Have you ever began typing a search term and Google automatically completed your query? Maybe the suggestion Google served up was dead on, and maybe it left you scratching your head a little. I did a little digging and found out that Google bases it’s auto-complete recommendations on popularity of search terms. In other words, Google makes the suggestion because most of the other people searched the term. With that knowledge, my question is, “What can Google tell me about what people are really thinking about?”
In physics the observer effect essentially states that the act of measuring something fundamentally changes the thing being measured. Seth Godin once applied this principle to marketing to point out why focus groups are flawed. Because the people in the focus group know they are being “measured” their answers are not genuine. If we ask 100 people what they search for on the internet the most as part of market research, I bet nearly none of them mentions pornography. However, if we look at Google search data we know it’s one of the most searched topics. Why the disparity? When people know they’re being assessed they lie. Google searches give a real view into what people are actually searching.
I did a little experiment of my own to see what people really want to know about two topics:
- The candidates in the next election
- What men think of women and vice versa (always topical)
I can’t decide if the results are hilarious or just super discouraging. Let’s start with the election:
Search for Barack Obama
I didn’t even get to the “c” in “Barack” and the first auto-correct phrase was: “Why does Barack Obama hate america?” Quite an opinionated and specific search term don’t you think? The man is the president and the most popular search term associated with the first four letters of his first name relate to his hatred for the country?
This looks absurd at first glance, but after giving it a little more thought it makes me think the GOP is doing one heck of a job at making Obama look like an outsider for their benefit. I wonder how many times the word “hate” shows up in their messaging.
Search for Herman Cain
Is Rick Perry Muslim?
Men’s View Of Women
Women’s View Of Men
Two things come to mind immediately:
- Apparently the consensus is that men cheat and lie; not necessarily in that order.
- I’d bet money suggestion number three is driven searches by men. We’re curious too… wait there’s a book about it!?
Let’s Not Jump To Conclusions
After doing a little more research I found this post from Search Engine Land that revealed I can’t assume the auto-correct terms are an accurate reflection of the whole world or even the US. Apparently, since I live in Seattle these are just the searches coming from Washington and Idaho.
What’s your take on this? Is this funny or heartbreaking? Let me know in comments or on Twitter.