4 Top Free Real Time Search Tools

This column has been cleverly scheduled to run on the same day that I'm presenting "Real Time SEO: No More Yesterday's News" at Search Engine Strategies New York. So it seems apropos that we talk about some free real time search tools anyone can access and use.

Google Trends

With Google Trends, you can trend multiple search terms on a graph to identify seasonality in search patterns and compare terms on a global, country, and regional basis (yep, more people in New York search for the World Cup than the Super Bowl!).

Google Trends

Google Trends also shows you the top 20 trending search terms, based on percentage changes in Google search volume from historical traffic patterns. Hot Topics shows you the top trending topics on various social networking sites (Twitter, FriendFeed, etc) as compiled by Google.

There are a couple downsides to these trending topic reports. First, they now only provide the top 20 trending searches (at one point it was the top 100; their FAQ still lists it as displaying the top 40). Second, there's no grouping capability, so if you're looking for the top trending terms in a particular category you've got to hunt and peck and hope that there are terms that hit the top 20. That said, it's still a useful tool.

Google Insights for Search

To answer the categorization issue there's Google Insights for Search. Here you can drill down to a category level, specific location, timeframe, and source of search data (straight Google Web search, news search, image search, or product search).

Google Insights for Search

The image above shows worldwide search trending for the cruises and charters category for 2009 and 2010 (looks like there's a bit more demand so far this year than last). The top 10 search terms and rising terms are also displayed based on the selected criteria.

Bing xRank

Bing has also had a crack at the categorization issue with their xRank tool. Here you can see celebrities, musicians (I have to admit that I thought Jamie Kennedy was mis-categorized as a musician, but a quick search proved me wrong), politicians, and bloggers.

Bing xRank

Clicking on any of the terms shows a rolling four-week graph, along with key events during that time period for that term, as well as related data (e.g., biographical snippet, images, videos).

While this tool has some interesting data, it doesn't have enough to make it the be all and end all of real time search tools. However, if you use it as a starting point for input into other tools, then it proves its worth.


Search engines aren't the only ones that have free trending tools. Surchur is a tool that combines trending data from Google Trends, Yahoo Buzz, Twitter, Technorati, Bing xRank, and CNN to identify terms and topics that are being talked about right now.

Surchur allows you to drill down on each topic and see where the buzz is coming from, and what's being said on the different types of media monitored. Is the buzz different on blogs versus Twitter? What images are being pushed out to Flickr versus what's being said on YouTube?


If you're at SES New York and thinking about coming to the real time search panel, don't think that it's all been covered in this article. In addition to talking about search tools, there will also be some great case studies, perspectives from the marketing and journalistic side of covering real time search, and even an appearance (OK, a video) by several celebrities. Plus there'll four panelists will be able to answer whatever real time search questions you have.

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About the author

Simon Heseltine is the Director in charge of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at AOL Inc. In this role Simon and his team are responsible for organic search and training across all AOL and Huffington Post Media Group properties. He has also visited the UK office on several occasions to consult and train the AOL-UK teams on SEO best practices.

In his previous position as Director of Search at a Washington, D.C., based agency, Simon was responsible for developing and implementing organic search and social media strategies for companies across several industries. He also developed and delivered training programs for clients, including a large U.S. media company, to enable them to best take advantage of the opportunities available to their companies through both organic search and social media.

Simon is a frequent speaker at conferences in the U.S. and UK on topics ranging from SEO to social search to reputation management. He also teaches SEO at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of their Digital Media Management program.

Simon has a BA (Hons) from the University of Humberside, and a Masters in IT from Virginia Tech.