What America Searched for on Google, in the Last Decade
Cultural shifts come in many shapes and forms, and some are harder to measure than others.
Thankfully, Google search volume provides an easy avenue for measuring large-scale cultural trends. And because Google makes up more than 90% of all internet searches in the U.S., looking at what’s trending on Google is a great way to understand the shifting questions and interests that are captivating society at any given time.
This animated map by V1 Analytics provides an overview of the top trending Google searches in every state over the last decade. It sheds light on what types of new information, events, and stories received the most attention in the last ten years—and more generally, it shows us what the U.S. population has been thinking about.
Trending Searches versus Top Searches
Before diving into the top trends of the decade, it’s worth taking a moment to distinguish between “trending searches” and “top searches”:
- Trending Searches: Keywords that had the largest increase in traffic, in a specific period of time
- Top Searches: The most searched keywords in a given time frame
This video would look a lot different, and a lot less interesting, if it showed Google’s top searches. To give some perspective, here are the Top 10 Searches in the U.S. (as of 2020):
Understanding the difference between trending searches and top searches is important because it gives us insight into why certain keywords trend in some places, but not others. For instance, in March 2020, the word “coronavirus” was trending throughout a majority of the U.S., with a few exceptions—it wasn’t trending in Massachusetts, California, Texas, Nevada, or Arizona.
It’s easy to make the assumption that people in these states were not concerned about COVID-19—however, that’s not necessarily the case.
It’s important to remember that trending searches are measured by the increase of traffic, not just the overall amount of searches. Therefore, in states where it wasn’t trending, the word “coronavirus” may have already been a popular search term for a while, so the keyword didn’t see a sudden spike in interest like it did in other places.
In the last decade, there were moments when the entire country was googling the same thing. Some keyword trends lasted a day, while others lasted over a week.
Here’s a look at keywords that took over the whole U.S, and when they were trending unanimously:
|Date Range||Category||Search Term|
|Feb 4, 2011||Music||Adele|
|Feb 6 - Feb 23, 2011||Music||Born This Way|
|Feb 28, 2011||Music||Born This Way|
|March 22 - Apr 1, 2011||Pop Culture||Rebecca Black|
|June 12 - June 27, 2011||TV & Film||Game of Thrones|
|Nov 9, 2012||Current Events||Abortion|
|Jan 10 - Jan 27, 2014||TV & Film||Frozen|
|Feb 28 - March 2, 2014||Electronics||Samsung Galaxy s5|
|Jan 11 - Jan 13, 2015||Music||Blank Space|
|Feb 26 - Mar 30, 2015||Music||Uptown Funk|
|June 5, 2015||Pop Culture||Caitlyn Jenner|
|June 16 - June 19, 2015||TV & Film||Jurassic World|
|Feb 26, 2016||Pop Culture||Damn Daniel|
|June 3, 2016||Pop Culture||Harambe|
|June 20, 2016||TV & Film||Finding Dory|
|June 30, 2016||TV & Film||Finding Dory|
|July 6, 2016||TV & Film||Finding Dory|
|Aug 4 - Aug 7, 2016||TV & Film||Suicide Squad|
|Aug 24 - Sept 8, 2016||Pop Culture||Harambe|
|Sept 23 - Sept 26, 2016||Pop Culture||Brad Pitt|
|Oct 21, 2016||Electronics||Google Pixel|
|Nov 24, 2016||Electronics||Google Pixel|
|Dec 14 - Dec 20, 2016||Current Events||Aleppo|
|Jan 7 - Jan 10, 2017||TV & Film||This Is Us|
|Jan 23 - Feb 2, 2017||TV & Film||This Is Us|
|Feb 8 - Feb 12, 2017||Sports||Super bowl|
|Feb 22 - Feb 24, 2017||TV & Film||This Is Us|
|March 7 - March 11, 2017||Electronics||Nintendo Switch|
|March 21 - Apr 1, 2017||TV & Film||Beauty and the Beast|
|May 7 - May 16, 2017||Pop Culture||Fidget Spinner|
|June 17 - July 18, 2017||Music||Despacito|
|Sept 22, 2017||TV & Film||It|
|Oct 13, 2017||Current Events||Harvey Weinstein|
|Nov 3, 2017||Current Events||Kevin Spacey|
|Jan 12 - Jan 23, 2018||Current Events||Logan Paul|
|Feb 6 - Feb 11, 2018||TV & Film||Altered Carbon|
|March 15 - March 29, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|May 4, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|July 21, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|Aug 5 - Aug 22, 2018||Video Games||Fortnite|
|Jan 17 - Feb 3, 2019||Music||7 Rings|
|Feb 21 - Feb 23, 2019||Current Events||Jussie Smollett|
|March 12 - March 22, 2019||TV & Film||Captain Marvel|
|March 27, 2019||Music||Billie Eilish|
|March 30, 2019||Music||Billie Eilish|
|Aug 24 - Aug 27, 2019||Music||Billie Eilish|
|Oct 9 - Oct 29, 2019||TV & Film||Joker|
|Nov 20 - Nov 24, 2019||TV & Film||The Mandalorian|
|Dec 5 - Dec 14, 2019||Pop Culture||Baby Yoda|
|Jan 15, 2020||Current Events||Prince Harry|
|Jan 20, 2020||Current Events||Prince Harry|
|Feb 13 - Feb 15, 2020||TV & Film||Jojo Rabbit|
|May 5 - May 14, 2020||Current Events||Elon Musk|
|June 24, 2020||Current Events||Bubba Wallace|
It’s interesting to look at the variety of topics that dominate the population’s collective thoughts. There’s a unique mix of popular culture, entertainment, electronics, prominent figures, and public scandals.
Something else worth noting is how country-wide trends became a lot more common in the latter part of the decade—in 2019 for example, 9 keywords trended unanimously. This was more than in the entire first half of the decade.
While the secret to going viral remains a mystery, one thing remains clear—the public certainly has a broad range of interests. So really, it’s anyone’s game.
Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?
Visual Capitalist’s first-ever Generational Power Index looks at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural influence in American society.
Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?
This year, our team put together Visual Capitalist’s inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI), which looks at power dynamics across generations in America.
We considered three categories in our quest to quantify power: economics, political, and cultural. And while it turns that out Baby Boomers dominate when it comes to economics and political factors—the are of cultural influence is a different story.
Here’s a look at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural power, and how this power dynamic is expected to shift in the coming years.
Generations and Power, Defined
Before we get started, it’s important to clarify which generations we’ve included in our research, along with their age and birth year ranges.
|Generation||Age range (years)||Birth year range|
|The Silent Generation||76 and over||1928-1945|
|Gen Alpha||8 and below||2013-present|
Using these age groups as a framework, we then calculated the Cultural Power category using these distinct equally-weighted variables:
With this methodology in mind, here’s how the Cultural Power category shakes out, using insights from the GPI.
Share of Cultural Power by Generation
Overall, we found that Gen X captures the largest share of cultural power, at 36%.
|Generation||Cultural Power Share|
|The Silent Generation||8.8%|
*Note: figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.
Gen X is particularly dominant in the film and TV industry, along with news media. For instance, over half of America’s largest news corporations have a Gen Xer as their CEO, and roughly 50% of Oscar winners in 2020 were members of Gen X.
Baby Boomers come in second place, capturing a 25% share of cultural power. They show particular dominance in traditional entertainment like books and art. For example, 42% of the authors on the NYT’s best-selling books list were Baby Boomers.
However, these older generations fall short in one critical category—digital platforms.
The Dominance of Digital
Why is digital so important when it comes to cultural power? Because digital media becoming increasingly more popular than traditional media sources (e.g. TV, radio).
In 2020, Americans spent nearly 8 hours per day consuming digital media, nearly two hours more per day than they spent with traditional media.
This divide is expected to grow even further over the next few years. With younger generations dominating the digital space, Gen X may soon lose its place as the top dog of the culture category.
Celebrity 2.0: The Social Influencer
As audiences flock to online channels, advertisers have followed suit—and they’re willing to spend good money to gain access to their target demographics.
In fact, spend on influencer marketing has steadily increased in the last five years, and it’s expected to reach $13.8 billion by the end of 2021.
This shift to social media advertising is redefining the notion of celebrity, and who reaps the financial benefits of content creation. For instance, six-year-old Vlogger Like Nastya made an estimated $7.7 million per month from her YouTube channel in 2020. And keep in mind, this estimate is purely based on YouTube revenue—it doesn’t even include corporate partnerships and/or merchandise sales.
With all these shifts occurring, culture as we know it is at a crossroads. And as we continue to move towards a digital dominant society, those who hold power in traditional realms will either adapt or pass along the torch.
Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)
Ranked: The Most Popular Paid Subscription News Websites
Many consumers are reluctant to pay for their news, but those that do turn to trusted sources. Here’s a look at the most subscribed to news websites.
Ranked: The Most Popular Subscription News Websites
While paywalls are becoming increasingly more popular among news websites, most consumers still aren’t willing to pay for their online news.
In fact, a recent survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism reveals that only 20% of Americans pay for digital news, and of those that do, the majority subscribe to only one brand.
This begs the question—which news outlets are audiences willing to pay for?
Using data from FIPP and CeleraOne, this graphic looks at the most popular news websites across the globe, based on their total number of paid subscriptions.
*Note: This report relies on publicly available data, and should not be considered an exhaustive list.
The Full Breakdown
With 7.5 million subscriptions, The New York Times (NYT) takes the top spot on the list. 2020 was an exceptionally strong year for the outlet—by Q3 2020, the NYT had generated the same amount of revenue from digital subscriptions as it had for the entire year of 2019.
|1||🇺🇸 The New York Times||7,500,000|
|2||🇺🇸 The Washington Post||3,000,000|
|3||🇺🇸 The Wall Street Journal||2,400,000|
|4||🇺🇸 Game Informer||2,100,000|
|5||🇬🇧 Financial Times||1,100,000|
|6||🇺🇸 The Athletic||1,000,000|
|7||🇬🇧 The Guardian||790,000|
|9||🇬🇧 The Economist||516,000|
|12||🇬🇧 The Sunday Times||337,000|
|13||🇬🇧 The Telegraph||320,000|
|14||🇺🇸 The Atlantic||300,000|
|15||🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera||300,000|
|16||🇫🇷 Le Monde||300,000|
|17||🇺🇸 The Boston Globe||270,000|
|18||🇦🇷 La Nacion||260,000|
|21||🇺🇸 Los Angeles Times||253,000|
|23||🇺🇸 The New Yorker||240,000|
|25||🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo||236,000|
|26||🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter||208,000|
|27||🇺🇸 Business Insider||200,000|
|31||🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail||139,000|
|34||🇫🇷 Le Figaro||110,000|
|35||🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune||100,000|
|36||🇺🇸 Star Tribune||100,000|
|38||🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat||100,000|
The Times is the most popular by a landslide—it has over double the number of subscriptions than the second outlet on the list, The Washington Post. Yet, while WaPo is no match for NYT, it still boasts a strong following, with approximately 3 million paid subscriptions as of Q4 2020.
Japanese outlet Nikkei ranks number one among the non-English news websites. It’s the largest business newspaper in Japan, mainly focusing on markets and finance, but also covering politics, sports, and health.
Legacy Papers: Which Websites Come From Traditional Media?
Most of the websites on this list stem from traditional media. Because of this, they’ve had years to establish themselves as trusted sources, and win over loyal readers.
Interestingly, more than half of the outlets included in this ranking are at least 100 years old.
|Publication||Year Launched||Age (Years)|
|🇬🇧 The Guardian||1821||200|
|🇬🇧 The Sunday Times||1821||200|
|🇫🇷 Le Figaro||1826||195|
|🇬🇧 The Economist||1843||178|
|🇺🇸 Chicago Tribune||1847||173|
|🇬🇧 The Telegraph||1855||166|
|🇺🇸 The Atlantic||1857||164|
|🇸🇪 Dagens Nyheter||1864||157|
|🇺🇸 Star Tribune||1867||154|
|🇦🇷 La Nacion||1870||151|
|🇺🇸 The Boston Globe||1872||149|
|🇮🇹 Corriere Della Sera||1876||145|
|🇺🇸 Washington Post||1877||144|
|🇺🇸 LA Times||1881||140|
|🇬🇧 Financial Times||1888||133|
|🇺🇸 Wall Street Journal||1889||132|
|🇫🇮 Helsingin Sanomat||1889||132|
|🇧🇷 Folha de S.Paulo||1921||100|
|🇺🇸 The New Yorker||1925||96|
|🇨🇦 The Globe and Mail||1936||85|
|🇫🇷 Le Monde||1944||77|
|🇺🇸 Game Informer||1991||30|
|🇺🇸 Business Insider||2007||14|
|🇺🇸 The Athletic||2016||5|
Yet, undeterred by these well-established outlets, a few scrappy websites made the cut despite a shorter history. Four out of the 38 websites are less than 20 years old.
The Athletic is the newest outlet to make the ranking. Established in 2016, the outlet’s target demographic is die-hard sports fans who miss the days of in-depth, quality sports writing.
The Need For Trusted Sources
Amidst the global pandemic, issues involving misinformation and fake news have helped reaffirm the important role that trusted news sources play in the dissemination of public information.
With this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for digital media consumption. With paywalls becoming increasingly more common, will consumers jump on board and eventually be more willing to pay for their news?
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