Search trends and geography

I know it’s been around for a year or more now, but I still can’t stop playing with Google Insights for Search, that small window into the universe of data that Google collects on user behavior. It’s a trend-spotter’s dream, and — particularly with its geographical filters — a potential source of story ideas for journalists.

For example, I can see the fastest rising search terms in Los Angeles and Berlin in the past week.

But what I’m finding fun right now is plugging in brand names and seeing where they’re strong. I offer, by way of example, some vehicle brands and maps showing search volume in the United States:

The four-wheel-drive Subaru line is understandably popular in mountainous, cold-weather states:

Geographic search trends for "subaru"

Saab has some fans in New England, but that’s about it:

Geographic search trends for "saab"

Another ailing GM make, Hummer, still gets some interest in Nevada and Texas (I suspect the bump in interest in Michigan may be mostly from concerned GM stakeholders):

Geographic search trends for "hummer"

Toyota’s Prius, meanwhile, is especially popular in eco-conscious places such as California and Vermont:

Geographic search trends for "prius"

And the Vespa scooter craze seems to have taken hold on the West Coast and, inexplicably, Utah:

Geographic search trends for "vespa"

When you look at popularity over time for all five brands, you can clearly see how interest in the brands associated with fuel-sipping vehicles spikes during periods when fuel prices are high. No huge surprises here, but it’s fun to see how well search data tracks real-world trends.

Have you used Google’s search trend data for story ideas? Share your tips in the comments.