A New Trend for Google

After launching Google Trends in 2006 to great fanfare, Google has been busy developing additional layers that help users better view the world’s Internet activities. Google Trends for Websites is the newest tool in the shed. It lets people see just how popular individual websites are by ranking them across different geographical regions and comparing them to other related sites. This article will cover the pros and cons of Google’s latest web tracker.

In case you were wondering, Google Trends is one of the tools being explored in Google Labs. In a nutshell, it displays data about how often a search term is entered relative to the total number of searches and across various geographical regions from the beginning of 2004 to now. The first thing you’ll notice is a line graph; however, below that you’ll find different break downs based on region, city, and language. You can refine the data in the graph by region and time period while comparing up to five search terms at a time.

One of its more interesting applications is using the “News reference volume” graph to see how specific events or times of year affect search popularity. Unfortunately, I’m writing this article the day after legendary comedian George Carlin passed away, so his name is the most popular search term for June 23, 2008. Likewise, a search for certain holidays, like Ramadan or Pesach (Passover), will show peaks during their respective seasons.

This brings me to Google Hot Trends, which, as you might guess, is an addition to Google Trends that shows the top 100 searches of the past hour. Its graph covers the past 24 hours and it shows the latest news articles, blog posts, and web search results. Using both tools, you can see how running a query of Ramadan in Google Trends would show the term peaking around the end of September/early October in each year. It would also show up on Hot Trends whenever the official start of Ramadan happened to be that year.

You can learn much more about Google Trends by visiting its About page. Right now though, I’m going to move on to Google Trends for Websites. Read ahead to see how this new tool looks to improve on present website tracking technology by providing more than just traffic data.

{mospagebreak title=Calculating Web Traffic}

Before Google Trends for Websites, there were three main ways to calculate web traffic. The first is based on users downloading and installing software on their computers that tracks surfing habits. Internet wide traffic data is then determined based on what was gathered from these users. One example of this type of traffic calculation is the Alexa Toolbar. They rank sites based on how many users visit it through their toolbar in Internet Explorer and various sidebars in Mozilla and Netscape. Unfortunately, there is some controversy about how accurate their sample data is compared to the overall Internet population, not to mention possible sample biases.

Another service similar to Alexa is Compete, but they only track traffic in the U.S. They use data from ISPs, opt-in panels, application providers, and its toolbar. The main problem with these sites is that they are self-selecting services, meaning users choose to put them on their computers. There may be differences (in this case, what sites they visit) between people who choose to use software like this and those that don’t. Comscore has tried to mitigate this problem, but it tends to work better for larger, more established sites. They are also rather expensive.

The second way to calculate site usage is by tracking traffic directly from websites. Quantcast is a website that asks other websites to insert specific HTML code into the web pages they want included in Quantcast’s statistics. These statistics include information about the demographics, such as age, sex, and average income. They also utilize information gathered from user surveys.

The third traffic monitoring technique uses records from ISPs. Hitwise is probably the best known company that makes use of this method. They specialize in data reports on specific services, or verticals (travel, medical, auto repair, etc.), that help measure market share on the Internet. However, all of these services suffer from a lack of users to get an accurate account of actual Internet usage. Can Google Trends for Websites solve this problem? Keep reading to find out.

{mospagebreak title=Accurate Data is the Goal}

As I’ve already mentioned, Google Trends for Websites allows users to quickly and easily see traffic data from sites around the Internet. You just enter the address of a website (up to five at a time) into the search box and a graph will come up reflecting the number of daily unique visitors to a site over a period of time. Under the graph is a list of regions where the users came from, other websites they visited, and search terms they used. You will need to be logged in to your Google account to actually see the data.

According to Google, they get their information from “aggregated Google search data, aggregated opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in consumer panel data, and other third-party market research.” There is a minimum amount of traffic a site must have in order to be included in the tool, and sites that use a robots.txt file will not be included. In other words, if you’re not indexed by Google, you won’t be included. But the question remains: why wouldn’t Google just harvest the data from Google Analytics and be done with it?

For some reason, in March, Google stopped just short of allowing users to share their Analytics data with everyone. And with Trends for Websites, they’re only using “opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data.” I guess that means those sites that did opt-in will get better results than those that don’t. The only way to find out would be to test this service on your site and see how it compares to your own statistics, especially if you use Analytics.

It seems as though Trends for Websites will be yet another unverifiable source for traffic information, but the data it shows on other sites visited and other, similar searches should be fairly accurate considering the amount of information they collect through the search engine. And a smart web publisher can use this information to further optimize their sites. Click ahead to the next section to find out how.

{mospagebreak title=SEO and More}

One thing people involved in SEO know about is keywords. What are they and how can I get them? Well, if you haven’t noticed by now, Google puts them right there for free on Trends for Websites. It displays up to ten “also searched for” phrases for each query, letting you know what other people are searching for when they come across your site.

It also gives up to ten sites that were “also visited,” and since link building is another very important SEO technique, this source is a veritable goldmine. By clicking on one of the sites, you can also see who is related to the sites that are related to you, and so on as far as you’re willing to go. Or if you’re not in SEO, you can use this tool to find services that are similar to ones you’re already looking for.

But if you’re still skeptical about the accuracy Trends for Websites may or may not exhibit, you may not have to wait long for the next challenger. Mozilla is developing a product within Firefox that would ask its user base to opt in to anonymous data collection on their surfing habits. The project is still in the development stages, but with over 170 million people using Firefox in every country (only 29 percent are in the U.S.), even one percent of that would be enough to gather useful data. Right now, Mozilla says they have 18 percent of the market share across all browsers, and as that continues to grow, the differences in surfing habits between users will become less significant.

However you decide to use Google Trends for Websites, whether it be for SEO or just for fun, you must keep in mind that Google is still looking for ways to improve the quality of the data. As of now, the data is estimated based on periodic updates, so your own statistics may reflect changes that haven’t occurred yet in Google’s calculations. By the time any new products come out, they may have gotten their calculations down pat. I think you know just how quickly technology can advance.

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