The Google Trends Data Goldmine
Not familiar with Google Trends, or just don't use it that often? Columnist Benjamin Spiegel shows us how to use this tool for obtaining localized keyword insights.
There is an incredible amount of information one can obtain from Google’s Trends tool. While the Google Keyword Planner is commonly used for keyword and theme research due to its simplicity, it simply does not have the local granularity that Google Trends provides.
Google Trends is most often used to understand brand health and monitor changes in consumer interests along competitive metrics and factors such as seasonality.
That’s all great, but it is only scratching the surface when it comes to the information you can extract and the insights you can create by segmenting that data even further. And when it comes to pulling information around local consumer behavior, Google Trends is at the top of my list.
One of the reasons why I prefer to use Google Trends as my source for local information instead of the standard surveys or focus groups is the fact that we are leveraging the largest panel in the world (the internet). It’s honest, trusted and not influenced/skewed.
We can get answers to questions we never asked from people we never considered. On top of that, we can get information on historic behavior — you can’t ask panels how they felt six years ago!
Today, I want to focus on the incredible amount of information about localized behavior you can get from Google Trends. I will explain the tool itself, then share three ways you can use this data to inform local executions and strategies (and hopefully inspire you to create and share hundreds of others).
What Is Google Trends?
Derived from Google’s search data, Trends is a numeric/historic representation of the relative volume of searches made on Google. It creates indexes that show trending instead of actual volume (a big difference between Trends and Keyword Planner); this data can be mined for actionable insights you just can’t get from Keyword Planner (as you’ll see below).
To learn more about the sources and read some frequently asked questions; check out the Trends help section.
The use of Google Trends is fairly simple and very intuitive. You start by entering a search term or topic in the query box; in this example, we will compare the search trends for Facebook, MySpace and Twitter. Then you can select from several filtering options:
- Region. Allows you to define your search by worldwide, country, state or even city/metro area.
- Time Frame. Lets you select a variety of predefined time frames (last seven days, one year, one month, etc.) or set a custom period. The data goes back to 2004, which makes this an amazingly interesting source as it contains the rise of the Internet, the evolution and decline of Myspace, and other fun historical changes.
- Categories. You can limit the terms and search volume to a certain category. Having this dimension allows us to look at specific trends and discover new themes/searches.
- Engines. This option lets you choose between News, Web Video and Shopping search, which offer great flexibility depending on the brand and vertical. This also allows you to focus on the right intent — learning through video search or buying through shopping search, for example.
The results are broken out into two separate graphs: historic trending (interest over time) and localized (regional) behavior.
Interest Over Time:
The data is pretty much what we expected; we can clearly see the rise and fall of MySpace, the slow and very steady growth of Twitter and the craze and explosive growth of Facebook.
The data geeks among us like that we can actually export the raw, granular data for each location and date into a CSV. These CSV exports contain all the data shown in the graph broken out into many sections for city, region, history and other comparative stats.
So, what can you do with those exports? How can you improve the insights you can generate? Here are three fairly straightforward examples.
Competitive Brand Health By State
Brands are always looking to understand their reach and influence in a specific region. Aside from running surveys or focus groups, I believe search data to be a great representation of these metrics.
Let’s assume we are a major automotive manufacturer, and we are trying to understand what the most popular brands are on a state level. It’s simple; just go into Google Trends and export the top terms by the Vehicle Brands category.
The above setting will give you the entire U.S. I prefer to export by each state and then combine the data.
In the example below, I took a map of the U.S. and highlighted it by the most-searched-for car brand.
Having this type of data allows planners to prioritize awareness-based media campaigns. If we are already the #1 top-of-mind automotive brand in a specific state, we might want to target our awareness-based campaigns to a different region where there is less affinity. We can even break this down further to the individual cities. or just us vs. our main competitors.
Category Priority Topics By State
We all know that deep consumer understanding is a key piece of what moves the business and allows marketers to create the right messages for the right audiences. Part of that is understanding and leveraging local nuances and trends. One of the key ways of doing that is to look at local shares.
The map below shows you the search interest for top car brands by state. You can clearly see the diversity in some states as opposed to very traditional behavior in others.
Now that you understand which other brands consumers in your market are evaluating based on the search volume, you could look at the individual models they are searching for and starting building your messaging around those interests. (If people want hybrids in a region, make sure you amplify your hybrid models and messaging in that region.)
One of the beautiful aspects of Trends is that you can query data from specific engines, one of them being Google Shopping — a huge bonus for direct response and CPG brands. By filtering the results down to Google Shopping searches, you can clearly understand purchasing intent for various product categories.
The map below shows you the highest intent for beauty purchases this month by state. It presents clear insights into the products consumers want to buy today.
If we have a limited budget and optimize against direct response or sales, we might want to prioritize and focus on the markets where we can get the most value for our media spend. As an example, if we know there is a high purchase intent for anti-aging products this month in a specific market, we would adjust our targeting to match/capture that.
This is only the entrance of the Google Trends gold mine, but I think you can see why this granularity and flexibility is why Trends is my favorite data source to help plan and inform local digital media executions. As with any data-driven insights, the potential is limitless, but start to think about what you would do if you knew what every person in each market is looking for… just as you would know with Google Trends.