Whenever an interesting headline takes the Web by storm, a new breakthrough product, service, or event breaks through to the media, or when viral-bait posts start to loom large on social profiles around the Web, we see them everywhere. From an onslaught of social posts within active members of a particular vertical, to pages of results streaming out of the Google News spotlight, there is no running from something that’s truly useful and timely. The ability to create and share content has transformed the way businesses look to promote their expertise; from traditional PR to social media and niche-specific conversations, everyone is eager to get in on the conversation for the latest hot topic or trend. So how do we monitor these events, and have something ready to strike while the iron is hot?
Below, I’ve listed three simple, free tools that can help take the guesswork out of tracking trends and topics–but that also provide ways to look at data to create compelling pieces of content for even older topics that may be receiving less attention than they ever had in the past.
By far the most obvious way to track trends using big data is the biggest corpus of the English language in existence: The Google Index. Google’s affinity for big data has never strayed far from any of its products, and trends provides a free lens to the global conversation at large–no matter what the topic. When brainstorming some pieces for a client recently, I took a look at Google Trends and found some pretty compelling data that showed topics that were ebbing and flowing in popularity. However, the trending topic wasn’t necessarily the most salient point of interest; instead, by focusing on peaks, troughs, and news stories, it can become very obvious as to why certain topics increase in popularity.
Take a look at the graph above for the fitness craze that’s recently swept the nation: CrossFit. By looking at the way in which CrossFit’s popularity has recently skyrocketed, it’s easy to deduce that there are a host of searchers who might be looking for content on this topic. What does that mean for us as marketers, and for businesses who might be looking to take advantage of this? First of all, it is clear that a topic like this is getting a host of media coverage. Having something unique and interesting to say on the topic could potentially open your business to great publicity opportunities, and could help you capitalize on a search trend that seems perpetually on the rise. However, competition may be fierce; since so many people are writing on this topic, it will be increasingly more difficult to get coverage in this field that’s visible on Google’s first page of search results. Similarly, a Google Trends graph for a more volatile global trend might be something like typing in a political figure or subject matter. In this case, let’s take a look at searches related to Mel Gibson:
As we can see, there is a huge spike in traffic right around July 2010, and interest moves away accordingly in either direction. By looking at alarming rises or drops in traffic, we can also track why these spikes may have occurred. Understandably, this was around the same time that Mel Gibson was outed by an explosive rant that leaked to the media; the massive media coverage at the time surrounding his personal life caused a spike of interest and global coverage, which led to this massive plateau. By unpackaging these trends in data, this can lead to incredible new insight to explore a particular vertical, topic, or keyword phrase.
Leveraging big data like this can have a powerful effect on the purpose and impact of your content by showing a greater impact on the global consciousness and facets that are influencing the global conversation at large. This is a critical way to view topics and discuss why things might be losing or gaining popularity. Google Trends has an added level of credibility, as each Google Trends graph that has news-related criteria is coupled by relevant news sources covering the issue, topic, keyword, or trend as it happened.
Similarly, these trends can provide a pivotal lens into how language is changing. See the graph below comparing the use of the word “cell phone” to the use of the word “mobile phone”.
Use of the word “mobile phone” is beginning to overtake the more archaic, limited definition of “cell phone”, yet even this is comparatively dwarfed by the rise of “smartphone” in the lexicon:
Lastly, Google Trends also offers us the ability to parse out these differences by location; it may come as a shock that some of the biggest searchers of the “English Premier League” are not in the UK, or even in America, but spread all throughout the continent of Africa. Using this data can be an incredibly flexible, powerful portal to frame a keyword, topic, or niche-specific industry term in a greater contextual position. Supported by this data, you can create some really killer content.
Twitter Trends and Facebook Fads
Now built into the Twitter and Facebook infrastructure is a similar trend-monitor, which keeps track on lexical instances of popular links, phrases, and more. However, since these are in the social sphere, a huge emphasis should be laid on connectivity.
Zooming in from Google’s massive amount of search data, Twitter offers the same sort of clarity for real-time tracking and recent events. Twitter’s “Trending” and “Discover” functions are excellent ways to find out what people are discussing, either with or without the use of a hashtag. By searching for particular keywords, you can find influencers within your vertical who might be covering your topic, track replies, responses, favorites and retweets in order to see how the narratives are being treated. As people respond, you can also see different angles that might be used to cover the story and find holes that your brand, business, or blog can help answer for consumers who might be asking questions. Similarly, the trends in Twitter can also be adjusted based on location, giving you a better sense of what might be ranking in your particular area, which is a great opportunity for businesses with a strong, localized market.
Furthermore, tools like Topsy help take this to a new plateau. Ever write a piece of content that you’re eager to share with the rest of the world? Try searching for the same types of terms you might be using in Twitter to see how they have populated on Twitter and on blogs and news sources throughout the world. Topsy tracks the past few hours, the past few days, as far back as the past month, with filters available to help further qualify your search by language, popularity, and more. Topsy is a great resource to find both influencers, blogs, and sentiment.
Facebook’s look at trending topics is a bit newer, and certainly far less granular than the aforementioned options:
However, this nonetheless prepares you with some of the tools you need to discover important topics in your social sphere and the ability to discover if any of them could potentially relate to your vertical or persona.
An Even Closer Look at Data: Mine Your Traffic From Google Analytics
Another interesting way to use data like this that represents a collective activity is to look at your own data. From overall visitors, to visits to a certain blog post or landing page, your data can have a tremendous impact on the way in which users are communicating with your site as a whole. Comparing year-on-year data to account for seasonal variations can be especially critical, but irregularities in your data, landing pages that are specifically successful, or hugely important blog posts can transform the way your site is perceived.
Intelligence in Analytics takes a lot of the guesswork out for you; by comparing your site’s performance against its average, Intelligence Alerts in Analytics are able to generate huge clues into irregular behavior on your site, and may give you a clue into some unusual trends with your own site’s performance. Perhaps a spell of unusually bad weather brings more and more traffic to a blog that focuses on recipes, cooking, or ways to rearrange or fix your home. Perhaps a blog topic you wrote covering an unpopular actor is scoring some major visits after news coverage on their new role. Whatever the case may be, turning these spikes or drops into case studies of your own can be a powerful way to help tell a story about how everything connects.