The Lies Of Top Search Terms Of The Year

Google Trends Versus Top Google Terms Of 2006

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:

  1. bebo
  2. myspace
  3. world cup
  4. metacafe
  5. radioblog

Computer says no:

Google Trends Versus Top Google Terms Of 2006 - 2

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:

Google Trends Versus Top Google Terms Of 2006 - 3

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:

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.

Related Topics: Channel: Strategy | Stats: Search Behavior

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • http://alexvega.es admin

    Awesome, all zeitgeist and ‘top search terms’ sounds very ‘weird’ to me … nice post :P

  • http://www.giganews.com CaptainObvious

    Danny,

    I agree that they’re filtering these results. I’ve often thought these reports didn’t ring true; however, I’m a little skeptical of Google Trends data being used to prove this.

    I’ve done some comparisons of Google Trends data on some key phrases I’m very familiar with and have found the Trends data to be very inaccurate. Specifically, Trends was reporting a reduction in searches since 1994 where I’ve seen significant increases in searches since 1994. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    -David

  • http://searchengineland.com Danny Sullivan

    Can you give me some examples of this? And I assume you mean 2004? Google wasn’t running in 1994 :)

  • http://seowebmaster.com/ ★ ★ Search Engines WEB ★ ★

    It would be fascinating to discover how many searches: Yahoo, MSN and Google – actually get for the term GOOGLE….

    Using the Overture keyword Tool:

    25791535 Myspace
    19687569 Google
    7574647 sex
    4887898 Britney Spears
    4575910 Yahoo

  • http://www.rankquest.com DSarathy

    A detailed analysis report on the subject. Good job Danny :~).

    D Sarathy.
    RankQuest

  • http://www.useAPI.com useAPI.com

    These “Top Search Terms Of The Year” are not really the top or most popular but the most trendy search terms of the year. They come and go!

  • http://www.webconnoisseur.com webconnoisseur

    I’ve been waiting for someone to call out these ridiculous top search term lists. I’ve found them all to be heavily massaged. For example, I believe “Google” is the top search term at both MSN/Live & Yahoo, but they won’t admit to it. And those of us who have access to Nielsen, ComScore or Hitwise data know that these lists should probably include sex-related terms.

    I don’t mind them massaging the data, I just want them to admit that these lists have been heavily edited.

  • http://www.webconnoisseur.com/blog/ webconnoisseur

    Following up. I poured through Hitwise data on the major engines and came up with a list of what are most likely the actual top 10 search terms of 2006. You can view the list here:

    Actual Top 10 Search Terms of 2006

    I based it on 12 months of data, weighted by search engine share of total searches performed. Once you see the list, you’ll understand why they massage the data.

  • http://www.j8seo.nl J8 Zoekmachine Marketing

    Really interesting analysis report!

  • http://www.webproject.cz Roman Novak

    The statistics are interesting. Well, it is not in topic, but I would like to mention that Live.com does not show results correctly. I have not seen any discuss about it, I think it would be useful “push” Live.com to do something with this. Live.com shows results with websites which contains hidden texts, repeated words (many many words…) on a site… If you send them email, trying explain them it, they don’t worry about it. Lets start talk about it (of course, in other discuss). R.N.

  • http://www.terrababy.nl Terrababy Zoekmachine Optimalisatie

    I’d be interested in the uncensored results from google.

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