Why You Shouldn’t Trust Google Trending Sensational Stories

Google Trends is a nifty little tool that can show you how often people are looking for something. It’s handy to see when people first found out about popular topics . However, in sensational news about search trends, it is most often misused.

As developer Danny Page explains on Medium, Google Trends shows relative search volume over time, but doesn’t show exactly how many people are searching for a particular term. Relative search data is handy for determining if the Harlem Shake is pretty much ready , for example. However, some “obvious” conclusions are often wrong.

[ The Washington Post ] notes that the number of inquiries about the EU has tripled. But how many people are that? Are they voters? Do they have the right to vote? Are they gone or have they stayed? Trends don’t tell us anything, they only give us a beautiful graph with a huge peak. This is most likely a very small number of people judging by this graph, which puts it in context with other searches in the region …

But it does provide cover for a lot of people to insult the whole country, although there are probably only a few people looking for something the way they are always looking for something. This makes “The British are frantically searching Google for what the EU is, hours after the vote to leave it, ” absurdly insincere without more precise numbers. Update: Remy Smith points out this: The peak was only ~ 1000 people! It’s ridiculous that so few people are turning into a big story, but it underscores the need for context.

Without absolute numbers of searches during Google Trends’ bursts, it is impossible to know exactly how many people are looking for a topic. As Page notes, there has definitely been a sharp increase in the number of people asking, “What is the EU?” after Brexit , but it was a very small number of people from a very large population. Google Trends can only tell part of the story, so make sure the site turns one chart into a bloated outrage next time around .

Stop Using Google Trends | Middle


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