Google search traffic has been shown to be a useful tool for measuring the interests and concerns of the general public. For example, it has been used to predict both unemployment claims and retail sales. Recently it has also been used to forecast election results with greater accuracy than many electoral prognosticators.
At a less scientific level, entering a query such as, “why am I so…” and scanning the suggested searches can give you an interesting, if sometimes troubling, window into the human psyche.
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At SmartAsset our mission is to help people navigate difficult financial decisions by providing accurate and personalized advice on issues such as life insurance, taxes and retirement. These are among the most important and complex questions that we face. They are also among the most-googled.1
So which financial matters are receiving the most interest across the country? We looked at Google trends (which tracks the relative search volume across regions and time periods) to find personal finance terms that receive disproportionate interest in each state. We queried over 300 terms, looking specifically at 2015 search traffic. The map below shows terms that residents of each state searched for the most, relative to other states.2
We’ll break this down by region below, highlighting some of the more interesting findings. In some cases, search traffic for a particular term in a particular state is high because of specific current events. A tax hike in Illinois, for example, likely led to search traffic for the phrase “tax increases.”
In other cases, the demographic and economic conditions of a state may explain the term it searches for. Examples of this are “marriage license” in Nevada and “flood insurance” in Louisiana. Many of the phrases we dug up don’t lend themselves to an easy explanation, however. Why, for example, does North Carolina google funeral cost more than any other state?
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- California has some of the country’s most expensive real estate markets. In some areas, the median home value is more than $1 million. This is likely why the state searches for “jumbo loan” more than any other.
- Is there still gold in Alaska? Apparently there are still people searching for it.
- Utah has a high concentration of multi-million dollar startup companies. It seems everyone in the Beehive State wants to be an entrepreneur. (Indeed, the very nickname stems from the industriousness of the state’s residents.)
- Washington State has one of the highest state minimum wages in the country. Cities such as SeaTac and Seattle have passed their own minimum wage laws.
- Along with searches for “marriage license,” Nevada also rated number one for searches of the topic “prenuptial agreement.”
- A recent tax hike in Illinois is meant to help fill a multi-billion dollar budget gap. It also has the people of Illinois wondering about (and googling) their tax increase.
- Does Indiana know something the rest of us don’t? Why are they googling “recession”?
- Michigan is the automobile capital of the world. Automobiles need insurance. (Note: Michigan also leads the country in searches for “free beer.”)
- Property taxes in Minnesota are slightly lower than the national average. Their system of calculating taxes is fairly complicated, however, which may explain their inordinate googling of “property taxes.”
- The northeast is home to some of the country’s wealthiest states. It seems that people with more money do more googling of financial topics. Many of the states below lead the nation for multiple searches.
- Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has been a leading proponent of making college free for anyone who wants to attend, as it is in a number of European countries. That may explain why his state led the U.S. in googling “free college” in 2015.
- Pet insurance is like health insurance, but for pets. Apparently the people of Connecticut love their animals more than the rest of us.
- In addition to Roth IRA, Delaware leads the nation in searches for at least 13 other personal finance terms. These include savings account, refinance, rewards card, savings account and audit.
- Washington, D.C. leads the country in searches for “money laundering” and New York is number one in searches for “tax shelter.”
- The good people of Massachusetts are thinking about an early retirement. They may want to check out one of these states.
- Florida was one of the states most severely affected by the foreclosure crisis last decade. Foreclosure remains a major concern for the state’s residents.
- Texas is known for its low taxes but the state’s property taxes are among the highest in the country. This may explain why Texans are concerned about their appraisals, which affect how much homeowners owe.
- Along with credit score, top Mississippi searches include student aid, student loan forgiveness and community college. The state has one of the most extensive community college systems in the U.S.
- As a region, the south leads the country in searches for life insurance. Alabama ranks first for that term, followed by Mississippi and Louisiana.
Kansas and Oregon
These two states didn’t rank first for any of the more than 300 terms that we queried. Likewise, while Nebraska does rank first in searches for the billionaire investment genius Warren Buffett, it didn’t rank for anything other than the long-time resident of Omaha. What gives? If you find a term on google trends that one of these states leads for, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll add it here. (Note: make sure to set your time range to 2015 only.)
Photo credits: ©iStock.com/Prykhodov, ©iStock.com/andykatz
1. How important are financial matters in the minds of the searching public? Phrases such as life insurance, retirement and taxes receive many times more searches on average than the “Yankees,” the most-searched-for professional sports team.
2. These are not the terms that each state Googles most overall. For example, while Connecticut searches for “pet insurance” more than any other state, it does not search for “pet insurance” more than any other personal finance term.