Google Trends and Elections 2008

SEO metric chartThere are many different metrics tools out there in the wider web for measuring traffic trends, but one of the more recent (and also free) has been Google Trends for search and Google Trends for websites. The use of web metrics for predicting the outcome of popular elections is by no means original to me, but it’s worth writing again to explore the current scenario.

One important thing to keep in mind about Google Trends and other web traffic estimators is these numbers have been normalized, which is to say they do not represent specific numbers but “the division of multiple sets of data by a common variable…allowing underlying characteristics of the data to be compared” [credit].  That is why they’re called “trends” and not actual “statistics”.

I was inspired to write this piece by John Coronella‘s Google Trends and the Current Economic Turmoil where he compares search metrics for the phrase “how to file bankruptcy” and notes the gradual increase over the past 3 years but in particular the dramatic increase around the bail out announcements this September.  There are so many interesting things to compare, for example, who has the most popular search of vice presidential candidate?

According to Google Trends, it looks like Sarah Palin is getting way more traffic than Joe Biden over the last couple of months.  But when you compare Barack Obama with John McCain for president, the trends show us something different.  Barack Obama has held a consistent lead for several months but currently John McCain has caught up and is only slightly behind in web popularity.  Google has dedicated a special page to trends around the 2008 elections.  It’s really pretty interesting, so take a look.

You can see how accurately Google Trends has predicted election outcomes in the past by viewing the results below.

2004: George W. Bush vs. John Kerry (Kerry ahead early on but Bush takes lead in November 2004)
2006: George Allen vs. Jim Webb (Senate seat for Virginia)
2006: Arnold Schwarzenegger vs. Phil Angelides (Governor for California)

There are a lot of other web metric applications out there, a few I’ll list for you below.  Some are free, some are subscription-based or a mix.

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    • Marty has been an active search marketing professional for over 12 years. He has consulted with the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 as well as medium to small B2B and B2c businesses, governments and higher ed.