Google recently launched GoogleTrends, a tool that allows you to view keyword search trends by year and month. You can also view trends by news mentions and by region/country of searchers performing searches.

Here are some real-world ways you could use the data in Google Trends to help you get a jump on your competitors and assess their search penetration. Each of the methods gives an example of how to get the most from this truly useful tool.

Keyword Prioritization

One of the first keyword tools ever publicly available was the goto keyword suggestion tool (now overture keyword suggestion tool). Back in 1998-99 it was great, but like any keyword research tool it has its shortcomings, which are still inherent in today's incarnation of the tool. Here are two biggies:

  • It makes many keywords default to the plural, so if I search for "accounting job" it lumps together the singular and plural into one figure, which won't help you determine if the singular or plural version is most popular.

  • The number of searches shown is displayed f only or the previous month, thus giving you no insight into trends that occur over time.

The Google Trends tool can help offset those issues in two ways, resulting in better data from the overture tool (and most other keyword tools):

    1. The obvious one is that it shows more than a one-month view; you can see trends in keyword searches and ramp ups to peak seasons.

    2. More importantly, you can determine which version of a keyword singular vs. plural gets more searches, thus allowing you to target the most popular variation first. Here is a comparison for "accounting job" vs. "accounting jobs", which easily shows that the plural consistently gets searched more often then the singular. When comparing "diamond ring" vs. "diamond rings", you'll see that there is little to no discernable difference between the two versions. As an SEO veteran with 8+ years in organic optimization, I'm convinced that using this tool to help me prioritize which keyword gets the most eyeballs will become a critical part of how I assist clients in squeezing the most value from our efforts.

Question: Which do you think is most popular? New York City hotel or New York City hotels? Take a guess, then click here to find out. Were you right? Putting a priority on the wrong term could result in significant unrealized leads and sales.

Timing Online Marketing Initiatives

A search for the words "skiing" and "snowboarding" shows that around September we begin to see an uptick in search activity going into the ski season. If you are a merchant selling skis and snowboards, the trends for the words "skis" and "snowboards" (product-based searches) shows a pick up in activity beginning in late July/early August for people searching for skis and snowboards (which may show different levels of purchase intent when compared to someone searching for skiing or snowboarding).

NOTE: You want to make sure your site is ranking well during the research phases so that, when the spike occurs, you have already introduced your brand to the purchaser/prospect; people like familiar brands.

A hybrid of timing marketing initiatives and determining product popularity (mentioned below) is illustrated in a comparison for the terms "Sony LCD TV" vs. "Panasonic LCD TV", which shows an interesting trend (other than the expected holiday spike):

Sony consistently has garnered more searches than Panasonic for LCD TVs, regardless of the time of year (which is different from what you'll see below for luxury watches). If I were Panasonic, I would want to see whether our larger branding/marketing/advertising efforts help close this gap. If I were Sony, I would make sure that our trend line is always above those of our competitors.

Real world application: Have you seen the Pontiac TV ads that tell you to go Google and type in the word "Pontiac" instead of going directly to With this new tool, we can see how that call to action affected people searching for Shall we?

Check out the trend of searches for the words "Pontiac" vs. "Mazda" in the US. Looks like no discernable spike in Google's traffic for the word "Pontiac". But it looks there was a massive spike when Oprah gave away the cars (take heed, other automobile marketers).

Web Page Real Estate Maximization (product popularity)

See the results of a search for three luxury watch brands (the terms used were "Tag Heuer watches," "Movado watches," and "Omega watches"). Coming into the holiday season, if you are a merchant and only have space to show two luxury watch brands on your homepage or watches page, this tool will help you realize that Movado gets the largest spike around the holidays.

If you look closer at the trends, Movado is consistently below Omega all year long, and then BAM, come holiday time, they are neck and neck. If I sold Movado watches on my Web site, I think you know where I would place them relative to other watches (assuming I were price-competitive).

Competitor Analysis

This tool (specifically the news trends in the bottom graph) can help you understand the impact of PR efforts on news mentions and branded search terms (when users type in the name of a brand into a search engine).

Let's return to the Pontiac example. I didn't know that the spike occurred due to Oprah's mention, but the news tag (letter A) for the trend for the word "Pontiac" showed it.

To further illustrate the use of this tool for competitive anlaysis, let's compare US based searches in 2006 for three acid reflux drugs: Nexium, Prilosec, and Zegerid. You'll see that the term "Nexium" is typed in much more often and is mentioned in the news more often than the other two.

Be careful, though; do not assume that this is always a positive thing! Especially in the pharmaceutical industry, you should make sure that there haven't been any negative side effects or other issues that would cause the spike: All traffic spikes are NOT created equal.

If the traffic spike comes from bad press, that may not be a good thing; just take a look at the Terrell Owens vs. Marvin Harrison trend.

Taking a regular look at the trends could help companies like Prilosec and Zegerid to determine whether they are gaining ground in terms of branded searches compared with the category leader, Nexium.

Organic Search Timing/SEO Firm Selection

Now you are armed with knowledge about when search volume picks up and when it typically spikes. You can better time when to kick off an organic search campaign. Typically, organic search can take 3-6 months to begin showing real results; if your industry is very competitive, it could take even longer!

Armed with that understanding of timing for organic search initiatives, you can schedule when you need to have your search team (whether internal or external) on board and ready to rock and roll. Take the Movado example. Getting a top 10 for the term Movado watches in February just doesn't have the same impact on the bottom line as it would in late November.

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Your homework: If you got this far through reading this article, thanks. But you should have an itchy trigger finger, waiting to use this tool to understand the effect that seasonality and trends in search behaviors affects your Web site and that of your competition.

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    image of Wil Reynolds

    Wil Reynolds is the founder and director of digital strategy at Seer Interactive. He's helped Fortune 500 companies develop SEO strategies since 1999 and leverages "Big Data" to break down silos between SEO, PPC, and traditional marketing.