What Is Google Trends?

Google Trends can be extremely valuable in understanding the popularity of topics and associated keywords. However, if you don’t know what it is for and how to interpret the data, you’ll be hard-pressed to use it successfully in an online marketing campaign.

Google Trends Explained

Google Trends is a free tool that analyzes a sample of Google web searches to determine interest in particular topics over a certain period of time. This interest is represented as a proportion of overall search, indicating when surges of search occur related to a given topic.

SEOs, journalists, content marketers, and advertisers can find Google Trends beneficial in maximizing their link building reach, exploring new niches, creating link building campaigns, crafting strategic content, and much more. 

However, as with any presentation of data sets, its value will only become realized once you fully understand how Google Trends works. This means reading through the lines to determine what type of data is shown, and how to interpret the data to know who it is for, and how they can maximize their topic and keyword search efforts to satisfy searcher intent and capture traffic to your website.

How Does Google Trends Work?

Google Trends pulls anonymized searcher data from Google Search, News, Images, Shopping, and even YouTube, to monitor general topics and to see when interest spikes or drops off. It is important to note here that while Trends data focused on “topics,” this is not the same as the literal keywords or exact phrases you might put into a keyword seed list as part of your research.

Unlike other keyword research tools, Google Trends does not measure monthly search volume, or even track individual keywords and long-tail phrases per se. Instead, it tracks topics by their popularity relative to overall search during a certain period. Trends data indicates how many times the phrase has been searched as a proportion of the total amount of Google searches. This number — shown on a scale of popularity from 0 to 100 — can show the increase or decline in search popularity (virtually) in real-time, but does not show or predict the actual number of searchers, or capture the full spread of specific keywords, queries, and variant searches. This is a subtle, but important difference from other keyword research tools that give a monthly estimate of searches for a keyword. 

Additionally, you may analyze the popularity of a search term over a particular amount of time (as far back as 2004), compare it to up to 5 other search queries, and its popularity by location.

Interpreting Google Trends Data

Google Trends’ normalized data is presented in a graph. Normalized data, in this case, is presented as a proportion of search on a scale of 0 to 100, rather than a report of exact search volumes. This helps control for changes in searcher behavior over time, so that surges in interest are still clearly recognizable despite the total number of searches fluctuating. To further normalize the data, Google Trends does not include terms seldomly searched (which appear as 0 for a certain time period), duplicate searches from the same person over a short duration, and searches with special characters such as apostrophes. 

For instance, if you type in “daylight savings time” in Google Trends, and look over the peaks and valleys over 5 years, you’ll see spikes in March and October/November like clockwork. A search for the same term in SEMRush will show a projected 246,000 searches monthly. This is because monthly search volume is calculated as an average over the last 12 months; the spikes in search for “daylight savings time” are so extreme twice a year, that the average can appear artificially high.

The Trends data information is different, as online marketing professionals can take a look at Google Trends and understand that they need to be advertising for products and writing content related to daylight savings time before March and before October through November. So while a look at SEMRush might tell you that there are a lot of monthly searches for the term, Google Trends will show that the term only becomes popular during certain times of the year. 

The Ebb and Flow of Trending Search Terms

Naturally, a line trending upward (toward 100) means a search term’s popularity is rising within the total number of searches that Google gets, and vice versa. A downward trend does not necessarily mean that the term’s total search numbers are decreasing, just a decrease in its popularity in proportion to all other searches. 

It should be noted that Google Trends cannot project the future of a topic and associated keywords. However, you can filter through the popularity as far back as 2004 to get a good idea when a phrase may begin spiking and falling again. Google Trends will also provide related queries, rising terms that have seen increased searches, and a breakdown of the term by subregion.

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How to Use Google Trends

As Google is the biggest search engine in the world, and Google Trends gets its numbers from Google Search, Google Trends can reveal valuable insight for journalists, SEOs, marketers, and anyone who simply wants to keep up with current events.

For instance, content marketers can create an engaging campaign by observing popular topics and search queries within their industry to provide fresh, new content for their readers. Journalists can find, track, and write on people and events trending with the tool when a topic is rising in popularity. Advertisers can create a strong ad campaign by understanding what pain points their potential customers are looking to solve, and marketing solutions to them. 

Simply put, high monthly search volume may suggest that a certain term or phrase is indeed popular, but may also lack context pertaining to when and why the numbers are so high.  Google Trends can show you exactly when a topic and associated keyword(s) is spiking or falling, allowing you to prepare and disseminate your efforts as necessary.

Who Should Use Google Trends?

Google Trends provides data that can be valuable for many professionals. This data can help pinpoint target audiences and help drive marketing, email blast, and ad campaigns.

  • Paid search: For paid search campaigns, Google Trends can help gauge interest in topics that are just starting to catch on or draw public interest, in turn helping you can get ahead of the ball when purchasing keywords related to these topics. While it may not reveal actual keywords, it will highlight the popularity of topics, which you can leverage to gain insight into your audiences or to understand the competition. For e-commerce sites, it may also alert you of seasonal campaigns and support inventory and cost planning. This can be beneficial to PPC/AdWord campaigns.
  • SEO/content marketing: Especially for content marketing and topic ideation, Google Trends can help SEOs plan, craft, and write content better suited for their target audience. Knowing what this market is searching for in real-time (and when they’ll be searching for the term/product more frequently looking back over the years with the time filter) can help when crafting strategic content — writing fresh and engaging content for trending topics, or even producing the definitive guide explaining a novel topic, and potentially earning links to your resource as a result. You can even filter your search term by state to understand if there are opportunities to optimize for local SEO.
  • Advertisers: Google Trends can point out trending topics (new music, dances, celebrity figures, etc) to provide new perspectives that can drive a successful marketing campaign. You can also understand which cities, countries, and/or subregions are searching for particular products and services.

Google Trends can help create a content calendar, seasonal ad campaigns, and many more online marketing activities.

Google Trends should be a tool in almost any online marketer’s arsenal. It doesn’t show monthly search volume, but it does help keep an eye on the trends and see what products, services, and information users are searching for right now (and give data from previous years to get an idea of if the trend will keep up). While it should not be the only tool you look at, it has many applicable uses.