Google Trends, which shows you the hot search queries on Google at any given time, is more than two years old now (this year they added website/domain tracking as well). PR professionals and brand managers use it regularly to track how hot their assets are, and there are countless other uses for the service.
One use though, which is becoming increasingly popular we hear, is for blogs, mainstream media sites and others to monitor Google Trends regularly and write stories based on hot terms. Google displays a daily summary for easier data gathering.
The goal isn’t to tap into what Internet users think is interesting and write about that. Instead, it’s all about getting more hits from Google.
Here’s how it works:
Blogs and mainstream media sites are indexed by Google very frequently. Many times per day, in fact. And those sites often have great Page Rank already. Combine that regular indexing and Page Rank with Google’s recent policy of ranking news type results higher than older, evergreen stuff, and you have a system ripe for abuse.
Let’s say I run a popular political or celebrity gossip site (two topics that pop up a lot on Google Trends). I look for hot queries that people are typing in right now, for whatever reason. Then I write a blog post, making sure to use the query term in the title of the post (which weights heavier for matching content to specific queries). The content of the article itself is mostly irrelevant, as long as your normal readers don’t gag on it.
Within a few minutes that content is indexed by Google, and the high Page Rank of the site along with the newness of the content pushes it up towards to top of the first page of results. Possibly all the way to the top.
We’re not talking about a trivial amount of traffic, either. One person I spoke with about this yesterday said he can get up to 30,000 extra unique visitors per day just by focusing content on top queries, which is more than enough to dedicate a couple of full time people to the effort.
I’ve debated (with myself) on how “bad” this kind of behavior really is. Sites that do this are clearly exploiting a weakness in Google’s search methodology, but it’s not like they’re engaging in black hat SEO tactics to trick Google into thinking their content is more relevant than it is. Rather, they’re just using their Page Rank heft and cheating a little on the edges.
I’m not going to say which sites I’m hearing are doing this, but you can check for yourself. If you see a headline that seems a little off topic or weird, followed by some very hastily written content, have a quick look at Google Trends and see if the exact query is in the title of the post or article. You may be surprised at who’s taking advantage of this.