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Searching for Meaning in Google's RFID Statistics

Google searches indicate interest in the technology is ebbing, but the truth is more complex.
By Mark Roberti
Jun 24, 2015

For the past few years, Google has been displaying flu trends in various countries by tracking how many people are searching for information about the flu and where they are located. A recent article in The New York Times, Fashion Is Trending, in Google Searches, reveals how a study of 6 billion Google searches during a three-year period "shows how clothing styles spread from state to state."

Google is a good indicator of interest in a specific topic. If you go to Google Trends and type in RFID, you will see that searches for the term "RFID" peaked in 2005 and now are about a fifth of what they were then (Google doesn't show the actual number of searches, just the relative change in search volume). It's no surprise, perhaps, that searches have declined since RFID was at the peak of the Gartner Hype Cycle, but what about more recent history? Since the financial crisis in 2008, search volume has declined by roughly half, and during the past 18 months or so it has remained relatively flat.

Graphs: Google Trends / RFID Journal
Google searches do indicate the relative interest the world has in a particular topic. And there is no doubt that back in 2005, RFID was a hot topic. Walmart, the U.S. Department of Defense and others had just begun requiring suppliers to RFID-tag shipments. Since those heady days, RFID has followed the classic Gartner pattern and entered the downward part of the cycle the research firm calls the "trough of disillusionment." Interest—and searches—have waned.

But Google stats don't tell the whole story. The number of searches doesn't tell you the level of interest among those searching for a specific topic. Do people who saw the term RFID somewhere simply get a definition and never pay attention to it again—or do they keep researching the topic, with an interest in using the technology inside their companies?

We compared Google searches during the past six years with the number of referrals RFID Journal received from Google during the same period. That is, how many of the people who typed "RFID" into Google then clicked on RFID Journal to learn more about the technology? It turns out that as the number of Google searches for RFID has been declining, the number of referrals has been increasing—from an average of 47,368 per month in 2009 to an average of 64,631 per month in 2015.

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