SEO and the Inner Workings of Google Autocomplete

google searchGoogle autocomplete is that function where you begin typing a search term and Google fills out the rest, or gives you a list of phrases that you may be searching for. The autocomplete function can return search terms that are sometimes poignant, sometimes poetic, sometimes hilarious, and – hopefully – useful.

How does Google Autocomplete actually work?

The boiled down version is this. As you type, Google is able to predict what your search query might be. These predictions are gleaned from web activity of Google users, as well as the content and SEO of web pages that show up in searches.

The autocomplete function is also localized and catered to your own web browsing. For example, if you have a Google account and you are signed in, Autocomplete will show your web history – including previous search terms that you may have entered yourself. The algorithm also provides results that are also highly localized, so you can search for weather, area codes, local events and venues, and more that is specific to your area.

What are the practical implications of Google Autocomplete?

The autocomplete function has gained notoriety, due to the sometimes-hilarious results it produces. Google Poetics, for example, is an ongoing art project based on screenshots of Google’s autocomplete suggestions from the drop down list that appears as you begin to search. For example, “I’m in love with an” returns some absurdist endings – “older man,” “alien,” and “ostrich.” Other Google poems are archived on the site.

Google Autocomplete is obviously not just an art form, though. The first thing a searcher sees when they look up certain keywords or even brands are the suggestions generated by the autocomplete function, so it’s up to you to make sure that you make a good impression. If searching your brand is turning up negative results in the autocomplete algorithm, like highly personal matters or other negative consumer speculations, you can actually tailor the results to make Google Autocomplete work in your favor.

Try it yourself. Don’t only focus on search results when you look up your business; try entering your company’s name and seeing what comes up with the automated search results.

This is actually not tremendously different from good practice in SEO for your business.

  • Use social media. By creating and actively maintaining a social media presence, you can ensure that your profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms are the results that will most readily show up when people search your business. Favorable results like these will create signals for Google Autocomplete, so that it can generate your profiles on these websites.
  • Make profile pages. You can also try websites like Squidoo and even Wikipedia, as long as you meet their notability standards, to create high quality content about your company. These sites work especially well because you have total control over what is said about your business. With these, make sure you include positive keywords that you want to see in the autocomplete function.
  • Get people searching. You might not believe it, but starting small can actually do big things. If you have people look up your business and add a positive keyword on the end of the phrase, such as “wiki,” “news,” “coupons,” or “about,” you will actually be able to alter the appearance of your business. Doing searches like these from multiple IP addresses is really what’s going to get your company better autocomplete results, so don’t forget to conduct searches when you travel, and ask your friends to!

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Google Autocomplete, and a lot of what you can learn comes largely from exploring the function yourself – so get to it, and let us know what you come up with!

Has your business experimented with Google Autocomplete? What Autocomplete results would serve your business goals?

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Tree is a somewhat nomadic graduate student pursuing an MFA in Poetry and Literary Translation from Drew University. A self-identified “diplobrat,” she spent over 16 years living as an expat in countries like Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania. Tree graduated from Smith College in 2012 with a degree in Spanish Language and Literature, a minor in Studio Art, and a concentration in Landscape Studies. In between writing poetry for school and content for CEM, she dabbles in goat herding and freelancing. Other interests include reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and traveling.

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