Google Clairvoyance: How the Google Algorithm May Be Able to Predict the Next Pandemic

Search algorithms ain’t what they used to be, and that’s becoming increasingly clear as we dive into Google’s search data about the recent pandemic. Google is a robust search engine, capable of serving up information on just about any search query you can think of, and the Google search algorithm has evolved many times to improve the user experience. According to the latest analytics, Google commands 86% of all online searches compared to other companies like Bing (6.25%), Baidu (0.83%), or Yandex (0.08%) that crave out a tiny percentage. 

For years, businesses and marketers have used a variety of SEO tactics on Google to gain insight into current consumer trends about their target audiences to help increase business revenue. But, recent studies have shown that the Google search algorithm may also be more powerful than anyone expected. Not only is it able to rapidly pick up on consumer and business trends, but it may be able to predict global health trends like the next pandemic

Turning to Google to diagnose symptoms is no new practice, but recently there has been an uptick of users asking the search engine why they’ve suddenly lost their sense of smell. One of the most prominent symptoms of COVID-19 is anosmia, or the inability to smell. As infection rates have continued to increase, thousands of people are typing in queries like “I can’t smell”, and “why have i lost my sense of smell” into Google. These unique keywords trends are actually making it possible to predict outbreaks, as the anosmia searches closely matched outbreaks in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Michigan.

Researchers at the University College of London built a model recently that monitors Google for a jump in searches related to keywords like “i can’t smell”. Similarly, a team at Harvard developed their own custom algorithm that aggregates Twitter posts as well as Google searches along with location data to predict flare-ups up to 14 days prior. It’s important to note that according to the Center for Disease Control, symptoms can develop within two to fourteen days of infections. But, can an algorithm truly predict the spread of disease?

Putting it To the Test

What happens when we put this information to the test? The research shows that search intent on Google can truly paint a picture for the future. An independent researcher located in Tanzania tried to crack the code. Analyzing search trends from 5 years ago up to recent months related to the term “i can’t smell”, it was found that searches peaked as outbreaks in the U.K, Brazil, Spain, and Italy peaked. For example, in Lombardy, Italy, searches were 47 times higher in March than in the previous 5 years for “i can’t smell”.  

Further, another researcher from the United States decided to bid on the term “i can’t smell” in Google Ads to see just how it correlates to predicting outbreaks. He counted impressions on his ads, as the user would have to search the term to be served his ad. His results illustrated the strong correlation between the search terms and the amount of infections; finding that cities like New York, and Chicago saw an uptick in searches in late April and early May – both of which saw huge increases in cases during this time and shortly after. This data rang true across all largely impacted states studied.

Creating Greater Visibility

Before the World Health Organization first warned of the disease, the disease monitoring system, ProMED, found an increase of health-related search terms on the social media app WeChat that included “SARS,” “shortness of breath”, and “diarrhea.” These predictive tools can pull back the curtain and be used as a source of warning. All of these studies have one common theme: search tools and keyword analysis are a great way to truly understand what is going on in the world.

The information found in these studies can be applied to businesses as well to help predict buyer-behavior trends. Since its creation, Google has been one of the most important tools out there for understanding audiences and creating experiences that fit with their wants and needs. Thorough keyword and audience analysis are crucial for delivering the best content, ads, and assets to prospective customers. The time is now to get ahead of the trend, and use Google to your advantage by implementing an SEO and content marketing strategy.

At Cape & Bay, we harness the power of & Culture to bring together the power of our industry expertise and meld it with your brand goals to achieve more. Breaking down search trends to predict consumer trends and behavior is the kind of out-of-the-box analysis our team uses to take businesses like yours to the next level. Learn how we can transform every aspect of your online presence. Let’s chat.