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Google Autocomplete is a legendary search feature.
It consistently makes the news for its sometimes-funny and peculiar habits (and rarely in a positive way). It’s been blamed for political cover-ups, and has accidentally spoiled countless movies, TV shows, and even video games.
But Google Autocomplete is also a powerful marketing tool that SEO professionals and other digital marketers have used for years in a variety of ways.
SEO professionals, paid search marketers, content marketers, and social media managers are among the different digital marketers who rely on Google Autocomplete to help with different keyword-focused and intent-exploring projects to better optimize clients’ digital properties and the content and messaging that make them up.
Most digital marketers are well-versed in the abilities of Google Autocomplete — or at least they think they are. But if they are not, this guide should help prove the real power this simple but super-helpful feature can do for help with your day-to-day tasks as an SEO and marketer.
What Is Google Autocomplete?
Google Autocomplete is, in Google’s own words, a feature “designed to make it faster to complete searches that you’re beginning to type.”
It’s integrated anywhere Google could integrate it, including on the Google app for iOS and Android, the quick-search box on Android devices and the Chrome browser address bar, and of course on the Google homepage and anywhere else you may see a Google search box.
It’s estimated that it saves over 200 years of typing per day, and reduces typing overall by about 25 percent.
And, while its quite obvious the primary purpose of the Autocomplete dropdown is to cut back on time a user spends typing by offering predictions of what a user may be typing — including for websites using the built-in Google Custom Search Engine feature — there are a number of other useful ways that the feature can be used to leverage content ideas, keyword suggestions, intent exploration, and online reputation management, among other data-driven tasks.
Best Ways to Use Google Autocomplete
While Autocomplete has been a desktop search feature since late 2004, it has become even more useful as a time-saving feature on mobile devices in terms of its intended purpose of reducing typing by predicting what a user is looking for.
Typing on a mobile device is a bit tougher than doing so on the large keyboards we have grown up with and are accustomed to, so for many, it’s a welcomed tool for providing assistance and saving time.
Created by former Googler Kevin Gibbs, then called “Google Suggest” by another former Googler (and former Yahoo CEO) Marissa Mayer, Google has since moved away from the “Suggest” name since it’s not always offering the most thoughtful, caring, or appropriate predictions.
Much of Autocomplete’s behavior is computer-generated — with data collected from millions of other Google searches and their results, including the content on those pages — so one can only imagine the wild Autocomplete predictions that have come up given the obvious lack of intelligence seen daily online (i.e. YouTube commenters, Twitter bullies, user-generated-review trolls, etc.).
It wasn’t until 2008 that Google built Autocomplete into its default search engine (it was previously an opt-in feature), and, since then, Google has expanded the feature while other major platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and many, many more have adopted it.
1. Keyword Research
It’s a long, tedious, and laborious task, but it’s also the foundation of all SEO strategies, and has been for a long time.
Explicit keyword targeting isn’t what it used to be, but keywords and their related ideas are always going to be an important part of search marketing.
Keyword research is one of the first tasks tackled at the start of an engagement — and carried on throughout the engagement — to understand not just a brand and the content it creates, but also its potential shortcomings, website strengths and weaknesses, and content gaps.
Autocomplete doesn’t do all the work for you in terms of keyword research, but it’s a great place to start at or to use early and often when developing content calendars and general organic search strategies.
Using it (along with other keyword resource tools like Google Keyword Planner and other third-party keyword databases) to get an idea of the right keywords you want to target by considering monthly search frequency, competition, and even cost-per-click (CPC) pricing will do your search strategy justice.
One of the shining advantages of Google Autocomplete is its ability to uncover quality long-tail phrases that are commonly searched across the web.
Since the primary measure for Autocomplete is popularity — based on real searches by users in real time — the value of Autocomplete lies in its plethora of keyword-level data that you can dig up if you work at it hard and long enough.
As always, be sure you are signed out of Google to ensure you limit personalization for an unbiased look at predictions.
Long-tail keywords are incredibly useful when fulfilling content gaps, but also offers endless possibilities in terms of high-value blog posts and educational content within a brand’s niche.
2. Intent Exploration
Understanding user intent is important because it guides the goal of the page, its messaging, its layout, and even imagery. We know pages perform best when they fully satisfy the user intent of a search query.
Using Autocomplete to better understand user intent is also quite involved and laborious since visiting many different webpages in the search results tied to specific predictions is going to take some time, focus, and content consumption.
But you’ll be happy when you do.
Keywords overlap various stages of user intent, and without more keyword context, it can be tough to understand the intent.
Autocomplete will help you not just understand different high-value long-tail keywords and the intent surrounding them, but it will also help marketers recognize the volume of content around specific stages of intent, as well as which long-tail phrases and intent stages could be optimized for as a higher priority.
Of course, for high-value keywords — long-tail or traditional one-, two-, and three-word phrases — it’s important to satisfy all stages of intent as they relate to the high-value keywords.
That’s the idea behind an all-encompassing, quality search strategy. And Autocomplete can help get you there.
3. Online Reputation Management
Autocomplete has been significant in the realm of online reputation management, too.
Remember, when a user searches for your name or your brand name, the first thing they see, even before your site on the SERP (search engine results page), is the Autocomplete predictions tied to that name.
If those predictions are negative, or if even just one of them is negative, it can have a real impact on your business’ performance.
Think about it. You search [Dog Washers Inc] and the first prediction finishes with “loses dog,” you probably won’t feel too keen on bringing your dog there for his next bath.
Same for a restaurant; if you search [Ted’s Seaford Spot] and the prediction finishes with “E. Coli,” I have a pretty good idea of what you’re not eating tonight.
Point is, Autocomplete makes up an important part of ORM (online reputation management) and cannot be ignored when working to balance any and all negative connections made with brands.
One must be vigilant, just like most ORM strategies. Several ways brands can work to offset negative Autocomplete predictions are:
- Taking control of the conversations surrounding your brand to ensure the right connections are being made in Google Autocomplete.
- Social media account optimization to reinforce the positive connections that may be overshadowed by negative ones.
- Social media content, messaging, and engagement that is in line with the optimizations above, as well as the brand’s voice and tone.
- Consistent branding and messaging for profile websites with positive keywords association used elsewhere
- Starting small and making an impact by searching for positive connections for the brand from different locations. Obviously, the more people, the better. But you’d be surprised of the impact it can have.
- Building backlinks to Google SERPs for positive keyword associations with your name; things like [sam hollingsworth seo writer] and [sam hollingsworth handicapper] would be great starts for someone like myself. 😊
With a history of backlash due to some of its search predictions, Google does manually work to prevent inappropriate Autocomplete predictions when it comes to:
- Sexually explicit predictions.
- Hateful predictions against groups and individuals.
- Violent predictions.
- Danger and harmful activities in predictions.
It also may remove predictions that could be considered spam, facilitate or advocate piracy, or if given legal request to do so.
Google makes it clear that it removes predictions that relate to any of the above-mentioned situations unless they contain medical or scientific terms that are not malicious.
Looking for Feedback
To better control inappropriate Autocomplete predictions, Google launched its feedback tool and uses the data to make improvements consistently.
For instance, there doesn’t have to be a particular demographic that is being targeted by something that is hateful in nature; and feedback helps get that discovered faster and easier.
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All screenshots by Sam Hollingsworth. Taken May 2018.