Google Trends Manipulation: A Lesson for Old Media?
Everyone is aware that the Internet has changed the way that people consume content. In the past the fastest news sources were radio and TV while the in depth analysis and reporting was left up to newspapers who obviously had limitations on how quickly they could disseminate their content. The Internet has turned the news and content distribution model upside down. Internet users expect news to be delivered in near real time and they have a proliferation of sources they can access for that content. We are no longer forced to depend on our local newspaper or news station for the latest news or content and that means that they are competing with a wider group of content producers for eyeballs and ultimately advertising dollars. This has obviously created financial difficulties for a wide range of traditional content producers and many traditional news publishers are dying. Instead of trying to develop creative solutions many of these publishers have taken to suing Google and other silly efforts to try to regain their monopolistic status. Some of the newer publishers are utilizing the tools and services available to drive more visitors to their sites. One interesting method is the manipulation of Google Trends which is being employed the Alex Jones network of sites.
Manipulating Google Trends is Fairly Simple
Basically Alex Jones is asking his readers and listeners to go to Google en masse and search for a specific keyword phrase. What this does pushes the search phrase to the top of the Google hot searches list which in turn increases demand as other people conduct their own searches on the phrase after seeing it show up as a hot search. According to his bio at Infowars.com, Alex Jones is an “Internationally recognized veteran broadcaster, documentary filmmaker, and investigative journalist”. According to others he is nothing more than a conspiracy theorist. I’m not going to get into an argument about who or what Alex Jones is because I just don’t have the time to do so. Instead I want to look at the efficacy of the use of Google Trends manipulation by his team at Prison Planet and other sites. If you take a look at this search you can see the number of attempts that have been made to influence the hot searches feature at Google Trends. Here are some specific examples of stories that have been pushed to the top of Google Trends Hot Searches, there is even a Google is Evil hot search. The idea is incredibly simple in that it is nothing more than asking fans and advocates to go to Google and search for a specific keyword phrase. Since Alex Jones has multiple websites, a radio show, and a TV show he is able to send his message through a variety of sources and get thousands of users to search for the specific keyword phrase. This forces the phrase to the top of the Google Trends Hot Searches which then draws more visitors to the content after they see the phrase at the top of Google Trends. Pretty simple but is it beneficial?
What is the Impact of This Manipulation?
Without the ability to view the analytics or ad revenue it’s hard to say what the impact is. I have to believe that there is a positive benefit from this effort though. It really is low cost and low effort on the part of Alex and his teams since his fans and followers are doing all of the work. It’s actually a fairly ingenious way to utilize multiple media outlets including traditional media, publisher websites, and social media. Instead of siloing each medium he is utilizing the power of his network and then leveraging his rabid fan base to do all of the work. The traffic will probably drive some ad revenue to the sites he owns but I have to believe the real goal is to drive additional subscriptions to his sites, the radio show, his TV show, and also to sell more of his DVDs. I’m sure a good portion of people who visit his sites after seeing at the top of hot searches are interested in the type of content he is developing and therefore more likely to pay for more access to his content. I could be totally wrong but he is not dumb and if it didn’t benefit him in some way I’m sure he would try something else. The fact that he continues to use this method leads me to believe it is bringing in some additional revenue.
This is the type of thing that will help content producers survive in the current conditions. It’s not enough to rely on advertiser $$$. Ads can serve as supplemental revenue but it will take more than that to remain competitive. By utilizing a variety of media and the power of the crowd to drive visibility and new users to extremely niche content (that many acolytes will gladly pay an additional fee to access) Alex is able to do what many of the big publishers have so far been unable to do. Instead of hanging on to their old business models these publishers and content producers could learn a lot from the low cost and low effort method being used here to increase revenue. Again, I could be totally wrong and I’m really not sure that manipulating Google Trends is having a huge impact on the revenue he is bring in but it’s a unique approach to getting more visibility by using both traditional and new media and social outreach.