Paul M. Banas on Consumer Insights, Marketing Research, and the Digital Media Landscape
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Category — Research Tools

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.”

September 27, 2009   2 Comments

Monitoring Brands Across Social Media And Twitter

“One of these days, your boss will wander into your office and say “I assume you’re keeping track of which brands in our category are using Twitter””.

This is a very real world situation that marketers and marketing researchers will soon find themselves in, according to this post from Tom Cunniff at the iCPG blog.

This applies to social media in general as well.  For broader monitoring, I wanted to build on a social media monitoring approach that I’ve blogged about before and that recently Chris Brogan did a good job outlining as well.

But rather than using Google Blog Search, I’d suggest using the new RSS feed functionality that Google Alerts rolled out a couple of months ago, in order to aggregate the significant amount of online content that exists outside of formal blogs.

1.)  Develop Key Words To Track

This could be a brand name (“Energizer”) or a specific topic “homemade barbecue sauces”.  Start by typing the word or phrase in quotes in Google to see how relevant results are with the phrase.

If your brand name is also a word with multiples meanings such as “Tide”, you may need to add something like the word detergent to keep from capturing conversations on surfing or beach combing.

You can also track:

  • A URL for a Website
  • A person’s name or online nickname

2.)  Getting the search feeds:

Once you have the keywords, it’s simply a matter of setting up a search feed with different social media monitoring tools.  For the three listed below, that means adding your keywords to their search box and then clicking on the RSS subscription button to get the auto-link:

  • Google Alerts – for online news, videos, images, and other sources
  • Technorati – for monitoring blog postings
  • Twitter Search – for brand chatter on the Twitter micro-blogging platform

3.)  Aggregating Feeds In Google Reader

By collecting these feeds into one folder on Google Reader, you can monitor all your brand related mentions from social media in one convenient place.

Another good aggregation tool would be Friendfeed, especially for those who are trying to distribute their monitored content to a far flung group.

That way you can send your boss the link, and he’ll never even get to ask if you’re on top of social media and your brand.

March 31, 2009   No Comments

Digital Marketing Research Tools: Google Insights For Search

On Tuesday of this week, Google launched a new tool with a wide range of applications for marketers and marketing researchers, Google Insights for Search.

Google Insights allows users to analyze and compare different search terms by showing patterns in search volume over time, group top related search terms, and show which of those related terms are rising or falling in popularity.  It also allows you to slice and dice the data by different date ranges and geographical locations.

Below is a quick chart I did analyzing the search interest of a couple top social networking sites by comparing the search volumes associated with their names over the past year and a half (click for larger image).

Google Insights for Search

Google Insights for Search

In a very intuitive and and clean manner, the tool shows how MySpace’s search popularity has plateaued, while Facebook has rapidly overtaken it in the past several months.  It also shows the rapid rise of interest in the fast growing site, Hi5.

This tool is very granular, allowing users to drill down to very specific localities (e.g., Madison, WI) or time frames (e.g., last week).  Which means it has strong utility for local and seasonal search analyses.

You can even filter results by category, so you can analyze results for “apple” the fruit, rather than the company Apple, which dominates the search traffic for that word.

Marketers in particular can use Google Insights to analyze the popularity over time of different trends, topics, products, or even marketing campaigns.

Google Insights is clearly a tool that can mine Google’s massive “database of intentions” for a vast range of different insights and applications.

And, by the way, it’s free.

August 8, 2008   No Comments

10 Easy Steps To Auto Monitor Your Online Reputation

William S. Burroughs once wrote “Sometimes paranoia’s just having all the facts”. However, in today’s world of social media, networking, and blogging, tracking the facts behind what is being said about you, your company, or your website is not just about being a little paranoid, it can also make good business and personal sense as well.

Using two free services, Google Alerts and Technorati Watchlists, you can develop an automated system to easily manage what’s being said about you, your blog, or your company site with minimal effort.

1.) If you haven’t registered yet with Technorati or claimed a blog, simply navigate to the main page and click on the word “Join” and fill out the brief form.

2.) Once you have an account, navigate to the Watchlist feature on Technorati (it’s hard to find if you don’t search for it) and add the following items to the “Add to Your Watchlist” box.

  • The URL of your website
  • The name of your website in quotes (e.g., “Insight Buzz”)
  • Your name or online nickname in quotes. Add any derivation of your name that you may use online.
  • Any company or brand name you want to track as well

3.) Once you have Watchlists that are tracking what you want them to, subscribe to them by clicking the orange RSS buttons.

4.) If you manage your feeds with Google Reader, put all your Watchlist feeds into a single folder. For more tips on managing feeds with Google Reader, you can check out my previous post on 10 Steps To Mastering Google Reader.

5.) Since Technorati is mostly focused on blogs, you will also want to set up some Google Alerts to cover mentions that happen in the broader Internet universe in areas like news or videos. The first step is to access the Google Alerts site.

6.) The nice thing about Google Alerts is that you don’t have to have a Google account. Having an account is useful, though, in managing a large number of alerts.

7.) You can then add the same info as you did for the Technorati Watchlists. If you’re worried about spam blogs scraping your website content, you can even add the following combinations, as suggested by RT Cunningham at Untwisted Vortex.

  • link:
  • link:
  • Your Website
  • YourWebsite

8.) I’d generally use the comprehensive setting with Google Alerts and set the alert timing to once a day.

9.) Oddly, Google Alerts only sends your alerts to an e-mail address, without an RSS option like Technorati (maybe that’s why it’s still called Beta). You can have all your alerts filtered into a e-mail folder, however, much like you can with Google Reader.

10.) With your online reputation now being automatically monitored, make sure you make adjustments as necessary to ensure you have the right search terms, especially if your terms are bringing in a lot of non-relevant hits.

For those who want to explore an even broader range of available reputation tracking services, Social Media Trader recently provided a wide list of applications that can track everything from keyword trends and comments, as well as conversations that take place on forums that Google doesn’t index.

April 7, 2008   7 Comments

What Kind Of Social Media User Are You?

  • Germans tend to comment more on social media than participants in other EU countries, but not half as much as those in urban China.
  • People in the UK are not as big on tagging or using RSS feeds as others, but they lead Europe in social network participation.

These were just some of the factoids I uncovered while having some fun over the weekend playing around with this social media segmentation tool from Forrester Research (I’ll be the first one to admit that only someone who works in market research would call playing with social media segmentation tools a form of fun).

Thanks to the blog mentions by Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li at Forrester Research, I found the application, along with its corresponding social media segmentation.

The tool looks at broad groups of internet users and classifies them into segments based upon their level of social media participation. This chart shows the different groups and their definitions (click for a larger image):


My only quibble with the segmentation is that I believe there is a lot more granularity out there for Creators (e.g., I’d imagine there could be some significant differences between those who strictly blog versus heavy YouTube or Flickr uploaders).

But the segmentation does do a good job of grouping the population as a whole on something more meaningful than demographics in order to make better sense of them. Maybe, however, there is a micro-segmentation of Creators lurking somewhere under the hood of Forrester’s research.

Here are some other facts that Charlene Li mentions on the Groundswell blog that you can find if you twiddle around with this tool:

  • Although social media participation significantly increases the lower on the age range you go, even among the 55+ group in the US, you’ll find that 33% of them are connecting with social applications in some way.
  • 41% of Koreans are Joiners — members of social networks — more than anywhere else in the world.
  • In Urban China, a full 36% are Creators, which means that this very significant percentage of the population is creating blogs, maintaining content, or uploading videos or music.

I’d like to play around more with this dataset (hint to Forrester!) and maybe later I’ll have some more insight nuggets to share.

March 31, 2008   No Comments

10 Steps To Mastering Google Reader


When paired with the simple steps outlined below, there is no better tool for managing the torrents of blog feeds and news posts on the Web than Google Reader.

I am currently subscribed to over 100 blogs and news services, all centered around digital marketing, marketing research, media and advertising, and general Web 2.0 type stuff.

That means anywhere from 50 articles and posts per day on the weekend, to almost 400 on a busy weekday. And I have a relatively narrow window between work and family (5:00AM to 7:30AM) to both read them and write my own posts.

Which is why Google Reader, paired with some knowledge management techniques I learned from digital photography workflows, has been such a critical asset to me.

Since I can’t really read 400 posts a day, I needed a way to quickly separate what interests me from what doesn’t. In a tool such as Photoshop Lightroom, the point of a digital photography workflow is to quickly eliminate all the out of focus and hopeless images, and identify and sort the ones that really matter for further editing, all through use of flags and keywords.

I follow a similar process with Google Reader by use of tag folders, the J-key shortcut, and the Star function.

  1. First I sort RSS feeds into macro topic tag folders (marketing research, advertising, economics, etc.). You can do this by tagging a feed after you subscribe to it by using the Feed Settings drop down menu.
  2. I then create a Read First folder of blogs whose postings are ones that I find I always read in detail. I move this folder to the top of my list. The neat thing about Google Reader is that a feed can reside in multiple places, so Seth Godin’s blog is in both my marketing and Read First folders.
  3. When I then check my feeds, I go right to the Read First folder, since I generally find myself wanting to read most of what these writers post. If there is something I want to come back to, I then hit the S-key in order to flag it for the Star folder.
  4. I then go through the postings in the remaining folders. Blogs like Mashable! and news sources like MarketingVox have tons of posts everyday, some of which hold interest for me and some of which don’t. Which is where the J-key comes in. For everything but the Read First items, I give the post a second or two scan based upon the headline and the first sentence. Then I either hit the J-key or Star it to come back to it later.
  5. Which means if you are creating content that is being read through a feed reader, some of these best practices from Copyblogger and Problogger on headline and copy writing are critical. If I’m scanning 100 blog post headlines in less than 5 minutes, it’s the well written and succinct headlines that capture my attention and my S-key.
  6. After I’ve gone through all the new items (make sure Google Reader is set to only show you new items), if I have the time, I go back through and read in more detail the starred items.
  7. These remaining posts are read and saved, or discarded by use of the S-key again, which toggles off the star.
  8. I don’t used the Star folder for permanent storage however. I’ve lately paired the social bookmarking tool with Google Reader, which allows me to store posts I find while I’m surfing the web, as well as stuff from Google Reader.
  9. On occasion, I look at the Trends report from Google Reader. This helps me identify upcoming feeds for inclusion in the Read First folder, as well as those that have gone inactive and may be candidates for deletion.
  10. And from there: rinse, wash, repeat as necessary.

For a much more intricate system that is designed to handle a much greater volume of feeds, check out this one from Steve Rubel at Micropersuasion.

The key is to develop a Google Reader system that works for you; otherwise, you may end up with the exact opposite.

February 12, 2008   9 Comments

Digital Research Tool Box: Quintura

In addition to TouchGraph, another research tool that helps with search visualization is Quintura.

quintura_logo.pngQuintura takes a key word cloud approach to search, which is at first seems mundane, but then becomes much more intriguing as you add more search terms.

Just like I did with TouchGraph, I typed in “Crowdsourcing”. Instead of colored bubbles with links, I had a word cloud.

By just hovering my cursor over another key word, however, I opened a whole new set of links. Clicking on a key word simply added it to my list, and reorganized my word cloud around two key words rather than one.

The nice thing about Quintura is that it is quick. What it lacks in visual fireworks versus TouchGraph, it more than makes up for that in speed and clarity.

By pairing Quintura with, I was able to assemble several links for a future post on social media in a fraction of the time I would have took with multiple Google searches.

Quintura recently announced a local site embed, with more blogger specific tools to come.

Until then, Quintura remains a very strong way to visualize link knots of different themes or ideas in the pursuit of better online marketing research.

February 4, 2008   4 Comments

Digital Research Tool Box: Touch Graph


In my previous post on search visualization, I cited a couple examples of search engines that examine link knots, or clusters of sites and pages organized around a similar theme.

I’d like to go into more detail on each of the three, since they each approach search visualization slightly differently.

The first site I’ll look into is TouchGraph. The site has Java applets for mapping link knots on either Google, Amazon, or Facebook. Using the Google applet, I typed in one of my favorite topics “crowdsourcing” (see a previous post on crowdsourcing here) and hit the Graph It! button.

What you get back are groupings of visual clusters, with each cluster representing groups of links that are related to a particular aspect of crowdsourcing. There are blog sites, articles, companies who specialize in crowdsourcing applications, etc.

I then click on the + symbol that was around a blog post on ReadWriteWeb that provided an overview of crowdsourcing. Another group of links popped up that were directly related to that particular post, one of which was a post that appeared in Mashable about Cambrian House, a software developer with a “crowd-sourced” based development strategy .

By expanding again on the Cambrian House post, I can see another cluster of related links, this time focused on Cambrian House itself. So you can see how this can go on and on and on….

TouchGraph as a research tool not only shows you relevant links to a particular topic, it does it in a very visually appealing way.

The interface is a little slow and take some getting used to, but the reward is that you can visualize information in a much broader context than you currently can do with Google today.

January 25, 2008   No Comments