Study Probes Internet Health-Related Search Patterns

FRIDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) -- A new study says Google Trends has a potential as a scientific research tool that may help people better understand how the public uses the Web to find health information.

Despite the limitations of the tool, which provides access to worldwide public search data from 2004 to the present, Ball State University researchers issued a paper saying they have detected several trends.

"The first pattern we noticed was an annual cycle that appeared to be related to seasonal interests and events in search patterns," Peter Ellery, assistant director for the media of health of the university's Center for Media Design's Insight and Research, said in a news release issued by the school. "Search volumes for words like diet and exercise tended to increase sharply at certain times of the year, like right around New Year's, for example."

Other preliminary findings include:

  • Ties between search patterns and illnesses or diseases linked to celebrities in the news. Celebrity influence on search volume appears to be culture-specific.
  • The most frequently occurring cancers were not always the same as the types of cancer being most searched for.
  • Traditional search terms for health-related information prevailed over newer or trendier terms.
  • Search trends and patterns in the United States were similar to those in other countries and languages other than English.

"Initially, the goal of this study was to just look at the Google Trends service itself and report on its potential as a research tool," he said. "However, the appearance of patterns and relationships in the terms used to look at this service now has us asking many more questions and considering how Google Trends might best help us to answer them as well."

Future papers in will look into whether Google makes any changes or alterations to the application in response to user needs. The center plans to release its next report in early 2009.

More information

You can check out Google Trends at http://www.google.com/trends.

SOURCE: Ball State University, news release, July 30, 2008

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