What are WoW players searching for on Google?

Brian Wood
B. Wood|04.18.12

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Google is the world's largest search engine by a massive margin, enjoying a nearly 70% market share. Google processes over a billion searches every day -- searches for everything from the fate of Firefly to where to buy RPG dice to the answer to the Kirk vs. Picard debate. It even handles searches for non-geeky stuff. And of course, some percentage of those billion daily searches are WoW searches.

Google has a tremendous amount of data about exactly what WoW players are looking for online -- and if there's one thing I can't get enough of, it's WoW data. With the search data that Google makes available, we can get a unique look into how WoW-related searches have changed over time with the changing popularity of the game and what kinds of topics WoW players are searching for more than others. The Google-eye view is a unique insight into the online interest and discussions of World of Warcraft.

WoW search trends over time

To start at the beginning, let's take a look at how online searches for WoW have changed over time. This data is for all searches with the phrase "WoW" in them that Google considers to be related to online gaming. The data is normalized, meaning that the highest search volume is given a value of 100, and everything else is divided by 100. Thus, when the line is half the highest height, that reflects half the search volume, though we don't how many searches that number is; we can only compare the trend.

This chart shows the marked climb in popularity of WoW, remaining very high throughout The Burning Crusade and peaking just after the release of Wrath of the Lich King before going into a steady decline. The peak of search interest just after Cataclysm launch just barely scratches the lowest point during The Burning Crusade.

However, this does not necessarily directly translate into the popularity of WoW, though we certainly know subscriber count has been declining. Instead, it's entirely possible that the improvements in making the game easier to understand have reduced the need for some players to look for information online. Things like the in-game quest helper that shows where to go to complete a quest substantially reduce the number of people looking that quest up online (something that was once a common practice), and Blizzard has made a lot of improvements that make it easier for players to play the game without having to leave the game to look things up.

It's worth noting here that I looked up the trends for all the different classes, and the trend for all of them mirrored this trend almost exactly (except of course death knights, which burst on the scene in Wrath).

WoW expansion search trends

Here, we're going to take a look at the comparative search popularity of the different WoW expansions. This is looking at all searches in the online gaming category that include both the word WoW and the name of the expansion. Common expansion abbreviations (BC, WotLK) have been included as well.

This graph clearly shows the amazing surge of interest in Wrath of the Lich King. Comparatively, the number of people searching for Cataclysm info was the least of all the expansions. (It's too soon for Google to have data on Mists of Pandaria searches.)

One theory for the lack of Cataclysm search volume is that so much information about the expansion was available before its release that there was less need to go looking -- you couldn't go to any WoW site without drowning in expansion news (sort of like now). But even taking that into account, this certainly looks like a pretty substantial decrease in interest. After all, what can really compare with the fall of Arthas?

Class warfare

Now let's take a look at the search volume for each of the WoW classes. Here, we're seeing the average monthly number of searches for phrases of "WoW (class)," including variations of class names (death knight and DK, for example). This graph is specifically only looking at searches that have the word WoW immediately adjacent to the class name. So a search for "WoW rogue leveling tips" would be counted, but "WoW guide to rogue pvp" would not. It should still give us a good comparison, however.

As we can see, hunters beat out the other classes by leaps and bound in looking up info on their class. This could be because hunters are just a massively popular class, or hunter players need more help, or just that hunters have a really vibrant online community (they do) so have more people active online.

I'm not too surprised to see the search volume for the healing classes is lower. Healing lends itself less well to theorycrafting. You can't turn healing into an ideal mathematical equation, and as a result, there are fewer "right" answers in the healing role to look up online.

Top WoW search phrases

The following chart takes a look at the monthly search volume for some of the top searched phrases. Unlike the class searches above, here we're looking at any search that included both "WoW" and the phrase, even if there were other words in between. (Thus, you can't compare the class numbers to these.) As always, common variations (shirt and T-shirt) are included. I have excluded a couple of the very top phrases -- searches for WoW itself, for Blizzard, and searches for guides without any qualifier on the kind of guide.

It's probably unsurprising that the Armory tops the monthly search volume, and it's frankly pretty disappointing that searches for WoW gold are still so incredibly high, though not all of these are for buying gold -- plenty of those searches are for gold-making guides. The pet search included companion pets and hunter pets. Sadly, the impressive search volume for "private" refers to people searching for private servers; this is the result that came as the biggest surprise to me.

WoW gold search trend

For some more cheery news, here is a look at the search trend over time (again, normalized) for searches including both "WoW" and "gold."

As we can see here, online searches for WoW gold-related phrases peaked just at the beginning of 2007 (just before the release of The Burning Crusade) and have been in decline ever since. Currently, these searches are at their lowest level since the first half of 2005.

Of course, one of the staggering things here is to look at the huge monthly search volume for gold phrases and consider how ridiculously much higher it was back in 2006. You can also spot pretty easily on this chart, where daily quests were introduced in 2007. Despite what it may seem, this chart seems to indicate that all the efforts Blizzard is making to combat gold selling is having some kind of impact. Of course, the decline in WoW popularity overall in recent years also contributes.

WoW licensed properties

Finally, we're going to take a look at the average monthly search volume of the top WoW licensed properties (top by search volume). Again, here we're looking at any combination of the word "WoW" and obvious variations of the property.

Unsurprisingly, the WoW movie tops the list with over 150,000 monthly searches from WoW fans desperate to know if it's actually going to happen or if Michele Morrow has been cast for Sylvanas. The Trading Card Game (TCG) comes in second with an incredibly impressive search volume, followed by books and novels and searches for a WoW mouse.

About the data

All of this data looks at the global search volume for English-language searches on Google. Like all data, all this gives us is a set of facts, and there are often as many different ways of interpreting the data as there are people doing the interpreting.

What does this data mean to you? Is interest in WoW indeed falling even more than subscriber numbers indicate? Or is the game just so much better than there's less need to search online? Why the heck are hunters searching for hunter info so much? Or is that other classes jealous of hunters searching to learn how to become one?

What do you take out of this?
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