COVID-19 Drove .Gov Search Traffic in 2020 But Not Always About Health

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Data on searches performed on .gov websites shows people wanted information on every aspect of the pandemic, as well as continued interest in NASA and immigration.

There were almost as many unique queries on federal websites in 2020 as there are people living in the U.S., according to new data culled from a shared search tool used across government.

The information was tracked through Search.gov, a service provided through the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services available to embed on all federal websites.

Using the resource, agencies tracked more than 320 million queries across 2,200 websites in the .gov domain—approximately one-third of all federal websites—according to a summary report released Thursday.

“Search.gov serves as a bridge for the public, making government web search work efficient,” Search.gov Program Manager Dawn McCleskey said in a release announcing the report. “The public can get the answers they need, in the moments they need them most.”

As with most things over the last year, the ongoing pandemic was a major driver of search traffic on federal sites.

“In 2020, as a result of COVID-19, we saw more searches about loans, benefits, unemployment, jobs, and health,” the report states. “We also saw many of the same top query topics from 2019 into 2020 including benefits, forms, outer space—NASA—and logging into government systems.”

“Loans” was the single most-searched term for 2020, with nearly 34 million individual queries.

“Benefits” came in second at more than 28 million, followed by “Space” with 17.6 million and “Immigration” at just over 14 million. Other search terms over 2 million include “Forms,” “Census,” “Health,” “COVID-19” generally, “COVID-19” specifically regarding health topics, “Jobs,” “Login to Systems,” “Weather” and “Climate,” and “Find Offices.”

While many of these search terms are highly ranked every year, those same terms in 2020 were often related to the pandemic, whether searching for accurate health and safety information, applying for loans or assistance finding employment.

“This year’s report highlights the great need for information and resources related to COVID-19, as well as the ongoing needs of people trying to navigate government services,” McCleskey said. “Meeting these needs through stronger and more standardized search will continue to be a priority.”

Interest in space—one of the few top search terms not related to the pandemic—was largely driven by a continued fascination with space exploration. However, NASA.gov also introduced a new birthday card feature that sends users pictures taken by the Hubble Space Telescope on the date of their birth. That feature alone drove more than 1.9 million searches in March and April 2020.

The other top search term apparently not affected by COVID-19 was “Immigration.”

“Despite COVID-19, the number of immigration-related searches in 2020 were on par with 2019,” the report states. “The particular needs remained consistent year to year, including forms needed to apply for citizenship and residency, and the [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program.”

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