Search giant Google has released its "Zeitgeist 2012," the list of the top search terms and trends over the last year, culled from 1.2 trillion searches in nearly 150 languages. The list has been broken up by topic, including top keyword searches, images, people and events.
Sadly, "small business" didn't make any of the lists, which were mainly dominated by big news and pop culture references. For instance, Whitney Houston, Gangnam Style, Hurricane Sandy, iPad 3 and Diablo 3 rounded out the top five searches for 2012.
While Google's top search terms might not directly influence your industry, don't dismiss them altogether. Staying on top of popular or trending topics on search engines and social media can provide business owners an opportunity to "get your name out there by sharing something you already have online that meets the need of what people are discussing," says Jessica Bowman, founder of Austin, Texas-based SEO consulting firm SEOinhouse. "Or you can quickly whip up a great resource, blog post or video to address" the trending search terms or topics.
Here, Bowman offers three steps for monitoring trending topics and making them work for your business:
1. Use social monitoring tools to keep up on what's trending.
Social monitoring tools such as HootSuite can allow you to set up searches for keywords related to your business. Monitor the searches to see what people are saying and what they're looking for, Bowman says.
Another tool, called Social Mention, can offer real-time social media analysis, meaning you can type in a keyword and it will show you the mentions, sentiment and reach for each keyword. Prices vary depending on the number of people using the tools.
To track trending stories and keywords each day in Google News, reference the Top Stories tool on the left side of the page. You can click through on certain topics (Business, Technology and others) to drill deeper into topics that are related to your industry.
2. Next, identify and monitor your "influencers."
Your influencers can include reporters, bloggers and social marketers who your target audience follows. Having these influencers mention you or your brand can give business a nice boost. You can identify them through a number of tools, such as twtrland, Twazzup and Topsy.
3. Create content related to trending topics.
Now that you're monitoring trending topics and the influencers in your industry, regularly mine that data and come up with related content. "Each day or week as you see trends, immediately whip up useful content or offer resources that address the topics in ways not available elsewhere," Bowman says. "Launch them quickly on your blog, YouTube or other content destination, and then add them to the conversation happening on social media sites."
To avoid seeming too self-promotional, Bowman recommends also sharing content from others, such as industry experts and trusted news publications. "Give resources the maximum bang for your buck by also sending them to clients in your newsletter," she says.
If creating high-quality content on-the-fly isn't your forte or doesn't fit your schedule, one relatively inexpensive option is to use a service such as WireBuzz, which creates videos for you on any topic (with a three-hour turnaround, at about $1,000 the company says) that are optimized for SEO and can be posted online and over social media.
Related: How to Optimize Your Site for Search Without Actually Doing SEO