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The number that appears next to the word you type in the suggest box - is that the # of results that would come up if you were searching for it?
It's the number of results that would come up if you search for it. That gives you an idea of which terms are more popular (the ones with more results are more popular...searched for and used more often).

It can help you figure out which version of a spelling variant is more popular (like t-shirts versus teeshirts).

Can you get reports from Google that tell you how many times specific words have been searched for? Can it be broken down by time periods (past month, year etc)?
No, most search engines keep that information private.

They do have a "trends" feature for Adwords advertiser that will give you sort of a graphical representation of the popularity of a keyword.

Overture has a feature that will tell you how many times a keyword has been searched for on their search engine (yahoo) in the past month. The accuracy is a bit hit and miss, but it can be a good starting research point:
Keyword Selector Tool

There are also third party services that can help you determine the popularity of a keyword, like wordtracker.

If you're going to be using Google Adwords, I would suggest reading over the book: Amazon.com: Winning Results with Google AdWords: Books: Andrew Goodman
 
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