Friday, January 4, 2013

What Did We Learn This Week? A Peek into Google Trends

By Ellen Cutter, Director of Research.  

After a long maternity leave, I've dusted off the old laptop and am back at work. While I was out, back in October, Google reconceived their Insights tool, merging it with the new and improved Google Trends. If you haven’t checked it out yet be forewarned: you will be diverted into a rabbit hole of procrastination for at least 30 minutes.

Google Trends allows you to explore and manipulate worldwide Google search engine patterns to gain insights into how topics are trending over time and how interests vary by city or region. Let’s look at an example. For the following, I limited my query to searches performed in the United States over the last three years for a variety of topics: fiscal cliff, super bowl, LIBOR, Kardashian, and Hostess. 

What can Google Trends tell us?
  • Compared to the Kardashians, nobody gives a rat’s tail about the LIBOR scandal. However, the vast majority of searches performed for LIBOR were performed in a handful of metros, which also happen to be major financial centers – New York, Charlotte, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Denver, and Chicago. Makes sense.
  • The popularity of searching for news about the fiscal cliff surpassed searches for Kardashian, both spiked in light of the GOP and the White House’s negotiations and the announcement of a Kimye baby on the way. (Yes, I too am disappointed that I know the term “Kimye” –thanks, Huffington Post). Searches related to the Kardashians were highest in southern California, so perhaps interest is waning outside of Hollywood? Not so fast, the entire map is aglow with activity as shown in the map below. A search index of 100 represents peak volumes, and places like Duluth, MN (index= 33), Evansville, IN (31), and Portland, ME (27) all register notable volume. The same cannot be said about the fiscal cliff or LIBOR.
  • Searches for news related to the Super Bowl spike each January/February and had the highest indexed volume in Indianapolis (give it up for the Colts!), Green Bay, smaller metros in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh, and a few other non-franchise cities like Austin and Omaha.
  • As a wild card, I threw in the term “hostess” because of the announced Hostess bankruptcy. While there was a spike in volume around the announcement in December, Google Trends tells me that this trend line is probably a mixed bag of results including not only Hostess brands but also folks likely searching for hostess jobs and those searching the term “hostess with the most-est.”
There are some limitations. I tried to enter in search terms more relevant to Market Street’s line of work, like Opportunity Austin and economic development. Trends are suppressed if there aren’t sufficient search volumes, so my results were somewhat limited. Still, this can be a fascinating way to see what searches people are performing related to your community, both nationwide and globally. It can quickly confirm or deny components of your community’s image and potentially lead your organization to some new marketing strategies. Pretty cool!