Last week, we talked about doing the basics in keyword research. There’s no reason to start complicated or spend a bunch of money on some tool that may only give marginal results. Instead, just get the data straight from Google using their Google Suggestions tool. This is a good way to get some basic ideas for keywords that your customers are searching for.

So what’s the problem? Can’t we stop there? Unfortunately, there’s no way to qualify the keywords. Yes, people may be searching for “pomeranian puppy training”, but is that a heavily searched term or rarely searched? It’s easy to know how much competition you have for that term – just look at the number of search results: 684,000 results. So it’s a moderately competitive term. But we still don’t know how many people actually search for it. Our goal might be to find heavily searched terms that don’t have a lot of competition (if that’s possible), and that is relevant to your content of course.

Enter Google Trends. Google doesn’t give up their information easily, but Google Trends is pretty cool. I’m always a fan of using Google tools directly, because then it’s data straight from the horse’s mouth. Other tools typically don’t have true Google data or they use the Google Adwords tool (more on that next week).

Using Google Trends as a Keyword Research Tool

When you first open Google Trends you may be a bit confused. It doesn’t look like a keywords research tool. Instead, what it’s showing are those searches that are trending based on current search volume. This too can be useful, but more on that in a minute.

Click on the “Explore” link on the left. Now in the search box at the top, type in a search term like “dentist”. You’ll get a cool chart that shows the volume of searches over time. You can hover over the line and see the search volume per month, and note that there’s a spike in January and February. Why would that be? People get a onto a new dental plan in January and need to get their teeth fixed. That’s great data.

Now if you look to the lower left, you’ll see a map of the world. The darker the color, the more searches there are. You can click on the USA and drill into the states or click on a state to see the cities where people do the most searches. That’s pretty cool too, but of course the metro areas are going to be the area with the most searches. But maybe you target an audience in California and in Maine. Maybe the terminology they use is different from one part of the country to another (think “pop” versus “soda” for instance). That’s good data to know too.

Now check out the lower right. They’re giving you other related keyword ideas that you may not have thought about. How about “pediatric dentist” and “emergency dentist”. The latter is a great term, because I probably wouldn’t have thought of it. Click the term, and you get a new search, new data, and new suggestions down at the bottom. Notice the strong trend upward of people searching for “emergency dentist”? Likely as the economy has taken a hit, fewer people have dental insurance and thus people are dealing with dental issues only once they become critical. More good data.

Comparing Keyword Search Volume

Now what’s really cool is to compare keywords to find out who is searching MORE for what. You can do it two ways here:

  1. Type multiple search phrases in the search bar, separated by commas or:
  2. Click the “Add Term” button on the left to add up to four more terms for a total of five

You can compare up to five keywords at a time and see their relative search volumes. For instance, type into the search bar: children’s dentist, emergency dentist, cosmetic dentist, pediatric dentist and see what results you get. Look at the “pediatric dentist” line (green on my screen). Big spikes in August, year over year and a strong upward trend. Why would that be?

Ride the Wave

How can you use Google Trends in another creative way? If you go back to the main screen of Google Trends, remember I mentioned that you’ll see trending information based upon current searches that are happening the last 24-48 hour. You can actually ride these waves. It’s called “Newsjacking“, which is a term that David Meerman Scott coined. You can ride these trending searches and news items to put yourself in the middle and generate traffic to your website. You have to be fast though, because these trends come and go in a matter of 24-48 hours typically. Is there a big hurricane bearing down on the east coast, and you sell safety and survival equipment? You can turn up a pay per click ad in that region, as well as publish blog posts, press releases, and other items for people to search and find.

It’s critical to move quickly and get your content out there though. If you think, “Oh, I’ll get to it tomorrow,” you’re too late already.

Leveraging Google Trends in Your Business

Google Trends is a great tool for getting several types of data:

  • Historical trends of search terms with their peaks and valleys (time your marketing to reach people when there are historical spikes)
  • Short-term trending topics that you can jump into the middle of with content or ads
  • Comparing search terms against each other to see what people really search for most
  • Generate other keyword ideas that you may not have thought about
  • Get geographic search data to see where people actually want what you have

Tell us in the comments some epiphanies you got when using it.

Next week we’ll explore the newly-named Google Keywords Planner. I’ll explain why I’m not a fan of using it for keyword research, despite its name.

Note: This is a series of weekly articles designed for the novice to learn step-by-step how to improve their position on the search engines. Each step takes approximately 15 minutes, and are all easy to implement. If you, the reader, takes each step one by one each week, you’ll soon be getting better search engine results, and hopefully more qualified visitors to your website.