The ultimate research methodology

This blog is about the light that the cumulative searches of hundreds of millions of individuals can shine on the world in a way that traditional sources of insight cannot.

So what makes keyword research better than other research methodologies? It’s primary strength lies in it’s lack of bias. This impartiality is born of the intimacy that exists between a searcher and their search box that simply can’t be replicated at scale any other way.

For example it’s unlikely that if asked in a survey, many of the 165,000 global searchers using Google to find information about ‘flatulence’ in July 2012 would admit that it was their primary concern. Perhaps they might instead choose to align themselves with the more socially concerned (and fragrant) 60,500 people searching for ‘cure for cancer’ in the same month.

When a user enters their search they are speaking to a machine, they have a need and, as best they are able, they clearly and explicitly state that need.

These searches range from the mundane; “where can I buy Nespresso capsules” to the hilarious: “why does my mom smell”, to the potentially tragic: “test for aids”.

Whatever a searchers intention, every time a search is made it is added to aggregate statistics for the informed researcher to mine.

The strength of this new source of understanding is not only in it’s candour, it is also unprecedented in terms of it’s scale. Google with around 66% of the search engine market is queried 400 million times per day. Extrapolated to the whole search market that’s around 600 million searches, a sample size that few other research methodologies can hope to match.

Search data versus social data (Part 1)

Social networks such as (in Anglo-Saxon countries) Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are often portrayed as the modern mirror of the people.

The immense data held, particularly by Facebook, is often quoted as having the key to understanding people on a macro and individual level.

For example, Facebook knows where you live, who your friends, colleagues, family are, where you go for fun, where you go on holiday and your favourite TV shows. Surely this is the ultimate data set for understanding humanity on a grand scale?

Well, no, and here’s why.

Perception versus reality

When an individual creates content on a social network, particularly those where real names are encouraged such as Facebook or Google+, they are typically at least as conscious of the impact this will have on others perception of them as they would be talking in person with people they know.

The reason for this is that the average Facebook user has around 130 friends, but 7 close ‘real life’ friends, therefore any statement on Facebook is likely to reach a much wider and more diverse audience than one made in person.

As such, most social media users will screen themselves, conscious that their content may reach the eyes of family, co-workers, less close acquaintances and quite probably strangers and that each group of people may react in different ways.

For example political opinion expressed to 4 or 5 close friends is less likely to be challenged than one made to a diverse group of more than a hundred people from separate parts of one’s life.

Beyond the user’s direct connections, the ability for a particular piece of content to be shared is virtually limitless as a number of individuals writing indiscreet Twitter updates or posting Facebook photos have found.

Instead, individuals conduct themselves on social networks in the way they wish to be perceived by this broad community of people, rather than as they truly are.

In social, users update with socially acceptable facets of their life.
“I’m on the train”
“I’m looking forward to my holiday”
“My cat is adorable”.

It would be an unusual breach of convention for users of social media to ask where they can find at some good pornography, and yet that demand clearly exists, there are 277 million porn related searches from the comfortable anonymity of the search box every month.

And it’s not only sexual interests and personal hygiene problems that are directed at search and not social. If you are in need of information regarding a specific purchase, let’s say the purchase of a lamp or refrigerator, you are much more likely to start your search with a Google search rather than ask your friends who are relatively unlikely to have specialist knowledge about specific products.

If the average Facebook user has 160 friends, compared to tens of billions of indexed pages in Google and Bing, many of them written by niche experts and specialist retailers, it’s clear that online search is a more effective way of researching your needs.

To be continued…

The USA’s most searched for employers

Some organisations struggle to hire the employees but others are in the fortunate situation of having people seek them out for employment. It would be interesting to know which companies are actually being sought by potential employees and in what numbers.

The nuances of this are actually quite complex as there are a number of difficulties to take in to consideration;

  • The different ways a searcher may express interest in employment e.g. careers, applications, jobs, job, job in a location etc etc
  • The possible misinterpretations of brand names
  • The sheer numbers of brands to be examined.

The best (though far from perfect) approach is therefore to adopt a consistent approach in all cases. This table shows the number of exact Google queries for a brand + job originating from the United States in October 2012.

# Brand Searches + jobs
1 Government 198500
2 UPS 60500
3 Google 59400
4 Walmart 49500
5 Kaiser Permanente 49500
6 Disney 37000
7 Fedex 29000
8 TSA 27100
9 FBI 27100
10 Boeing 27100
11 Home Depot 27100
12 Target 27100
13 Apple 22200
14 Costco 22200
15 United nations 22000
16 Lockheed Martin 22000
17 USPS 21400
18 Safeway 18100
19 Yahoo! 18100
20 Amazon 18100
21 McDonalds 16200
22 At&t 16200
23 Homeland Security 14800
24 Macy’s 14800
25 Coca Cola 13200
26 Raytheon 12100
27 Microsoft 9990
28 CIA 9900
29 USAA 8100
30 Target 8100
31 Verizon 8100
32 JC Penney 8100
33 Budweiser 8100
34 BNSF 8100
35 Intel 8100
36 Bank of America 6660
37 US Army 6600
38 IRS 6600
39 Northrop Grumman 6600
40 KBR 6600
41 Whole Foods 6600
42 Pepsi 6600
43 YMCA 6600
44 Anheuser Busch 6600
45 Marriott 6600
46 Air Force 5400
47 Navy 5400
48 PG&E 5400
49 Harris Teeter 5400
50 Pizza Hut 5400
51 Royal Caribbean 5400
52 Chase 5400
53 HP 5400
54 Kroger 5400
55 Carnival Cruise 5400
56 Frito Lay 5400
57 Delta Airlines 5400
58 GE 5400
59 Walgreens 5400
60 Blackwater 4400
61 Wendys 4400
62 Ebay 4400
63 Panera Bread 4400
64 Cisco 4400
65 Sprint 4400
66 Aramark 4400
67 Old Navy 3600
68 Peace Corps 3600
69 Chrysler 3600
70 Dyncorp 3600
71 Oracle 3600
72 John Deere 3600
73 Staples 3600
74 USDA 2900
75 National Guard 2900
76 Albertsons 2900
77 T mobile 2900
78 Winn Dixie 2900
79 Wegmans 2900
80 Holiday Inn 2900
81 Sams Club 2900
82 America Express 2900
83 Time Warner 2900
84 GAP 2900
85 Kohls 2400
86 Nestle 2400
87 Lowes 2400
88 Weatherford 2400
89 Hollister job application 2400
90 Hershey 2400
91 Ford 2400
92 Dell 2400
93 Labcorp 1900
94 Circle K 1900
95 BP 1900
96 Aldi 1900
97 Rite Aid 1900
98 Sysco 1900
99 Fred Meyer 1900
100 General Dynamics 1900

 

Where there is a very clear intent with similar numbers they are combined as a single entry e.g. government jobs, federal government jobs, gov jobs, us government jobs are aggregated in to ‘Government’.

The top companies are a mixture of aspirational e.g. Google (3rd) and the FBI (9th) and major employers such as UPS (3rd) and Walmart (5th). To put this in perspective, Walmart receives roughly 17% less interest than Google despite employing 2.1 million people – roughly 39 times more than the famous search engine.

A Human Resources department concerned with measuring the attractiveness of it’s organization can easily use a similar methodology to gauge their appeal to potential employees versus competitors and to measure their changing appeal as an employer over time.

For a more general view of brand value via keyowrd resarch, try ‘Tracking a brand with keyword research‘.

An introduction

This blog is about Internet search and how billions of searches by hundreds of millions of people can help us understand the world in interesting and useful new ways.

Although it has hitherto been used almost exclusively by online marketers (my own background), keyword research is equally useful for entrepreneurs, politicians, policy makers, academics, market researchers and product managers.

This blog will therefore attempt to;

  1. Demonstrate exactly how keyword research can be used for more than just online marketing
  2. Explain how anyone can conduct keyword research
  3. Share interesting examples of the insights keyword research on society, business, celebrity, technology and politics.

My name is Chris Reynolds and I have been conducting keyword research professionally since 2003. I currently work as Global Digital Strategy Manager for a large international corporation based in Zürich, Switzerland. I’m also co-founder of UK based Clever Biscuit Ltd. Any views in this blog are my own and not those of my employer or company.

I hope you find this blog interesting and useful. Thanks for reading!