I’ve become mildly addicted to Google Trends lately. If you’re not yet familiar, the free tool presents a list of the top Google search terms at this moment and allows you to enter your own terms to measure and compare search popularity around the world and over periods of time. Access Google Trends from your regular Google page (it’s under the “Google Labs“ option, or directly via the link above.

For example, I learned that Dr. Phil’s popularity jumped up in early January. If you’re following the Britney Spears saga (and you probably can’t help it), then you know why this is. Thanks to Google Trends, we also finally have concrete proof that chocolate is more popular than vanilla.

From a PR, marketing, and journalistic perspective, Google Trends can be helpful in a number of ways. It provides a quick pulse read about what people care about around the world (or by region) at any given time and is a great way to identify ways your company, clients or local news sources can fit into the bigger picture of cultural trends.

How could Google Trends be useful for businesses? Well, when I checked on Friday, “operation boot camp” was the #3 search term and “on fire” by Trends standards. This may or may not have been prompted by a story on CNN’s Web site about an Atlanta man who lost 128 pounds through a program called Operation Boot Camp. But people started searching for the topic of fitness boot camps in general.

If you own a gym (or better yet, run a fitness boot camp), this would be a great opportunity to contact your local newspaper or TV station and let them know you can see fitness boot camps are a hot topic on CNN right now, and if they are working on a local story on the topic, you are available as a source to talk about the advantages of boot camp programs for weight loss, and what makes a boot camp different than just hitting the gym.

Google Trends change in real time, so what’s hot today might not be tomorrow. But it’s a great and fun way to stay current.

Posted by Rebecca