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

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

Jason Arcemont Launches Houston Business Radio Show #TheHook

Houston, TX (October 1, 2015)- 950 AM Radio will officially add its first ever radio show dedicated to helping you build your business, The Hook, hosted by The Marketing Maverick Jason Arcemont. The Hook will provide marketing tips, tricks, strategies and news to business owners and executives seeking direction and assistance.

Read more:

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Daniel J. CohenJason Arcemont Launches Houston Business Radio Show #TheHook

Translation in International Markets – Our Interview with Global Speak Translations

RedShift Writers specializes extensively in the art of written communication. We work hard to craft the perfect content for your business, pinpointing messaging with precision to target your audience, the whole audience and nothing but your audience better than any other company in our industry.

Yet one service we don’t offer directly is to do just that in other languages. We’re masterful at English and even brag about our US credentials, but we certainly don’t craft website content in Spanish. It’s not what we do.

It is however, in the wheelhouse of one of our clients Global Speak Translations (GST). GST is the only company to focus exclusively on translation and interpreter services for the energy industry. Given our strong dedication to using language to positively affect the business of energy companies, we can relate to the tremendous gifts GST brings to the table.

We took some time to talk to them a little earlier this week and interview them about those gifts, as well as the impact translation can make on content and brand marketing efforts in energy and beyond.

Here is our interview with GST Founder Flor Dimassi.

RSW: It’s a pleasure to speak to you linguist to linguist. This is really an honor to have a chance to talk about language with our client.

Tell us a little about your personal experience with language.

Ms. Dimassi: I worked as a project manager in oil and gas 18 years ago and I spoke Spanish and French. I was at an energy firm at the time. Because I was trilingual, they continually gave me translation projects. They were stacked high in this chair, nothing but translation. So eventually I said, “I can help you do this, but I want to do it independently.”

RSW: That’s a great entrepreneurial story. Who have you worked with?

Ms. Dimassi: We have served some pretty well-known companies: Schlumberger, Halliburton, Shell and more.

RSW: Let’s move to language in marketing for a moment. At RedShift Writers, we focus on crafting the perfect message for companies. Tell us about some of the subtleties that come up in crafting that message for your clients.

Ms. Dimassi: As you all know from working with clients, the more precise your language is, the better. You want to hit the exact words so you can capture the tone, culture and purpose of the statements you want to make and express the exact message you seek to execute. It’s a little different from standard marketing because our job is not to be overly creative with your language. We have to be creative enough to solve dialect differences and find words that bridge the gap, especially in the context of culture, but our job is to preserve meaning from original language to final interpretation from the listener.

RSW: Interesting. What direct impact can this have on companies? What happens if they fail to translate effectively?

Ms. Dimassi: The easy answer is that the marketing becomes ineffective. But more specifically, important prospects in other countries just won’t consider you in the first place. If you email a Brazilian company in English, they may very well just delete your email. At tradeshows, keeping an interpreter on hand may be essential to holding a hot conversation on the spot. Otherwise, you are merely letting prospects pass you by in favor of other companies.

Someone- more than one company- at the show will speak the language of the locals. You should be one of those companies or your business is at risk.

RSW: What about marketing materials such as brochures and handouts?

Ms. Dimassi: All of it should be translated and proofed carefully, to the point that the translator carries liability if something happens that is related to the translation. A slogan can make your company sound silly if it is mistranslated. “Houston, we have a problem,” translated directly into Urdu makes you sound like you are uneducated. “Finger-licking good”, the old KFC slogan, in Chinese means “Eat your own fingers off”. The company’s campaign there failed, which is to say that even some of the world’s most well-known companies can have major problems with mistranslation in their marketing.

RSW: I would imagine this same precision can affect negotiations.

Ms. Dimassi: It most certainly can. There is a story we told the Houston Chronicle in our interview with them about translating for a mostly Latin American group. The majority of the room was not from Mexico but some were, so an interpreter used neutral Spanish and the word ‘shaft’ came up. ‘Eje’ is the proper translation, but the largest man in the room – he’s from Mexico – stood up and insisted it’s ‘flecha.’ That means arrow, but in Mexican Spanish, it also means shaft. He’s saying ‘flecha,’ and the Colombians are saying ‘eje.’ We had to remain focused and work through it with everyone. It was important to just keep everyone calm and explain everything carefully so we are all on the same page. That’s why you want a professional translator who can really get the job done in that situation.

RSW: Let’s move to industry trends. In the content writing industry, the move toward the expansion of content to meet the needs of companies pursuing content marketing and SEO campaigns has really changed what we do. What affects energy translation? What trends do you watch for?

Ms. Dimassi: Whenever regulatory frameworks are passed down by governments, we keep a close eye out for what is happening. The wording is so important because it tells you exactly what the legislation means. Right now, Mexican Energy Reform Policy is by far the biggest news in our industry. The regulation has opened the door to private competition in Mexico. Companies looking to get a foothold there are moving now and they all need Spanish materials to get it to work.

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Daniel J. CohenTranslation in International Markets – Our Interview with Global Speak Translations

Three Steps to Take if You Post Something Fake on Social Media

One of the great negative impacts of Media 2.0 has been the ease with which a person can post a meme or other message that is misguided. Satirical links are often taken as real news only to be discounted in Facebook comments under the original post. Hooray for group moderation, right?

The issue is that even if the comments section offers corrections, the initial post with a status taking it seriously remains in the feed. Worse, the more that people interact with the post, the more it circulates.

Think this is rare? Less rare than you’d like to believe. Worse, there is no exact protocol for this kind of situation. While companies have a policy for dealing with mistakes online, personal responsibility in this form in the digital atmosphere is far less developed.

Naturally, the best move is to avoid doing this in the first place by carefully vetting your sources. On the other hand, for those who may run into this, here’s the three-step method for overcoming posting something false on social media.

#1: Announce a retraction to everyone in the comment pool.
When you misinform a friend or colleague, apologize. It’s only right! Besides, others will understand that you did the right thing. Announce to the comment pool that you were off and that you should have been more on your game.

#2: Change the heading of your comment starting with “Update”.
This is what news pieces do to print headline retractions. “Update” at the top of the post indicates that something has changed. Something has changed in your post, so this is appropriate.

Note: If you mess up badly enough and the headline of the post inspires fear or otherwise harms others, take the post down altogether. Examples would include posting the name of an innocent person as an alleged criminal (as was the case on Twitter with the Boston bomber suspect) or saying a disease has spread through somewhere where it does not exist.

#3: Pin it to the top of your wall for a while
You can pin a post to the top of your newsfeed in Facebook. Do so. This indicates you are serious and gives those most likely to have seen it a quick view of your retraction. This transparency means a lot to your reputation and those around you. More people should do this.

Remember: Printing hoaxes can lead to really nasty results. The burden to determine what is true and what is satire is on the reader. There is always a way to determine if a story is true or false with a little bit of research. We wanted Web 2.0, with citizen journalists and high-flying content. Well guess what? We got it. Now, everyone is a newsroom; everyone has a megaphone. And the more you say you are in media, the more others will expect you to speak properly and act responsibly.

Be part of the solution. Confirm your information by Googling it. Be a part of the free flow of information rather than the slowing snow of misinformation.

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Daniel J. CohenThree Steps to Take if You Post Something Fake on Social Media