When you examine Google search trends over time, it’s amazing just how much it reveals about the public sentiment, and the rise and fall of various brands, service sand popular apps. It’s really amazing to watch these trends and compare them between companies, products, websites and more. Sometimes, you can even predict which brands are going to win the war over the minds and hearts of the general public, just based on today’s search trends between the two companies.
In his article on 10 Google services you should know about, Chris briefly mentioned Google Zeigeist and and hot trends – also known as Google Trends. In fact, when I’m searching for the hottest topics, products or apps being discussed out on the Internet these days, I usually turn to Google Trends as a way to see whether or not that hot service or program is actually trending up or down in popularity. Many times, after an initial spike thanks to media reports, the true fate of any new product really forms up in the subsequent months following the release. You can see the general search trends aligning perfectly with its general popularity.
For a few years early on in my writing career, I actually produced 70 to 100 page industry analysis reports for a niche analysis company, who then turned around and sold those reports (for a great deal of money, apparently) to advertising clients interested in what the online niche looked like, in terms of demographics and unrealized opportunities to capture a growing market. And that is the real beauty of identifying hot search trends, because if you can spot one or more rising trends, you can position yourself to take advantage of the future boom in interest – whether it’s selling a product or serving up interesting content for all of those people typing in the search query.
What Search Trends Say About Google Services
So, enough about what search trends can do in general. Let’s look at some specific examples of what today’s Google search query trends say about the popularity of Google services when put up against its hottest competitors, like Facebook, Microsoft, and others. These trends should answer the question, does Google rule the net?
In this article, I’m going to make use of search trend charts to try and analyze which services are winning or losing within major areas of competition, including social networking, instant messaging, online email services, and online to-do list managers. Each of these are areas that Google is very strong in, with services like Google Talk, Google Plus and of course the ever-popular Gmail. But in all of these areas, is Google king?
The MySpace-Facebook Example
Let’s see what the search trends say. To show you how interesting those trends can be, just look how Google search trends from 2005 through 2012 carve out the life cycle of MySpace.
This search trend shows public interest in the site, from the day it was founded in 2003, to its eventual demise (or transformation into a fringe entertainment industry site) in 2012 and beyond. The Google search trends reveal that the real peak – the hay day for MySpace, was really late in 2007. Its demise really started in 2008 when the downward slope began.
It’s strange when you look at a trend like that, isn’t it? You wonder what mysterious forces drive human interest in a product or website – at least, until you start examining the other players on the field. Once you add Facebook into the mix, the real story starts to play out, and you can clearly see what influenced the shift from MySpace search interest over to something else. That “something else” was Facebook, as revealed by the blue line in the chart below.
Interestingly, the crossover point between the two trends is 2008. You can see how the late 2008 sudden increase in search interest into all things to do with “Facebook” perfectly coincided with the decline in search queries into anything to do with “MySpace”.
This is a very simple example of the stories that search trends can tell you. Obviously, hindsight is 20-20, but what if someone had observed Facebooks gradual decline toward the MySpace level of search interest in 2007 into 2008? An intuitive observer could have used these trends to predict the future – that Facebook stood a good chance of overtaking MySpace as a social network powerhouse.
Google Vs. Facebook
So, using the idea of predicting the direction of future public interest using today’s immediate search trends, let’s compare Google services to its leading competitors. As a matter of fact, while we’re talking about Facebook, why not compare Google Talk to Facebook Chat – clearly two of the more popular tools today for people to quickly text chat on the Internet.
When you compare “Google Talk” (red line) to “Facebook Chat” (blue line), you can see that Google did indeed have the larger corner of the online chat market at least from 2007 into 2009. But, the rise of Facebook in 2007 was followed as well by a rise in interest from Facebook users who wanted to use Facebook Chat rather than other IM services.
You can see the crossover point between Google Talk and Facebook Chat was in late 2009 or early 2010. Facebook then clearly overpowered Google Talk – and most certainly many of those new Facebook users were former Google Talk users.
Does that mean that Facebook may be the one that’s taking over the Internet? Well, before Mark Zuckerberg gets too comfortable in his throne, he may want to make a habit of watching these search trends – lest he suffer the same fate as Tom Anderson of MySpace fame. There’s always a new service or a new cool app that can easily capture the fickle tastes of the online public.
For example, you can see how interest in Facebook chat (blue line) hit a clear peak in late 2011. However, if you observe the shift of gears in that interest from an upward trend to a downward trend, and how it seems to perfectly coincide with the introduction of Google Hangouts, it’s enough to at least introduce the idea that Google Hangouts could represent a threat.
As the search trend for Facebook Chat continues to decline, and Google Hangout continues to climb, the day those two lines meet and cross may not be too far away.
Online Email Services – Head to Head
What about online email service. Clearly Gmail must rule the day, right? Well, if you look at the history of Google trends between “gmail” (red) and “Yahoo Mail” (blue), you can see that from 2005 through 2010, Gmail was well ahead of Yahoo Mail in general popularity. Yahoo Mail almost caught up in late 2010, but then for some reason Yahoo Mail users started to leave the service.
This could very well have been because Yahoo had created a new email interface around that time, and if the search trends for Yahoo Mail are any indication, users must have started leaving at that point. The Gmail trend seems to imply that plenty of those users shifted over to Gmail instead – and probably other online email services as well. As you can see, at this point Google appears to be winning the war in this area – or is it?
Not quite. When you instead put Gmail head-to-head against “Hotmail”, you’ll find that interest shifts. Hotmail is far more popular than Gmail, and starting in 2008, that popularity became even more pronounced over Gmail.
What’s interesting is that Hotmail has been rebranded by Microsoft as Outlook online, yet the popularity of the “Hotmail” search trend continues to search just as high as ever, with no sight of slowing any time soon. I guess old habits die hard.
Instant Messaging Services
As mentioned above, Facebook Chat clearly beat out Google Talk, so does that mean Facebook Chat is the winner in the Instant Messaging area? Well, to make that judgement call, you have to look at known leaders in the IM arena. That would be Facebook Chat (blue), Google Talk (red), Yahoo Messenger (green) and Skype (gold).
What you can see is that at the time of the crossover where Facebook Chat overtook Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger beat them both. However, by this year (2013), the Yahoo Messenger interest has declined to the point where interest in Yahoo IM and Facebook Chat is equal. Of course, the clear winner here is the gold line that just keeps on climbing year after year – and that is Skype. It remains the master of this particular domain.
To-Do List Manager
My favorite comparing using Google Trends this time around was one that I wanted to save to last because in my mind it’s the battle of the decade. In the realm of to-do list managers, you’ve got very powerful contenders with a loyal user base. In this exercise, I compared Remember The Milk (blue), Google Tasks (red), Wunderlist (gold), and Toodledo (green).
Check out what the battleground looks like.
What does this tell us about he winners and the losers? Well, zooming in you can see that up until 2009, Remember the Milk was the leader by far. No one could compete, really. However, in 2009, suddenly both Google Tasks and Toodledo began catching up in leaps and bounds. By mid-2010, all three of the contenders were completely even – neck and neck in the race for the biggest to-do list user base.
You would think at this point that all three services would have battled it out, and either one would break away, or they would all climb and split the lot of potential users between the three leaders. Well, in the characteristically unpredictable world of technology, that’s not what happened. Instead, a new kid on the block appeared in late 2010, called Wunderlist.
Wunderlist – shown here in gold, caught up to the others in less than a few months, broke away from Remember the Milk and Toodledo alongside Google Tasks as the to-do list leader. However, this year (2013), there has been this remarkable breakaway by Wunderlist – and it now stands as a clear leader in the to-do list niche, even far above Google Tasks.
As you can see, search trends can reveal breaking changes in public interest and in shifting attitudes even before the news media or many marketing experts ever realize what’s happening. The decline or rise in search trends for a service immediately following the introduction of major changes – like Yahoo’s new email interface – can tell a lot about how the public received those changes.
I hope this adventure through the world of search trends was enjoyable, and we’d love to know if you’d like to see any other areas covered in follow-up articles. What’s your take on these search trends – and where do you fall as a user in each of the areas? Do you align with the majority? Share your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!
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