What Google Trends really tells us about KM popularity

### Again yesterday I was corresponding with someone who used Google Trends as an argument that KM was dying.

Taken at face value this view is understandable. The google trends plot for KM decreases over time as shown below, showing a steady reduction in relative searches for the term “knowledge management” over the past 8 years. At first sight this could suggest that the popularity of KM is on the wane, and that fewer and fewer people are searching for the term. However if you dig a little deeper this plot is misleading, and the conclusion that interest in KM is dying is actually a fallacy.

Let me explain why.

Google trends is not an absolute indicator of the popularity of a topic.

That is because Google trends measures “how often a term is searched for relative to the total number of searches, globally”, and the total number of searches, everywhere in the world, has rocketed (screengrab from this site below).

Any decrease in the relative percentage, as in the first graph, has to be normalised against the increase in the total number of searches in the second graph. If the top graph is a measure of the percentage and the bottom graph is the total, then all we need to do is multiply them together to get a measure of the total number of KM searches, and then we will be able to say something meaningful.

That is exactly what I have done in the plot below. The numbers are inexact, as I have just read points visually from the first plot (see table at the base of the post for figures) but the conclusion is obvious.

### … the total number of Google searches for Knowledge Management has actually increased steadily from 2004 to 2012.

year | total searches (billion) | Googletrends measure of KM share | measure of total number of searches for KM |

2004 | 86 | 100 | 8600 |

2005 | 141 | 70 | 9870 |

2006 | 230 | 50 | 11500 |

2007 | 372 | 40 | 14880 |

2008 | 584 | 30 | 17520 |

2009 | 792 | 25 | 19800 |

2010 | 998 | 21 | 20958 |

2011 | 1109 | 20 | 22180 |

2012 | 1216 | 19 | 23104 |

**Nick Milton**

*March 15, 2018*

Tags: KM industry, survey

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