How To Use Google Trends As An Internet Crystal Ball

It does not seem possible to understand the behavior of Internet users, far less anticipate it. Google Trends does not explain why some changes happen, or how, but it does a good job at visualizing them. A marketing analyst though can get much more from this tool than just graphs.

Understand the past to get ready for the future

A few changes in the Internet can be retroactively explained. Google Trends reports graphically how often a number of search terms have been searched for on Google over time. You just need to enter for example “animated gif” and compare the result with the trend for the search phrase “video clip” (literally, “video clip”, “animated gif” ). Google Trends will display a graph whose ascending line is the frequency of searches of the topic ‘video clip’ and the descending one, how often ‘animated gif’ is searched for. The graph is plotted on a linear scale so is it clear that one is more searched for than the other, and increasingly so.

It is tempting to interpret these changes as a rise of the interest in bandwidth-hungry multimedia favored by the availability of broadband connections. This would happen to the detriment of the interest in the proprietary and obsolete animated gif format. All interpretations are of course arguably by definition, but the trends are not.

How to discover new popular search terms Now you do not need to be a particularly knowledgeable and intuitive individual to see some changes coming on the Internet. It may be possible to find new search phrases that are just born and grow very quickly by combining parts of two existing and popular search topics in Google Trends. Pick one or more terms (words) of one phrase and other terms (words) of the other phrase and put them together. You only need to make sure that your combinations of words are a search phrase that exists, that it is increasingly searched for and which combination of terms makes sense.

So far in this article, we have identified ‘video clip’ as a phrase getting more and more searches. Another term growing in popularity is ‘avatar’. Avatars are graphics that users upload to Internet forums and instant messaging programs to identify themselves. We can combine our previous examples to see what happens. Now, is there such a thing as a ‘ video avatar ‘? Yes, there is! It happens to be a topic that has just begged to be searched for so frequently that Google Trends is now analyzing it.

Not only ‘ video avatar ‘ began to be searched for recently, but also it has an ascending line . The trend is significantly more peaky than the lines of its parents ‘video clip’ and ‘avatar’. New popular phrases usually start their lives with volumes of searches a few orders of magnitude smaller than their parents’. Their behavior is also more sensitive.

Limitations of the tool

Google Labs warn that their tool does not measure the overall interest in a topic, but the users’ propensity to search for that topic on Google. However, since the engine still keeps almost half of the market share of searches on the Internet, the results can be said to be a good indicator of all that was and is searched for online when the tool is used to compare trends topics for long periods of time. We are also assuming for simplicity sake that the terms video avatar and the phrase “video avatar” (including the double quotation marks), as well as their variants, have almost identical trends.

Intuition can be replaced to some extent by an iterative process of guess and check. You can compare any topics regardless of whether there is a conceptual correlation between them both, for instance, one topic being a replacement of or complementary to the other, like “renewable energy” and “fossil fuel”, or not.

You just need to remember that the graphs just help you visualize and compare trends at large scale and only from a sample of the total of Google searches. Many combinations of successful phrases will not be plotted because the number of their search events is still too low. You must keep in mind that Google does not reveal the real number of total searches or per topic. The size of the sample used to create their graphs is also unknown. If you need to gear up to the next level in your Internet and marketing research, there are other tools that allow you to get estimations of numbers of searches for each particular keyword.

A tool to be handled with imagination

This process of finding new search topics with growing interest can be extended to virtually anything with a potential market value, like new products or services, or even to new concepts and ideas. If you are lucky, you can expect mass phenomena and newly-coined search terms. You do not need to be an expert to unexpected variations of online interests in almost real time. You can now compare a number of interesting topics and phrases and, who knows, maybe you witness a baby star is born!

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