Innovation Planning Using Google Trends

Innovation Planning Using Google Trends

By Erik Willet

There are all kinds of tools that you probably use when planning your innovation pipeline. Each tool provides an additional data point in helping you make sure you are making the best decisions possible in your innovation planning process. These tools may range from market research you have conducted with customers, to the output of reports that survey current technology. Google Trends is a fast and free tool we’ve sometimes used on client projects, to provide clients with additional insights.

Google Trends provides a very quick way to compare global and regional interest in particular topics, as measured by the number of people searching Google for them. For example, if you were looking to make an investment in Alternative Energy, you might consider building products in the markets for solar panels, wind turbines or hydroelectric dams.

Google Tends

A quick Google Trends search comparing solar panels, wind turbines or hydroelectric dams helps us lead to these conclusions, with respect to our innovation planning efforts:

(a) Interest in hydroelectric dams has never been as high as interest in solar panels or wind turbines.
(b) There has generally been an upward interest in solar panels, from 2004 to the present day.
(c) Interest in wind turbines is lower than interest in solar panels, and has generally stayed at the same levels.

There are some caveats that you need to consider when using Google Trends for innovation planning:

  • The search numbers are for the general population, many of whom will not be your customers.
  • The search numbers are affected by influencers over time, such as the media and general public interest in the topics related to your search
  • The search is sensitive to the search terms that you have chosen. There may be other terms, that you have not thought of, which are the specific terms people are more readily using to search around that topic. Thus, you need to experiment with different search terms. can help with this.
  • A downward trend is not necessarily a downward trend. The search is sensitive to the way in which the general population’s use of Google has changed over time. Google Trends shows the proportion of searches for your keywords, comparative to all searches through Google. The number of searches made through Google increased from 60M/day in 2000 to 4.7Bn/day in 2011. In 2000, most web searches were for informational content, typified by Wikipedia. By 2011, there was an explosion of fast updated news content, typified by Twitter and 24 hour news websites, so most searches now relate to trending news and pop culture. Interest in your keywords may simply be lower comparative to increased search numbers for other, unrelated searches.
  • On a practical note, be weary that there are search quota limits for the number of searches you can conduct using Google Trends. You can do 500 searches a day, and there are also more granular limits, such as 10 per minute. Don’t search too fast, or Google Trends will think you are abusing the system.

We believe Google Trends can provide you with an additional data point when conducting innovation planning. We recommend that it is used in combination with other tools. For example, when used with market research efforts, we may be able to answer the question, “Why has interest in wind turbines remained steady, comparative to solar panels?”

How is Google Trends working for you? Let us know in the comments.

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