Researching Industry Trends – Tool Roundup

December 8th, 2011

I recently watched a video from Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz about developing inbound links and SEO optimization for sites.  It brought up some  interesting points about understanding whats happening now in an industry.

We often have conversations here at Riams about our approach to building web and mobile solutions.  In particular, how we approach adopting new technologies and building pertinent solutions for our customers.  Conversations often include the same set of questions:

  1. What are the latest trends in our industry?
  2. Who are the influential industry leaders who are talking about these trends?
  3. Are they bloggers, twitter users, media outlets, individual companies?
  4. Where as a company should we be spending time researching new approaches to solutions?
  5. Should we be incorporating new technology and processes to refine our company’s approach?
  6. How can we validate our learning?

Answering these questions provides a great starting point for us to develop new strategies, create relevant content and generally get a feeling for the current pulse of our industry.  And it not just for technology companies.  Understanding how relevant an industry topic is based on social media and web trends can be a powerful for any company.

We wanted to round up a few tools that can help you quickly gain this insight.

Google Trends

Google Trends shows peaks and valleys in search results given a specific time frame compared to the average (1).   It can help identify increasing or decreasing popularity of a topic.  The great thing about Google Trends is that the data spans search results for many years.   Lets look at an example.

Imagine we are an outfitter guiding trout fishing expeditions.  We type in ‘trout fishing’ to Google Trends and get the following results:

There are a few conclusions we might draw:

  1. Trout fishing since 2004, as a search term, appears to be decreasing in popularity as a whole.   We aren’t able to draw a specific conclusion on the causality (maybe less people fish in slowing economic times), however it still gives us a quick indicator of the topic’s popularity over time.
  2. Search terms for trout fishing appear to by cyclical.  The popularity of the term spikes before summer months.  Makes sense, more people probably going fishing when it warm out, or plan vacations to fish during the summer.

As a trout outfitting company, I might make the decision to not focus as many of my advertising dollars or content creation on trout fishing as a whole, as it seems to be in decline.  Or I might decide to focus my advertising and marketing efforts sharply before the summer time.  This is a contrived example, however looking at the results quickly gave me a starting point to do further research.

The other interesting part of Google Trends is the data it gives back regarding region and city.  Where were these search terms the most popular.  This geographic data can help further focus your efforts to target an audience and understand your market.

Checkout Google Trends

Topsy and TopsyLabs

Topsy Top 100 ranks what they believe are the most relevant sites, tweets, news stories, photos and videos for a given time frame and topic.  For example, I wanted to see what they had to say about Backbone.js (a tool we use for web development).   The first link returned was a blog post about backbone.js that had been published that day.  Link two is the official site for backbone js.  Monitoring results for a given topic over time can give you an indication of who the influential social users are (tweets, blogs) and what sites contain the most relevant content.

The other great feature of Topsy is the experts search.  This search shows a list of Twitter users and the number of times they were mentioned in content that was generated about the searched topic.  If I wanted to go find  individuals that were active about a topic, or potentially considered experts, this tool gives me a way to search and validate those  findings.

Lets look at the example of search for backbone.js under the experts search.  Here are the top 3 results:

If I search for backbone every week, and constantly see dalmaer coming up near the top,  I might be more inclined to view him as an expert on backbone.  His future content creation and recommendations might weight higher than a Twitter user who is number 50 on the list.

Tools for Twitter and Social Media Influence

Say you’ve been following someone, reading their content, watching their Twitter account and you want to validate how influential this person is.   There are a number of tools that have been developed to do this.  Influence, on Twitter, is generally a measure of how often you are retweeted or replied to.   If a user is creating tweets, or posting messages frequently in a social network, the frequency at which others reply is an important indicator in influence.

Checkout tools like Klout and FollowerWonk.  Klout also uses Facebook and Google+ in their stats.

I like these tools for a cursory glance at how influential  someone is, however it doesn’t help narrow the focus on what they influence.  For example, I can see that Bill Gates has a decent influence on FollowerWonk, but finding out what he is influential in is still a bit in the dark.  That seems better left to tools like Topsy.