Twitter Trending Topics Predict Future Breakout Search Trends


Americans increasingly get their information from social media. According to a recent 2015 Pew study, 63% of users reported getting their news from Twitter and Facebook. Regardless of whether something important is happening in the world or our favorite celebrity couple is breaking up, we’re hearing about it first on social media, long before we turn to search engines like Google to give us more detail. 

Consider this past month. In the early morning hours of December 10, the popular podcast “Serial” announced its second season. People have been dying (pun intended) for this news for months and rushed to Twitter. The hashtag #Serial quickly became popular as dedicated fans tweeted the news of the new season and within the hour, it was the #1 trending topic on Twitter.

But that’s not where the story ends for Serial. Although the #Serial hashtag was trending across the US by 7am EST, search traffic was just beginning to rise for the term “Serial” on Google. By the time it was trending on Twitter, Google Trends shows that searches for “Serial” had increased by 50%. But an hour later at 8am, searches for the term were twice as popular as they were previously and becoming increasingly popular. Searches for the term “Serial” would continue to become more popular for several hours, ultimately peaking at noon – 5 hours after first trending on Twitter. Even after hitting its peak search volume, searches for “Serial” remained elevated for several days.

twitter trending topics

Google Trends reveals search interest for Serial grew over the several hours it trended on Twitter.

The story of the relationship between the trending hashtag #Serial and the search term “Serial” is a common one. More often than not, people will react to news, sports, politics, and celebrity gossip by rushing to post on social media and these topics quickly trend. Later, the rest of us eventually see this popular content on social media and turn to Google to get us caught up to speed.

By looking at a dozen popular trending topics on Twitter from the week of 12/7, we can see that these trending hashtags often indicate breakout search terms hours in advance. For the dozen popular hashtags I followed that week, on average, search interest for these terms would increase 500% over the 6 hours of their breakout on Twitter and then stay elevated for many hours or even days following that.

trending hashtags on twitter

Search interest on Google increases quickly for popular hashtags on Twitter.

This trend can be leveraged by savvy SEM marketers to identify breakout search trends early and be proactive with their campaigns – either by adding relevant keywords or increasing bids and budgets to capture more relevant traffic or by adding negative keywords and pausing campaigns to avoid paying for irrelevant trending traffic.

Using Promoted Hashtags to Drive Search Volume

Twitter advertisers and large brands may be in a particularly interesting position to leverage promoted hashtags. Although people may not be actively tweeting or searching for their terms, Twitter does allow advertisers to pay to promote a hashtag, having it appear at the top of the trending topics lists. Doing so not only guarantees brand exposure and often prompts users to engage with their brand on Twitter but can also drive users to search on Google. The search lift from promoted hashtags appears to occur more slowly and at a slightly smaller magnitude though:

promoted hashtags twitter trends

Even paid promoted hashtags on Twitter see some lift in search interest on Google.

SEMs have plenty of resources to get data on the historical performance of their keywords and search terms, but to forecast future surges of search interest, SEMs may be smart to keep an eye on what’s currently trending on Twitter and other social media since it’ll likely quickly become a breakout term on the SERP.

About the author:

Mark is a Data Scientist at WordStream with a background in SEM, SEO, and Statistical Modeling. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google +.

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James Sun
Jan 12, 2016

That's some amazing facts about how the search engine world synergy works with social networks.The idea how to exploit these breakouts can be good for marketers as well for 'wave surfing' hashtag traffic.
Still, it is look more for big brands or sophisticated sem.
Thanks for the data.

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