to align with the key stages of the vaccine decision-making process.
Although we’ve seen vaccination rates slowly climb, hesitancy and misinformation are very present, especially as we look at the “Awareness” stage of the decision-making process. Audiences want to understand the broader issues surrounding the vaccine. The most frequent searches are for safety-related information, possible risks and any guidelines to help them determine if they should not take the vaccine.
As the above chart shows, we saw a significant jump in activity starting in December, aligning with the actual rollout of vaccines through the U.S.
The “Consideration” stage is when we start to compare our options. We want to look at specific brands, product models, and sets of features and functionality. Vaccines are no exception to this process. Users in this stage largely search for branded vaccine queries so they can gauge which option is best for them.
Individuals must determine which vaccine to get before they can make an appointment, so this is a critical phase of the journey and impacts when and if users go into the “Decision” and “Post-Vaccine” phases.
Side effects were a top-of-mind issue across the board but branded searches varied based on unique news headlines and even controversies that have recently emerged. For example:
The “Decision” phase is when people are ready to take action. In this context, individuals are ready to find and make appointments. The most popular inquiries were related to location-specific needs, while others simply wanted to find an appointment for a specific brand of vaccine or at a specific location, like a Walgreens.
“Post-Vaccine” stage searches can easily be broken into two different categories: Short-term and long-term concerns. Some searchers are clearly concerned about possible vaccine side effects. They want to know if specific side effects are common, such as a runny nose or swollen lymph nodes. Others want to know if they can take Tylenol to treat side effects and whether they can consume alcohol. Others are more interested in learning about the long-term implications of getting vaccinated. They want to find clarity around recent vaccine-related headlines that touch on the longevity of vaccines and whether vaccinated individuals can still get and spread COVID to others.
Fully vaccinated individuals mainly want to know if they still have to wear a mask if they’re immune, and if they can they spread COVID to others.
We’ve uncovered a wealth of insights around additional COVID questions, needs and concerns. Download the follow-up report to get more granular data and perspectives on related search behaviors, including trends based on metro area, age and family structure.