Thursday, February 28, 2013

February Observations: Revisiting Google Trends

February 2013 Observations

Revisiting Google Trends – 
Anything New Looking at Google Search and the World of Hard Copy?

In the last six months, we have collectively made it through election season followed by influenza season. What does this have to do with printers and printing?

Well, in the world of search terms, both elections and flu season are subject to sometimes remarkable analysis via Google Trends (for examples, see “Who is Running for President” and “Predictive Analytics Allows Feds to Track Outbreaks in Real Time” - though the recent coverage on Google’s 2012/2013 results regarding the flu conclude the firm over-estimated the outbreak’s severity). With a little time and experimentation, print and hard copy-related search terms could be given similar scrutiny.

Gaining insights from the frequency and patterns of Internet search terms is not exactly new. Back in September 2008, I did some analysis and then wrote about it. It was, at the time, a fascinating new search-analysis tool called Google Trends. (See “Reading the Google Tea Leaves”). In the article I explained a bit of the background including the “art versus science”aspects of search term analysis, much like in other analytical and predictive fields, and presented results of several different comparisons I had found interesting at the time. With my interest spurred by the news items mentioned above and others like them, I was curious to go back and see how my insights might have changed since 2008.

The first graph (below) shows four years’ worth of search frequency data for four well-known HP printer brands – LaserJet, Officejet, Deskjet, and Designjet (keeping in mind that something like “LaserJet” is much more definitive in this sort of analysis than “printer”). In 2008, the data going back to 2004 showed a “down-and-to-the-right” trend for all four terms. This year’s analysis showed those trends continuing with one notable exception. The four search terms held their relative rank over nearly five years, but “Officejet” was the one search term that was “up and to the right” and gaining on “LaserJet” for the number one position. Those who follow the industry know that HP has been pushing “color in the office” via the firm’s color Officejet products for some time now, and this analysis would seem to reflect that.

HP Four Printer Brands search terms held relative rank but Officejet was up and to the right and gaining on LaserJet

My analysis in 2008 also tried to go beyond printer versus printer. I weighed public interest, as measured by search term frequency, by adding in new devices that might be seen as substitutes for printers. At the time, I did some “LaserJet/iPhone/Kindle” matchups. Realizing the “iPhone” search results swamped the other two (iPhone then was essentially an upside outlier), I presented simply the “LaserJet/Kindle” comparison. Like with the first example, I repeated the analysis this year to see how things might have changed. Since late 2008, searches on “Kindle” have rapidly outpaced “LaserJet” searches after a far more “neck-and-neck” view back then.

Since 2008 Kindle has far outdistanced LaserJet as a Google Search Term

So could I find any good news in Google Trends’ printer-related neighborhood? As mentioned, precision in terminology (or the lack of it) adds challenges for the analyst and acronyms often introduce a lack of precision, but I finally found an analysis of “MFP” (aka multi-function printer or peripheral) to be a fairly definitive search term, as evidenced by the related terms showing up in the lower right of the graphic below.
An up and to the right result came from looking at MFP

But to close with some less-than-jolly news for those of us in the printing and imaging industry, and after having relatively good luck with “MFP,” I experimented with some more non-brand-specific terms. I tried “paperless,” which is often bandied about to mean a number of things but all of them generally describing a reduction in printed materials of some kind. It presented a not-surprising growth trend with a wide variety of related terms, as can be seen in the graphic below. I then overlaid another potentially nebulous term, “hardcopy,” trusting that many, if not most, of the searches for that term would be printing-on-paper related. And guess what? It was a predictable down-and-to-the-right pattern.

Paperless vs hardcopy yielded interesting if predictable results

Just as I found in 2008, a little persistence with this powerful tool can yield some surprising and, equally valuable, validating results. I will continue on my quest to further master Google Trends and hopefully gain further insights into our business. And guess what? A new, related tool from Google called Google Correlate made its appearance recently, since my initial 2008 explorations as well. So stay tuned for some results from that world as well! 

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