How to Use Google Insights as a Research Tool


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How to Use Google Insights as a Research Tool

  1. 1. June 2012 Best Practice BriefingHow to Use Google Insights as a Research ToolGoogle Insights is a free tool from Google that allows users to trackinterest in a topic over time, or across locations, or in comparisonwith other topics. There are limits to its usefulness, but it can be agreat starting place in an investigation.1. What is Google Insights? time somebody searches for something on Google, for example if they search for references to“Vision Critical” the string “Vision Critical” is stored in Google’s database, along with the date and thelocation of the person requesting the search.For example, in the chart below (Chart 1) the line reflects the popularity of typing iPhone into Google. Thischart looks at the global database, from September 2006 to May 2012.means. Chart 1, Google Insights, Worldwide search.In Chart 1, the line shows that there were relatively few searches for iPhone towards the end of 2006, butthereafter the line grows strongly, with peaks in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. The 2011 peak correspondswith the launch of iPhone 4S, just as the peak in 2010 was the iPhone 4. (There is a note at the end ofthis article explaining what the numbers mean).Google Insights offer some help in assessing what caused the changes in the line. By clicking NewsHeadlines box a list of headlines are listed to the right of the chart. Further down the page there is a list ofsearch terms used and a list of rising searches, clicking on these drills down further into the data.
  2. 2. June 2012 Best Practice Briefing2. What can you do with Google Insights?There are three ways to configure searches in Google insights, by key words, by time, and by location.These three are explained in the following three sections.Searching by Key WordsGoogle Insights allows a comparative set of key words to be searched, for a specific geography for aspecific period of time. For example, the chart below (Chart 2) shows the words Facebook, MySpace,Twitter, and Pinterest, in the context of the USA from 2006 to 2012. In conducting this search the user isusing Google searches as a proxy for interest in, i.e. if lots of people are searching for a particular term,then there is lots of interest in it at that time. Chart 2, Google Insights, 2006 to 2012, searching for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and Pinterest.Chart 2 shows that in 2006, 2007, and 2008 MySpace was ahead of Facebook and growing, but from2009 Facebook comes to the fore. Later on, Twitter and Pinterest come on the scene and overhaulMySpace, but presenting no challenge to the popularity of searches about Facebook.Searching by TimeGoogle Insights allow the user to compare a single search across different periods of time. The chartbelow (Chart 3) shows the word biscuit in Australia. Chart 3, Google Insights, Australia, searching for Biscuits for 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.The chart shows a small spike in December, related to biscuits at Christmas. The larger spike, in April,relates to Anzac biscuits, a biscuit associated with Anzac Page 1
  3. 3. June 2012 Best Practice BriefingSearching by LocationThe third option is to compare locations, holding the search term and the time frame constant. In the chartbelow (Chart 4), the word Samsung is compared for France, Germany, UK, and United States. Chart 4, Google Insights, Samsung, for France, Germany, UK, and United States.The chart shows that interest in Samsung (as measured by the proxy of Google searches) is lower in theUSA. In 2004 the scores for Samsung were very similar for UK, France, and Germany. From about 2009the Samsung scores for Germany pull away from those of France and UK.3. Meaning and LimitationsThe limitations of Google InsightsAlthough Google Insights is very powerful (and free) it does have a number of limitations. The mostimportant two are: I. Only countries where there are sufficient users of Google produce reliable results. For most of the larger, more developed countries, there are no problems but for some of the smaller countries tend to produce lumpy results, because there are too few people using Google in those countries. II. Only words that are unambiguous are searchable. For example, iPad is fine, but Apple is more of a problem as it also refers to the fruit. Nokia is very searchable as is Vodafone, but brands such as Orange and Virgin are too ambiguous.Another limitation is that it can sometimes be a bit tricky to find out what was driving a specific spike in Page 2
  4. 4. June 2012 Best Practice BriefingWhat the numbers meanAny internet based measurement is confronted by the problem that the number of users has beengrowing month by month, making simple comparisons based on absolute numbers unsuitable. GooglecreatesThis means that all searches only make sense an index in approximately the following way: a) For each of the search terms being tested, calculate the proportion of all searches for that date. b) The highest proportion for any of the key words, for any of the dates, for any of the locations in the search is set to 100. c) All other proportions are scaled between 0 and 100.This means that all searches only make sense in terms of the words, times, and locations in that specificsearch. Change any item and the scaling changes.Prepared for For more informationVision Critical University www.visioncritical.comPrepared by www.visioncriticaluniversity.comRay Poynter, Director, Vision Critical University email twitter @visioncritical Ray is the author of The Handbook of Online and Social Media Research, the creator of, and is in North America: +1 877 669 8895 constant demand as a conference speaker, contributing UK: +144 (0) 20 7633 2900 author, workshop leader, and advisor. Ray describes his Australia: +61 (1) 9256 2000 role in Vision Critical as chief noisemaker and iconoclast. Hong Kong: +852 3602 Page 3