Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape
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Forecasting The Obvious With Google Insights For Search

Recently, Google announced a new forecasting feature for their useful Google Insights for Search.  At first blush, it would seem to be a great way to peer into the future and reach that nirvana of any good marketing researcher, the predictive insight.

However, after playing with the tool a bit, it’s not very clear that the utility of the forecasts is really anything more than a clearly laid out progression of obvious seasonality.

Here is a historical look at search behavior behind the term hot dogs, with the dotted line representing a forecast of future search behavior.

Google Insights For Search Hot Dogs

Based upon a quick look at previous years, though, you would see that you don’t need a sophisticated model to predict that there should be a big spike in searching on the term “hot dogs” coinciding with the start of the grilling season around Memorial Day, peaking at 4th of July, and then tailing off through the rest of the summer.

That’s not to say that understanding seasonality isn’t important in search.  In fact, it can be critical to providing a baseline in identifying deviations from the forecast, which is where the true insight lies.

What would be a more interesting tool from Google would be something that clearly laid out the historical trend in search, and then showed where search patterns began to deviate from traditional seasonality, say a spike in “Hot Dog” searches in February that were the result of a particularly effective Superbowl ad.

One really shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it’s one of the many excellent free tools that Google provides for better digital insights.  However, researchers need to be cognizant that just because an observation comes to a brand digitally, doesn’t mean that it’s automatically innovative and insightful.

Forecasting data that moves beyond the obvious should always be the goal.  Unfortunately, it’s not always easy, as Nobel Prize winning physicist Niels Bohr so humorously captured:

“Prediction is very difficult, especially of the future.”

2 comments

1 Nick { 10.01.09 at 11:17 am }

Nice article Paul. Yup, I think we are way off nirvana at the moment with it.

2 Paul M. Banas { 10.07.09 at 8:38 pm }

@Nick Good to hear from you again.

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