Attn IRA Marketers: Search Trends Indicate Pent-up Demand

I turned to Google Trends today just to satisfy a curiosity, but the trends data makes me wonder about the opportunity ahead for IRA marketers.

Based on the data filtered for the U.S. only, searches for the term “IRAs” are well off their historical pattern. As you can see, interest in IRAs in the previous four years began to climb toward the end of the fourth quarter and peaked the next spring, just before April 15.

But at the end of 2008, interest in IRAs as a term was still muted.

Are search trends predictive? A few months ago, Google demonstrated its belief in them when it introduced Google Flu Trends. Google had compared its flu-related search queries with data from a surveillance system managed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and found that some searches were popular exactly when flu season is happening. Now Google is using the flu search data to estimate how much flu is circulating in various regions of the United States.

Back to financial services, here’s my logic in calling attention to the IRA trend. We are at a time of year when searches should be on the upswing. Add to that the thousands of people involuntarily leaving their jobs with 401(k)s to be rolled over. I think this sets up for a ferocious level of searches for valuable IRA content in the next few months.

A Google search of IRAs today produced close to 7 million pages of results and 24 pages of 287 sponsored links. (Really? You AdWords buyers think that makes sense?) And yet, look at the natural search results and you’ll see that no single provider dominates the results. If I were searching, I think I’d find these results wholly unsatisfying and revert instead to social search sites like Delicious or Yahoo Answers or even Twitter.

What will the IRA season be like? How much of it will be researched and conducted online? Clearly, competition will be fierce but my bet is that there will be big winners. More important, I believe that there is immense opportunity to win this year not with the traditional advertising messages but with content that creative marketers distribute far and wide.