Last week I was asked about tracking the use of keywords used in web search.
This is an area of most concern to web developers, but can serve several journalistic purposes too.
From an archival point of view, it can give you an insight into the terms being used by your audience, allowing you to optimise the metadata for your content to make it easier for them to find.
It can also provide you with a means of auditing how you are doing against your competitors in the field, in terms of your coverage (and your competitor’s coverage), compared with what subjects people are interested in (and hence searching for).
Thirdly, this data can also illuminate new and emerging areas of interest to the surfing public in real time. It can offer a means of finding scoops, as well as forward planning for larger issues, themes, and even entire seasons in news and current affairs.
Finding themes this way is more likely to strike a cord with the public than say, hooks around events and anniversaries – and is a way in which to properly harness your relationship with your audience.
Google Trends is the most obvious place to look in this field. But I’ve found from a few searches I’ve tried, that for UK-based news, the volume of traffic concerned is often barely enough to register any meaningful peaks and troughs (depending on the specificity of your searching, of course – perhaps I’m being hyper-critical).
But spotting trends in keyword usage need not stop at search engines
A colleague passed on a link to a source yesterday, which offers a means of capturing keyword usage within social media postings – specifically Twitter – it’s called Twist (and is developed by Flaptor).
Search for keywords separated by commas, and you will be presented with a comparative graph of their usage. The site also incorporates a search component, allowing you to look back at usage of your chosen terms over time.
But this is a fairly blunt tool – especially for any themes which recur with great frequency, or with great volume (or both).
You might well find a peak (or trough) for a certain keyword, and neither your own knowledge of the field (or a quick Google) can illuminate any convincing reasons to explain why that particular spike occurred. Using the search results from Twist may be too over-whelming to work with in some cases.
If this is the case, you might want to use Summize’s Advanced Search in conjunction with Twist.
The operators available allow you to search for keywords (and other variables) within a certain date-span. The engines also allows you to filter by language – very handy if you work in world news, and wish to avoid non-English content, or vice-versa.
One final thing – if you’re after a similar trend-spotting tool for Facebook and the content scrawled across people’s ‘Walls’, then take a look at Lexicon.
UPDATE: to track trends in mainstream news, take a look at the Media Attention Trends section in Silobreaker – a source I’m going to review properly at some point in the coming weeks.
UPDATE II: Google Trends now allows you to track website traffic too (albeit it has been argued that the data used, which relies upon sites sharing their data for accuracy, may in fact be no more or less accurate than services already available, like Alexa).