7 interesting facts from our 2016 Google habits

Last week, Twitter published the top trending topics for the year. It was a veritable smorgasbord of bad news spread over the past 12 months, and now it’s Google’s turn to offer its different take on things. In short, if Twitter was people offering opinions about what the hell was going on, Google was where people went to learn what they should think about what the hell was going on.

So sure enough, there’s plenty of crossover between the two lists. In fact, of the top ten nationwide trending searches, just one wasn’t covered by Twitter chat: Deadpool. The rest (Euro 2016, Pokémon Go, David Bowie, Donald Trump, Prince, the EU referendum, Alan Rickman, the Olympics and the US election) were all present and accounted for, even if the deaths were handily sorted under a single depressing category: #RIP.

READ NEXT: Twitter’s review of 2016 will remind you why it was a year to forget

You can see the full list here, but these are some things I found interesting. Your mileage may vary, of course.

1. Trump trumps all… except David Bowie

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In terms of people searched for in 2016 in the UK, Donald Trump was at everyone’s fingertips. Not only did he top the politicians searched for (more searched for than new prime minister Theresa May; Jo Cox, the MP assassinated by a white nationalist; Trump’s beaten foe Hillary Clinton; inconsistent Brexit cheerleader Boris Johnson; London mayor Sadiq Khan; and Tory leadership runner-up Andrea Leadsom), but two of his family members also made the list: his third wife Melania, and his daughter Ivanka.

But who’s that starman waiting in the sky? Yep, David Bowie was more searched for than Donald Trump in 2016 in terms of people overall. That makes me happy.

2. All except sport, maybe

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Above Donald Trump and David Bowie were two topics: Pokémon Go and Euro 2016. The latter was the most-searched-for topic in the UK, which isn’t bad at all considering it’s the poorer sibling of the World Cup in most people’s’ eyes.

Also in the list was the Olympics, in eighth place. That’s interesting, because globally it was the most talked about topic in the world on Twitter, meaning that unless we just talk about it more than we search for it, we’re just not as fussed about the Olympics over here.

In terms of athletes, Paul Pogba, Jamie Vardy and Will Grigg were the most-searched-for footballers, but the number-one searched-for athlete was a UFC fighter: Conor McGregor. Laura Trott is the only female athlete to break into the top 10 famous female searches, though.

Wayne Bridge seems like a surprising inclusion, until you realise he was a star of reality TV this year, which brings me to…

3. Reality TV and Google searches go hand in hand

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There were a number of people I had to look up in this list, being – as Monica, our managing editor often jokes – a sleeper agent from 1900 unaware of modern popular culture. Without fail, almost every time I typed in someone’s name, accidently adding to the search tally, the answer would come back that they were on some kind of reality TV show or other. Strictly, Big Brother, The X Factor, The Only Way is Essex, I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here – all of them feature, and all of their born-again stars get a fresh burst of search popularity in 2016.

4. The EU referendum raised more questions than it answered

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We voted for Brexit back in June. I remember, because I stayed up way too late tracking Twitter reactions and regretted it the next day.

Nowhere is the folly of transforming a deeply complex and detailed question into the form of a single binary choice more apparent than on Google.

Here presented without comment, but with heavily implied disapproval, are the questions most commonly asked about Brexit in 2016:

  • What is Brexit
  • What is the single market
  • What is the EU
  • What is Article 50
  • Where is Brussels

Google provided some regional data, so I was able to see if Remain/Leave areas asked more EU questions. There seems to be no difference, but given Google’s sample was overwhelmingly cities (which tended to back Remain), it wasn’t the most scientific study. Bradford and Birmingham both backed Leave, and had two EU questions each in their top 10 – the same as London, Cardiff and Glasgow.

Belfast had just one Brexit-related question in its top 10, but bafflingly “what is the internet” was its top search term, which just raises so many questions.

5. A lot of people use Google to search for news

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Despite people’s news sources being a reasonably reliable indicator of how they voted in the EU referendum, what’s interesting is that, rather than picking a news source and going there to read about the topics of the day, UK web users are increasingly searching for the topic and then reading the latest at whatever site Google recommends – typically via the news box, you’d imagine. Over time, this could have interesting repercussions as to how the public views future issues of the day.

And what news events got the most attention? Brexit, the US election and Hurricane Matthew make up the top three, with the rest of the list being made up with terrorist attacks (Brussels, Nice), current affairs (the sale of BHS, the Zika virus, clown sightings, Harambe) and Brexit again – this time in the size of our Toblerones.

6. The iPhone remains the most searched for tech

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You may wonder why tech sites write so much about the iPhone. The simple answer is because, statistically, you care about it. This is something analytics packages have told us for years, but the 2016 UK Google searches confirm this fact.

In the iPhone’s shadow is the Samsung Galaxy S7; the Google Pixel; Sky Q; the Amazon Echo; Nintendo in general; Amazon Fire TV; the Fitbit Blaze; the PlayStation VR; and Apple’s own iPad.

Conspicuous by its absence is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 – presumably because it emerged quite late in the year – and then went straight back into hiding in the most damaging way imaginable.

7. People are as neurotic as ever

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The “how to” category is interesting – this is made up of the most likely words to follow the phrase “how to”. Alongside people hunting for tutorials (Pokémon Go, Facebook Live and “how to make slime” bafflingly) and trying to allay fears stimulated by Brexit (“how to vote for EU referendum”; “how to get an Irish passport”; “how to apply for British citizenship”), we get a rare insight into just how unhappy with themselves people are.

“How to lose weight well”, “how to stay young” and “how to appear funny” all appear as people try to change fundamental aspects of their personality. Capping the list, appropriately, at number ten is “how to accept myself for who I am”.

And I thought 2016 couldn’t get any sadder.

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