What is Google Trends?
This week we look at the most popular tool for news SEO: Google Trends. We explain real-time vs. daily searches, topics vs. terms and how best to use the insights in your newsroom.
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie and Shelby here, reporting live from the first truly beautiful spring weekend in Toronto. The cherry blossoms are in full bloom, the patios are packed and the ravines are serene. Now, here’s hoping Mother Nature doesn’t play another trick on us.
This week: Google Trends. Every news SEO’s favourite tools. We discuss what it is, why it’s important and how to use it in your newsroom.
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In this issue:
What is Google Trends
Daily vs. real-time searches
Topics, comparison and related queries
What is Google Trends?
Google Trends is a real-time dataset of what people are searching for on Google. It provides an anonymized sample of Google’s search data, categorized into topics. Trends also provides data about where the search originated, with geographic data available down to the city.
Google Trends is likely the most-used tool for news SEO. It’s free, accessible to anyone and provides real-time data to which gauge topics have a lot of audience interest. Audience editors can use Google Trends to find story ideas, perform keyword research and identify when stories should be published to reach the widest audience possible.
On the homepage of Trends, the recently trending section shows keywords that are trending in your region, along with their search volume. These recently trending terms are a useful signal of overall search interest at the current time - but to get actionable insights, click over to “More Trending Searches.” This will take you to the daily and real-time search trends.
In Daily Search Trends, we see the most popular overall searches for the current day, with the volume of all searches and a link to a single related news item (scroll to find the previous day’s top 20 terms).
Real-Time Search Trends
The real-time search data is a sample of searches with the option to filter by category (Top Stories, Business, Health, etc.) or region (to the country, province/state or city). According to Google, real-time refers to stories trending across Google’s surfaces for the last 24 hours, with data updated in real time.
Google Trends provides the top terms, a news headline and a sparkline showing audience interest (if it is rising, falling or holding consistent). This is useful to understand where in the lifecycle of a story we are right now, and can be helpful when deciding if there is still demand for a trending news item.
Once you click into a specific topic, Trends will display the interest over time – displaying both the search interest and reported news items. Trends also shows related queries (what else people are searching when they search this topic).
Once you click over to the Explore page for a single term (“Philadelphia 76ers” or “Joel Embiid”), you will see the interest over time, interest by region and related topics and queries.
On the Explore page, you can compare terms, adjust the country of interest, the timeframe to consider (anywhere from the last hour to all data since 2004), and the type of search to consider. The type of search is set to Web Search by default, but you can also look at Image, News or YouTube specifically.
Pro tip: For recurring news events (the Grammys, Junos or NBA draft), use a custom time range to capture the last time the event occurred. This is useful to find the top questions from the previous year and the optimal publish time.
What is the difference between “search terms” and “topics”?
Google Trends gives you the option to define your analysis as search terms or topics, depending on your keyword research needs.
Search terms provide you data on the specific keyword you’re looking at in its native form, and will only show you the relative volume of that term. Your focus is narrow and granular on a single keyword.
Topics, meanwhile, provide data on a collection of search terms related to the topic you’re researching. It provides a picture of the topic in its entirety, including all related search terms.
For example, for the term “toronto maple leafs,” Google returns search interest trend for only that specific keyword. If you searched the topic, “Toronto Maple Leafs,” the Google Trends data will include all keyword data related to the Leafs – “maple leafs,” “nhl playoffs 2022,” “leafs playoffs schedule” and so on.
Topics also provide information for that group of terms in any language (for example: “maple leafs de toronto” in French would be included in the “Toronto Maple Leafs” topic). By looking at only the search term, you are limiting the search to your chosen language.
Search terms vs. topics: How do I know which to use?
This depends on your goal. Topics can be useful for seeing the overall interest of a subject and what else people are looking for. But, if your goal is to focus on when the most optimal time to publish for a specific keyword, or what else people are looking up, using search terms is a better approach.
What is a related topic and related query?
When searching a term or topic in Google Trends, you will also see related topics and related queries under the interest by sub-region map.
Related topics are the topics users also searched for when they looked at the current term/topic. Related queries are the search terms users also searched for when they looked at the current term/topic.
Both will provide you with the top and rising topics or queries that users searching for your term/topic also searched for. This gives you a view into where your audience’s interest is and where you can potentially build out new stories, categories or content pillars.
Top related topics/terms show the most popular terms/topics overall on a relative scale of 0 to 100. A value of 100 on the scale is the most commonly searched topic/term, while a value of 50 is a topic searched half as often.
Top related topics/terms are great keywords for looking at the consistency of traffic to content on this subject. Optimize your evergreen content for the most popular long-tail terms and build additional pieces of journalism around the most popular trends. Then, link together topics that you write about that people are also interested in.
Rising related topics/queries have the biggest increase in search frequency compared to the previous time period and expressed as a percent. If the time period is the past 90 days, search frequency is relative to the time before that 90-day period. If the related query/topic is marked “breakout,” that means there was an over 5,000 per cent increase in search frequency, often because it is a new query or had very few, if any, searches beforehand.
Rising related topics/queries are great keywords for building out timely content. These keywords are rising in popularity because something has happened to make them of interest. Audience editors can use these topics/queries to approach timely articles or explainers that give the most important information to the reader in a timely fashion.
How do I filter/compare terms effectively?
The way you use Google Trends will entirely depend on your needs and your news SEO strategy. Google Trends lends itself to a wealth of opportunities to enhance your strategy and approach new content ideas.
The goal with Google Trends, overall, is to give you insight into which keywords/topics people are interested in and if it’s substantial enough to warrant producing journalism around. By comparing terms, we can decide how to approach the journalism we’re creating – does it need to be a list? An FAQ? A detailed analysis?
Google provides documentation on how to compare terms. A few pro tips:
Choose terms or topics, but don’t compare one of each. This will skew the comparison as they are measured differently. Remember: topics include all keywords around that topic, so it will always have higher interest over time. Choose either topics OR terms to compare interest.
Play with the timing. If you set your date parameter for the last 30 days for a keyword around an event that lasts a day, you will be wildly misled on what’s popular for the actual event. However, if you’re looking at the search interest an hour after major breaking news, you will get a more granular look at exactly what people are searching for. On the contrary, if you look at a 12-month period for a tentpole event, you can also see what time you should publish a story. Play around. Have fun.
Be granular with your location. A popular trend in Canada is absolutely not the same as the United Kingdom, and will be entirely different than Egypt. And what’s popping off in interest in Flint, Michigan will not have the same interest in San Diego, California. Think about your audience – is it a local? Regional? National? International? Filter appropriately.
Don’t settle on the first term. Look at five, six, seven topics/terms in Google Trends before you settle on your keyword. Trends is a tool to help you understand what people are looking for, but there are likely keywords/topics you didn’t think of. Take a look at the top/rising queries for those lesser-known keywords.
Use advanced search filters. You can use punctuation in your searches to filter the results in Trends. You can also use this to look at misspellings (an often occurrence on the internet).
Double quotations: Queries inside double quotation marks will return results that include the exact phrase. E.g.: “toronto maple leafs” will give results that only have that.
Plus sign: Combine two or more queries to include searches containing either of the words. E.g.: toronto + leafs will give you results that include words “toronto” OR “leafs”.
Minus sign: Results include searches containing the first word, but will exclude searches including the second word. E.g.: toronto - leafs will give you results that include the word “toronto” but NOT “leafs”.
Two extra Google Trends tools
Get extra data in Google Trends using the free(mium) Chrome extension, Glimpse. The tool provides People Also Ask-style data, right in Trends. Find related search terms, questions, related long-tail keywords, attributes and associated brands – all sorted by search volume, competition or (and this is the best bit) growth.
See which questions or related terms are growing in interest. Glimpse will also send custom recurring, growth- or volume-based alerts. This is great if you’re updating evergreen content or looking for the most pertinent questions to answer in an explainer.
Also, check out the Glimpse curated topical Trends reports. These reports can be very helpful when building out content pillars or looking at questions people are asking.
Google’s Trends email
Simon Rogers, along with a team of Trends curators, compile a daily email for news-y topics. The email provides a human-curated look at the top and breakout search terms, the most-searched questions.
Sign up for the daily email by filling out this Google Form.
The only drawback is this is entirely U.S. data (sorry, fellow non-Americans!). That said, it still provides a ton of useful insights about how people search and the kinds of questions they’re likely to ask.
(We weren’t paid to mention Glimpse but have provided their team feedback on the product for future iterations. We also both subscribe to Simon’s newsletter, but receive no compensation for mentioning the newsletter.)
The bottom line: Google Trends is a highly effective, free tool that explores the life of a keyword. Experiment with its filters and integrate it into your keyword research to better examine topics that are of interest to your audience.
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Have something you’d like us to discuss? Send us a note on Twitter (Jessie or Shelby) or to our email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Written by Jessie Willms and Shelby Blackley
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