Just How Accurate Is The Google Zeitgeist?

Accuracy of
Google Zeitgeist
over at our Search Engine Watch Forums is a nice "what
gives" about some oddities in the
international version
of the Google Zeitgeist,
where it gives you a rundown on search behavior in various countries. For
instance, why is viagra so hot in Singapore — and why do links from the
Zeitgeist actually bring up Google South Africa?

It got me to give the lists for each country a second look, and I was
scratching my head as well. For example, "national lottery" is the top popular
query for the United Kingdom in Feburary 2006? Really? Somehow, I doubt it.

Let’s spin back to the Google Zeitgeist in general. I don’t think Google’s
ever released a complete "top searches" list on it. Instead, they focus "rising"
terms or popular terms in various categories, such as

Zeitgeist This Week Gaining Search Queries: Week Ending March 27, 2006

1. debra lafave
2. scarlett johansson
3. danica patrick
4. chicken little
5. paul dana
6. buck owens
7. daylight savings time
8. george mason
9. shakira
10. rocio durcal
11. stay alive
12. inside man
13. super adventure club
14. sasha cohen
15. tiger woods

These aren’t the most popular queries. These are queries that are said to be
gaining the most growth. However, Google filters out things like navigational
terms or sexual terms, so there could be some gainers we aren’t seeing.

On a monthly basis, you can get what look like top terms in various
categories. You can see some examples
here, then
the monthly archives stop, from November 2005 through January 2006. The current
page here here
has Feburary 2006.

Those top searches feel OK. I can see something like "iran" as the most
searched for country or "xbox 360" as the most searched for video game. But now
let’s go to the international list.

Why does Singapore have "viagra" at the top of the list? First, maybe it
isn’t. "Popular" queries don’t necessarily mean most popular for each country.
Second, other counties might have plenty of viagra searches, as well. But Google
might be filtering these out of the top query lists and failed to do that for

Similarly, why is "national lottery" seeming to be the most popular query in
the UK? Chances are, it’s not. Again, popular does not equal most popular. I’m
sure any country with a national lottery gets a large number of similar queries,
a navigational request of people trying to see what the winning numbers are. It
might be these are being filtered out of other lists but not the UK’s.

Anyway, I’ll drop a note to Google to see if I can get a little clarity on
some of this.

Related reading

A screenshot of visual search on Pinterest. On the left is a picture of a copper angle-poise lamp, with the words 'Visually similar results' above it. Down the right-hand side are a number of pins showing similar lamps.
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