One good proxy for market demand is how much a product, service, or other key phrase is being searched for. Google provides an accessible index of trends extracted from its services.
We just want to know when periods of interest were high or low to understand whether our sales dips and spikes were due to something we did in marketing or attributed to a broader shift in the market.
Controlling for this will give us a better picture of how marketing is doing - without it, you'd be giving too much credit to marketing in boom times and unfairly penalizing marketing in downturns.
There are other ways to explore search trends, but Google Trends is indispensable and serves as a one-stop shop for mining trends from one of the world’s biggest data sources.
What is Google Trends?
Google Trends is a data exploration tool for keyword searches, topics, and other search trends. The tool ranks the relative popularity of search queries from Google and YouTube Search across various regions and languages. The tool breaks down that data using handy graphs and simplified stats to enable users to compare the search volume of different queries throughout time.
To create trends data, Google takes data from the following sources:
- Google Shopping
- Image Search
- News Search
- Web Search
- YouTube Search
Google Trends normalizes data to show relative popularity. It doesn’t show search volume, but relative popularity. The basic process Google uses to normalize trends data is as follows:
- Each trend data point is divided by the total searches according to geography and time range. This finds relative popularity.
- The resulting data is scaled from 0 to 100 based on a topic’s proportion to all topics.
- So, different regions that show the same trends on the scale don’t necessarily correspond at all and may represent totally different search volumes.
- A score of 100 indicates peak popularity for a term or topic.
- Google obfuscates queries generated from "irregular activity” to preserve reliability.
Google Trends’ normalization process is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s useful to divorce trends from search volume to find data sensitive to locality and time ranges. Additionally, the normalization process simplifies the data, making it easily intelligible and readily comparable.
Google Trends is better used to assess how popularity changes throughout time, and how certain topics are connected to environmental factors such as the time, date, etc.
One excellent and reliable example is the term “customer service”. Below, we can see that search interest in this term peaks sometime in the mid-morning, continuing throughout the afternoon before dropping off. While this is pretty obvious, you can glean an insight from this simple trend: if you want to post on social media or advertise something to do with customer service, do it around 10 to 12 pm.
Google Trends is excellent for laser targeting search dynamics to particular regions.
While global trends provide an interesting macro commentary, it’s usually best to narrow your search to your target geography. For example, suppose you use Google Analytics to track website data or have demographic data from somewhere else, e.g., social media. In that case, you might want to start with your largest customer base. If you have multiple segments of customers, then you can perform different analyzes and searches within Trends for each segment.
With that said, performing global searches can return interesting data. For example, a simple search for “Businesses” returns the following trends.
Interesting - but general. But then, if we take a look at the “related topics” tab, we can see some pretty interesting recent searches. Now, it’s not possible to take this data at face value as these are likely to be topics searched by a tiny portion of individuals that Google has picked up very recently.
Nevertheless, there are likely to be some decent ideas for content production here, providing a starting point to conduct further keyword research. Namely, “how can blockchain be used to support sustainable business practices?” looks like a credible and interesting topic on the subject of business sustainability.
Keywords, topics, filters, and other controls
Google Trends comes with many filters and controls. You’ll start at the main page, which contains a mix of breakout and trending terms and semi-curated content.
Exploring some of these terms is great for finding trending current affairs if you're into newsjacking. Google Trends Subscriptions is ideal for newsjacking - be sure to check that out if you want to ally your brand to trending news stories.
From the main Explore window, the main features are:
- Date range
- Search type
You can also compare multiple queries at the top. Don’t forget to toggle between Rising and Top on the Related Topics and Related Queries boxes, as these are markedly different from one another. Top refers to the overall most popular topics in the selection, whereas Rising charts a rise in search frequency. Terms marked Breakout have received massively increased interest, and tend to respond to recent large-scale events.
When you enter a term, you’ll notice that Trends returns a few different results. One is the search term itself, another might be a topic, and there will be other suggested related terms. You can start at a high-level topic, narrow your way down, or go the opposite way and work from a smaller topic to a larger one.
Topics are very useful for sorting phrases by topical area. For example, searching for the term “gardening” within the Home and Garden category returns plenty of trendy, cultural, and product-related results, whereas searching for the same term within the Science category returns results on soil science, agritech, and horticulture.
The benefits of search trends
Search trends enable marketers to find out what is happening in the world instantaneously. They also provide relative data over time, enabling marketers to compare trends, or compare trends to their own traffic and sales data. Search trends are a vital component of marketing planning, as they allow marketers to plan ahead for predictable trends.
This is heavily linked to the concept of seasonality, which involves marketers predicting seasonal changes in demand so they can ramp up campaign efforts in advance, or look to other tactics to boost demand off-season.
Ways to use search trends
There are many ways to use search trends. For example, search trends are excellent for market research, content research, product discovery, competitor intelligence, measuring seasonality, and much more. They provide realistic insight into real-world activity.
Moreover, trends enable advertisers to compare increases in search volume to ongoing trends to discover whether a keyword is surging in demand due to an ephemeral change or a long-term trend.
Here are five marketing uses for search trends:
1: Discover how stable a search term is over time
You can look at the rolling average performance of PPC terms over 30-day or 12-month periods and compare those to search trends to discover whether changes can be attributed to trends or other factors. You can even download search trends data as a .csv and use it to divide your PPC, or other marketing spend to cater to increasing and decreasing demand.
2: Analyze seasonality
Product or service demand is not sustained equally over 12-month, 30-day, or even 24-hour periods. Seasonality applies primarily to year-on-year fluctuations, but it can also be sensitive to other timeframes.
One excellent example of seasonality is the topic “gardening.” It might seem sensible to assume that interest in gardening increases with better spring weather, which is indicated below.
However, what’s surprising is how early interest in gardening peaks (April) and how quickly it declines through summer. Targeting a campaign in July or even June misses that springtime peak. It’d be wise to prepare campaigns over late winter to launch in March and April.
Another strategy is to analyze low-interest periods for other ways to boost sales and conversions.
3: Find product ideas and niches
Once you have a top-level topic like gardening, it’s then possible to drill down into product ideas. By searching for gardening-related queries around peak season, we can find products and topics allied to that topic. For example, two potential product ideas exposed here are “knee pads” and “kneeling pads for gardening” and “gardening hats for women.”
If you operate in the gardening niche already, this provides two avenues to explore. It might be a good idea to conduct some additional research on those two products and see if they’re viable. If you’re an Amazon seller, eBay seller, Etsy seller, or drop shipper, these product ideas are worthy of further research as seasonal products.
Another product-related use is comparing product data from within the same niche. An example here is comparing “kitten heel” and “wedge heel.” We can see that wedge heels appear to be a more robust product throughout summer and that the products loosely coincide outside of that season. The response might be to boost efforts on wedge heels throughout spring and summer.
4: Content marketing
We’ve already touched on how Google Trends enables marketers to budget for seasonality. But, trends data applies to other forms of marketing too. For example, if we look at our data for gardening again, we can find some trending topics. One topic is choosing products for a raised garden bed planter (aka. a raised bed). This could make up into a great blog post.
Again, it’s necessary to use this data to inform keyword searches rather than taking it at face value. Another excellent piece of information here is World Naked Gardening Day (which takes place on the 7th of May).
Covering World Naked Gardening Day in social media content or a short blog post might capture some interest at that time of year. Creating content for transient spikes should be a quick, low-investment strategy, as these spikes will die off. Content marketing for spikes is perfect for social media.
Epic Gardening - a YouTube channel - is also making the trends. That also provides a further avenue of research to see what kind of content they’re creating.
5: Keyword research for SEO
In addition to finding trending-related ideas and topics for content and social media marketing, Google Trends is valuable for other keyword research strategies.
As mentioned, Google Trends provides time and season-sensitive keywords in any easy-to-understand format. This is great if you want to avoid temporary fluctuations in search volume that fail to last.
For example, interest in “bleach” skyrocketed when a certain political figure mentioned it in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Of course, search volume would’ve also rocketed around then, but this trend proved to be ephemeral.
Another strategy is to delve into locational trends data to formulate local SEO strategies.
Here’s a search for the term “rock climbing.” Vermont, Utah, Idaho, and Colorado top the list. While the reasons why might be obvious to some (they contain some of the best rock climbing sites in the US), this might come as a surprise to someone from another country trying to dropship rock climbing clothing in the US via Amazon.
A little look into the data reveals that interest peaks around summer, with most searches relating to the Idaho Falls area. Gathering this level of local data is excellent for gaining marketing knowledge on specific locations.
Lastly, you can use Google Trends to provide directional data from keywords you’ve researched elsewhere. This enables you to find trending topics that tie in with your current content calendar and SEO strategy.
Google Trends beyond marketing
Google Trends also yields valuable sociocultural insights that transcend marketing.
For example, this scientific paper cites how Google Trends is useful for tracking health topics, e.g., e-cigarette usage and disease breakouts. Other insights, e.g., growing interest in antidepressants, are also well-illustrated by Google Trends.
Google Trends is a powerful qualitative tool that can help marketers understand the overarching concepts in which their niches operate. Delving into trends helps understand demographically and geographically sensitive topics, enabling marketers to 'get under the skin' of their customers or clientele.
The disadvantages of search trends
Search trends don’t really serve a robust quantitative analysis. Instead, they’re much more of a qualitative research tool, enriching campaign data, marketing mix models, and SEO data.
Google Trends only provides relative numbers and there’s no way to gain absolute numbers.
Moreover, much of the algorithm for locating related queries and topics is largely unknown. It’s difficult to tell what the context for a search is without wider research, and increases and decreases in popularity should be validated with other data where possible.
Also, Google Trends data is totally anonymized and only covers those with an internet connection. This limits its usage in scientific study as it’s biased with no way to determine the demographics of its users.
The importance of search trends
Simply put, search trends are important because they provide insight into the topics that people are most interested in over a given timeframe for a given location.
This information is vital for marketers, who need to know what their customers want to create products and services that meet those needs. Search trends also provide an overarching commentary on sociocultural trends, movements, and ideas.
One of the best features of Google Trends is how it enables granular location-based research and macro-level top-down research. This enables marketers to gain a wide field of vision over their topic or niche and how it operates in a broader context.
For marketers, complete awareness of target demographics and topical spaces is invaluable. Such knowledge guides everything from content marketing and keyword research to social media, choosing new products, providing new services, and aligning one’s business to the prevailing trends that matter
Summary: Search Trends
Google Trends is the definitive tool for exploring search trends. This isn't the same as exploring SERPs data, keywords, etc. Instead, Google Trends provides relative popularity scores with useful filters, suggestions and trends data.
Using Trends to explore the popularity of terms, topics and related entities yields important insights for marketing. Expose trending niches and product ideas, explore seasonality to optimize PPC spend and generate content marketing strategies that piggyback popular topics.
Trends data helps marketers keep their finger on the pulse of the here and now. While it's not the most quantitatively robust source of data, it draws upon the ubiquity of Google's services to provide a unique top-down account of what people are searching for both now and in the past.