“Google Down”: How Users Experienced Google's Major Outage

Erika Varagouli

Dec 15, 20204 min read
Google Outage on December 14

On December 14, for around an hour (from 6:47 a.m. EST to 7:32 a.m. EST), most Google services - from Gmail and YouTube to Classroom and Docs - were impacted by what Google called an “internal storage quota issue,” which caused its authentication system to crash.

The Google Workspace Status Dashboard shows that although all Google services are back online now, at some point, all of them were affected by this global outage:

google workspace status dashboardSource: Google Workspace Status Dashboard
We’ve collected data and used our Keyword Overview, Traffic Analytics, and Social Media Tracker tools to analyze the reactions and immediate implications of this massive access issue. Below you will find data on the impact of the global outage on:

What People Googled During the Outage

Despite the outage affecting pretty much every Google service, its core search product continued to function as usual. We wanted to use our own Keyword Research Toolkit to discover what the “outage effect” was on Google-related search queries globally and in the US. 

Searches for "google" itself grew 10x at about 6:45-7:00 AM EST.

Although most search queries display an intent to discover whether Google products were functioning properly and/or information around their status, there was also a distinct group of queries around alternatives (so much for brand loyalty!). 

Here’s our list of the most popular search queries users bombarded Google search with while its services were down:

most popular search queries while google was down data

The average spike these search queries experienced within a few hours compared to their average search volume was around 7500%!

The dramatic increase in searches around Google Classroom being down indicates that, due to the pandemic, many students were probably trying to use the service at the time. However, Gmail’s outage saw the biggest spike on December 14.

We also spotted new queries that Semrush hadn’t previously reported any search volumes for trending for a short while; "google hacked 2020" was one of them.

When it comes to queries with an intent to discover and compare alternative services to those of Google, YouTube appears to have suffered the most. 

YouTube alternatives search term increase

Google Trends demonstrates this impressive increase in the users’ interest around competitive products to YouTube, like Vimeo and Dailymotion, with things returning pretty much to pre-outage level very quickly. 

vimeo and dailymotion google trends dataSource: Google Trends

User Sentiment on Twitter

Minutes after the global outage, the social media space was already full of users voicing concerns about the issues facing Google services.

At Semrush we recorded over 1.5 million tweets about Google, 300K tweets about Gmail, and the trending #YouTubeDOWN hashtag appearing in over 180K tweets within just 3 hours and for the US alone! 

Many users reported they were still able to access Google’s services by using the incognito mode, which was reflected in over 26K tweets containing "incognito". 

YouTube’s outage seems to have attracted the biggest attention from the Twitter community as, among all the tweets we analyzed, the majority of them (25.3%) mentioned YouTube, with Gmail and Drive coming in as second and third respectively.

top google services mentioned pie chartData Source: Semrush

The dominant sentiment was sarcasm, as the majority of users expressed their discontent in a humorous and/or sarcastic manner: 

  • Tweets normally reflecting positive (here used to demonstrate irony), neutral, and negative sentiment did not vary significantly across the three categories: 37%, 36%, and 27% respectively.

  • The top three most popular emojis used in outage-related tweets:

top emojis tweeted about google outage

Calculating Audience Costs for Various Google Services

While G Suite now hosts over 6 million paying businesses, a lot more people are using Google services for free. Therefore, every minute of an outage puts millions of people in distress and slows down businesses.

Only Google can provide us with precise data about its customer and visitor numbers, however, we used our Traffic Analytics to get some estimation benchmarks. Looking at the monthly total visitor estimates for some of Google’s services globally, we were able to calculate how many people visit these platforms every single hour (assuming an equal hourly distribution of visitors).

One hour of downtime for Google’s services, like the one that occurred on December 14, could affect: 

users affected by google outage infographic

Counting the Costs for YouTube

While the possibility of YouTube viewers choosing the platform’s competitors as the new it-spot for watching video content is pretty slim, there is some real harm that this kind of outage can do.

Although Google’s search product’s advertising function was unaffected, the same did not apply to YouTube.

In 2019, YouTube's global advertising revenues amounted to almost $15.15 billion, in 2020 this number is expected to grow

Although we cannot provide precise calculations about YouTube’s potential advertising losses on the day, we have estimated that:

1-hour outage cost for YouTube

Providing a Reliable Service Is Key

With remote learning and working on the rise due to the global pandemic, our dependency on online services seems to be at its highest in 2020. Major IT providers are expected to ensure smooth and stable services, which are nowadays the only way we can connect, communicate, and work in many cases. 

In a brief statement, Google promised to “conduct a thorough follow-up review to ensure this problem cannot recur in the future." The tech giant has to ensure it provides reliable services across all of its products, if it doesn’t want to lose market share to some of its competitors, like Zoom, for example, who have proved to be pretty aggressive when it comes to their marketing strategy. We’re looking forward to any insights Google has to share on this topic.

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I create local and global content marketing strategies here at Semrush. I started my career as a journalist, but gradually the world of SEO and content marketing won me over. I am obsessed with creating content people love, Nick Cave, and Italian films. Fueled by caffeine.