Practical Ecommerce

Review: Google Insights Can Help Merchants Optimize PPC/SEO Campaigns

Google Insights, a free and relatively new research tool, provides detailed search data that can help online retailers improve their pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization.

Like it or not, many online retailers depend on pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) to drive shoppers to their digital stores. If the clicks slow down, so does business. And keeping good-quality traffic flowing has been a real challenge. Retailers, particularly those with annual sales of less than $100,000, have had to constantly massage their PPC and SEO programs, tweaking a keyword here to save 3 cents per click or adjusting a landing page there to make an incremental gain in organic listings. This constantly changing process has often been akin to alchemy—a retailer makes a change and then huddles around his analytics software watching for an effect that may or may not produce web traffic gold.

Google, which derived most of its $5.5 billion in recent quarterly revenue from PPC advertising, has an interest in helping advertisers improve the effectiveness of their campaigns. So Google has long offered free tools to help advertisers and marketers. The newest apparatus for SEO and PPC effectiveness is Google Insights for Search, which can help online marketers make choices about their PPC and SEO campaigns. As helpful as Google Search is, it is not a panacea that cures all marketing and advertising ills. Marketers will still have to experiment, test, and try new ads, new landing pages, and new keywords.

Insights For Your Ad Message

There are many ways to market the products your online store sells, and Google Insights is a good tool for helping to hone an advertising message. Let’s imagine for a minute that I sell electronics via my online store. Recently, I got a great deal on a lot of 3M’s new MPro110 handheld projectors. This micro projector fits in the palm of my hand, but displays a 50-inch diagonal slide show on the wall of a darkened room. The MPro110 has three advantages over its larger competitors—(1) it is more compact and therefore easier to take on sales calls, (2) at $360 it costs less, and (3) it uses very little power and is, therefore, more environmentally friendly. But because I am a small store with a limited advertising budget, I can only afford to run an advertising campaign around one of the MPro110’s three advantages. What do I do? Well, I can check Google Insights and see which of these features will likely get me the best results.

To use Google Insights I can focus on three possible phrases: portable projector, cheap projector, and “green” (meaning environmentally friendly) projector. Also, since I am not licensed to sell the MPro110 outside of the United States, I want to limit my results to the U.S. I type my terms into Google Insights and learn that “portable projector” tends to be the most popular search term of the three. While there is still a lot of analysis to be done, I have a good starting point for my campaign. If I center the PPC ads and my landing pages around the MPro110’s portability, I should get more total traffic—or at least that is one way to read the results.

Screen Capture from Google Insights

Insights to Find New Markets, Times

A second way that I can use Google Insights is to find new markets or to find out when my marketing will be the most effective. Let’s imagine that I operate an online sporting goods store that targets high school athletes. For years I have made my money selling football gear and baseball bats, but I want to expand into new sports. I head to Google Insights and look to see how wrestling shoes are trending. I know from my experience in football and baseball that sports have a seasonal ebb and flow, so I look for my search term across a series of date ranges. The results show me a clear trend line. Interest in wrestling shoes increases in October and peaks in November when most high school teams are starting their practices.

Understanding the Numbers

It is important to understand exactly what the numbers in Google Insights mean. In particular, Google is not releasing the actual number of searches for a particular keyword or phrase in the Insights tool. Rather it is offering normalized and scaled results that help to track trends relative to each other.

Here normalizing means that Google takes the raw rankings for given sets of data and divides those data sets by a particular variable, essentially balancing the results across regions. Google gave this example, “Canada and Fiji show the same percentages for the term ‘hotel.’ Does this mean that they have the same amount of search volume for that term? Just because two regions show the same percentage for a particular term doesn’t mean that their absolute search volumes are the same. Data from these two regions—with significant differences in search volumes—can be compared equally because the data has been normalized by the total traffic from each respective region. So, we can assume that users in both Fiji and Canada are equally likely to search for the term hotel.”

Next, Google scales the data sets so that you can see a relative comparison, displaying the results on a scale of 0 to 100 where 100 is the peak interest in the term or phrase and all other points are relative to that peak. For example, searches for the term “ecommerce” peaked in February 2004. That peak is ranked as 100 on the Insights scale. In October 2008, there were slightly more than half the number of searches for “ecommerce” as there had been in February 2004, so October 2008 rates a 55 on the relative scale.

Conclusion: Use Google Insights, But You’ll Still be Doing Some Trial and Error Marketing

Google Insights for Search is an “insightful” tool for marketers and advertisers. It will help make some choices about what and when to promote with your PPC and SEO campaigns, but it is not a cure all and a certain amount of promotional alchemy will still be required if you want to make marketing gold.

Armando Roggio

Armando Roggio

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  1. akalaniz November 26, 2008 Reply

    My day job is at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Like Google, I’d like to help make the world a better place, so I have developed an Excel/VBA macro which scrapes Google Search volume from a (or your) dictionary, as well as an Excel/VBA macro for scraping pairs of phrases to compare relative volume. (Download at ) I then have a Fortran engine which finds all significant correlations in the Google Search volume data and generates predictive models for future Google Search volume for a given search phrase. (Who would have thought that "writing resume" or "cheap car insurance" mimicked each other? Maybe Geico would like to know. I’m interested in threat reduction applications, energy efficiency, etc. Go out and use the data for your internal purposes–be better, do better, run better, understand better.

    The Excel Macros run in C:_Main (you can change the macro)

    Two files are produced:

    inDeck.txt The weekly Google Search Volume data. Import it with Excel and graph it, or whatever. Use the delimeted, and space options when importing a text file.

    inHead.txt, a header for the F90 executable telling it how many data streams were captured, and how many weeks of the Google Insights file are to be used starting from 4 Jan. 2004–currently 256 weeks.

    Example: GoogleInsights.xls Dictionary Worksheet explained:

    There are 17 phrases to try to scrape from Google Insights–some may have zero or insufficient data. There are 256 weeks worth of data–but since I write to Excel 2003 in rows, you can only pull either the first 255, or 2 thru 256 weeks. (You could modify the macro to write to colums for Excel 2003 or older) Excel 2007 doesn’t have this problem. 5 is for the F90 code, telling it to use a 2^5=32 week sliding window while looking for correlation. Warning: The most stable platform seems to be XP with Excel 2007. Excel 2003 doesn’t really close files when told to do so by VBA, and hence, the macros will eventually crash. Not so for Excel 2007.

    17 255 5


    great satan






    atomic weapons

    nuclear weapons



    atom bombs

    anarchist cookbook

    pipe bombs

    suicide bomber



    By viewing this simple macro you can see how to modify it as Google Insights puts out more weeks.

    By view the pairs macro, you can tinker to try all the way up to 5 search phrases, the Google Insights limit.

    If you want, I can even show you how to modify the macros to scrape only one particular country.

    Dr. Alex Alaniz, Ph.D.

    If you have a worthy cause, I would consider either giving you the Fortran 90 executable, or running it for you and sending you its various kinds of correlation and prediction dumps, including multivariate models in multiple function bases.