December 9, 2022

Google search trends offer not only a fascinating window into the public’s most pressing questions, but they can also be a huge indicator of what’s driving ad dollars for the tech behemoth. Simply put, the more searches for a given topic, the more eyeballs that land on related ads.

It’s nearly impossible to overestimate how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted what people are searching for online. This time last year, Google reported seeing huge year-on-year jumps in late-2020 searches for “curbside pickup” and “available near me.” Within the travel sector, searches for vacation homes and near-me rentals saw huge spikes in the latter part of 2020.

“Look, I said earlier that travel was a contributor to our year-on-year ads growth in Q4, and we were encouraged by the performance we saw throughout much of the quarter,” said Philipp Schindler, Google’s Senior Vice President and Chief Business Officer, on parent company Alphabet Inc’s Q4 2021 earnings call with market analysts on Tuesday evening. “User behavior tends to reflect what’s going on in the world.”

“This has been more pronounced in light of Omicron. We’ve seen changes in traveler search behavior as preferences have evolved,” said Schindler. “Searches for outdoor destinations like beaches, parks and camping have increased, while searches for museums, for example, have declined.”

“As people think about where they want to go next, they’re coming to us to help them navigate a patchwork of information,” said Schindler. “In fact, from the end of August to the end of October, searches for travel rules were up over six times globally year-over-year.”

Public confusion over Covid-related protocols also led Google to launch “a ton of new features to make it easier for people to understand changing travel restrictions and requirements,” said Schindler, noting that Google has also pivoted its product strategy to help its travel partners list booking links and predict demand.

All together, travel and other hot topics drove revenues from Google Search advertising to $43.3 billion in the quarter, a jump of 36%, said Google CFO Ruth Porat.

How quickly the travel industry will return to its previous dominance in Google advertising remains to be determined. Travel been particularly sensitive to outbreaks, noted Schindler, “and that there’s still unevenness that makes it too soon to say what trends are here to stay and which pre-pandemic habits are coming back.”