Google Trends is a powerful platform that allows people to get a glimpse of what is being searched for all over the world.

It allows users to filter results right down to specific locations to see how concentrated certain search topics are.

The platform also has a lot of other functions, all of which are invaluable to marketers who use Trends to get a beat on what their potential audiences are actively searching for and engaging with, allowing them to create content that is in line with these interests, and thereby adds value to the audiences engaging with it.

Moving beyond a marketing perspective (though only by a bit), Google Trends is also an excellent way to get a peek into the collective headspace of a particular demographic.

With it, we can glean data on what people are looking at, interested in and talking about; which allows us to build a generalised understanding of what type of topics are taking up people’s thoughts, opinions and conversations.

Current Interests of the South African Public

To demonstrate the informative power of Google Trends when aiming to figure out what your audience is thinking, we took a list of the most popular searches all over South Africa, as they were presented on Trends on Monday the 23rd of July 2018.

Here is what we found:

Here is a range of results for search concentrations as they occurred on Monday, in order of how many people have searched for them.

To simplify things, we can categorise the above topics as follows: Tabloids and entertainment; sport; news; education.

Tabloids and Entertainment

Perhaps it’s no surprise that tabloids and entertainment make up the majority of searches amongst South Africans; these two topics have been prominent across all media in the past, and will likely continue to do so in the future.

While they do have a huge share of South Africa’s head-space, tabloids and entertainment still don’t make up the majority of searches however.

With a total of 15000+ searches in these domains, they take up around 38% of all Google searches in South Africa (or at least they did on Monday). This number is made up by the 10000 searches for the story on whether or not Somizi’s (a popular South African choreographer) fiancé is cheating and a further 5000 searches regarding Thuso Mbedu’s debut appearance on Generations.

While tagging on to these particular topics may be a challenge for marketers, they give us some interesting insights into where our audience’s attention generally lies; and in this case, they point to a prevalent enthusiasm regarding South African celebrities and the entertainment industry.

However, as high as this percentage is, tabloids and entertainment still don’t make up the majority of searches across South Africa.

That bit of credit goes to, as it is in many other places in the world, sport.


There is nothing particularly unexpected about sport being the most trending search across South African’s, we are a strong sporting nation and interest in sport is generally concentrated all over the world. Still, if Monday’s searches can show us anything, it’s that interest in sport far outstrips all other topics.

With a total of 20000 searches, the topic of sport sits at an interest percentage of just over 51%, making it, by far, the most searched for topic on the 23rd of July.

This is tallied by 10000 searches about Mesut Ozil’s exit from the German football team, 5000 searches for Liverpool’s keeper Alisson, and a further 5000 searches relating to 2018 PSL fixtures.

We can go even deeper into our analysis by saying that, in this case, soccer is the prominently searched for sporting event, with more focus paid to its celebrity-status athletes than the sport itself.

News and Current Events

On Monday, there was exactly one news story being viewed, and it only attracted the interest of 2000 searchers using Google, making up a meagre 5% of trending interests.

The story concerns a taxi shoot-out in Kwazulu Natal that claimed the lives of eleven taxi drivers who were ambushed while driving home from a funeral.

For the purposes of this discussion, the content of the story itself is not what’s important about it, but rather the underwhelming interest in it.

Anywhere else in the world, eleven deaths from a shootout would be breaking headlines and nestled squarely on the tongues of its populous. Yet only 5% of South African Google users took an interest in this story.


Admittedly, education features fairly regularly on Google Trends, it is a hot topic in our country after all. However, at the start of this week, only a single story found its way into the public eye, and it concerns the delayed arrival of UNISA results.

It’s easy to see why some interest in this topic was generated, since those searching the story may likely have had a stake in it. That is to say that they were concerned about their results.

Still, only 2000 searches for the topic were conducted, also making up just 5% of the searches conducted on Monday, tying it at the bottom of the interest ladder alongside the not-so-infamous taxi shootout.

What are the Implications Here?

At the risk of being over critical of the way we consume media, this data has some fairly concerning implications for our priorities and the way that we, as a nation, do it.

There is a tendency to prefer soft-news over those stories which actually have real-life social, political and economic implications.

Sport takes up a lot of the public domain, which is no surprise, things have been that way since the Colosseum in Rome first started entertaining masses in 80AD. Even after the conclusion of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, soccer is dominating searches at ten times the pace of news and education.

Tabloids have also always been a popular topic. It seems people love prying into the personal lives of celebrities, as much now as they always have.

Again, these stories have no real-life economic or social implications; they serve merely as an escape route from the troubles in our own lives where we can pin our own frustrations on to barely knowable, almost fictitious and completely un-relatable characters.

Now on to the topic of our steady stream of bad news, and whether or not viewers even want to hear it anymore. Eleven people were killed in a shootout on Sunday night, which is only a small number of people if you compare it to the meagre 2000 searches for this story.

While 2000 searches for a major piece of news may also seem like a high number, consider that around 22 million people in our country have access to internet (according to Forbes). That means that just 0.0091% of people with digital access to the story, actually took an active interest in it.

Are we tired of hearing about violence? Is it because there is already a bit of shared disdain for the taxi industry amongst South Africans? Who can really tell?

Education, and perhaps a low interest in the story about UNISA results have been unfairly categorised here. Taking a closer look at the story, we can see that it is more about the university’s inept approach to administration than it is about the availability of results.

Is it a smear campaign? Is it news? Is it a public service announcement? Again, there is no real way of determining the agenda here.

Still, we can use the low interest in the topic as a mirror for South African society. It isn’t surprising since only a small percentage of South Africans actually have access to tertiary education in the first place, while those that do may prefer one of the other available institutions.

However, UNISA is the biggest university in Africa, and so one would expect a more concentrated response to, and interest in this story than there is; bringing up some worrying implications regarding how South Africans prioritise education.

The Value of This Information

These kinds of insights, as I have mentioned above, are extremely valuable to marketers. Google Trends represents just one tool out of many that are used to help marketers understand the needs, wants and interests of their target audience.

At face value, the data doesn’t always look useable, since the trending topics are not aligned or usable with just any campaign. However, instead of tagging on to these events to create relevant content, marketers can use them to determine where audience interests lie, and just as importantly, where they do not.

This allows us to concentrate our efforts on where they would be most effective, so that time and resources can be saved on where they would not.

If you would like to have these kinds of insights powering your digital marketing campaign, be sure to contact a representative from Right Click Media today, or simply visit our website for more details on our offers.

John Ottolman

John Ottolman

John Ottolman: Keyword whisperer, content creator, researcher and OCD stricken editor. The imprints of keyboard letters have long-since embossed themselves on his finger-tips. Thirsty for knowledge and hungry to share it, he is here to provide insights from the digital industry.

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