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How to use Google Autocomplete for SEO

By Lindsey Chastain

Google Autocomplete is one of the best tools your company can use to drive traffic and perfect SEO strategy.


A person looking something up on a search engine.Google's autocomplete feature has become an invaluable part of the search experience, providing predicted search queries as users type. But it also presents unique SEO opportunities for brands. 


In this complete guide, you’ll learn what Autocomplete is, how it works, why it matters for SEO, and how you can optimize for it.



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What is Google Autocomplete?

Autocomplete refers to the automated search predictions that appear in a dropdown menu as you begin typing a query in Google's search bar. It aims to predict the full search phrase you intend to enter to save you time.

Once you start entering a query, Google analyzes the characters you've typed so far and matches them against common search patterns in its data index before displaying the most popular predicted searches related to your input. Over 23% of searchers end up clicking the autocomplete predictions rather than completing their query manually.


A brief history

Google first introduced autocomplete functionality in 2004 as an experimental opt-in feature called Google Suggest. At the time, it only worked on google.com for queries in English.


After gradually expanding support to more regions and languages, it became an automatic feature called Google Instant in 2010. This refreshed predictions dynamically as each character was typed without requiring a search submission.


The same year, Google rebranded the feature to Google Autocomplete. The name change aligned better with the automated, predictive nature of the search functionality. Today, this is a staple of Google Search, available on both desktop and mobile to help searchers find information faster by reducing keystrokes.


How Google generates predictions

Google factors in four key signals to predict the most likely full search query while still maintaining its goals of relevance and convenience. This autocomplete algorithm analyzes:

  1. Overall Search Popularity: Common queries frequently searched will often appear higher in the predictions.
  2. Trending Topics: Rising search trends around news events, celebrities, and more may be suggested.
  3. Personal Search History: Google personalizes predictions based on past searches.
  4. Location: Region and language settings influence the results you see.

Autocomplete SEO opportunities

For SEO professionals, Google's Autocomplete presents unique opportunities to gain visibility to searchers:

  • Exposure in Research Phase: Optimizing for autocomplete allows your brand to appear within the search dropdown before searchers even hit the results page. This means you get visibility starting right from the query formulation process.
  • Increased Click-Through Rates: Since predictions appear as default suggested searches, they benefit from higher click-through-rates (CTRs) –– the percentage of impressions resulting in a click. Searchers tend to click the suggestions reflexively, giving you built-in traffic.
  • Topping Competitors: Focusing on autocomplete allows you to target valuable searches competitors may not have content optimized for yet as results evolve rapidly to match current search trends. You gain ownership of key real estate, and readers can maintain ownership of this key real estate by continuously monitoring new and rising suggestions and creating fresh, relevant content before others fill the need.
  • Qualified Traffic: The searchers seeing your brand in Autocomplete are intrinsically more qualified, meaning predictions match their query intent. This traffic is more likely to convert than more broad SEO traffic.
  • Low-Competition Keywords: Autocomplete search terms are often more niche long-tail keywords with lower competition than short-head term keywords. This makes rankings more achievable.

Short-tail keywords are broader, more general search terms that are often just one to three word(s). For example:

  • shoes
  • recipe ideas
  • yoga mat

Long-tail keywords are more specific multi-word phrases that target narrower searches. For example:

  • black running shoes for men
  • quick vegetarian dinner recipes
  • extra thick yoga mat with carrying strap

Head terms are primary root keywords in a long-tail phrase. In the examples above, these would be "shoes," "recipes," and "yoga mat."


Autocomplete suggestions are often long-tail versions of short-head terms. So "black running shoes for men" might show up as an autocomplete for "shoes."


Long-tail autocomplete terms tend to have less competition because fewer sites have specifically targeted those narrower niche phrases. It's easier to optimize for and rank for "extra thick yoga mat" than the broader "yoga mat" term.


Focusing on optimizing for long-tail autocomplete suggestions can help sites rank well for valuable, precise searches even if they can't compete for the main head term.


How to optimize for Google Autocomplete

If you want to tap into autocomplete opportunities, here are some best practices:


Research relevant autocomplete suggestions.

Start by identifying influential autocomplete predictions valuable for your brand to rank for. Use Google's autocomplete dropdowns to uncover options.


To identify valuable autocomplete suggestions for your brand:

  1. Brainstorm relevant head term keywords for your brand, product, or service. For example, if you sell coffee, keywords could be "coffee," "espresso," or "coffee beans."
  2. Type each head term into Google and pay attention to the autocomplete dropdown suggestions that appear. Make note of predictions representative of searches your target audience may do.
  3. Analyze each autocomplete option and consider whether it has good search volume, relevance for your brand, and monetization potential. Prioritize ones frequently searched and have the intent to purchase or use your offerings.
  4. Repeat this for related long-tail variations of your head terms. "Coffee beans" may have "organic coffee beans" or "coffee bean subscription" as suggestions.
  5. Compile a list of the most valuable autocomplete terms. Focus on ones that get traffic but are under-optimized by competitors. These present opportunities to create content and rank well.

The ideal autocomplete suggestions are frequently searched, relevant to your business, and have intent that converts to sales or leads. Think like your target audience and identify their likely search behaviors. Prioritize traffic value and ranking potential when determining which autocompletes to target.


Target specific keywords and questions.

Create pages and content optimized around your focus autocomplete phrases, using them in titles, headers, alt text, URLs, etc.

Optimizing pages and content around target autocomplete phrases is important for several reasons:

  • It helps search engines understand what the page is about and improve rankings for those specific searches. This is because those terms will be prominent on the page.
  • It provides a better user experience by clearly matching content to the search query, meeting searcher intent.
  • It helps drive more qualified traffic from rankings for those precise searches. Users see the page is tailored for that keyword from the optimization.
  • It establishes your brand and site as an authority for those topics and searches since you have content directly optimized for them.

The content will rank well if it comprehensively covers the topic and matches the user intent.


Localize your keywords.

For local SEO, be sure to include your city, region, or state in your autocomplete keywords where relevant.


Publish high-quality, useful content.

Create content that provides real value to searchers so your pages deserve to rank well in results. Avoid thin content.


Build links to your content.

Earn high-authority backlinks to your optimized pages using your autocomplete keywords in the anchor text.


Track performance.

Monitor your rankings and traffic regularly for your target keywords. Optimize further for those driving results.

Staying on top of trends and shifting your optimization is key for autocomplete success. It takes ongoing effort, but the visibility payoff is immense.


Autocomplete SEO in Action

To see autocomplete SEO in action, here are some real examples from major brands targeting influential search predictions:

  • Walmart: If you search "groceries" on Bing, Walmart store locations frequently appear in the autocomplete dropdown before you even finish typing. This allows Walmart to dominate local grocery searches.
  • Spotify: Search for "music" on Google, and you'll often see "Spotify" appear in the predictions. This allows Spotify to get their brand in front of any music-related queries.
  • Home Depot: Type "hardware stores near" on Google, and "Home Depot" often pops up in the autocomplete results, conquering local searches for hardware stores.
  • Amazon: Searching for broad e-commerce terms like "buy" will trigger autocomplete predictions for "Amazon," allowing them to capture early product research queries.

These examples showcase how influential brands are leveraging autocomplete SEO to reinforce their dominance and capture traffic from competitors.


Autocomplete Opportunities Across Industries

While Google's algorithm determines which searches show up, many companies can benefit from autocomplete SEO:

  • Local Services: Plumbers, lawyers, dentists, and other local services can optimize for searches, including their region or city name to capture local demand.
  • E-commerce Brands: Online retailers can leverage Autocomplete around key product categories, promotions, and trends to get products found faster during key seasons.
  • B2B Companies: Targeting niche industry jargon and buyer keywords in Autocomplete can help B2B brands connect with more qualified prospects sooner.
  • Personal Experts: Coaches, consultants, and thought-leaders can rank for queries related to their expertise fields along with their brand name attached.

No matter your niche, exploring which influential autocomplete searches your ideal customers use provides opportunities to get in front of them.


Why care about Autocomplete SEO?

Searcher behavior has evolved. Voice search, mobile usage, and technologies like Autocomplete have changed how people discover information online. Being at the top of the search results is no longer enough. 

To stay competitive today, brands need to expand their SEO strategy to include optimizing for autocomplete.

Here are key reasons you can't afford to ignore this opportunity:

  • Mobile Adoption: Autocomplete is integral on mobile devices, where small screens and typing friction make search predictions invaluable.
  • Voice Search: As voice queries surge, search is becoming more conversational. Autocomplete mirrors natural language.
  • Early Brand Visibility: Your brand appears before competitors on the results page during the critical research phase.
  • Higher Click-Through Rate: Autocomplete results get clicked more than the general search listings below.
  • Fresh Demand: You can capitalize on rising trends and seasonal demand spikes.
  • Beat out competitors: Target valuable queries competitors haven't optimized for yet.

Simply put, brands that optimize for autocomplete will capture more qualified eyeballs. User experience innovations like this have opened new SEO frontiers.


Managing Autocomplete SEO In-House vs. With an Agency

Now that you know why autocomplete SEO matters, should you tackle it in-house or hire an agency? 

In-House Pros:

  • Full control over your strategy
  • No monthly fees
  • Leverage existing SEO knowledge

In-House Cons:

  • Significant time investment to monitor and optimize continually
  • No external perspective on best targets
  • Easy to miss emerging opportunities

Agency Pros:

  • Handles ongoing optimization each month
  • Provides an outside perspective on best keywords
  • Keeps up with emerging trends
  • Hands-off management

Agency Cons:

  • Monthly fees involved
  • Don't control full strategy
  • Communication overhead

Ultimately, in-house teams can manage autocomplete SEO if they have the bandwidth to continually monitor and iterate on strategy month to month. But for most brands, an agency that specializes in staying on top of the latest search innovations and patterns offers more value.


At Axia Public Relations, we offer a full-service autocomplete optimization solution tailored specifically to each client. To explore how our fully managed autocomplete solutions can amplify your SEO visibility, contact us today for a personalized consultation.


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Topics: SEO, web marketing, owned media, web media

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