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How to use Google Trends for SEO: Your quick start guide

Author: Colt Sliva

An image of author Colt Sliva accompanied by search-related iconography, including a search bar, a key icon, and a search volume chart

Google Trends is one of the mightiest SEO research tools available. It’s also free, and if you know how to take full advantage of its features, it may become one of the most impactful options in your tool belt.

In this article, I’ll walk you through Google Trends use cases and features so you can identify opportunities to use the tool for competitive insights. Whether you’re a small business owner learning how people search for your products or a working SEO, these techniques have an evergreen place in your strategy.

As a brief overview, the competitive advantages lie in a few key areas:

  • Google Trends provides years of historical data, sometimes going as far back as 2004 for some search terms. This is a superpower when data sources like Google Search Console are limited to 16 months. While the data is relative and doesn’t give absolute traffic numbers, it does help you estimate the current macro environment for a search trend. If you do have traffic data for a term, you can use Google Trends to review its historical trends to estimate previous ranges of traffic.

  • Google Trends is as close to real-time data as you can get within Google’s black box of search data. The “Trending Now” section provides current trending entities and events based on news sources and active searches.

  • Lastly, Google Trends can yield insights into how Google groups traffic together, which can help inform the topics you cover on your website.

So, let’s jump into five Google Trends tactics that can make it a potent tool for your search optimizations.

Table of Contents:

01. Explore search intent

Understanding the questions people are asking (so you can create a document with the answer) is a big part of SEO.

When you can find the right questions to answer, that is a working definition of addressing search intent.

Google Trends provides some insight into search intent by tagging different types of searches (as shown in the example below). Let’s take the query Apple, for example—it could be the technology company or it could be the fruit.

A screenshot of the term “Apple” in Google Trends, showing suggestions for “apple” the search term, “apple” the topic referring to the company, “Apple” the tech company, and “apple” the fruit.
Google Trends tags different types of searches to help disambiguate the nature of the query.

The search volume for the keyword is the sum of intent for both of those. Additionally, the Apple topic can receive traffic from similar searches, like Mac, because the intent is the same.

The example Google’s documentation gives is London, Capital of UK, and Londres all being included under the same topic:

“Topics are a group of terms that share the same concept in any language. You can find topics below your search term. For example, if you search London, and choose the corresponding topic, your search includes results for topics like ‘Capital of the UK’ and ‘Londres,’ which is ‘London’ in Spanish.”Google Trends Help

This helps take many unstructured searches that people make and consolidate it into a single search result.

Google Trends providing different datasets for the term “Apple”
Four different searches for “Apple” showing different topics and interest levels

Pick the search term with the topic that is the most specific option for your audience. That is the version of the keyword that will best represent potential traffic. Compare this to the broader “Search Term” (this is the blue line in the example above) and look at the size of the difference.

That gap will inform the competitiveness between topics. In the example above, the fruit will rarely receive traffic from its head term Apple, whereas the topic and the technology company are far more likely to receive traffic for this keyword.

02. Identify top, rising, and breakout keywords

Google Trends highlights “Breakout” keywords (terms that had a tremendous increase in search frequency, probably because these queries are new and had few, if any, prior searches). This gives you access to near-real-time insights (whereas most search reporting is generally lagging behind by days).

A screenshot of the related queries card in Google Trends, showing the “breakout” label for the keywords “minecraft legends narrator,” “when does minecraft legends come out time,” etc.
The “Breakout” label for terms that had a significant increase in search frequency.

These breakout trends can last anywhere from a few hours to months. They can also change the SERPs in that content surrounding a trending topic is more likely to rank while people are searching for a breakout term.

After entering your search term, you can use the Related Queries card (shown above), to sort related search terms by “Rising” or “Top.” The “Top” option can help you find certain niches (or long tail variations) around a topic that are driving interest in real time, which may be helpful for building a breadth and depth of keywords around a topic.

Select the “Rising” option to sort queries with the largest increase in search frequency since the last time period. You can use this option to identify trends early on and create content for them. Being early to a search trend is like creating luck for yourself.

Rising queries related to the search “Google Algorithm Update” where “google algorithm update 2022” search volume is up 750%

In addition to the related queries for a specific topic, you can look at what is trending in real time or within the last day. This search trends list is organized by a common topic as well as a trending piece of content. You are also provided with an estimated number of searches that made the topic trend.

Trending topics on Google where each topic is receiving over 20 thousand concurrent  searches

This number is sometimes not as high as you would expect and provides a rough estimate on what it takes to get content trending.

03. Target the right distribution channel

Organic search starts with the search box, but has many distribution channels (YouTube, Google News, Google Shopping, etc).

Google Trends options to filter by Web Search, Image Search, Google Shopping, or Youtube Search

Google Trends offers a few of those distribution channels as filterable options. This is because these channels offer very different experiences tailored to a particular search intent (like seeking out breaking news with News Search or eCommerce via Google Shopping, for example).

If you are a news publisher, filtering by “News Search” is key. Search behavior in Google News is oriented toward content that has a short half-life. So, this filter can help identify trending content opportunities to cover in Google News.

If you create video content, filtering by “YouTube Search” can help you discover how viewers may be hunting for content. This type of content commonly leans toward multimedia-related queries, such as music, entertainment, movies, or video of an event.

For eCommerce businesses, the most helpful filter will be “Google Shopping.” There is generally less data for this filter, but it does have very clear product intent behind it.

04. Target the right location

Location can be a very important ranking factor in organic search. Different regions have different cultures, experiences, and search behaviors. Take the topic of Air Conditioning, as an example: In the southern United States, air conditioning is in greater demand year round. In a northern US state, the demand actually peaks higher than the south briefly, but quickly dissipates.

Google Trends chart showing greater demand for air conditioning in Texas vs Michigan where temperature changes search behavior.

That experience could inform how companies should operate and market in different locations.

To filter and compare locations, hover over a searched keyword and click the three vertical dots that appear. Then select “Change filters” and modify the location (this option will only appear if you are comparing two or more keywords).

Options to remove, edit, change, or reset filters in Google Trends search

05. Compare time frames

Similar to filtering locations, you can also filter over different time frames. This can help answer questions around turbulent times (like during core algorithm updates and holidays).

Check Google Trends to see if your traffic changes are related to seasonality or if it is related to ranking changes.

Looking back at the Christmas season for 2021 compared to 2022, there is a sizable gap between the two (2022 peaks at a relative score of 84 out of 100). This dip in search interest might have contributed to traffic and/or conversion declines for Christmas-related content from 2021 to 2022, for example.

The Google Trends for the term “Christmas” in 2021 compared to 2022, showing a slight decrease in interest in 2022.

Hanukkah inverted that trend, with 2022 trending higher. During the 2022 Hanukkah season, sites on the topic of Hanukkah and Judaism would have likely experienced a higher number of search impressions. Understanding how these macro trends shift around the holidays can help explain what is going on with site traffic or how to better market to your website visitors.

Google Trends for “Hanukkah” comparing 2022 and 2021 worldwide, with 2022 peaking higher than 2021.

Stay ahead of consumer interest with Google Trends

It’s instinctual for people to be curious about the next big thing. Creating content early and often is a powerful strategy, whether it’s SEO, SEM, or social media marketing. Target your locale with the right distribution strategy and during peak seasons for a potent marketing combination that can put you and your website ahead of competitors.


Colt Sliva

Colt Sliva is a technical SEO who has experience working with SaaS, eCommerce, UGC Platforms, and News Publishers across the Fortune 500. His main area of study is SEO at scale, automations, and breaking things to see how they really work.


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