How Google Trends Can Lead You Astray

Eno Sarris, October 24, 2013

We had a little fun with the google trends data earlier this week, and in particular one term piqued my interest: craft beer. There's this fun little tool where you can see the march of craft beer over time on top of a map of the united states. REGIONAL TREND ALERT.

Click on the link, and then press go on that map a couple times. It's fun.

At first glance, it seems to say something very simple. Craft beer first became popular on the internet in 2009, in Massachussetts. This is backed up by the fact that Massachusetts is the current king of the heap for the craft beer search term too.

Wait, hold on, that's a Major Finding, not just a simple aside. The birthplace of the modern craft beer movement was Masachussetts? Not California? Not New York City? Well, thank you Massholes.

Well, first we could do a google search for "craft beer Masachussets 2009." Why not.

Oh, well that's interesting, look at three of the first four hits: 

1) Mayflower Brewing Company to hold a craft beer festival on February 28th, 2009.

2) Beer Summit Boston "has been happening since 2009"

4) Event recap of "Craft Beer Festival 2009" held in June 2009 in Boston

Oh wait hold on. Remember those spikes in May in the 'craft beer' search? As a plucky reader pointed out, the American Craft Beer Festival traditionally is held then. Let's look at the search trends for 'craft beer festival,' shall we.

Well, two things become clear. There *is* some interaction between 'craft beer festival' and 'craft beer.' The brothers Alstrom's big festival does move the needle some. And it's held in Boston, so that probably explains some of the Massachussetts-centered results in the google trends.

The other thing that becomes clear is that there is, indeed, an effect beyond the festival. Watch the spread over time of 'craft beer festival' and you'll see there is some movement -- surely there have been more craft beer festivals popping up over time, since the ACBF is so popular -- but that there's also a west-ward effect that's true for both and might be seperate.

Maybe it's just because I live in California, but it's always seemed like California was the source of much of this craft brew mania. Breweries like Stone Brewing, for example, have been around since the first craft beer bubble, and that gives them a gravitas on the scene. And can easily lead you to believe that California had firsties. But if there was a revival of craft brew, a spark that helped lead to some of the huge expansion we are seeing now, perhaps it did come out of the population centers in the Northeast. And maybe two brothers that started a website and a festival helped spur it along some.

The term 'craft beer' has probably been around since 1986, thanks to Vince Cottone's first Good Beer Guide. Festivals drive some of the traffic, but not all. So what happened in 2009 other than the first ACBF? Did this new level of craft beer popularity start in 2009? Or did people searching for ACBF and other festivals like it just forget to put festival on the end?