3 Ways to Use Google Search Suggestions


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:

search suggestions

google suggestions

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:

search suggestions for keyword research

google autocomplete

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”:

reputation management

Google your own company’s name and the brands of your key products, if applicable, as a quick reputation check.

Google Autocomplete

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!

Check out:

What’s the craziest Google suggestion you’ve ever seen?

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Victor Pan
Mar 27, 2012

"I am extremely terrified of Chinese people""taiwanese girls are easy"To me, those were the ones that were broadly discussed, since it does damage a nationality's reputation. I can see why people would want specific suggestions removed... but to outright ban Google Suggestions? I think that's a bit over the top. If it's algorithmic, then there's flaws. But I'd imagine that volume and location has to do with what suggestions show up... 

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 27, 2012

"I am extremely terrified of Chinese people" is a good example of the self-reinforcing phenomenon I mentioned -- since it got media attention, I'm sure that just led more and more people to Google the phrase and see what pops up.

Joel Mackey (@webaddict)
Mar 27, 2012

Please quite giving away my secrets. Grrrr. You're creating more competition on these gold mines!

Elisa Gabbert
Mar 27, 2012

Ha, sorry 'bout that!

Mar 28, 2012

Awesome post! Really helpful. Thanks so much for sharing :)

Nick Stamoulis
Apr 02, 2012

Great suggestions.  When writing a post on a particular topic it can't hurt to find out what kind of information people are looking for.  This is a great way to find out.  Once you've chosen a path, optimize the post for those keywords. 

Elisa Gabbert
Apr 02, 2012

Thanks Nick!

Mike H
Apr 02, 2012

Guess I need to re-enable google search suggestions!

Elisa Gabbert
Apr 03, 2012

I didn't even know you could turn them off!

Jhon Feng
May 06, 2012

Thank you Google, you helped me.

shnae knight
Nov 08, 2012

Thanks for the tips the strategy(white hat) is to be make some flexible according to google algorithms to make site compatible with the changes

Apr 19, 2013

Now I can use the trick for keyword research. That's creative! Thanks Elisa.

Jul 15, 2015

It really good tip, thank for share this with us.

Apr 30, 2016

Very good post.

Pooja Dagar
Sep 19, 2017

You can also use Search Suggestions for your own business branding. For example, use your business type with your brand/company name in google map. like i have used: Web Click India - Best Web Designing Company in Delhi. After doing so, when anyone will search you with your brand name, your business type will also be promoted with it. after so many searches, it will be displayed in google search suggestions also.

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