Monday, July 31, 2006

Birding and Other Outdoor Activities As Google Search Terms

In this earlier post I used Google Trends to examine the frequency with which birding appears as a Google search term and how often it appears in Google News. To summarize briefly, I found that birding was less "popular" in Google searches and Google news than 15 of the 26 other outdoor activities tracked. It ranked only above snowmobiling, cave exploration, hang gliding, and beachcombing in popularity.

In a comment, John of A DC Birding Blog seemed to question the validity of my finding on the relative popularity of birding when he wrote:
One can write about birding without actually using the word, which is harder to do with some of the other activities. I think that a better indicator might be the popularity of I and the Bird. I don’t think most of those activities have a community blog carnival.
John makes a good point about the popularity of I and the Bird. And I guess it’s true that "one can write about birding without actually using the word." But I think John misses the bigger point. Google Trends tracks not how often a key word is being written about, but the relative frequency with which people are searching Google for that key word. The truth remains that birding appeared as a search term less frequently (i.e., there was less interest expressed in it by the public) than 15 of the 26 other outdoor activities that I examined. Also, a search on bird or birds will return results that deal with many other aspects of birds besides birding (i.e., the recreational pursuit of birds), such as bird flu or cage birds.

I now continue my examination of the popularity of various outdoor activities as search terms using Google Trends as a tool. Three different words can be associated with each outdoor activity: (a) a word describing the Object of the activity (e.g., bird, fish) or the physical Object used in pursuit of the activity (e.g., bike, kayak), (b) a word describing the Act of engaging in the activity (e.g., birding, biking, fishing, kayaking), and (c) a word describing the Person who pursues the activity (e.g., birder, biker, fisher, kayaker).

For each of 24 outdoor activities, I used Google Trends graphs to determine the frequency with which each of the associated words appeared in Google searches. The Object was the most frequent search term in 15 cases (including bird, birding, birder), the Act in 7 cases, and the Person in 2 cases. I found 6 patterns based on the order in which each of the three words appeared in Google Trend searches: Object, Act, Person (13 cases); Act, Object, Person (6); Object, Person, Act (2); Act, Person, Object (1); Person, Act, Object (1); and Person, Object, Act (1). Each example is graphed below:

Object, Act, Person (13)
Bike, biking, biker
Bird, birding, birder
Boat, boating, boater
Canoe, canoeing, canoer
Cave, caving, caver
Fish, fishing, fisher
Garden, gardening, gardener
Kayak, kayaking, kayaker
Rock Climb, Rock Climbing, Rock Climber
Ski, skiing, skier
Snorkel, snorkeling, snorkeler
Snowmobile, snowmobiling, snowmobiler
Surf, surfing, surfer

Act, Object, Person (6)
Camping, Camp, Camper
Jogging, jog, jogger
Rafting, raft, rafter
Sunbathing, sunbathe, sunbather
Swimming, swim, swimmer
Whale watching, whale watch, whale watcher

Object, Person, Act (2)
Golf, golfer, golfing
Nature, naturist, naturism

Act, Person, Object (1)
Sailing, sailor, sail

Person, Act, Object (1)
Hunter, hunting, hunt

Person, Object, Act (1)
Nudist, Nudity, Nudism


Blogger John B. said...

I understand how Google Trends works, but I think that the same vocabulary limitation applies. Going by my blog's referral listings, I see far more searches by people looking for information on specific birds than by people looking for the "birding" keyword. And that is despite having my site's advantages for that keyword.

There is also the related issue of different levels of birders and how they self-identify. "Birding" as a term seems in practice to be limited to a subset of the people who are actually interested in the hobby. Someone whose primary interaction with birds is at a backyard feeder is not necesarily going to use "birding" to describe that activity. But I do not think that person is any less a birder than someone with a 1,000-species life list.

July 31, 2006 9:48 PM  
Blogger John L. Trapp said...

I find myself agreeming with most of what you have to say, John. Hardcore birders are a relatively small subset of a larger audience of people who have an interest in wild birds. So if you majority of people with an interest in wild birds do not consider themselves birders, perhaps we need to coin another term to capture their interest, perhaps something like "wild bird enthusiasts" or "backyard bird enthusiasts" (after the Game Bird Journal: an Online Magazine Devoted to the Game Bird Enthusiast), which is sort of the niche that magazines like Birds & Blooms and Bird Watcher's Digest aim to reach.

August 01, 2006 1:00 PM  

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