Research by HR and payroll software provider Ciphr has revealed which parts of the UK have been turning to Google the most to get vital information and advice about the cost of living crisis.
Ciphr analysed thousands of online search queries about the cost of living and related topics, including energy bills, food prices, inflation, interest rates, mortgage rates, petrol prices, tax cuts, and pay rises. All of which can impact how far workers’ wages stretch every month.
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In August 2022, the average number of monthly Google searches in the UK for the term ‘cost of living’ hit 110,000. This was an increase of 5,689% compared to August 2021, when there were just 1,900 searches.
For the 12 months to August 2022, 444,400 searches were conducted for ‘cost of living’.
Cost of living isn’t the only search term that’s seen marked increases over the past year. Ciphr’s analysis shows that ‘interest rates’ and ‘energy bills’ are also being Googled considerably more often. Average monthly searches for both these terms have increased by around 810% (to 135,000 and 90,500 respectively), compared to August 2021.
Searches for terms relating to pay rises (including pay rise, wage rise, salary rise, pay increase, wage increase, and salary increase) also increased, up to an average of 9,390 searches a month between June and August 2022. For comparison, between June and August 2021 the average monthly searches were 3,207.
To find out which parts of the UK have been most actively searching for information and advice about topics related to the cost-of-living crisis, Ciphr compared Google search volume data for 118 major towns and cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Together, these 118 locations account for nearly half of the UK’s population – around 30 million people.
Ciphr analysed Google data for the same 14 keywords relating to the cost-of-living crisis* for each town or city and then compared the results per 10,000 people (so the results balance any population differences).
While it’s impossible to identify why people search for the things they do when they type in their query to Google, it’s likely that many of the people who are searching for ‘cost of living’ (and other related terms) are doing so because they are – to some extent at least – concerned about cost-of-living rises and the impact on their financial wellbeing.
According to the latest annual earnings data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the average median full-time weekly pay for full-time employees is £640 (as at April 2022). The average median hourly rate for full-time workers in the UK is £16.37.
To see how your hourly rate compares with the UK average, try Ciphr’s hourly wage calculator.
*Search terms included: cost of living, energy bills, food prices, inflation, interest rates, mortgage rates, petrol prices, tax cuts, pay rise, wage rise, salary rise, pay increase, wage increase, and salary increase. The data was collected on 5 October 2022 using KWFinder.
In August 2021, the UK’s consumer price inflation (CPI) rate had already climbed to 3.2% due to the impact of the pandemic. Few people could have predicted, however, the rises that were still to come.
Steep increases in energy prices, fuel costs and grocery shopping, global supply issues, a strong housing market, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, all contributed to UK inflation rising to its highest levels in 30 years. While, in turn, high inflation has pushed the cost of living up even further – leading to many people’s ‘real’ incomes falling because pay rises (and benefits and pensions) haven’t necessarily kept pace with the inflation rate.
By August 2022, UK inflation was 9.9% (down slightly from 10.1% in July 2022).
Given that turbulent backdrop, it’s not surprising that so many more people turned to search engines, like Google, to keep informed about the cost-of-living crisis – and, for some, to look for more financial support where possible.
Ciphr’s study does not include data for September 2022 (which was not available at the time). If September’s Google UK data had been included, it’s very likely that average search results for the terms ‘mortgage rates’, ‘energy bills’, and ‘tax cuts’, among others, would have been much higher than those shown in Ciphr’s charts above. This is due to several government announcements being made in September 2022, such as the Energy Price Guarantee and the Chancellor’s mini-budget, which fuelled search interest around these topics.
Here's how Google Trends recorded the changes in search interest for the terms ‘cost of living’, ‘energy bills, ‘mortgage rates’ and ‘tax cuts’ for the 12 months to 2 October 2022:
Search interest for all queries rose significantly in September 2022, with ‘cost of living’, ‘mortgage rates’ and ‘tax cuts’ reaching peak popularity (registering 100 on Google’s scale from 0-100) in the final two weeks of the month.
Many people in the UK may rarely – if ever – have used the term ‘cost of living’ in their everyday conversations until the past year when inflation soared and ‘real’ incomes and spending power were reduced. Now, it’s the subject of countless headlines and news stories.
To find out which towns or cities in the UK have seen the largest increases in online searches for the term ‘cost of living’, Ciphr compared Google search volume data (August 2022 vs August 2021) for 118 major towns and cities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
According to the results, Bracknell in Southeast England recorded a significant 15,900% (per 10,000 people) rise in the number of searches for ‘cost of living’ in August 2022, compared to August 2021 – almost double that of any other UK town or city. The cities of Leeds and Birmingham also saw big increases, with ‘cost of living’ searches up 9,400% and 8,900% (per 10,000 people) respectively.
Ciphr also analysed the results of the four nations of the UK.
According to the keyword finder tool KWFinder, search interest in the term ‘cost of living’ increased by 10,700% per 10,000 people in Wales in August 2022, compared to August 2021.
Searches by people in Scotland and England were up 5,686% and 5,556% (per 10,000 people) respectively, and the people of Northern Ireland increased their ‘cost of living’ searches by 2,500% per 10,000 people.
Ciphr’s research shows that people across the UK do share similar concerns when it comes to the cost-of-living crisis.
The people living in London, Birmingham and Glasgow, for example, may be separated by hundreds of miles but search interest in ‘food prices’ rose by 300% or more per 10,000 people in all three cities in August 2022 (compared to August 2021). While Newport, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Grimsby had the largest increases in online searches for ‘petrol prices’ (up 3,800%, 1,600%, and 1,300% per 10,000 people respectively).
Ciphr compared the Google search data per 10,000 people for all the towns and cities included in the study to see which parts of the UK had recorded the largest increases in online searches for 14 keywords related to the cost of living – cost of living, energy bills, food prices, inflation, interest rates, mortgage rates, petrol prices, tax cuts, and pay rise, wage rise, salary rise, pay increase, wage increase, and salary increase.
The top results for each keyword (August 2022 vs August 2021) are as follows:
(For the top five search increases see the chart below.)
Increase per 10,000 people (August 2022 vs August 2021)
To highlight how online searches for the term ‘cost of living’ (and other related keywords) may have changed over time, Ciphr accessed Google search data for September 2018 to August 2022.
Ciphr researchers found that for most keyword terms included in the study the largest increases in the number of searches occurred between 2021 and 2022. Between September 2021 and August 2022, there was a 200% increase in the number of searches for all keywords included in the study that relate to the cost-of-living crisis.
The charts below track changes to the total annual search volume for various keywords related to the cost of living over the past four years.
Ciphr analysed Google data for some of the most popular search queries in the UK around the subject of pay rises – such as how to ask for a ‘pay rise’, ‘salary increase calculator’, ‘wage rise 2022’, and ‘pay rise letter template’ (over 60 keywords in all#) – to discover which UK towns and cities average the most searches.
According to the results:
The UK towns and cities with the least number of searches per 10,000 people were London (averaging 22.6 searches per 10,000 people), Poole (22.5) and East Kilbride (17.3).
Ciphr used Semrush to identify the top 300 search results for terms relating to the words ‘pay rise’ (averaging around 357,400 searches a month combined). Although it’s impossible to identify the people searching for the information in these queries, the study did reveal which organisations and occupations appear most frequently in the people’s ‘pay rise’ searches.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), which employs over 1.3 million staff, appeared the most often, with 159,850 searches per month over the past year†.
Search interest in terms related to ‘public sector pay rise’, ‘local government pay rise 2022’, and ‘teacher pay rise 2022’ were also popular, averaging over 25,000 average searches a month.
#Keywords analysed by Ciphr included: pay rises, pay rise, how to ask for a pay rise, pay rise 2022, wage increase 2022, salary increase calculator, calculating salary increase, salary increase calculation, pay rise UK, salary increase, pay rise calculator, pay raise, pay increase, increased wages, wage increase, pay increase 2022, how to ask for a pay rise UK, inflation pay rise, inflationary pay rise, salary increase letter, wage rise, pay rise letters, salary increase calculator UK, how to ask for a pay rise email, how to get a pay rise, wage increase UK, pay rise letter template, salary raise, salary increase 2022, wage increase calculator, salary increases 2022, wage rise 2022, average pay rise, pay rise in line with inflation, salary increase letter template, negotiating a pay rise, wage increase 2022 UK, salary increase inflation, wage rise UK, pay increase letter, pay increases 2022 UK, salary raise calculator, wage rise calculator, how to get a pay rise UK, salary increases 2022 UK, how to ask for a pay rise at work, how to get a pay rise at work, salary rise, salary increase email, salary rise UK, pay increase letter template, salary increase in line with inflation, wage rises UK 2022, wage increase vs inflation, wage increase letter, how to ask for a pay rise script, how to calculate a pay rise, salary rises 2022, wage rise letter, how to get a pay raise, and wage rise inflation.
†This figure only accounts for mentions in the top 300 search results. The true average number of searches will be higher.
UK search interest in pay rises almost doubled this year, as soaring inflation caused many workers’ real incomes to fall. There were 422,290 searches for pay rise related terms between October 2021 and September 2022, an increase of 97% on the previous 12 months, when there were 214,420 searches. Monthly ‘pay rise’ searches also increased – up 67% in September 2022, compared to September 2021 (31,890 vs 19,070). .
Ciphr also analysed Google data to discover the most-searched-for questions about the term ‘pay rise’ in the UK. Queries about how to ask for a pay rise dominate the results.
How to ask for a pay rise is the most popular ‘pay rise’ question, with 2,900 average monthly searches over the past 12 months. Searches for ‘how to ask for pay rise’ is next, with 880 average monthly searches.
Other commonly asked ‘pay rise’ questions (that don’t mention a specific organisation or group of people) include:
Ciphr used the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Major Towns and Cities list (which included 112 English and Welsh towns and cities) as the initial base for this study. To ensure the list represented the whole of the UK, eight towns and cities in Scotland and Northern Ireland, with populations of over 75,000, were added to this list.
Gillingham and South Shields were not included in Ciphr’s Google research study, due to no Google search data being available for these towns on KWFinder.
Population figures for the UK towns and cities included in this study were sourced from:
Population figures for the UK:
Weekly wage data sourced from ONS’ annual survey of hours and earnings (Earnings and hours worked, place of residence by local authority: ASHE Table 8), published in October 2022:
To calculate the average number of Google searches per 10,000 people, Ciphr divided the number of monthly searches for each UK town or city by its population and then multiplied that sum by 10,000.
If the average number of monthly searches for any UK town or city was zero on August 2021, the town or city was excluded from the results (as the percentage increase from zero is ∞).
Ciphr analysed Google search data using KWFinder between 3-5 October and 18 October 2022, and using Semrush on 29 September 2022.