I wanted to make some time and dive deep into the issue of why all those top search terms from the various search engines don’t match. Others have thankfully been doing that. The short answer, as I’ve written before, is that they are all heavily filtered. That’s why you don’t see popular terms like "sex" and "porn" and navigational queries like "google" showing up. I might try to come back to this in more depth, but here’s a summary of the lists and what people are saying about them. Plus, I’ll explain that chart above and how it shows that list from Google doesn’t match what Google’s own Google Trends says.
Dweebs, horndogs and geezers from Nick Carr at Rough Type has a nice short thought piece, and Techdirt does a succinct kick-in-the-knees to these lists, as does Business 2.0. Via Nick’s post, here’s a nice chart of top queries going back over time. Techmeme also points you to related posts centering around Nick’s article. Greg Jarboe looks at top news queries versus web queries. That’s interesting, but by this point, you’re probably losing faith that any of these lists actually match the reality of what people search for :)
Now back to the chart above. I know from past articles that sex is one of the most popular search terms, consistently over time. I also know that lots of people search for sites like Google even on Google. So I took the top two terms Google says were most popular in 2006 — bebo at #1 and myspace at #2 — and checked them against sex and google using Google Trends. If the top two terms were really that popular, they should be well above the ones I’m guessing at.
Nope. They weren’t (chart is for 2006, all regions). Sex as a search term almost consistently showed more volume than any of the other terms. Google as a term was right up there with it. MySpace is even far, far above Bebo.
Next I put all top five queries that Google said were tops for 2006:
- world cup
Computer says no:
Other than the World Cup, none of these terms have popularity even approaching the supposed number two, MySpace. It may be there are a number of search variations that are rolled up (misspellings, partial URLs), but it would have to be a lot of them to make an impact. But it pretty much looks like there’s a bunch of terms more popular that aren’t being shown.
Just for fun, I tried a last chart, putting terms I know are popular like "yahoo," "hotmail" and "amazon" against the supposed number two and number four terms. The chart:
If I were snarky, I’d be saying Google deliberately dropped out competitors like Yahoo, Hotmail and arguably Amazon to make a partner like MySpace look better. Of course, why non-partner Bebo gets showered with popularity it doesn’t seem to have makes no sense. And more important, I honestly don’t believe that’s why some of these more popular terms were dropped. Search engines, when they make these lists, routinely drop out common navigational requests that are uninteresting to see over time. Yahoo, Hotmail, Amazon — even Google are all these types of terms. I will follow up on why they don’t show, why Google Trends is different from the top list and so on. But the filtering is hardly unique to Google, nor something I think was competitively done. But it sure makes a further mockery of these lists.
Oh, need the lists? Here’s our past posts on them or links to them:
- Top Searches At Windows Live Search (MSN Search) For 2006
- AOL’s Top Searches Of 2006
- Top Searches At LYCOS In 2006
Postscript: I’m talking with Google later today about the stats, but the Washington Post has an article up now – A Search For Ourselves — that confirms some of this.
Google said its annual list does not reflect the most-searched-for terms by volume; rather, it selects the fastest-growing search terms and removes those that are always very popular, such as searches for Web sites that host free e-mail accounts or adult content. Google does not reveal how many searches it takes to reach the top 10, but it said millions of searches are conducted each day.
"We view Google as the entryway for things to the Internet," Merrill said. "We’re looking for things that have changed this year and what’s new and interesting."
Of course, that’s not what the Google press release on the top terms says:
Google Year-End Zeitgeist Highlights Most Popular Search Queries and Trends of 2006
Social networking sites top the list this year’s most searched queries
Google today announced its annual Zeitgeist, featuring lists and charts of the most popular and fastest-rising global search terms that people have typed into Google.com. If you’re interested in revisiting this year’s top scandals, or learning who wins in a Suri vs. Shiloh face-off, or which sport is most popular – visit http://www.google.com/intl/en/press/zeitgeist2006.html to read all about what spurred people’s collective curiosity in 2006.
This year’s Google Zeitgeist reveals the following trends:
* What’s hot: the who, what and how of what’s being searched
* Current events: top searched scandals, political figures and global regions
* Milestones: most searched divorces, weddings, deaths and births of 2006
* Entertainment: what movies and TV shows were hot this year
* Sports: top searched sporting events, who retired and whose jerseys were most sought after
Most popular. Not fastest growing. Not most interesting. Yes, the regular Google Zeitgeist has focused on "gaining" queries since it began years ago. But the year-end Zeitgeist is pretty clearly saying most popular:
A year’s worth of search speaks to our collective consciousness, and 2006 is no exception. To compile these year-end lists and graphs, we reviewed a variety of the most popular search terms that people typed into Google. Click on all the tabs to learn something new — or confirm that you too reflect the spirit of the times. Except where noted, all of these search terms are global for Google.com.
Nothing on the home page suggests that "Top Searches" means the most interesting/fastest growing searches after Google’s removed whatever it wants.
Rich Skenta also notes that from his days at Netscape, the most popular search term is no search term at all – people doing blank searches.