Internet search queries can be decent predictors of consumer behavior, according to a study published in PNAS this week. A group of researchers at Yahoo collected data on Web searches and contrasted them with other similar predictors, like reviews and production budgets, as predictors of trends. They found that, while Web searches were usually not as accurate as more traditional data, incorporating them into measures that used traditional data helped predictions be more successful overall.
Past studies have shown that the number of Internet searches on things like unemployment and flu symptoms often turn out to reflect statistics in real time. To take this a step further, Yahoo researchers tried to see if searches could also be used to peer into the future of certain kinds of media, like video games and movies to see what will be popular.
They collected data on dozens of games, movies, and songs, and obtained the number of Web searches of each item. They compared how well this did as a predictor for success to other, more staid predictors, like high review ratings or large production budgets. They also compared the number of search queries for colds and flu as real-time indicators of infection, and compared those to predictions of the spread of flu based on one- and two-week old data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
In many cases, the number of searches for an item were a decent predictor of success. The search data was occasionally even better than other typical indicators at guessing how well something would perform, including non-sequel video games. Still, searches were regularly outperformed by more traditional formulas.
While the Web search data rarely stood alone as a superior measure of success, the authors found it worked best in tandem with other typical measures—using the two together gave the most accurate predictions. Search data is also more accessible than some other options—video game production budgets, for example. While it can be hit-or-miss for some applications, it can still be better than nothing at all.
Source: ars technica