Oct 10, 2016 / by Jim Dougherty

When it comes to real-time trending data, there are two free sources that most people use: Google and Twitter.

There are ancillary tools to find “trends,” and there are trending tools on sites like Facebook (whose primary limitation in this regard is that people don’t search or discuss topical events as they do on Google or Twitter). But typically when we want to know about or analyze trending topics, we want to understand what people are discussing and searching for most frequently.

What I want to do in this post is to dive deep into Google Trends and Twitter Trends to demonstrate what data you can find using the actual sites and what third-party tools may be able to provide for you.

Google Trends

Google is the most popular search engine by about a 2-to-1 margin over Bing (Bing doesn’t offer a trending topics tool). It’s not a revelation that the Google search engine is a primary platform for most people to ask questions about things in near real-time, and that aggregated data informs Google Trends what people are most interested in now (or over a period of time).

Over this past weekend, for example, trending topics have included Hurricane Matthew, the American Presidential debate, and football (college and professional).

When we look at the Google Trends homepage (google.com/trends/), we can see “Stories Trending Now,” which is sortable by country and by category (business, entertainment, et cetera). This is a very limited data set.

If we go to the Google Trends Explore page (google.com/trends/explore), our sorting options become more robust. We can sort by the following criteria:

  • By country (or worldwide)
  • By time (search within a customized date range – minimum: past hour, maximum: since 2004)
  • By category (arts and entertainment, sports, health, et cetera)
  • By Google Property (web search, image search, news search, Google Shopping, YouTube)

You can also use the search feature via the trends page or explore the page to search the popularity of a search term over a period (custom date ranges are permitted), and you can compare the popularity of search terms using this feature as well. The Explore page also allows you to download any chart to a .csv file, or to embed the table directly to a website.

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As is, Google Trends (specifically the Explore tool) is a very powerful tool for exploring and comparing current topics of interest. But you may wonder if there are third-party tools that can parse this data further. And there is a pretty straightforward reason that there isn’t: Google Trends doesn’t have a publicly available Application Programming Interface (API). A third party app would be able to access data through an API, and this becomes a limitation for any additional parsing or analysis.

There are some makeshift APIs available (programmers have developed unofficial ways to automate reporting of trends data), but unless you’re analyzing a lot of data, they’re likely of negligible value to you.

Twitter Trends

Where Google Trends makes trending data very easy to find and analyze, Twitter does not. The “trends” page recently was redirected to the “search” page, and there are no sorting options available directly from the search page.

To “analyze” current trends on the native Twitter app, you have to go to the “home” page. In the lower left of the home page you’ll see “trending topics” and immediately below that a “change” button which allows you to modify the location of your search.

Location is a huge advantage of Twitter trends compared to Google: Although Google’s data is more robust and accessible in general, it can only be parsed by country. Twitter uses Yahoo’s GeoPlanet infrastructure for its location data so that it can be exercised at a much more granular level than Google Trends. For example, I can see Twitter trends in Cincinnati, but only US Google trends.

The good news is that Twitter makes trending data available to third parties via its API, so there are some more useful ways to access trending data than from the native Twitter site:

  • TrendoGate – provides archived granular Twitter trend data aggregated by day
  • TrendsMap – uses local data to create a US map with top trends superimposed with an accessible hourly archive of trending data from the past week
  • ttHistory – provides archived daily views of Twitter trends (worldwide and Turkey-specific only)

Of course this isn’t a comprehensive list, but hopefully, this gives you an idea of what resources may be available to you.

In a broader sense, this provides you an idea of how to get the data that you want from Twitter: if you want real-time trends from a specific geolocation you can get this from the native app. For anything else, you likely need to find a third-party app that has archived the data sets you want to use.

Turn trends into action with media monitoring software.

While free tools like those offered by Google and Twitter are an important first step, they should only be one piece in your monitoring toolbox. As Cision’s Stacey Miller covers in 9 Things You Might Not Be Doing (But Should) With Your Media Monitoring Software, you need tools that go beyond trends and open the door to new business opportunities.

Find out how Cision’s monitoring software will help you dig into your audience’s demographics, take action on competitive intelligence and discover new customers by requesting a demo right now.

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About Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty is a featured contributor to the Cision Blog and his own blog, leaderswest. His areas of interest include statistics, technology, and content marketing. When not writing, he is likely reading, running, playing guitar or being a dad. PRSA member. Find him on Twitter @jimdougherty.