How Google Trends can assist education providers during times of uncertainty

” This dataset in the time of COVID-19 can prove to be a useful tool in gaining a better understanding of some of the extraordinary changes”


The international education sector is dealing with a period of uncertainty, complexity and confusion, unlike anything we’ve known before, writes Keri Ramirez, managing director of  Australia based consultancy firm,  Studymove

To mitigate the uncertainty created by COVID-19, this month we looked at a different data source which we thought would help support education providers in their current and future decision making.

Google Trends analyzes a portion of the three billion daily Google searches and provides data on geospatial and temporal patterns in search volumes for specific terms. It is a useful tool to assess the change in the intentions of individuals based on their online search activity.

The power of Google trends is the ability to report real-time insights on what the audience is thinking. This dataset in the time of COVID-19 can prove to be a useful tool in gaining a better understanding of some of the extraordinary changes affecting the international education sector worldwide.

Using Google Trends to understand changes in real-time

For instance, as a result of COVID-19, we can determine the size of the impact in industries intricately link to our sector such as tourism and hospitality. In only a few weeks, the search volume for hotels and flights experienced a dramatic drop reaching the lowest point in the last five years.

Google trends are also showing some of the affects that COVID-19 is having on search trends that are relevant to the international education sector. In just two weeks, the search volume of important terms such as “student visas” and “IELTS” has experienced a massive drop to their lowest levels in 5 years worldwide (Chart 2).

These metrics are also indicating some of the behavioural changes created by COVID-19 and how the education sector is rapidly shifting to online as the primary study mode for students worldwide (Chart 3).

Using Google Trends to understand differences across countries

For education providers, government agencies and education agencies around the world, the effectiveness of Google Trends is enhanced when you drill down into the data to gain a better understanding on how a specific market or audience is changing their behaviour in real-time.

Understanding the trends along with other key industry data will enable the sector to implement strategies more effectively in each country. For example,  lets look at the difference in search volumes for “Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)” and “Online courses”. Overall around the world, both search terms are used with the same intensity (Chart 4), however, in countries such as China, using the right term could represent a very different outcome.

As you see in the charts, the term “MOOCS” is relatively more popular than “Online courses” or “Online education”. As a result, institutions need to consider the potential of using the right terms and adjust their strategies to engage with this market more effectively moving forward.

This example also shows how Google Trends can provide some interesting ideas on how institutions, education agencies or even Governments could use the analysis of online behaviour to support their marketing strategies. Based on the search trends, it seems that the popularity of MOOCs in China highlights that there may be opportunities to adjust and support relevant recruitment strategies in this market.

Using Google Trends to compare changes in candidates’ preferences

As we move forward and hopefully the health emergency moderates, we expect to see changes to government and institutional policies which could affect the preferences of international candidates regarding their country or institution of choice.

For example, if in the following months, a country is in a position to relax their travel restrictions, this could create a change in student preferences and the impact of this can be tracked through Google Trends in real-time.

Chart 5 provides the comparative trend of search volume for the terms “Study in Australia”, “Study in Canada” and “Study in New Zealand” in India. During the initial stages of COVID-19, the term “Study in Canada” experienced an increase in search volume in comparison with a decline for the search terms “Study in Australia” and “Study in New Zealand”.

Coincidentally, these changes in search volume happened at the same time that Australia and New Zealand announced travel restrictions while Canada still had a more relaxed travel policy.

It is time to execute digital campaigns more effectively!

As education providers shift their focus to digital marketing campaigns, the insights from Google Trends will be useful to engage effectively with the right audience. Search volumes can provide insights on where and how to execute digital strategies based on country or even city.

Final thoughts

Our initial analysis shows that google trends can be a useful tool during this period of uncertainty to understand changes in the market and support the execution of digital marketing campaigns across the globe.

To support the international education sector we will continue tracking these trends hoping that the findings help the important work of the sector during this challenging period.

Want more information on this analysis or want to share your experience using Google Trends? Contact Keri Ramirez at Studymove.