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Google Autocomplete: A Complete SEO Guide

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Google Autocomplete: A Complete SEO Guide

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Google Autocomplete is a controversial but powerful search feature.

When you type a word, or even a letter, into Google, it populates a list of search suggestions. That’s what autocomplete is.

SEO professionals, paid search marketers, content marketers, and social media managers can all benefit from using Google Autocomplete to help with different keyword-focused and intent-exploring projects.

On the other hand, Google Autocomplete often makes the news for funny, peculiar, or even offensive habits (often in a negative way).

People use autocomplete constantly, saving thousands of seconds per day, but it has also been blamed for political cover-ups and spoiling movies, TV shows, and video games.

Google Autocomplete can also be a powerful marketing tool. SEO professionals and other digital marketers have used it for years to inform strategy, get keywords, and find the important questions customers are asking.

They can use Autocomplete to better optimize clients’ digital properties and the content and messaging that make them up.

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This guide will help you understand the real power this simple but super-helpful feature can do for help with your day-to-day tasks.

What Is Google Autocomplete?

Google’s own words, Google Autocomplete is “designed to make it faster to complete searches that you’re beginning to type.”

It’s integrated across Google Search and other Alphabet properties that use Google, including in the “Omnibox” on Chrome.

Google estimates that, cumulatively, it saves over 200 years of typing every day, and on average reduces typing overall by about 25 percent.

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.

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.

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 it’s a welcomed tool for providing assistance and saving time for many.

There are several other useful ways that the feature can be used to leverage content ideas, keyword suggestions, intent exploration, online reputation management, and other data-driven tasks.

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How Does Autocomplete Work?

Ex-Googler Kevin Gibbs created the project, originally called “Google Suggest” by another former Googler Marissa Mayer.

Google has since moved away from the “Suggest” name since it’s not always offering the most thoughtful, caring, or appropriate predictions.

Google calls the completions it offers “predictions”, not “suggestions.” This is because of how Autocomplete works.

Autocomplete is supposed to help people complete a sentence they were intending – not to suggest a search intent, as with “I’m feeling lucky.” They determine predictions by looking at common searches on Google, including looking at trending searches that might be relevant.

This allows Autocomplete to quickly update and adapt to new search trends and news stories.

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. It also takes information from your search history, location, and other data points.

Google has also put a lot of work in, so as to avoid inappropriate or offensive autocomplete suggestions. This means there are both automated and manual removal procedures that can influence what autocomplete suggestions are left.

Autocomplete is also related to the Knowledge Graph, and especially on mobile, it can bring Knowledge Graph suggestions into the prediction.

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It wasn’t until 2008 that Google built Autocomplete into its default search engine (it was previously an opt-in feature).

Best Ways to Use Google Autocomplete

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.

While we may no longer explicitly target keywords, 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.

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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 offer 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.

You can use Autocomplete to better understand user intent, but doing so can be involved and laborious. Taking the time to visit many different web pages in the search results tied to specific predictions is going to take some time, focus, and content consumption. But the information you can mine from this method is invaluable.

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.

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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’s 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.

Autocomplete makes up an important part of online reputation management (ORM) and cannot be ignored when working to balance 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:

  • Take control of your brand’s conversations to ensure the right connections are being made in Google Autocomplete.
  • Social media account optimization reinforces the positive connections that may be overshadowed by negative ones.
  • Social media content, messaging, and engagement are in line with the optimizations above and 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 at 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. 😊
  • If there are negative autocomplete suggestions, ensure that you have a strategy of how to address them.

4. Content Generation and Exploration

You can also now use Autocomplete for content generation and exploring competitor content for your own content ideas. It’s easy, and interesting, to use Autocomplete alongside other online writing tools, to find out what web users are searching for.

FAQs

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Just looking at “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, and “why” with a few brand-related questions can get you a ton of questions for your FAQ– questions people may already be searching for.

Related keywords

You can do this in many ways, for many reasons. An easy one is “brand name vs.”– Google will autofill with competitors. You can also look at “brand name and” and see what autocomplete finds there– finding ways to expand your brand.

Related topics

If you can find Autocomplete suggestions for related topics, that aren’t covered by your main topic, you might have an edge to grow some content in that niche.

Queries like “how * works” can be invaluable, autocomplete filling in the wildcard space with suggestions. You can also do this to find questions about your brand, questions for content marketing, find problems potential customers are looking for, and even find out if users are looking for certain social media accounts.

Screenshot of Google Search, November 2021

Autocomplete Policies

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 a 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.

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For instance, there doesn’t have to be a particular demographic that is being targeted by something hateful in nature; and feedback helps get that discovered faster and easier.

google-autocomplete-report-inappropriateScreenshot of Google Search, November 2021

Understanding what people are actually searching for is an essential part of your SEO strategy.

See how you can incorporate Google Autocomplete into your research process. You just might be surprised at the specific keywords and search intent it reveals!

More SEO Resources:


Featured image: Shutterstock/Fonstra

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How upskilling your paid advertising skills will tackle economic downturns

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How upskilling your paid advertising skills will tackle economic downturns

30-second summary:

  • Marketing budgets are often the first to be slashed in a downturn – upskilling your existing team with digital marketing techniques can provide huge efficiencies and minimize the impact of cuts
  • Creating an upskilling program does not need to be expensive or time-consuming if a well-thought-out strategy is adopted and results are constantly measured
  • Nurturing your own in-house talent pool also increases business resilience, improves marketing innovation and creativity, and reduces reliance on third-party operators
  • Choosing the right skills for your team to acquire depends both on your immediate goals and long-term business strategy – done right you can steal a march on your competitors
  • Sarah Gilchriest, Global COO of Circus Street, discusses the key skills brands need to cultivate to stay competitive during an economic downturn

We’re entering what is likely to be a pretty tough global recession. As consumer sentiment worsens, brands will increasingly look at ways they can cut costs to protect their bottom line. Unfortunately, we all know that marketing is usually one of the first budgets to be slashed.

It is seemingly much easier to stop a campaign or give an agency notice than it is to sack a developer or reduce infrastructure costs. However, more often than not, cutting marketing is a false economy that worsens the impact of a downturn by slowing a company’s growth. So, is there a way for brands to instead maximize their digital marketing output while also freezing or reducing costs?

The answer may be found in upskilling.

Training while cutting costs?

Now, your first reaction may be that training programs are expensive luxuries that make little sense if your goal is to cut costs. There are a few things to unpack here –

  1. Size and scope of training matter. You can make an outsized impact by training one or two individuals who then share their knowledge with their wider team. The right strategy (which I’ll discuss further below) can lead to a highly targeted program that gives the most critical skills to those who will be best placed to use them immediately.
  2. Next, there are a lot of freely available supporting resources that can significantly reduce costs and help to embed learning.
  3. Finally, let’s put costs in perspective. The ROI on a well-executed training scheme pays for itself and the initial outlay pales in comparison to most other business functions. Put simply, you get a lot of bang for your buck. 

Why paid advertising skills?

Paid advertising makes a lot of sense to focus on for a number of reasons. Generally, compared to other marketing fields, paid advertising is characterized by the sheer diversity of skills and techniques needed to fully execute a campaign. It is incredibly fast-moving and often requires you to leverage a number of different tech platforms. Consequently, many brands outsource this functionality to a network of agencies and freelancers. Those that don’t usually rely on one or two individual ‘power users’ or worse, skills are haphazardly spread among a range of departments leading to bottlenecks and single points of failure.

As such, digital advertising is usually the prime area where efficiencies, greater innovation, and marketing effectiveness can occur via upskilling. It is where your business can do much more for less. 

Identifying the right skills

Getting the right skill mix is where the rubber meets the road. A mixture of creativity, data analysis, platform knowledge, development techniques, and marketing expertise are all needed. To get started the best approach is to fully understand what capability your team has in-house. The crucial element is to remember that a lot of ability might be hidden because it is not used on a day-to-day basis. You would be surprised at how quickly a business ‘forgets’ about the previous experiences of team members after they have been hired.

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Auditing team skills should expand beyond the marketing department

You don’t know what gems are lurking in other areas of your business until you start to look. This is also the perfect opportunity to identify both the potential of your employees to acquire new skills and also their individual aspirations. It is much easier to upskill someone who has a professional and personal investment in learning that particular expertise. The audit itself does not need to be complex – a simple matrix that enables people to categorize their proficiency and outline the areas where they would like to develop will suffice.

When you know what you have to work with, then it’ll become much easier to define the best way forward. Deciding the best skill mix comes down to first working out how to fulfill your most immediate needs. For example, taking a costly service in-house, plugging a weakness – where a team member’s departure would severely hamper your ability to function, or obvious gaps in ability that prevent you from undertaking certain digital advertising activities.

Build on the compatibility between your employee’s aspirations and your commercial objectives

This is then overlaid by areas where your marketing output can most obviously be improved and your future aspirations in line with your commercial objectives. For example, if in the future you want to more heavily target users on particular social media platforms or ‘exotic’ platforms like IoT devices and digital boards. Perhaps you can see the financial benefits of adopting headless CMS tech and would like to put in place the skills needed to make that transition after the recession. Maybe you want your team to have the insight to tell you whether the Metaverse has any potential for your business.

This may sound complex but once you get started the hierarchy of skills you need more often than not becomes very obvious. Remember, one of upskilling’s great strengths is its flexibility – if your needs change or you feel you have chosen the wrong skills – it’s very easy to change track.

Getting started in a cost-efficient way

How you train your team is very much up to individual preferences – everyone learns in different ways. Speaking to your employees and specialists will enable you to build a tailored teaching structure. It can be a combination of in-house learning, online tutorials, accredited programs, or book learning. You do not have to go all in on a full program straight away. Piloting can remove a lot of the risk. Start small – one team or a handful of individuals from across your company – and continually assess the impact.

A mistake to avoid

A common mistake businesses make is they wait too long to get their team to use their new knowledge. This can hold up the process and damage ROI. The best way to embed new skills is to apply them. Ensure that your team has an opportunity to practice their newfound expertise on real initiatives. Then keep a close eye on your business metrics – including team and customer feedback – to determine the impact. Unlike many other departments, digital marketing can have very clear outputs. This will let you know quite quickly if it is working. From there, you can decide on how to roll out your training scheme. 

Marketing doesn’t end with the marketers

As I’ve mentioned, diversifying the skillset of your team builds resilience and promotes more innovation. The reason is simple, if you only have marketing skills in your marketing department, you are naturally limiting the number of people who can provide useful insights that fuel innovation. You reduce oversight and feedback loops, and your marketing output will suffer from a lack of outside perspectives. 

By making your teams multidisciplinary and cross-functional you can spread useful skills throughout your business. Customer service teams can learn the fundamentals of digital marketing, marketers know how to do the basic dev and data work to enable their day-to-day, and your data teams can think like marketers if they need to.

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Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean losing capabilities

If the worst does happen and you do need to make cuts to your team, having key skills shared across your business means that the damage to core functions will be limited.

To finish – I should highlight that much of what I’ve discussed applies equally to business owners as it does to individual freelancers. A downturn can be a daunting prospect if you are a sole trader. Upskilling can be one of the best ways to increase your value to clients now and future-proof your business.

If you have seen business drop off, the time you now have available could be best dedicated to more training. This may sound obvious, but a mistake many people make in their careers is failing to adapt to how demand for skills can quickly change or technology can come along that makes them obsolete. Adding more skill strings to you and your company’s bow is never a bad thing.


Sarah Gilchriest is the Global COO of Circus Street.

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