Technology investigation: Google Trends do not reliably depict trends

16:26  05 june  2020
16:26  05 june  2020 Source:   t3n.de

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Die Ergebnisse von Google Trends sind offenbar oft nicht aussagekräftig. © Jarretera / Shutterstock The results of Google Trends are obviously often not meaningful.

The popular search statistics that the search engine operator offers under the name "Google Trends" are apparently not reliable. This is the result of a current study.

A team consisting of employees from the Universities of Hanover and Oldenburg, the big data consulting company "Hase & Igel" and the North German broadcaster NDR dealt with the reliability of the search statistics "Google Trends". In doing so, they have sometimes found strong inconsistencies that significantly impair the meaningfulness of the trend data. They present their findings to in a study .

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Google Trends: Inconsistent display of search interest

Because data on search frequencies and search trends are now part of standard research for decisions in media, politics, business and science at Google, the research team wanted to determine how reliable the provided data actually is. Google provides these so-called trends for popular, freely selectable search terms such as "short-time work" or "Donald Trump" for free. They are not determined from the total search volume, but only from a subset, the representativity of which the search engine operator assures.

The analysis and consulting company "Hase & Igel" noticed contradictions in its work, which raised the first doubts about this representativeness. For example, they found values ​​for “Google Trends” called up for the same search term and the same period, but at different times, which deviated so much from one another that the trends sometimes pointed in completely different directions. It was apparently enough to run the identical search query at an interval of one hour in order to receive different data on the search volume for the historical period - something that contradicts the logic.

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The historical data should be identical in terms of logic, but it is clearly not. (Source: NDR )

researchers find significant levels of inconsistency

The consultants consulted scientists and journalists and formed a team to investigate the frequency, extent and pattern of these deviations. It became clear that such contradictions occur systematically in the "Google Trends" data and, in particular with analysis periods of less than eight months, are often so clear that they can significantly falsify

analyzes. They were able to demonstrate that the representativeness of the samples, as claimed by Google, was not present in a partially significant proportion of the cases.

Google provides insufficient explanation

Faced with the findings, Google argued that any deficits in the reliability of the trend data can be attributed to low search volumes. After further investigations, the research team was able to determine that this reasoning is at least too short. Although there was a clear connection between search volume and data quality, this could only explain about half of the contradictions in the data.

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The researchers therefore assume that, in addition to the relationship between search volume and data quality, there must be other influencing factors that could only be clarified by Google. The study comes to the conclusion that working with Google Trends data is associated with significant risks, especially since the analysis also shows that the index value named in "Google Trends" only allows limited conclusions to be drawn about the actual search volume.

This is Google Trends

Google Trends is a free service from Google that has been providing time series worldwide since 2006 on the frequency of Google searches for freely selectable topics and terms. The analysis periods can be freely selected between a few hours and up to more than 15 years and go back to 2004. Individual countries and regions can also be viewed in a targeted manner.

The data is given an index value that shows how strongly this term is searched for. This happens in relation to the total volume of Google search queries from this region and in this period.

"Google Trends" has established itself as a research, research and forecasting tool since its introduction. The possible uses range from to predict disease epidemics to indicators for the development of share prices to the identification of consumer trends.

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