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What the Google Year in Search Video Tells Us About Marketing and Ourselves

Every year, Google compiles the trillions of searches done on its platform into one streamlined story. And every year, I cry. As a content creator, those 2-3 minute videos leave me awed (and insanely jealous) of the narrative skill at Google’s marketing division. Seriously, y’all, save some of that talent for the rest of us. 

Like 2020’s video, the 2021 Year in Search showed how the world grappled with a slow emergence from COVID-19. However, there was a narrative change. The 2020 video was a recap of human trauma, all bonded together with the biggest question: why? Why did all of the heartbreak, death, frustration, exhaustion and struggle happen? 

The 2021 video focuses on the “How” — how to move on, how to heal, how to recover, how to get the vaccine, how to honor those we lost, how to stay mentally and physically strong, how to thrive. 

Are these questions actually the highest searched questions from Google? No. But collectively they represent the largest thematic trend of the year, and that trend will shape every industry and every business moving into 2022. 

So let’s unpack a few things: 1) why the Google Year in Search matters for brands, 2) how international and national Google trends affect your business, and 3) how you can stay on top of what’s going on to create real, honest, and impactful connections with your audience. 

1) Why Google Year in Search Matters for Brands

Both the specific textual searches and the general themes from the Google Year In Search Video matter for marketing insights. Why does it matter that people were searching “how” as a high-volume question? Because it shows people want answers. People are anxious. People are looking to move on. People are trying to learn and also apply that learning in real time and with some implied level of immediacy. 

For example, if I search “what is carbonara” I might get results from Wikipedia or cookbooks explaining the history of the dish. But if I search “how to make carbonara,” I’ll get a lot more recipes because Google intuits that I want to cook carbonara tonight for dinner. Realizing what question is being asked is the first step in understanding consumer behavior and also to creating messaging that fully satisfies your audience. 

There’s also the general humanity presented in Google’s Year in Search video — something that I hope you’re already working into your marketing strategy and workplace. Your marketing doesn’t have to be mushy, emotive, or tear-jerking, but you should always remember that humans are the ones buying your products. The Google video captured the acute collective sense of exhaustion, confusion, and glimmer of hopefulness we’re all feeling. Your customers feel those things right now more than ever (and, let’s be honest, will likely feel those things well into 2022). If you’re not keeping humanity in mind when putting together messaging, you’re missing the mark on your marketing. 

2) How and Why International and National Search Trends Affect You

“Shelby, what on earth does Kim Kardashian West’s relationship with Pete Davidson have to do with my company?” It doesn’t, but in a weird psychological way, it also does. Searches regardless of platform — from the large scale to the seemingly frivolous — give insight into trends, habits and questions people have. Keeping with the Kardashian reference, let’s use them and unpack what high national search volume around reality TV stars could mean for the general public: 

  • People are craving escapism and “relatable” drama. Few of us in this life will ever amass wealth like the Kardashians, but reality TV hooks us by making these financial demigods seemingly accessible. 
  • There’s a heightened emphasis on beauty expectations. Despite body positivity’s best efforts, the public just can’t stay away from diet teas and “skinny thicc” body expectations set forth by reality TV stars. If they did, they’d search about it less. 

I could write an entire pop culture thesis unpacking more, but I digress. Infatuation with the Kardashians tells a lot about our society, and a bunch of industries like health foods to fashion to sporting equipment to beauty leverage that infatuation and use it to inform their marketing and demographic research. 

National trends and international trends will always affect your business because, at a high level, they represent something bigger than the search themselves. They represent the heart of what intrigues and motivates people. This kind of humanistic search is why Big Data Marketing is taking off; it helps solidify these connections with search by aggregating a mind-numbingly large amount of data. 

We can even apply this to Google’s own Year in Search (which yes, is an advertisement). Google knows the basic tenant of good content marketing: people are emotional creatures. It used the data it collected to unpack a theme representative of this year (“How”) and used content marketing to connect with their audience. Most companies make the mistake of stopping there — telling a compelling story to drive engagement in the story — but Google does what exceptional marketing does and connects that story back to the brand. With this ad, Google is saying “We see you. We see the good, the bad, the heartache, the struggle, and the joys. And we’re reminding you that not only do we see that, we were part of that. We helped you find a solution.” 

3) How You Can Stay on Top of Trends

We get asked “how do you come up with topics” all the time by clients. Looking at Google’s year in trends summary is just one small part of what inspires us. There are a lot of handy dandy tools we use to kickstart our imagination during our research phase for content. 

  • Google Trends: Want to know what’s being discussed in your industry? Your state? Your town? Google Trends gives you access to what’s going on, the search volume around certain keywords, and can even help predict trending topics by showing the increase in search over time. 
  • BuzzSumo: Maybe you have absolutely no time to think about what your consumers are searching for, or maybe you’re tired of consistently missing the mark. (Hey, that’s okay! Not everyone is a people person!) BuzzSumo offers free (and paid) services to help kickstart content that’s industry specific and responsive to trending discussions. It pulls data across social media platforms, search engines, and even academia to give accurate and up to date information about what’s catching your customers’ attention. 
  • Social media trending pages: This is a bit more manual than an aggregate like BuzzSumo, but once you set up alerts for trending topics on your social media accounts, it’ll make life way easier. Each social media platform allows you to filter what content and hashtags you do and don’t want to see. How each platform does this is a bit different, but the general goal is to set up your Twitter/Instagram/Facebook feed or Explore page with content that’s relevant to your industry and your customers. Once in a while, make sure to check the general public trending hashtags so you don’t miss out on an opportunity to provide insight on a trending topic. 

Google’s Year in Review is always amazing. I can’t think of a year where I haven’t been moved to tears. If you look beyond its emotive storytelling, however, you uncover the piece de resistance of superb marketing: humanity. 

Don’t let humanity go missing from your marketing. If you’re tired of throwing trendy taglines out there hoping they stick, give us a call. We’ve got the tools and experience to dig deeper than surface-level messages and get to the heart of why your business matters to people and who those people are.