Google is one of the single largest aggregators of data in the world. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder with platforms like Facebook. They’re constantly watching, listening, and learning how you (and billions of other people) interact with their tools when searching the web. As a result, they have massive amounts of data available at their fingertips.
While we can spend hours arguing over whether or not it’s healthy for a single company to have this much information on individual users, the reality is that they do. And rather than pushing back on the why, we’re going to choose to focus on the what and the how, so that you can use Google’s extensive database of information and knowledge to your own advantage.
In particular, we want to drill down and look at one specific aspect of the Google machine that often gets overlooked by marketers and SEO specialists. We’re talking about Google predictive search (also known as Google Autocomplete).
While Google predictive search is intended to streamline the search experience for users and make finding the right search results a more efficient and accurate process, this feature is also a phenomenal resource for anyone looking to enhance their SEO efforts.
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What is Google Predictive Search?
Google predictive search is a feature within the Google search platform that’s designed to make it faster for people to complete searches that they begin typing into the search box or browser bar.
So, for example, if you were to type in “how to make a…”, Google would give you several suggestions to complete the search based on what they know about past search activity and trends.
In this case, you would get results like how to make a google form, how to make a paper airplane, how to make alfredo sauce, how to make a smoothie, how to make a resume, how to make a website, how to make an omelet, how to make a margarita, how to make a milkshake, etc.
And as you add more characters to your search, Google’s recommendations adapt to get more specific. For example, I added the word “green” to the previous search and here’s what Google now recommends:
Instead of using predictive search for “how to make” anything in the world, it’s now focused on people who’ve conducted searches for “how to make” something that starts with the word green: how to make a green tea shot, how to make a green screen, how to make a green smoothie, how to make a green bean casserole…you get the idea.
And the more specific I get, the more specific the autocomplete suggestions become. Take “how to make a green screen…” for example.
All of the sudden, we now see the different queries people are most likely to conduct when searching for how to make a green screen. This is interesting, because you’ll see hot trends and platforms start to emerge. Clearly, a lot of people are looking to make green screens for the purposes of TikTok videos.
I could keep going with this little example, but you get the picture. Every time you add or change a character to your search, Google’s algorithm adapts to show you what others are searching for (in relation to your own query). Sometimes they’re relevant and other times they’re not. However, the more specific you get with your search, the more likely it is that you’ll get relevant results.
How Does Google Predictive Search Work?
Google’s predictive search engine is built on an advanced algorithm and sophisticated engine that leverages billions and trillions of data points to produce what it thinks is the most likely search for any string of characters. And while there are a variety of ways to use predictive search from an SEO perspective – which we’ll discuss in greater detail momentarily – it’s important to understand how Google sees this feature.
In a blog post on the topic of how Google Autocomplete works in search, Danny Sullivan, Google’s Public Liaison for Search, explains an important distinction:
“You’ll notice we call these autocomplete ‘predictions’ rather than “suggestions,” and there’s a good reason for that. Autocomplete is designed to help people complete a search they were intending to do, not to suggest new types of searches to be performed. These are our best predictions of the query you were likely to continue entering.”
In other words, Google isn’t trying to give the average search user a suggestion. They’re simply trying to predict what they’re typing in order to make it easier and faster for them to perform a search. It’s basically a convenience feature. However, as we’ll show you in the following section, there’s a case to be made for using these “predictions” as “suggestions” when viewing them through the lens of an SEO strategy.
Though Google is (understandably) going to be pretty tight-lipped on exactly how the predictive search feature works, we do know a little about how they come up with the predictions.
According to Sullivan, the algorithm looks at real searches that happen on Google and displays the most common and trending ones that are relevant to the characters already entered. They also take factors like location and previous searches into account.
For example, if I type in “best pizza place in”, Google is going to start by giving me predictive searches for the city I’m in. It’ll then include predictive searches for nearby cities, followed by predictive searches for the state, country, etc. If I’m located in the upstate of South Carolina, I would get something like this:
Notice the hierarchy of the predictions. It starts with a specific city, followed by a nearby city, followed by major cities throughout the country I’m located in, etc. Now see how it changes if I’m in New York (or if I change my query to reflect a search for the best pizza places in New York).
As you can see, the predictions are constantly changing based on popular searches, trends, locations, and even past search history.
The more you play around with predictive search, the more interesting it gets. Don’t be surprised if you find some pretty strange results from time to time. For example, here’s an actual autocomplete:
Google Autocomplete will show you almost anything – with a few exceptions. Google has a system in place to remove any predictions that go against its own autocomplete policies. This includes:
- Sexually explicit queries that are not related to scientific, medical, or sexual education topics.
- Hateful predictions that are harmful to groups or individuals based on factors like race, gender, religion, etc.
- Violent and/or dangerous predictions that could prove harmful to the searcher and/or others.
Google also proactively removes predictions that appear to be spam. They’ll also consider removing predictions when a valid legal request is made.
Different Ways to Use Google Predictive Search to Enhance SEO
From a user’s perspective, Google predictive search is interesting and helpful. It can make it easier to conduct a search, particularly if you aren’t sure what specific words or terms you need to use. But from an SEO perspective, it’s a highly valuable research tool that can single handedly elevate your SEO strategy and allow you to maximize your results.
While it’s true that Google’s predictive search is designed for predictions, the reality is that these predictions are indicative of search volume and trends. It’s like having a looking glass into what people are searching. And in that sense, it becomes a suggestive tool for better SEO.
But rather than discuss it from a theoretical vantage point, let’s dig in and examine a few of the specific ways you can use Google AutoComplete.
Note: Before using these methods, there are a few simple steps you’ll need to take in order to ensure you get accurate and meaningful results.
- Be sure to log out of your Google account and/or use incognito mode to ensure your past search history does not influence the predictions you get when running these tests.
- If you are located in a different location than your target audience, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to mask your location. For example, if you’re currently in Portugal, but your target market is the United States, use a VPN and select an American city.
- Tweak your language settings (if necessary) to be similar to the language settings of the individuals in your target audience.
Doing these three things will help you get better results (and will prevent inaccurate predictions that are irrelevant to your target audience).
With all of that being said, here are some different ways to use Google Autocomplete for SEO:
1. Understanding Searcher Intent
Any successful SEO strategy must be rooted in intent. After all, good rankings don’t matter if you aren’t satisfying a need or serving a specific purpose. You might get people to click, but can you convert the traffic? You always have to think about how you can help people achieve their goals.
Thus, the first way to use Google Autocomplete is for determining search intent based on specific keywords and queries.
Because there’s so much overlap in keywords – and because users often search for the same basic keyword while having totally different intent behind the search – it’s helpful to be able to separate intent with specific search phrases.
Consider, for example, the basic keyword “Mediterranean diet.” This keyword could cover any number of topics and interests. In fact, if you run this search, you’ll get something like this:
As you can see, the keywords are pretty informational. It’s predicting that most people searching for “Mediterranean diet” are looking for information on recipes, acceptable foods, and weight loss. But look how this changes when you search for “best Mediterranean diet.”
How different do these results look? Rather than information, people are looking to perform a transaction. People who run this search typically look for cookbooks, apps, meal kits, and meal plans. In other words, they’re ready to pull out their cards and make a purchase.
Running simple little experiments like this can help you understand user search intent so that your content and SEO strategies are properly aligned with your goals.
2. Generating Long-Tail Keywords
The SEO field has changed a lot over the past decades. It used to be that you could target one- or two-word keywords and expect to get some SEO “juice.” Today, the average website has no chance of ranking for a one-word keyword (particularly in a highly-competitive niche where there are already some established players). Short keywords are out, and long-tail keywords are in.
Google’s Autocomplete tool is a powerful method for unlocking the secrets of high-converting, long-tail keywords. Simply type in the basic keyword you want to target and then let Google give you a list of other popular/related keywords.
For example, let’s say your keyword is “making money.” Google gives you an entire list of long-tail keywords that you can target in a blog post about making money:
Based on the autocomplete suggestions, you now have long-tail keywords like making money from home, making money online, making money on YouTube, making money on TikTok, making money quick, making money on Instagram, etc.
You’re much more likely to rank for these keywords. Plus, you know that these are keywords people are actively searching when looking to make money online. It’s like getting to peek behind the curtain.
3. Writing SEO-Friendly Blog Posts
Looking for a way to develop better blog posts that have more SEO value and appeal to people who are already searching for specific topics and keywords? There’s a powerful method that makes this a breeze. It’s extremely simple and can cut the time it takes to write a blog post in half.
Let’s say, for example, that you want to write a blog post on the topic of adopting a puppy. You know that people are interested in adopting dogs, but you aren’t sure what they’re searching for or what to include in your blog post.
Step one is to type in the root keyword and see what Google predicts:
You’ll immediately notice that “adopting a puppy tips” is one of the top keywords. That sounds like a pretty good keyword to target for a blog post, so let’s run a search for it and see what shows up.
Now here’s where the strategy becomes really effective. The next thing you want to do is scroll down and look for Google’s “People Also Ask” snippet. Here’s what it looks like for this particular query:
Now you know what people are searching and the related questions they’re asking when searching for this keyword. So rather than reinvent the wheel, why not write a blog post with a headline like “17 Adopting Puppy Tips.” Then your subheadings within the blog post include the questions from above:
- What should I know before adopting a puppy?
- Where should rescue dogs sleep first?
- Is it a good idea to adopt a puppy?
- What is the best age to adopt a puppy?
Now all you have to do is go in and answer these questions. You’ll have a very SEO-friendly blog post without having to do hours of keyword research.
4. Monitoring Your Online Reputation
This isn’t necessarily an SEO tip, but it’s worth including. Because part of developing an effective digital marketing strategy that converts website visitors into paying customers involves branding. And in order to have a strong brand, you have to know what other people think about your brand.
To get a feel for how your brand is viewed in the public eye – or at least what people are searching for in relation to your brand – type in your brand name and see what pops up.
Most of the time you’ll get basic results, like predictions for product searches or locations. But in some cases, the results may be eye-opening. For example, at one point, this is what showed up when you searched Gillette:
Not a good look! If this were your brand, you’d want to know about this, so that you could develop a more proactive PR and marketing strategy to address this issue and change the perception of your brand.
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