Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WEB & TECH / MAR. 22, 2014
version 5, draft 5

Beyond the Search Engine Part 3: Google Trends

This marks the third entry in my ongoing series on everything - beyond the ubiquitous search engine and email - in the Googleverse. We’ve already looked at Google Alerts and Google Analytics, and today I’m going to introduce Google Trends, yet another powerful but relatively unknown tool.

Google Trends shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to total search-volume across various regions of the world, and across time. Whew. That’s a mouth full. To put it simply, it shows how popular a term is over a set period of time, displayed as a line graph. That’s the Cliff Notes version. It can be used to show what’s hot (to quote Paris Hilton, “that’s hot”) and what’s not (to quote...um...E! Channel). It’s like having insider knowledge of what people are thinking about and looking for.

Google Trends: The Homepage

As is the case with all the tools and services in the Googleverse, you’ll need a Google account to use Trends. Once you’ve signed in, you’re taken to the homepage, and it presents all the features and options in one convenient spot.

The layout is (currently) as follows:

  • Trending Now (left-hand side) - each day (and throughout the day) this list is updated with the latest search terms trending on Google. It lists the term(s), and their relative number of searches. You can click on any term to get more detailed information. For example, spring and first day of spring are both trending today (March 20 as I write this) in Canada. The current country is indicated at the top of the column, and can be changed at the top-left of the page (the drop-down menu lists every country for which Google has available data, as well as Global for world-wide stats). There is a More Hot Searches link at the bottom of the column if you’d like to see the full list.
  • 2013 Charts (middle column) - Trends currently provides a number of lists, across various topics (TV Shows, Politicians, Recipes), that runs down the most popular and sought-after terms for last year. Kind of a “Best of 2013”. There is a More Top Charts link at the bottom of the list if you’d like to see the whole list.
  • Explore In-Depth (right-hand column) - Google provides two examples of searches and/or comparisons to get you started. These frequently change. There is a More To Explore link at the bottom of the column if you’d like to start your own exploration.

So, how can you use the data?

Find Current and Popular Topics

To start with, Google Trends provides real-time access (with its Trending Now feature) to what people online are searching for and reading about in any given country. If you’re a content provider - writing for a personal or professional blog, newsletter, or forum - you can instantly see what is trending that day. This should provide at least a few ideas. In Canada, many people are searching for spring, first day of spring, and Alison Redford (the Premier of Alberta who just announced her resignation). Any one of those terms would be a good choice for me to write about today.

Examine A Given Term(s)

Clicking on the More To Explore link will take you to arguably Trends most useful page. You’ll notice four drop-down menus across the top of the page, and these are your search parameters. Enter your specific requirements.

  • Location - Worldwide (default), or any specific country for which Google has available data.
  • Time Frame - 2004-Present (default), Past 7 Days, Past 30 Days, Past 90 Days, Past 12 Months, or any individual year from 2014 to 2004 (the first year for which data exists).
  • Category - All Categories (default), or any other from a wide list of choices (shopping, beauty & fitness, autos & vehicles, etc.)
  • Search Type - Web Search (default), Image Search, News Search, Google Shopping, YouTube Search.

The Explore feature provides several great ways to examine and analyze terms, including:

  • Search terms (link along the left-hand side) - Enter your terms, one at a time, by clicking the ADD TERM button. You can enter anywhere from one to five terms for comparison. Trends will then create a colour-coded (if multiple terms) line graph that displays interest in the term over time. Below that you’ll find Regional Interest (how popular is the term in various countries around the world) for each individual term, and Related Searches (what else are people searching for when looking for each term) for each individual term.
  • Locations (link along the left-hand side) - This feature allows you to enter a single term, and up to five different countries. Trends will then provide a colour-coded line graph that shows interest over time for that one term in each specified location. Regional Interest and Related Searches again appear below the graph.   
  • Time Ranges (link along the left-hand side) - Enter a single search term, and up to five time ranges to directly compare the popularity of the term at various points in time. Is it becoming more popular, or less, over time?

The beauty of Google Trends is its simplicity and colour-coded format. You can quickly, and visually, see how a term(s) is trending over time, and that could be very, very useful.

How To Use the Explore Data

You need to know that people are interested in a topic, product, or service before you invest time, money, and energy in it. Google Trends can give you a quick snapshot.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re thinking of starting a sporting goods business. What equipment should you include? You could simply check the trending pattern for a list of the most common sports, like baseball, basketball, hockey, cricket, or whatever, for your particular country. You could specify a lengthy time period to analyze whether a particular sport is gaining or losing in popularity, and that could help determine whether you include that equipment in your stock.

Imagine you’re considering a major career change. There are three industries/areas that interest you most. Compare them on Trends. See how they are trending over time to get some clue as to the demand. Is it an industry on the upswing, with apparent future security, or one that is slowly disappearing from the minds of consumers/clients?

Or, let’s assume you have two job offers at two competing companies. Both packages are decent, and both positions are nearly exactly what you’re looking for in your professional life. A quick Google Trends comparison might reveal that while one of the companies is showing steady and increasing popularity online, the other is in rapid and steady decline. It might indicate problems (where there’s smoke, there’s fire).

Maybe you’re in charge or monitoring your company’s online reputation. Enter your company name in Trends, and see how it’s trending (or not trending) in each of the countries where you have a presence. Analyze what other terms people are searching for in each location when looking for your company - is it a direct competitor? An entirely different product or service? A do-it-yourself alternative? It’s all potentially useful information that could influence your future marketing plan, product direction, or decision to leave or enter a particular market.

The possibilities are endless. The trick with data - any data - is knowing what to do with it. Google Trends provides some great raw data, and it’s up to you to put it to good use. Hopefully, you’ll find these suggestions a good jumping off point. If you’re looking for some additional information on how to use the tool, Google provides a wonderful help forum.

What about you? Have you ever used Google Trends, and if so, what did you do with it? Your comments below please…

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