As I’m sitting here planning some content ideas for next year, I thought it might be helpful to show a process I like to use for generating seasonal topic ideas using Google Trends data.
I’m going to step you through an example where I try to identify some good recipe posts I can create for one of my sites next month. You can use this method for just about any topic, but since one of my side hustles is in the food category, I’m going with that (plus I’m always thinking about food).
You might notice in my screenshots some additional keyword volume data included that doesn’t appear automatically in Google Trends. That’s coming from a Chrome plugin called Keywords Everywhere. You don’t need that plugin for what I’m going to show you, but my screenshots will probably make it clear why using Keywords Everywhere in combination with tools like Google Trends is super helpful.
The Best Google Trends Hack: Wildcard Searches
The first thing I need to share is a great undocumented feature of Google Trends: wildcard searches.
When you’re brainstorming topic ideas, you might have a category in mind, but you don’t yet know the specific topic or keywords to initiate your research in Google Trends.
Discovering a new topic or keyword is the whole point, right? So what good does it do to have to enter a topic or keyword to begin your search? It’s a chicken/egg scenario.
That’s where wildcard searches come in. When I say wildcard search, I’m referring to entering an asterisk in the search box, like this:
Once you do that and hit enter, you’ll be presented with the regular Google Trends interface, but with no search term entered.
Because this view isn’t filtered by topic or keyword, Google Trends will show you the most searched topics and keywords overall, which is pretty darn interesting:
The reason this is incredibly useful is that now you can begin to filter by location, time period, category, and result type and see a raw list of topics and keywords with those filters applied.
You can also arrive at the screen above by entering any keyword into the search box, and upon entering the interface shown above, removing that keyword. Six of one, half dozen of the other, as my grandmother used to say.
Note: the keyword data that appears under each entry in the “Search queries” box is coming from Keywords Everywhere. Since Google Trends only shows normalized search data for comparison, Keywords Everywhere fills an important gap by providing an actual number for search volume.
Finding Seasonal Recipe Topics
Since I’m thinking about recipes, I’ll apply some filters to get the type of results I want. Here are the settings I’m going to apply
Location: United States — my visitors are in the U.S., so pretty straightforward. If you’re targeting a specific location, you can drill down here (even to the city level).
Date Range: This is the key to the seasonality part. I’m going to use a custom time range and set it to last January:
As they say in financial disclaimers, past performance does not guarantee future results. That’s fine, and I accept that some of the results I’m going to see are going to be specific to that moment in time rather than a recurring pattern.
But other results are going to be perennial top searches for the month of January, and that’s what I’m trying to identify.
Category: Here’s where you make up for the fact that you haven’t entered a keyword. Start with the broadest category that’s relevant for you and drill down from there, if possible.
In my case, I’m selecting Food & Drink > Cooking & Recipes > Vegetarian Cuisine.
Result Type: Web Search. I think it’s great Google includes other options here, but most of the time I find them useless; typically I get zero results when I choose anything other that Web Search, even with modest filtering applied elsewhere.
Here’s what the resulting filter bar and interest trend look like, still without having a search term entered:
It’s interesting to see the spikes that occur on a weekly basis. Those correspond to weekends, which is really helpful to know: peak searches related to Vegetarian Cuisine apparently occur on weekends.
Now I’m getting close to what I’m looking for. First I’ll look at the Search Topics data.
Rising Search Topics
The default view for Search Topics is “Rising.” Rising searches in Google Trends are searches that had the most significant growth in search volume over the time range entered. Last January, the top five topics corresponding to the filters I’ve entered above are shown below:
When you see “Breakout” in Google Trends, that means the search topic or search term grew by more than 5,000% for the selected time period compared to the previous time period. (1)
So this is giving me some fantastic information already. Just from this initial view above, I learned the following:
- I should probably include a recipe for a Super Bowl snack
- Meal prep ideas are popular in January, which makes sense since meal prepping is a great way to stick to a weight loss plan (a common New Year’s resolution)
- Ranch dressing is big, too, which also makes sense since salads are another great way to lose weight (although Ranch dressing is NOT a great way to lose weight—ask me how I know)
Top Search Topics
Next I’ll switch my view to Top Search topics. Top Search topics are ones that are most frequently searched with respect to the filter settings you’ve applied.
An important difference in this report is the scoring. Google Trends scores are calculated by comparing the popularity of the specific topic or search term relative to the total number of searches within the same geographic area and time range. The result is then scaled to a range between 0 to 100.
This particular view isn’t the most compelling because Top topics isn’t specific to help us identify specific article topic ideas. However, it is interesting that Veganism is much more popular than Vegetarianism. With that in mind, I might want to lean toward vegan dishes versus vegetarian dishes for next months’ recipes.
Next I’ll jump over to the Search Queries view, which represents the actual searches people typed into Google.
Rising Search Queries
Jumping over to the Search Queries box, the default view is Rising Search Queries. In January of last year, Kobe Bryant was one of the most searched queries worldwide following his tragic death.
And what does Kobe Bryant have to do with Vegetarian Cuisine? There may be some relationship there, but keep in mind a couple things:
- The Kobe Bryant news was HUGE last year. It’s very likely you’d see queries related to that story scattered throughout Google Trends categories for that time period.
- Google Trends is basically raw search data without much (if any) filtering applied. Google intentionally avoids filtering this data as a security measure to avoid helping bad actors know they’ve been identified.
With that in mind, I immediately see some excellent information here. Vegetarian enchiladas were a breakout search term last year. Why is that? Clicking on that result will reveal more specific data to help understand what was driving that result.
When I did that in this case, it revealed some related topics that might have been the drivers behind the increase in searches for vegetarian enchiladas.
I don’t want to get too far off track here, but you get the point: identifying Rising search terms from last year might prove to be driven by a one-off event, but it might turn out to be a reliable January favorite among vegetarians.
Top Search Queries
Finally, by switching the Search Queries to the Top view and paging through the results, I can identify a number of other potential topic ideas. Perhaps a roundup post of tofu recipes or a great veggie burger recipe would work well.
Use Google Trends to Fill Your Editorial Calendar
As you can see above, using wildcard searches for specific date ranges and categories is a great way to get a sense of what might go over well with your audience at different times throughout the year. Again, past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, but hopefully this example has given you a sense of how much value you can get out of a free tool like Google Trends.