Search suggestions: They’re sort of like that annoying friend who’s always trying to guess what you’re going to say before you’re done saying it. I often think, “Nope, Google, that’s not where I was going with that, not at all, at all,” but like many an annoying friend, I’d miss the search suggestions if they went away.
Google’s Autocomplete feature provides search suggestions as you type to save you time when you’re typing a common query. For example, start typing “Fa…” and Google guesses that you’re probably looking for Facebook. Sometimes the search suggestions are so ridiculous that it seems like they must have been handpicked by some Google employee with a bizarre sense of humor, but according to Google, the suggestions are determined algorithmically:
As you type, Google's algorithm predicts and displays search queries based on other users' search activities. If you're signed in to your Google Account and have Web History enabled, you might also see search queries from relevant searches that you've done in the past … Apart from the Google+ profiles that may appear, all of the predicted queries that are shown in the drop-down list have been typed previously by Google users.
Predicted queries are algorithmically determined based on a number of purely algorithmic factors (including popularity of search terms) without human intervention. The autocomplete data is updated frequently to offer fresh and rising search queries.
Over a lifetime of Google searches, those auto suggestions probably save you an hour or two and preserve your fingerprints for a little longer. But they have other uses too. Here are three of them.
Use Search Suggestions for Keyword Research
Because the suggestions are determined algorithmically based on factors like search volume/popularity, you can use them for rudimentary keyword research. Let’s say you want to write a blog post about those weird running shoes that look like gloves for your feet. They’re often called “glove shoes” or “barefoot running shoes.” But those terms probably have high competition, so you can use the Google search suggestions to get some ideas for narrower topics:
Suggested modifiers like “technique,” “injuries,” and “pros and cons” make it clear that barefoot running and glove shoes have their advantages and disadvantages, and may be dangerous if used incorrectly. The algorithms are telling you that this is information people are looking for. You can then play around further with Autocomplete to find more related phrases in the same keyword niche:
You might want to consult another keyword tool or two to confirm that these phrases have reasonable search volume and competition, and to help you decide which of the variations should be your primary target.
Use Search Suggestions for Reputation Management
Google’s search suggestions can also tip you off if you have a reputation management problem on your hands. In fact, Autocomplete is in the news this week for this very reason – Barry Schwartz reports that Google has been ordered to shut the feature down in Japan, “after being sued by a man for the auto-complete suggestions.”
Last year I wrote about the string of outraged, 1-star reviews on Amazon for a product called Crayola Colored Bubbles. Hilariously, if you Google the product name now, one of the auto suggestions is “class action lawsuit”:
Google your own company’s name and the brands of your key products, if applicable, as a quick reputation check.
Looks like we’re in the clear! Some suggestions you definitely would not want to see next to your company’s brand would be “scam,” “ripoff,” etc. The problem with these suggestions is that they might be self-reinforcing – if people see “scam” next to your name, they are more likely to click that suggestion and check out the results, which in turn increases the search volume for that query. So if any of your autocomplete suggestions are questionable, you need to work to counter the tide.
Use Search Suggestions for Amusement
Let’s get real, even aside from their value to end users and marketers, Google’s search suggestions are just funny!
- 20 Bizarre Google Search Suggestions (“do midgets have night vision”; “what is it called when a giraffe swallowed a toy jet”)
- 25 Funny Google Search Suggestions (“chuck norris can blow bubbles with beef jerky”)
- The most insane search suggestions ever seen on Google (“is it wrong to sleep with your step dad after your mom dies”)
- 100 Inexplicably Funny Google Search Result Suggestions (“google is evil”? looks like they don’t police their own brand suggestions)
- The Autocomplete Me Category on the FAIL Blog (“how to raise your IQ by eating gifted children”)
What’s the craziest Google suggestion you’ve ever seen?