What’s your topic? What is your community organisation about? Does it involve keywords, such as ‘breast cancer’, ‘prostate cancer’, ‘conservation’, ‘poverty’ or the like?
Do you know what the world at large are saying about your topic, and when they’re saying it? Or when they’re searching for information about it?
Did you know that searches on Google for the phrase ‘breast cancer’ spiked in May 2005 when news reports appeared that Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer? That would have been a good time for local groups concerned with breast cancer or women’s health to have taken actions such as publicity or fundraising.
We often have a feeling about what’s in the News — we hear a few reports and notice that for a few days everyone’s talking about a particular topic. But search engine titan Google has access to real statistics, and is happy to share them with us, entirely free of charge. Visit Google Trends to do some research.
Here’s what they say:
With Google Trends, you can compare the world’s interest in your favourite topics. Enter up to five topics and see how often they’ve been searched on Google over time. Google Trends also shows how frequently your topics have appeared in Google News stories, and in which geographic regions people have searched for them most.
Read detailed Help and information for Google Trends, as well as some cautions about accuracy.
I tried searching for two phrases: ‘prostate cancer, breast cancer’. The resulting graphs showed that the number of searches for prostate cancer had remained steady at a constant low level since January 2004, with only almost imperceptible fluctuations. Meanwhile the number of searches for breast cancer was considerably higher over that whole period, with half a dozen noticeable spikes that appeared to correlate with certain news items. The ‘Kylie Minogue’ spike was the greatest, but other spikes appeared when news items mentioned breast cancer in conjunction with drugs, alcohol or hormones.
More detailed analysis by country and even city is also available further down the page. If you sign in to the Google Trends page with a (free) Google Account then you have access to even more refined data.
Another interesting feature is the 10 Hot Trends listed on the front page, or click the More Hot Trends link to see the top 100. The day I visited most of the top spots were taken up with names of celebrities, but there was also a sprinkling of US politics and international current events.
Google Trends has an RSS feed available for the Hot Trends, so it’s easy to keep an eye on what people are searching for.
It’s worth spending half an hour to explore this free tool, and to consider how your organisation could make use of the rich data it offers. Next time there’s a sudden surge in searches for whatever’s at the core of your activity, will you spot it and take action? Or perhaps you can hook in to what’s popular some other way. Take a look and see what’s there for you.
Written by Miraz Jordan for, and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, July 2008. This article has been modified for publication here.