Search as a leading economic indicator

Bill Tancer’s latest post about Hitwise having advance indications of yesterday’s announcement of a drop in July home sales is fascinating. In short, Bill points out that the National Association of Realtors require 3-4 weeks to put their analysis together, so, even though September’s almost upon us, we’re just now hearing that home sales in July fell.

Except Hitwise saw this coming. The web stats and competitive intelligence company saw a drop in July in searches for terms relating to home sales, and has seen a similar pick-up in August. So Bill’s not only saying they saw this coming, he’s predicting that August’s numbers will pick up. (Reuters picked up on this yesterday.)

I’ve thought about this before — namely in terms of political polling, when one speech on C-Span by then-unknown Howard Dean led to a 600% surge in traffic to my site. I figured that meant Howard Dean had some potential — and that was February of 2003, before he had a campaign blog! I had a similar experience when looking at search traffic indicated that a friend of mine had passed away (a sudden surge in traffic for people who’d searched on her name was the suggestion that, after battling a crippling disease, she had in fact died).

So the question is: who else is using search as a leading indicator of future activity, and who’s making money on it? Who’s brokering access to the real-time search data?

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