The best tools for search listening

What tools should you be using for search listening?

If you’re familiar with social listening then you’ll know that there are a ton of tools, of varied sophistication, which you can use to help you monitor conversations and find insights. In fact as soon as the ‘big’ social networks went live, savvy marketers realised they could make money from helping businesses to track, monitor and understand social data.

  • February 2004 – Facebook launches
  • March 2006 – Twitter launches
  • August 2007 – Brandwatch launches its social media monitoring tool
  • September – Sysomos launches its first social media monitoring tool
  • October 2010 – Instagram launches

Oddly enough, we’ve never quite seen the same trend happen with tools to help marketers mine search data. Of course there are tons of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) tools out there but typically they’re aimed at helping search marketers to identify highly commercial search terms which websites can be optimised around to drive as much traffic as possible. These tools very rarely include things like ‘understand your audience better’ as a benefit in their sales spiel. It’s something I’d love to see change so if you have any ideas then let’s talk! And the good news is that there are some tools which you can get going with if you’re wanting to do more search listening.

1. AnswerThePublic

Full disclosure on this one – I’m very friendly with the guys at AnswerThePublic because we all worked together at digital marketing agency Propellernet (where I still work today). In fact, the tool was partly built because the guys and myself used to spend a lot of time manually looking at Google suggestions and one of the guys spotted an opportunity to build a tool to speed that process up. And, I feature on ATP’s monthly webinar which focuses on how different business units can use search listening and AnswerThePublic. All that aside, even if I hadn’t worked with the team previously, I know that I’d be a huge fan of the tool.

What does AnswerThePublic do? How is it a search listening tool?

AnswerThePublic scrapes Google’s suggestions around a seed keyword you enter into the tool. So, if you ran a report on ‘shoes’ in ATP then it would show you all of the suggestions Google would make to you if you typed ‘shoes a…’, shoes b…’, shoes c…’ and so on. On top of going through the full alphabet it also looks at question bridges, so ‘which shoes…’, ‘why shoes…’, ‘are shoes…’ and so on; comparison bridges, i.e. ‘shoes versus…’, ‘shoes or…’ and ‘shoes like…’; and preposition bridges like, ‘shoes for…;, ‘shoes that…’ and ‘shoes are…’. And, it shows you the top suggestions (i.e. all the suggestions you get if you just type ‘shoes’ and hit the space bar.

It’s a search listening tool because Google’s suggestions is one of the best data sources for search listening and it helps you to access those at scale and at speed. Many of you might think of it as a content planning tool or even an SEO tool and, yes – it has uses in those fields, but ultimately it helps you to understand what consumers are thinking and feeling via their searches.

What are the main benefits of AnswerThePublic?

As above, AnswerThePublic gives you speed, scale – and beautiful visuals.

Rather than spending an hour or so , manually exploring Google’s suggestions you can enter one word and get hundreds of relevant suggestions back. And, they’re returned to you in visually-engaging wheels which are great if you’re sharing the data with other stakeholders. You can still download the data into a csv if that’s your preferred way of working.

What are AnswerThePublic’s best features?

Tracking over time: Once you’re signed up with an account, you can start to monitor the suggestions around any key words that you’re interested in over time. That’s hugely powerful; you’ll be able to see how people’s thoughts/feelings/concerns/questions around anything you’re interested in (i.e. your brand, your industry, your product, your competitors) change over time and react to those changes. Even better, Pro users will soon be able to track and receive any ‘new’ suggestions via email alerts. Remember, ‘new’ in this instance means that the suggestions are newly popular; it’s not that no one’s ever performed the search before, but that it’s spiked in popularity at that moment in time.

International data: Equally, AnswerThePublic allows you to access data from a number of different countries and in a number of different languages. So you’ll likely be able to use it wherever you are and no matter what market your working in!

2. Google Trends

Given that search listening data is – in the UK and the US at least – largely Google data, it makes sense that Google offers some tools which can help you undertake search listening. Trends is my top pick.

What does Google Trends do? How is it a search listening tool?

Google Trends does several things! Firstly, it shows you historic search interest, by location, around any search terms of your choosing. The watch-out with that is that the terms you want to explore need to be popular enough to track – but it’ll let you know if you’re trying to work with an unpopular term. It also tells you, quickly and easily, the regions where your search term is most popular and offers up related topics and queries which are either consistently popular or ‘trending’ now.

As far as search listening, Google Trends helps you to understand the context around the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of consumers.

What are the main benefits of Google Trends?

Google Trends is free, covers numerous locations and comes from the very organisation that holds the key to the very data set that search listening as a method relies on.

What are Google Trends’ best features?

Related queries and topics: I think Google Trends is most known for the time-bound line graphs it produces at the top of the page – but if you scroll down just a bit you’ll see the ‘related boxes’. These are really valuable because they uncover unknowns. With tools like AnswerThePublic, you need to know what it is you want to explore and the quality of your input will greatly affect what you get out. With Google Trends’ related suggestions, you can find out consumer associations which may not have occurred to you previously.

I’ll be updating this list with new tools as they come to market. Please do let me know if there’s one you think should be added! It’s worth saying that prior to its closure, AudienceView by Hitwise was another great tool for search listening.