On September 8th, 2010, the world’s largest Internet search engine, Google.com, released what they referred to as “a new search enhancement that shows results as you type”, appropriately labeled Google Instant. On their website, Google claims that the three benefits of the change include faster searches, smarter predictions, and instant results that appear as you type. Few argue the benefits of faster searches and instant results. However, quite a bit of controversy surrounds the smarter predictions, which have raised havoc for many organizations and individuals since the launch of Google Instant.
Google calls the predictions that appear in the search box itself autocomplete, stating that the “algorithm offers searches that might be similar to the one you’re typing”.
Up until September 8th, the feature was optional. [Autocomplete] was a default behavior before Google Instant existed. I think you could turn it off – just like you can turn Google Instant off – but the suggestion behavior was out there for about two years (updated 3/11/11 by suggestion from Danny Sullivan). The example provided on the Google Support page says to “start to type [ new york ] — even just [ new y ] — and you’ll be able to pick searches for New York City, New York Times, and New York University”. Unfortunately for many businesses what appears as you start typing in their company name are words such as [ scam ] and [ ripoff ]. Individuals are seeing their personal names appear with words like [ scandal ], [ dui ], and [ lawsuit ], when a name may be the same as another person who the terms are most-likely associated with.
There may be a ray of hope. Matt McGee of SearchEngineLand.com, a popular industry portal for search engine marketers, wrote about a lawsuit won by the French legal website Legalis.net over the word arnaqu (French for “scam”) appearing in the predictions. It might be time to put your lawyer on alert if this article doesn’t do the trick.
It’s not in scope of this study, but many users were also very dissatisfied at the user experience of autocomplete as well. Join the conversation and Google just might listen.
After performing an extensive amount of research in support forums, it’s clear that Google has no intent to change autocomplete predictions, despite the negative impact it may have on businesses and individuals. To better understand the factors that influence Google autocomplete, several experts in the search engine optimization (SEO) field were surveyed with the hope that their insight could help those affected by negative search results push down phrases out of sight from the search bar, or remove them altogether.
One expert, unavailable to take the survey, was Brent Payne who performed his own tests to see if he could manipulate predictions. Brent actually succeeded by employing hundreds of workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to search for one of his listings using a specific (low volume) keyword phrase, thereby influencing the volume of searches. His test was a success, however the phrases used in the test had very little (if any) volume and very few other listings appear for the query. It was this test that started our list of potential influencers. Though he did not participate in the survey, Brent should be recognized for his indirect contribution at BrentDPayne.com.
About the Author
Steve Wiideman has been practicing the crafts of Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing for nearly a decade, working for corporations on paid, organic, local, and product search. He has authored several popular eBooks and is acclaimed for his ranking in Google for the term “SEO Expert”. Wiideman hosts weekly workshops at Creative Search Strategies and continues to work at an SEO Consultant for a handful of popular brands.