A Secret Google Tool for Local Search Success

It’s been almost three years since Google launched one of the most useful tools ever devised to help small business owners plan more effective advertising campaigns for local online search. Yet this free and insanely useful tool called Google Insights for Search (GIS) remains a well-kept secret among a handful of search geeks, corporate quants and marketing academics.

Too bad. GIS (still listed by Google as “beta”) has the potential to be a local business owner’s dream tool for analyzing search volume patterns across specific regions, product and service categories and time frames. For example, it lets you see how search volume by specific keywords and phrases is distributed across cities and regions and compare what’s happening now for any time periods you select going back to 2004.

With search engine marketing becoming more competitive and expensive for small business, being smarter about it and spending online marketing money effectively is more important than ever.

This kind of self-serve market research does require some work.  But the GIS tool makes it easy for even the most data-phobic among us to interpret the numbers. Rather than showing absolute numbers, which can be misleading, it “normalizes” the results and graphs them on a simple to read scale of 0-100.  That makes it easy to see the relative gain or loss in popularity of any particular search term over time, and in any area down to individual cities.

What’s more, the system offers projects of where the graph will go over the next 12 months, making it a handy forecasting tool as well.

For example, is you chart searches for “orthodontist,” “pediatric dentist” and “teeth whitening” in Chicago over the last five years, you’d discover the following (among many other things):

  • Online searches for pediatric dentists in Chicago have increased from 24 to about 31 on the index scale, or about 29%.
  • But teeth whitening jumped from 46 to 75 (63%) and searches for orthodontists went from 66 to 99, a 50% leap. 

Different starting points for any given search reflect its relative importance (more people search for orthodontists than pediatric dentists, for example), so the most important thing is the percentage change over time. In other words, among these three searches in Chicago, teeth whitening has experienced the most relative growth over the last 5 years.

By applying the “Category” filer in the Google tool you can convert the index numbers into a graph showing change over time as a percentage of growth.

Our dental graph reveals other helpful information as well.  For example, searches for both orthodontists and teeth whitening have tended to move together in the first half of each calendar year.  In the second half of the year, however, searches for orthodontists tend to rise while people seeking whiter teeth go away. And indeed, for the second half of 2011, the GIS tool projects a big increase in searches for orthodontists, while teeth whitening searches tumble.

This kind of knowledge clearly has marketing implications for orthodontists or teeth whitening services trolling for new customers online.  And that’s just three search terms involving one type of business.  The possibilities are endless for hundreds of local businesses and professions, and tens of thousands (or more) of search terms. Google also provides some helpful examples of how a business can use Insights for Search.

Here are three general areas to explore on the GIS tool:

  1. Categories:  Here you can focus and compare the search information you retrieve to specific categories such as automotive, food and drink, beauty and personal care, health, home and garden, real estate, travel and many others.
  2. Seasonality: By looking at search trends during specific seasons (summer; back-to-school, Thanksgiving, etc.), you can better anticipate demand for whatever your business sells and plan or budget accordingly.
  3. Geographic targeting: This GIS component offers great potential to help you know where to find customers by looking at how search volume is distributed across cities and areas. This would be of particular help in targeting new locations.

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About the Author: Daniel Kehrer, Founder and Chief Content Officer of BizBest Media, is a senior-level leader in digital media, content development and online marketing with special expertise in startups, SMB, social media and generating traffic, engagement and leads. He holds an MBA from UCLA/Anderson and is a passionate entrepreneur (started 4 businesses), syndicated columnist, blogger, thought leader and author of 7 business and financial books.

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