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Anyone can tell you that Google Trends is not a perfect prediction of the future, but when it comes to making smart business choices it’s a tool that can deliver more for free in 20 minutes than years of surveying and research can.
So why is it that Google Trends is almost always overlooked? In this post, I’m going to look into how businesses both online and offline can harness it.
There’s a lot to be said for keywords at the moment, but they have their place. If you’re pinning your hopes on ranking first for one particular keyword, then you really need to know if people are interested in it, or sometimes when people are most interested.
Search habits change a lot over time. Even throughout a single year, the seasons and events make people search differently. Let’s take the example below:
Glasto and tents – peas and carrots! And while tents are a popular summertime search item year in, year out, the year that Glastonbury festival took a break saw a significant drop in demand for tents in the UK. The lowest demand in five years was recovered the next year as the festival returned. Incidentally, this was the year that the Sonisphere festival was cancelled too, which would have had an impact.
This is a simplistic example of the impact that events can have on searching trends. These are terms that have always been popular and seasonal, but what if you target keywords that just don’t seem to perform anymore? It’s time to review things with some keyword research. But you need to check if the keywords you think are important actually matter at all. Google Trends can help with that.
Let’s say you sell all manners of coffee online and you’re gunning for instant coffee terms, but as of late you’re finding it hard to compete in SEO and PPC and you’re looking for a new angle. You want to invest in something new and are looking at supplying ground coffee too. If you look at popularity over 5 years, it appears that instant coffee is still the one to pick:
It’s got the highest average interest over five years and is the more popular of the two. It stands out because of the peak in 2012 and relatively high level of interest since. But when you check Google’s index, it’s the more competitive term of the two.
The other thing to consider here is growth. Instant coffee appears to be declining since its peak period of interest, but ground coffee has steadily grown year on year for five years straight. My money would be on ground coffee as the one to invest on. Average demand is lower, but so is competition and it has been a steady grower – things are likely to get better. With instant coffee, things are shaky and the prospect of decline adds an unwelcome element of risk.
Of course there’s so very much more to this than I can cover here, but you get the picture: here’s a decision making tool that can go quite a way to make a seemingly difficult choice a lot easier.
But it’s not just keyword targeting decisions that come to benefit from studying search and interest trends. You can make some educated and calculated risks that are more likely to pay off than shots in the dark. You can even use it as part of product development and research. Sticking with the coffee theme, I’ve had some ideas I’d like to share that any business can apply (clearly it’s a big coffee day. I could do with another cup…).
Let’s look at a product we’ve seen more of as of late, iced coffee. In this country ten years ago, people would have told you it was a bad idea. Coffee’s hot. Who’s going to want cold coffee? And here we are now – just wait until summer time (this is assuming we get one this year) and I’ll bet you see more discarded Starbucks frappes littering the streets than you do cardboard cups. And Google Trends will back me up on this:
2013 was a bumper year for iced coffee in the UK and it has been creeping up year on year for a while now. It’s probably safe to say that once summer lands, we’ll all be indulging in these icy treats at some point. So any café with a bit of sense will be powering up the freezer and popping in a blender for the summer months. Not a massive investment, but the rewards could mean big things.
But hold up – what am I basing this on? One glance at Google Trends?
Yup. One glance at Google Trends has given me online interest for iced coffee over five years in about five seconds. It’s good sense to prepare for the future and if you’ve got data telling you that people are more and more interested in a simple twist on your product with every year that goes by, well then make the twist.
I realise that the online world and offline world are two very different places (ah, revelations!) but trends more often than not cross boundaries. We are reaching a point now where the two are linked so closely that we can’t afford to ignore the signs coming from the digital world. I’m not saying take this and run with it. I’m saying that if you take the data into account, research what’s out there now and adjust your marketing – you’ll be good to go!
There are more things to be iced than coffee. For example, iced tea has always been and (continues to be) more popular than iced coffee, and not just in the UK. And iced green tea is poking its head out as a new contender in recent years. Vary things up, try different approaches and see what people out there are demanding. Be the first to jump on demand in the real world.
Writing a blog post or making some content for the web (or print for that matter)? Well Google Trends can help here too. If you want to see what topics are hot right now, Google trends is there for you. See what people are searching for the most right now or what the world searched for in 2013. It makes for good content in its own right, because it’s interesting to see what was deemed important one day and then not so important the next – it’s all part of our story and it shows how much the world changes in 24 hours. But critically, it gives us some clues as to what people really care about, what they want to know more about and what content we can give them.
I think that to really find out what the future is going to hold, you need to see what the past can teach us. Day to day, things change wildly – but over long courses of time, our fundamental wants and needs have always been the same. For instance, we all still want coffee – the difference now is that more and more of us want that coffee cold.
Google Search from Bigstock
For a long time, Bing, the UK’s second-largest search engine, has been underappreciated and, in some instances, even ignored. Often regarded as the inferior search engine to market leader Google, Bing has historically struggled to appeal to many in the digital world. Most PPC analysts would give justified reasons for neglecting Bing for so long; these include the volume of traffic and the user experience just not matching up to Google. However, the validity of these assessments is now diminishing. Bing has grown and improved rapidly in the last couple of years; if you are not integrating it into your comprehensive digital marketing plan, you run the risk of missing out on a large portion of your chosen market and significant revenue.
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