Time is precious when you are in business for yourself. Deciding where and how you spend your time can mean the difference between making a profit and losing money. That is one reason why I use Google Trends, a useful online tool that shows how often a particular search-term is entered into Google relative to the total search-volume. And the results can prove to be very, very interesting.
For example, I recently wanted to know how popular Montana was relative to neighboring states because it might help me decide which states might have a greater market for my photographs. The first comparison I plugged into Google Trends was a comparison between the specific search terms "Montana" and "Wyoming" and this is what I got:
I figured Montana would be more popular than Wyoming, but I didn't think the difference would be so stark. And what accounts for that bump in interest between 2007 to 2011? Well, I did a little more research. And anyone from Montana who has ever performed an Internet search for "Montana" anything knows the answer. Celebrities, such as Hannah Montana, and obscure rappers such as French Montana cloud the results. Luckily Google provides a way to omit those false positives. So using those tricks here is the new output I received:
This graph seemed more in line with what I expected. But what accounts for the huge spike in 2010? It coincides with my arrival in Montana, but I doubt that's the real reason, but you never know. :)
This analysis provided much more useful information. With it I was able to conclude: (1) My choice to photograph Montana is a wise one, and (2) I wish a certain celebrities had chosen the names Hannah Wyoming and French Idaho instead.
So then I decided to analyze other search terms related to what I tend to photograph.
Farm Photos vs. Agriculture Photos vs. Agricultural Photos
I wanted to see what search term people used most often when searching for agriculture related photography on Google. You can see in the search above that the search term "farm photos" is much more popular than "agriculture photos" and "agricultural photos." But the interesting thing to see here are the trend lines. While "farm photos" continues to trend downward, "agriculture photos" is starting to trend upward...slightly. Something to keep an eye on.
Why is this important, though? Well, as a photographer I learned that Google and other search engines can't really see my photos. Search engines, which can drive an awful lot of visitors to my website (or conversely, keep them away too), need words to know what is found on a website. So deciding what wording to use on my website can mean a lot when it comes to search inquiries, and ultimately customers, too.
Cows vs. Horses
There's nothing shocking to see here. Everyone knows horses are a lot more popular than cows. But wait...look at the trend lines. The trend line for the search term "horses" seems to indicate the popularity of horses is declining, and interest in cows is trending upward. And please keep in mind; just because something is popular does not necessarily mean it is also profitable. Photography, for example, is very popular in California. You can't swing a cat without hitting a photographer. But because photography is so popular in California it is also hard to make money in photography there because of all the competition. It is one reason why I prefer the wide open spaces of Montana. Much less competition and many more beautiful things to photograph.
Lentils vs. Canola vs. Safflower
Here's another example of what I am talking about. The two most popular agricultural products in Montana are beef and wheat. And while I spend much of my time photographing both, sometimes there's money in a niche. So I decided to search the boutique crops also grown in Montana. I searched for "lentils," "canola," and "safflower." And while canola was very popular for a long time, look at how popular the search term "lentils" has become in the past few years. About ten years ago interest in lentils increased when the health food industry began promoting the benefits of eating lentils. So they became much more popular on Google as a result. And while I will strive to photograph all three in 2016, I will focus my attention on photographing lentil production if time is limited (and it always is) instead of some other niche crops.
Fishing vs. Hunting
As you know, I am not just a farm and ranch photographer. If you live and work in Montana there is so much more to photograph. So I wanted to see what was more popular...fishing or hunting. I expected the search term "fishing" to be more popular than "hunting," but found it interesting to compare trend lines. Look at how they are diametrically opposed. Almost perfectly. Of course these trend lines coincide with the seasons. People start thinking about fishing at the end of winter and they start thinking about hunting at the end of summer. So while I will concentrate on making more fishing photos in 2016 and posting them online in March, I may make more hunting photos and posting them online in August, too.
University of Montana vs. Montana State University
Just for fun I wanted to see what Montana university was more popular on Google. The results kind of shocked me. I expected University of Montana to be more popular than Montana State University. And while the interest of both over time is fairly uniform, Montana State University is still more popular. More telling, however, is how interest in both decreased since 2005. I wonder why. It might just mean their competitors are doing a better job of marketing. Maybe interest in all college education is declining. Maybe there are many more options for students so time spent on Google is evened out across many different schools. I simply do not know. This only shows that information from Google Trends is often ambiguous at best, and downright deceiving at worst.
Billings vs. Missoula
I also wanted to see what city was more popular in Montana...Billings or Missoula. Again, the results are fairly uniform, but since 2010 it would seem Billings is becoming more popular than Missoula. But if you are a fan of the city of Billings don't thump your chest just yet. Billings has 40,000 more people than Missoula, too. So it stands to reason there would be more search inquiries based on that reason alone.
So you see, Google Trends can be a very useful tool and it can produce some very interesting results. But as Mark Twain once said, "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics." Statistics like these all by themselves can be easily misinterpreted and misconstrued. The results are by no means empirical. The information Google Trends provides, however, is like a map with many different roads. There are a lot of ways to get to the same place on a map. Some paths have more traffic than others. And if I use the map correctly hopefully it will help me better define what I photograph and when.