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Search Trends: 2020 Year in Review


Are you ready to say goodbye to 2020? The decade began with hope and promise and quickly became a year up in flames. Before 2020, a bad year was considered lackluster; this failed year has many reaching for the reset button come January 1st.

While we at Firetoss can joke about what we hated most about 2020, even turning our rant into a video, the end of the year is a time to reflect. For the thousands of business owners reeling from the economic sucker punch this year delivered, reflection is not just warranted, it’s a vital part of moving from solvent to profitable. Marketing is part science and art. Impressionist painter Claude Monet believed “it’s on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way.” 

As a marketing agency, we rely on metrics, data, and observation to guide our path. This tumultuous year challenged our agency prowess and our clients to pivot through a quickly changing landscape that left no business or household unscathed. Even Google saw $5.6 billion in losses.

Our clients count on us to drive traffic that turns into revenue and profit. And while we could not control coronavirus or political uncertainty, sage counsel led by data-driven insights kept many clients out of the red and drove double-digit profit for others. 

We scoured the web and then compiled some of those trends, found out how they affected businesses and made a few predictions for the path forward. 

Google Trends 2020: Search

Google Trends created its own inspiring video on 2020 search, citing the search for “why” as our collective anthem. We asked everything from “why is toilet paper sold out” to “why are so many fires burning in Australia,” and some questions we could not answer.


We saw expected search trends for “coronavirus updates” and “how do I vote” which saw an all time high. For those who sheltered in place, we found comfort in a favorite furry friend and even our text messages and social media posts showed a preference for mask wearing to hugs. 

Google Search Trends 2020 voting and pets

We longed to know how to cut and color our hair, more than we searched for “how to wash our hands.” Soon after we searched “how to” teleconference along with a myriad of other video and virtual chat related queries. And in between #workfromhome and #newnormal, our children reminded us to enjoy a healthy dose of parent pranks and TikTok dances which made life in 2020 more tolerable.

Google Search Trends haircuts and parent pranks

While the pandemic wreaked economic havoc on small businesses, we searched for ways to still give support to nearly 60 million employees of small businesses. 

Despite the coronavirus, raging Australia fires, and social unrest, our hope for the future remains. If you searched for “Elon Musk baby” (44k monthly), “baby platypus” (103k monthly), or “Baby Nut” (6k monthly), you raised your voice toward a brighter tomorrow. 

2020 Businesses That Lost

At Firetoss we live in the digital world and help our clients bridge the divide between in-person and online. We help businesses provide information, appointments, product demos, and purchases through a multitude of devices across the globe. Businesses without an established or easily adopted digital infrastructure quickly became part of the casualty count. 

Dining & Movies

We had only to look as far as a few blocks away to see Cannella’s Italian restaurant, a 42-year local’s favorite, shuddering its doors in July. Searches for “restaurants near me” saw a 75% decline at the height of the shutdowns. It now hovers at half its pre-pandemic volume and we do not know when this industry will fully recover.

Cannellas Restaurant closing

Not all restaurants closed. If your restaurant had an established following, and you were able to offer limited dine-in, online ordering, and socially distanced reservations, you might still be in business, but you are far from thriving. 

“Movie theater” searches fell 90% and we reached for our phones to find the next binge-worthy Netflix series. Semrush data research shows average monthly searches for Netflix beat out Amazon Prime Video by nearly 700%.

Video search trends 2020

And while “concerts near me” gave way to “drive-in concerts” mid-summer, the short-lived search is a clear indicator of our human need to connect and celebrate together. As people, we still strive to be in community with one another.

Decline Search Trends Concerts

Training & Education 

For businesses struggling to make the transition to digital, like in-person training and education, the future is still unclear. The industry saw breakout searches like “what is synchronous learning” and “will fall classes be online”. While training centers and college campuses search for the best way to meet health regulation compliance and provide effective education, the unspoken concern is how long this will continue.  

Travel & Tourism

Travel for business and employee incentives were hard hit bringing global travel to a stand still. Whether you were traveling to Europe or the Bahamas, you likely searched for “cancellation and refunds” over “what to pack.” For Firetoss, we had to put a planned cruise for employees who met certain certification achievements on hold. 

Decline Search Trends Cruise Vacation

Some people still seem to be traveling but not by plane. Searches for “cheap flights” end the year 80% lower than their March high and “rv rental” searches are on the rise. Breakout trends query how to work remotely from abroad and “beach house rentals” as we search for the ideal place to be quarantined.

Google Posts $30B Loss

The aggregate result of search volume declines was a ripple of losses that made its way to Google, which posted its first decline in 26 years and lost 8% in ad revenue in Q2 of 2020. While Google can sustain a nearly $30 billion loss and still survive, for the 98% of U.S. businesses which have fewer than 100 employees, the future is less certain. 

Businesses That Scored on 2020 Searches

If you are a small or medium sized business, still fighting in the arena, here are a few search trends we hope will help in that battle toward profitability.

If you are a SAAS business or have already moved to digital delivery of products or services, you are ahead of the curve. Once you have removed friction in the sales cycle, it’s simply a matter of listening to the needs of your audience, product refinement, and the other more familiar aspects of marketing and business. 

Stuck at home, we searched for ways to stay active with “home gym” seeing a 400% increase in volume over pre-pandemic rates. Work out video searches saw a slight bump, but soon Instagram, TikTok and others brought content to our social media feed satisfying this unexpressed need.

Increase Trends Home Gyms

If you were not one of the 22 million people who lost their jobs to the pandemic, you contributed to a more than three-fold increase in searches for office chairs and standing desks. And #wfh became the new acronym we searched to understand.


Increase Trends WFH and home office

Some market needs are still in flux. As schools shut down or went online, families with work from home parents had yet another challenge. Even now, parents of school aged children are still deciding whether it’s better to help them with math or just keep them entertained. 

Search Trends Online Math and Games

As shoppers headed to their devices Semrush reports “buy online” nearly doubled in March, an increased trend we believe is here to stay. Product configurators which allow a 3D product view, like Expivi, or virtual try on, expedite the purchase cycle, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce returns.

While mammoth retailers continue to dominate, we saw clients who adopted an integrated marketing strategy, using a combination of tactics across email, paid media and SEO earned winning results. 

Staying home meant we had more time to stare at our walls and decide they needed to be painted. Some took up gardening while others took on bigger home improvement projects like swimming pools or new decks. Whether it was diy flooring or a hired contractor, 2020 saw twice the volume of  2019’s high for this category, and hit a five year record.

Trends home improvement

Search Trends for 2021

We counted down the days in 2020 and wondered “how many weeks left in 2020” at a rate of 83% more than we did in 2019, according to Semrush. Others are wondering what will happen in 2021. 

Search for what will happen in 2021

You can’t change the ocean or the weather, no matter how hard you try. So it’s best to learn how to sail in all conditions.” So goes an old sailing adage. 

What’s Ahead – Looking at 2021

Preparing clients for strategies to meet a variety of business climates is key to our mutual success. Here are some of the larger trends to plan for.

  1. Voice Search: Optimizing for voice search will increase in importance with voice-enabled speakers, like Siri, Alex, and Google Assistant, reporting to be in 55% of households by 2022. 
  2. Smarter EAT: Content that provides smarter EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trust) for higher rankings. Artificial intelligence understands search intent, semantic context, tone, and authority, and Google provides a variety of ways to rank using featured snippets, maps, and more.
  3. Fast Mobile: Google 2019 rollout of mobile-first indexing along with the 2021 Page Experience update factors will be a key focus for both local and national clients. 
  4. Data and Analytics: Understanding the data and seeing it in real-time helps guide successes and avoid failures. New data models like Google Analytics 4 provide unprecedented insights profitable businesses will embrace.

Some of our clients may wonder how we can remain so optimistic about growth and the future of business. We work with tenured and start-up businesses every day and see first hand the tenacity and passion that drives them. We share that passion. 

As our teams create client marketing strategies and new websites for 2021, we listen to the truth found in search queries and find it promising. After we asked “why”, perhaps more in 2020 than ever before. Our next search was “how”.