I turn to Google Trends once in a while to see if my client work has had an impact. Trying to understand search behavior is like trying to understand love. It’s something that eludes casual analysis. You have to work hard and smart to move the needle, but it can be done.
Sometimes there are genuine events, not manufactured PR or marketing initiatives that bring a new picture into focus. The search volume generated by the recent celebrity death quad-fectra of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Michael Jackson and Billy Mays is a case in point.
Google Trends lets you limit the search geographically. Admittedly, I biased the chart by choosing Billy’s home state, Pennsylvania. It seems that people in Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and to a lesser extent Florida generated similar Michael to Billy ratios. Nevada stood out as a State transfixed by Michael and less so by Billy.
Regardless of the regional variation, there are two dimensions of analysis that fascinate me. One is the age divide and the other is the correlation between news volume and search frequency.
The age difference is striking. The older you are, the less likely people are going to search for you when you die. Only boomers remember Farah and Ed and they probably get their news from dead trees. Michael and Billy remain firmly in the consciousness of younger folks that get their news online. That may account for the striking difference in search volume between those that die at 50 vs. 60+.
But look at that news volume. Michael Jackson is getting ad nauseum coverage from all media outlets. The ongoing nature of this coverage is only surpassed by RAI when the Pope dies. Clearly media coverage drives the sheep to search Google for everything Michael. There are plenty of sheep.
But what about Billy. His news volume is a slim fraction of Michael’s but look at the search volume. Is that just great word of mouth? Is it the vast untapped love for an everyman folk hero? It’s an organic phenomenon that has nothing to do with PR and media. It’s something else that I don’t have an explanation for unless Billy came from a very, very big family. His search volume is disproportionate to the media coverage of his exit.
So the question is…what creates big increases in search volume in the absence of the media stirring the pot? Is it just big love for Billy? I doubt it. New theories welcome.