Google Ngram & Google Trends: Two Google Tools No One Ever Talks About

As evidenced by the obsolescence of phone books and Encyclopedia World Books, it’s no secret that the Internet and the rise of search engines have revolutionized the way people find information over the last several decades. In particular, Google has powered much of the online revolution thanks to its intense interest in how we search, take in information, and what we do with the results of our online queries. As a result, Google is now the world’s most popular search engine and leader in the field of search algorithms and search information. When Google updates its algorithm, the world takes notice and starts its own discussions about the implications the algorithm changes have on public information.

Yet even today, some Google tools still go overlooked by the general public. While Google search, Gmail, and Google Chrome are popular with a wide variety of computer users, two of the most impressive Google tools are rarely mentioned: Ngram Viewer and Trends.

With a better understanding of these tools, writers, researchers, and people who are simply fascinated in how the world thinks can gain insights never before possible.

Here’s how they work.

Ngram Viewer
Google Ngram Viewer allows you to look up the frequency of “grams” in every book in the Google Books database. “Grams” are keywords and phrases that appear in books and other writings over time. A “bigram” is two words, such as “pen cap” or “baseball cap”, while a unigram is a single word such as “pen” or “pencap”.

The Google Books database comprises books dating back to 1800 and runs up to the year 2000. You can see the frequency of a given phrase in the entire body of books they have available, giving you an idea of how popular a term may have been over time. Essentially, Ngram Viewer gives us the opportunity to look at the quantity of word and phrase usage within a cross-section of books.

Why Ngram Matters
Books and pamphlets were the central mass media for transporting in-depth ideas during much of that time period. Radio and television did not even begin to make their mark until the 1920s (and for television, it was truly much later than that). Movies with sound were not released until the late 1920s as well. The Internet was only widespread in the last few years of that time period, and early search history was not as well documented (a point we’ll discuss more in a moment). Books were simply the best tool available for unpacking big ideas before the year 2000.

Why is that meaningful? Well, since books were the broadest method of transporting complex ideas, and individual words and phrases in conjunction made up the ideas in books, Ngram Viewer becomes a way of assessing microtrends in broadly shared ideas over those 200 years. With each chart we create in Ngram, we get a different perspective on how people thought, spoke, and spread ideas, improving our theories on collective information and psychology.

Did I mention this tool is free?

Ngram in Action
Let’s assess some generalized fields in Ngram to see it in action. Here is an Ngram search result for “business”, “politics”, and “arts” between the years 1800 and 2000.

ngram trend for social sciences

You’ll notice that the reference to “business” is far more popular than the other two, which may speak to the field being a bit more common in English practice, or may speak to the versatile nature of the word “business”. In other words, many uses of the unigram may be about “business” as a field of study or practice, but others may be more along the lines of its use as part of the phrase “business as usual”. We have no way of knowing without looking up every cliche involving the word “business” in the Ngram database.

However, it does appear that the concept of business as a whole is far more mentioned and far more popular than those of “art” or “politics”. Furthermore, the relationship between those two latter terms is fascinating, as “politics” surpassed “arts” in usage in 1884.

Then again, the term “arts” is a variation of “art”, which is much more common in usage as a whole.

ngram chart 2

“Art” shoots over “politics” by quite a bit. Not too surprising given the possibilities for the gram “art” (including its use in the phrase “the art of politics”).

Let’s look at the chart with one more variation, swapping “politics” with “political”:

The “political” nature of things seems to have taken off starting mid-twentieth century. Given that “political” is a term that can be used in a way that is not necessarily about “politics” (as in “The corporate world is extremely political”), it may be the case that the term simply increased in general use. However, this uptick is suspiciously steep, so steep that it seems more likely to have come from an increase in interest and discussion of “political” matters in the literary world. For example, the phrase “The personal is political” AKA “The private is political”, a slogan popularized during Second Wave Feminism, both may account for some of the uptick in the use of the term “political” by authors.

Google Trends
Whereas Ngram Viewer assesses words and phrases used in books, Google Trends assesses words and phrases used as Google search terms. Trends demonstrates frequency of a given search for specific words as weighted against total Google searches. In other words, Trends not only shows you comparative frequency of searches between various words or phrases, but also shows you roughly how popular those words or phrases are in context of total Google searches. While Trends doesn’t show exact number of searches per term, it does assign a weighted number that compares each specific search to the average of other search terms.

Whereas Ngram Viewer covers the years 1800-2000— a period when, as we mentioned, books were used as the main method by which in-depth ideas were spread— Trends covers the years from 2004 to the present. During years covered by the Google Trends database, the Internet has provided an immediate platform for sharing and researching ideas.

Interestingly, Google Trends also gives users the option to measure words as a “topic” rather than just search terms. Whether this means Google is measuring the word as an idea based on all of the terms related to the “topic” or if “topic” is just a synonym for “search term” is unclear.

Google Trends lets you select the terms you want to search, the time range you want to search, categories of online topics, and types of searches within Google (news searches vs. general searches vs. YouTube vs. Image vs. Shopping queries).

Trends in Action
Let’s start by looking at a single phrase assessment on Google Trends so we can see some immediate utility. Here is the search volume trend over time for “frisbee”.

Frisbee is a more popular search during summer months. Not particularly surprising, right? What may be surprising, however, is that the term “frisbee” is actually decreasing in share of overall searches! This is an interesting contrast to the claim of some people that ultimate frisbee is gaining in popularity.

However, the decline of “frisbee” as a search term does not necessarily mean that people are less interested in frisbees than they once were. Early Google searches were often keyword based. Later searches have been more semantic, phrased closer to the way people speak thanks to advancements like voice-to-text and improved geo-search capabilities. Whereas an early Google Search user may have simply typed the word “frisbee”, a modern Google user might use voice-to-text to search the phrase “buy frisbee online” or “ultimate frisbee game in Houston”.

Let’s look at “Skiing” as a subject:

As we might expect, Skiing is more popular as a search term in the winter months. It also has decreased as an overall part of the search environment over time.

Now for a less “seasonal” trend: Tarot. It has felt lately like more people are interested in Tarot, but something like that could also be a function of living in a city, being in my thirties, knowing Bohemian people, etc.

Let’s see if search interest in Tarot aligns with my experience.

Well, I’ll be dipped! Tarot searches are pretty much at an all-time high. May not be a bad time to get into the Tarot card business.

Trends for Business Owners
To see how Trends can help you if you’re a business owner, let’s look at something comparative and practical. RedShift Writers is a content writing firm, so the service we sell might be described as “Copywriting” or as “Content Marketing”. Either term alludes to elements of what we do, so when we are faced with the option of using one or the other, we have to decide which will be more effective.

It has felt over the life of our company (starting in December of 2012) that “copywriting” has become a term of the past, and that “content marketing” and other terms have become more popular. Trends can tell us whether or not my instinct on this is correct.

As it turns out, “Copywriting” is actually still the more popular term. In spite of the fact that it has been trending down while content marketing is trending up, “Copywriting” still enjoys nearly three times the searches.

Something interesting happens when we add the search term “Blogging” to the mix:

As we can see, “blogging” was a scorching hot topic on the Internet in January of 2008. Like, as hot as they come. It was a topic the whole world suddenly wanted to know about.

The popularity of “blogging” as a term correlates to some macroeconomic trends in ways that may lead to interesting potential theories. The bottom of the stock market decline during The Great Recession was March of 2008, marking a time when people were desperately looking for an advantage in the market, or new revenue streams, both of which might come about from blogging, if a person put their mind to it. Today, the term has leveled out to around the same search volume as “Copywriting”.

Fun with Trends
Trends may also be useful if we want to explore the peak of memes. Remember when everyone was making Harlem Shake videos?

If you don’t, here’s the Wiki. Go get a feel for what it is and come back. If you remember it, keep reading.

Trends can tell us the exact month the Harlem Shake peaked, and how the fad flamed out.

We’ll view one more example: seasonal search. For this query, we turn to the “NFL” as a search topic. After all, we’re from Texas. Football is pretty popular here.

Here’s the long-term search trend for “NFL”.

Two trends stand out. First, search volume is growing over time. Second, the search interest in NFL topics usually peaks in January, likely because of the Super Bowl. However, in 2007, 2012, 2013, and 2018 the Super Bowl was not the period when search interest was highest. Theorizing why that was in the case during those four years with any real insight would likely take a person who is a bigger football fan than I am, but it stood out.

Google’s Lost Years: 2000-2004
Since Ngram covers through the end of the year 2000 and Trends begins at the start of 2004, the forward-facing Google dataset is missing four years of data. Trends from this period— celebrities, products, memes, recreation, movies, etc.— are not available to us for in-depth analysis, so we’re missing the high-water mark for post-Y2K analysis: The Strokes, Outkast, and That Seventies Show, among other things.

What Trends Interest You?
What can Ngrams and Trends teach us? They are mostly good for exploring interesting trends. It is limited, though, because correlation of word usage or search term frequency does not necessarily translate to causation.

We’ll continue to investigate these tools and other tools along the way and share more on what we learn and observe. Our hope is that these insights will continue, over time, to yield something useful to everyone in the RedShift Writers community.

Got an interesting idea for Trends, Ngram, other Google tools, or something else altogether? Reach out and let us know at

RedShift Writers: Stories change history.

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Daniel J. CohenGoogle Ngram & Google Trends: Two Google Tools No One Ever Talks About

Red Light, Green Light, SEO: Yoast Plugin for WordPress Explained

What all is involved in boosting your website’s ranking on Google? For businesses that haven’t dealt with search engine optimization (SEO) before, the term alone can be intimidating. Afterall, SEO sounds very technical. Plus, you’ve probably heard how expensive paid advertising can get with a non-organic SEO plan. But with a good writer and good tools in place, it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. SEO tools, like the Yoast plugin for WordPress, simplifies all the technicalities of creating organic SEO content. But how does it work?

How Does the Yoast Plugin for WordPress Help with SEO?

Once you’re ready to enter your blog into WordPress, go to the ‘Add New Post’  tab found on the left side of the page. Enter the title in the title field. Copy and paste your content into the main window. This will activate the alerts in the Yoast plugin. Scroll to the bottom of your blog in WordPress and you’ll see the Yoast SEO window.

There are two main categoriesReadability Analysis and Focus Keyphrase—which should be marked with a red, orange, or green light. Let these lights serve as your guide to optimizing the content on your blog. Your goal is to get a green light for each of these categories. A red light means that section needs a lot of work. An orange light  means there are a few adjustments that need to be made.

Under these categories are subcategories also marked by a red, orange, or green light. These subcategories don’t necessarily have to all be green in order for you to score a green light in the two main categories. This means you have some wiggle room to write naturally and less like a robot.

The wonderful thing about Yoast is that it makes the rules of SEO pretty easy for writers to understand. Although the rules are pretty straightforward, there’s also the subjective part of content writing that Yoast doesn’t account for. It won’t tell you how to write a more effective title or meta description. It won’t tell you how to persuade the searcher to click through to your website. And it won’t tell you that you need a stronger intro paragraph to keep your audience interested. That’s where having a professional writer helps. But to get you started, let’s take a look at the SEO components Yoast does cover.


What SEO Components Does Yoast Watch For?

Readability Analysis

Sentence Length

If you tend to be wordy, Yoast will challenge you to write more concise sentences. It will alert you with an orange or red light if you have too many long sentences. Why? Studies show that readers tend to stop reading if there are too many long sentences, especially earlier in the copy. Shorter sentences help get your message across to a wider audience. Remember, not everyone who reads your blog is an avid reader.

Rule of thumb: Keep majority of your sentences under 20 words. But it’s okay to mix things up a bit and have a few longer sentences here and there.

Passive Voice

If you’re not a grammar buff, the concept of active vs. passive voice can be a hard one to grasp. But a good writer should be able to ensure that your blog contains mostly an active voice. This is important not only for SEO purposes but also to make your point crystal clear.


Active Voice: The man played a beautiful song.

Passive Voice: A beautiful song was played by the man.

The example above shows how using an active versus passive voice comes across more concise and natural. Notice how the subject of the sentence (the man) is clearly performing the action. When you change it to a passive voice, the man is no longer the focus of the sentence and the sentence becomes awkward and wordy. Yoast will alert you with an orange or red light if you have too many passive sentences.

Rule of thumb: Keep your passive voice to under 25% of your sentences.

Focus Keyphrase

Frequency, Length, Title, Subheadings, Meta Description

When writing your blog, decide what your keyphrase will be. The focus keyphrase is the word or phrase you want your website to rank the highest for. For instance, if you own a pet services company, your keyword phrase may include everything from “pet grooming” and “pet boarding” to “dog camps” and “dog training.” This keyword phrase should be repeated throughout your blog but in moderation. What Yoast doesn’t account for is how competitive your keyphrase is compared to other marketers. That’s where a good content strategist comes in handy.

Once you dump your blog into WordPress, enter your keyphrase in the Focus Keyphrase field. From there, Yoast will tell you exactly what needs work regarding your keyphrase. Does it show up enough or too much throughout your blog? Yoast triggers an alert if the keyphrase appears in more than 2.5% of your content. Anything above 2.5% appears unnatural. It will also trigger an alert if your keyword phrase is too long or if it doesn’t appear in the title and meta description. You also want to include subheadings (also known as H2, H3, H4) that help break the content up, making it easier to read. Subheadings should introduce the paragraph and be relevant to your keyphrase.

Text Length

Because longer posts outrank shorter posts, Yoast recommends blogs of at least 300 words. You’ll notice a red or orange light if your word count is too low. For a shorter blog, make sure the you optimize it to be useful and informative, not spammy. Use each and every sentence to drive your message home. Blogs of 1000 to 2500 words have a better chance of ranking higher on Google, but you probably want these longer form blogs written by a content writer who can produce professional content and can recommend images to go along with the blog.

Images are also important to make your content interesting. If you don’t include any images, Yoast will remind you with a red or orange light.


Last but certainly not least are internal and external links. The Yoast plugin for WordPress checks for both.

Internal links take the reader from one page on your website to another page on your website. For instance, if you’re talking about how to train your dog, you can link the words “how to train your dog” to your pet training webpage on your website.

External links take the reader from your website to another. These are typically used to validate the credibility of your blog. For instance, if you write about how long it takes to train a dog, you can link the words, “time it takes to train your dog,” to a specific study from a credible source, like the Humane Society.

As long as you adjust your content according to Yoast’s instructions, you should eventually get a green light in both the Readability and Keyphrase categories (you may need to hit the Save as Draft button to refresh the page to see if your adjustments helped or not).  Remember, you don’t need to get a green light in all the subcategories. Just aim for green in the two main categories, and you’re off to a good start.

Are your blogs not bringing enough traffic to your website even by using Yoast?  RedShift Writers provides consultation and writing services to generate more interest in your content. Connect with us today.


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Cecile BaltazarRed Light, Green Light, SEO: Yoast Plugin for WordPress Explained

Traditional News Rarely Cares About Traditional Small Businesses

There is a common experience for public relations practitioners in which firms’ prospects get a hankering to gain publicity or fame because they believe it will help their business. Sometimes- as is the case for adventurous consumer brands such as Red Bull or Coachella music festival- extra publicity can lead to extra attention, resulting in increased sales.

Yet for many smaller companies, traditional PR focused on gaining attention by landing stories in mainstream newspapers is at best a shot in the dark and at worst a fool’s errand (much like juxtaposing contrasting clichés in a single sentence in the middle of an article on public relations).

This isn’t to say PR is an ineffective tactic. Large companies push PR successfully as a single tactic in a larger suite of diverse marketing strategies. Quirkier or more fashionable organizations such as new bars or restaurants deploy PR to bring in reviewers or pack the place for grand openings. However, your average home contractor, accountant, lawyer, or dry cleaner is probably better suited dedicating its dollars elsewhere.

This isn’t to speak of the B2B market. In business-specific media, it makes sense to position your company as a business leader, so landing stories in Business Insider, Forbes, the local business journal, and other similar publication may be beneficial. But business media is its own animal. Business publications are not in the standard reading diet for the general public, and in standard newspapers, business news is relegated to its own section.

When small businesses that are not made to land stories in traditional media hire PR firms, it turns into a raw deal for everyone. At first, both sides are thrilled; the customer is excited about the prospect of extra attention and potential customers, and the firm is happy to have another client on retainer. But as months go by and the retainer invoices continue to roll into the customer’s inbox without another story landing in ink (or digital type), the customer gets angry, and the firm starts staying up later and later with less and less ideas on how to use its incoming cash effectively.

Therefore, instead of spending dollars on outreach, it makes more sense for companies to focus on sales, small marketing tests, tools such as better accounting widgets, or extra help to make sure day-to-day tasks are covered. An auto garage may not make for a great story that will cause customers to stream through the doors, but advertising in the paper could create a return for those seeking out a mechanic.

In other words: before spending money on a PR firm, businesses should determine whether or not landing in the local paper is likely or helpful. If you’re a business owner or executive decisionmaker, ask yourself three questions and answer them honestly:

  1. Is your company one that would land in the news cycle because it is relevant to the world around you?
  2. If you did land in the paper, would it help your bottom line?
  3. Or would it just be nice to see your picture and the business name in print?

Let the answers to those questions guide you in making a decision about spending your budget on outreach to the media.

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Daniel J. CohenTraditional News Rarely Cares About Traditional Small Businesses

We’re Reading to Kids for Our 4th Birthday

This December, RedShift Writers turns 4 years old. To commemorate our achievement and encourage people to keep reading, RedShift Writers is holding a RedShift Readers Day to provide readers and books to Legacy Health Centers December 22nd, 9:00 AM – 4 PM at the Southwest location at . High Star Dr., Houston, TX, 77074. Throughout the day, we will read books to the more than 300 kids (average) coming through that location in a given day while their parents talk to doctors and nurses.

Many of the families coming through Legacy Community Centers do not have many books (if any) at home. The staff at these centers not only read to those kids but also give them books of their very own. These kids are 5 and under, so many are in a very fast development impact phase of their childhoods. Reading to them and encouraging them to read can change the trajectory of their lives, and better the community.

If you are interested in contributing, here are the two main ways you can get involved:

1) Join the readers program! You can join us to read at that location that day, or at many other locations during the weekdays from 9 to 4 across the City of Houston. We would love to see you December 9th, but any day you can go is great.

2) Donate books to the cause! Any books work, really. I think new ones are nice because they’re shiny, and kids like that, but there is also an adult literacy program, so all kinds of books are good. This is about encouraging a community and culture of reading.

To donate books or get paperwork to become a volunteer, please email Debbie Costello at

I hope you’ll join us and get involved in the cause. It will bring a little something extra to the holiday outreach that can benefit people in a heartwarming way now and a world-changing way later.

Hope to see you there!


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AdminWe’re Reading to Kids for Our 4th Birthday

Ignite Houston Returns at University of Houston Downtown

Ignite Houston at Intersections 2016 Speakers, Organizers, and Host

Last week’s return of Ignite Houston teamed up with Intersections, an annual two day conference that focuses on the cross-sections of culture, sustainability, prosperity, health, and social justice in Houston. For those that are unfamiliar, Ignite Houston is an event that started in 2010 as a platform for speakers to share ideas with an audience of business people, entrepreneurs, and students. But there’s a catch: each presenter only has 5 minutes to present their idea over 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. The spirit of the event and the presenters themselves can best be summed up by Ignite Houston co-organizer Daniel J. Cohen, “Everyone who is doing this speech tonight is brave.”

“Everyone who is doing this speech tonight is brave” – Daniel J. Cohen

Nerve-wracking as it may be, each of the night’s eight speakers captivated the audience’s imaginations with their own unique styles of rhetoric and presentation. From the audience’s perspective, the organizers did an excellent job. The event took place on the lovely patio of UHD’s campus with Houston’s skyline glowing in the distance; Oddball Eats brought their incredible falafels; Fat Cat Creamery brought their hard-to-beat homemade chocolate and vanilla ice cream; and local legends St. Arnold’s Brewery provided their seasonal lager.
But among all the fun, an undercurrent of contemplation rippled through crowd. The theme of Ignite Houston 2016 was “Ideas for Social Change”, which is always an important topic, but felt especially relevant and crucial following what might have been the the most unusual election in US history.
Speaker Highlights
The charismatic and debonair Emmanuel Lee AKA Outspoken Bean used primarily personal photographs to help tell the story of how he discovered slam poetry while in college and went on to found Meta-Four, which now touches the lives of around 1,500 students a year thanks to a partnership with writer’s in the school. His slides made the audience feel like they were there with him during moments that defined his journey: photos of performing, celebration, meeting personal heroes, and working with students.
Emmanuel Lee AKA Unspoken Bean

Magdalena Francois Thurin, the second speaker of the night, dove deeper into the idea of using art for social change. She began with a strong, simple claim, “Art is not accessible to all and this is a social issue; there’s a direct link to quality of education, access to art, and poverty.” Magdalena held a magnifying glass up to this link by expertly stitching together historical, nonscientific, and sociopolitical facts. In five minutes, she kept her audiences’ minds and hearts engaged as she reminded us what art does for the human soul: “Art is essential to human expression, and by robbing children of that it robs them of a voice when they grow older, which is especially dangerous for already underprivileged youth.”

Magdalena Francois Thurin

Community Business Hour host John Whaley AKA Jony Profit broke down the different roles we all play in an economic system, how those roles relate to the exchange of resources in our economy, the emotional catalysts that drive economic decisions, and what those considerations mean for our culture. “If we understand each other, we can work together,” said Whaley. “I believe if we do that, we can go far, and fast, thanks to technology and social mobility”.

John Whaley AKA Jony Profit

 Socially conscious architect, Courtney Brinegar, outlined the growing problem of gentrification in Houston communities; “We have communities here that lack basic resources like grocery stores. These are food deserts; areas with more than a 1 mile between them and the closest grocery store”. Brinegar went on to outline, in broad strokes, her compelling idea to combat that issue that includes “decentralized markets throughout the city built to the scale of a convenience store to create and open approachable market crafted from locally available material, even junk, to signify to residents that hope can be created from what’s lost.”
Courtney Brinegar
16-year-old Gabriel Poveda showed the audience how oil subsidies are a barrier to ingenuity, growth, and a free market. Poveda proposed that the United States should eliminate the special interests of the fossil fuel industry, which would allow renewable energy to compete and be an incentive for oil companies to innovate and move towards cheaper, cleaner, alternative means of energy. The final words of Poveda’s speech struck a chord with everyone that attended Ignite Houston 2016: “Innovation is where left meets right. For conservatives, we need fair capitalism, a free market so that there isn’t government overreach. And for liberals, now more than ever, we need something bipartisan that can break through gridlock and perhaps kick-off the fight against climate change and save this one planet that we all share.”
Gabriel Poveda
Neal Murthy- tactile game creator, theorist and owner of Nefer Games, shared with us the power of play in a historical and personal context. Neal revealed to the audience something we all know deep down but may not always consider: that the concept of play is something that is so natural to us that the world will always have it, no matter what. Be sure to check out Sedis, one of his more recent game systems that empowers players to create and discover their own ways to play.
Neal Murthy

January Advisors founder Jeff Reichman taught us how we can use data to tell a story; his example used a map of Houston that showed a concentrated amount of low level marijuana arrests in low-income neighborhoods. His speech hit close to home; UHD is surrounded by bail bonds operations and is a stone’s throw from the Houston courthouse in downtown.

Jeff Reichman

Jason Arcemont- philanthropist, entrepreneur, and owner of BrightBox Brand Marketing, brought the audience along his trial of personal endurance to bring awareness and hopefully end child sex trafficking in collaboration with Love 146. In October of 2014, Jason ran 30 marathons in 30 days to cross the State of Texas as an attention-grabbing effort to fight human trafficking. His speech urged others to get involved with anti-trafficking efforts in the months leading up to Super Bowl LI.
Jason Arcemont

If you’re interested in attending or speaking at the next Ignite Event, like the Ignite Houston on Facebook and contact the organization.

Attendees and speakers socializing, networking, and discussing ideas after the night’s speeches.

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Alex OrianiIgnite Houston Returns at University of Houston Downtown