Google gives insights to RP online search trends

By David Dizon,

Posted at Sep 12 2009 04:01 AM | Updated as of Sep 15 2009 08:57 PM

MANILA - Ever wondered what Filipinos are looking for online every week?

According to Google Insights for Search, the top two rising search terms among Internet users in the Philippines for the past seven days were the sinking of the SuperFerry 9 in Zamboanga on September 6 and Malacañang's declaration of a nonworking holiday on September 7.

Weather also seemed to be a top-of-mind topic for Filipinos lately as it was the third most searched term for the week while weather bureau PAGASA was the fifth most searched term recently. The Fil-Am dance sensation Jabbawockeez also garnered a lot of online attention recently as it placed fourth on the list while the US Open placed sixth.

Even the popular Facebook application Restaurant City continues to get lots of Google searches lately, particularly for ways on how to cheat the game. Other rising searches in the top 10 list are GMA News, ABS-CBN News and Noynoy Aquino.

Jay Trinidad, regional product marketing manager for Google Asia-Pacific, said Google Insights for Search allows users to compare search volume patterns across specific provinces and time frames. He said the tool allows marketers to adjust their ad campaigns and business strategies as market interest shifts.

"This is a free online tool that uses the intelligence of crowds. It aggregates searches and normalizes the data to show rising search trends," Trinidad told reporters in a Makati forum.

He said marketers who use Google Insights for Search can actually gauge the overall sentiment of the Internet-using public at any given time. For example, he said the onset of the global financial crisis actually led to an increase in searches for "discounts" and "coupons." He also noted that Goldman Sachs actually priced their Coach bag products lower after noting a decrease in online searches for the brand. 

In the Philippines, online searches for beaches start in early March and peak in April according to Google's yearly search query patterns. With that information, resort owners, hotels and even airlines can anticipate demand and make the necessary adjustments to advertising budgets, staffing and even inventory.

One thing that Google Insights does not show is the actual number of searches done for a particular topic or term. Trinidad said Google "normalizes" the data and filters out the searches that have experienced significant growth in a given time period.

This could be quite tricky for local ad campaigns as Google does not state how many searches are needed for a particular term before it starts making a dent on Google stats. Even more important, some areas barely register a blip on Google graphs because "there is not enough search volume to show graphs."

To illustrate, I tried to compare search trends for the word "yogurt" in Manila, Davao and Batangas to see if online searches actually coincided with the launch of several frozen yogurt stores in Metro Manila recently. Google Insights failed to show graphs for the last 7, 30 and 90 days because there was insufficient volume of searches done for that particular search term in all three subregions.

For the past 12 months, however, Google Insights showed that online searches for "yogurt" had been increasing in Manila, particularly in Makati, since March of this year while it made nary a blip in Davao and Batangas. This means that there is some interest for yogurt in Manila and Makati but not in Davao and Batangas, at least according to Google.

Offline events affect online behavior

Trinidad said search trends are often affected by offline events such as Manny Pacquiao's boxing matches or the death of former president Corazon Aquino. He noted that in the US, online searches for candidates John McCain and Barack Obama increased dramatically in the last few months before the 2008 election.

He said online interest for a particular political candidate can be gauged through the number of searches tracked by Google Insights.

"I would say that it offers them something valuable. It allow them to know what some people are interested in. What we hope to show is the relative number of searches over a number of time and compared to the other search terms. In much the same way that you go to Nielsen to get the numbers, it's one of the places you visit before you mount a campaign," he said.

A comparison on search trends for Noynoy Aquino, Manny Villar, Joseph Estrada, Mar Roxas and Noli de Castro for the past 90 days showed Villar clearly leading online searches compared to the other four candidates until August. Online interest for Noynoy Aquino, however, has been rising since his mother's death on August 1 and peaked recently after his announcement that he would run for president next year.

Online searches for Mar Roxas skyrocketed on September 1 after he announced that he would withdraw his presidential bid and support Aquino.