It is a sight that no business owner ever wants to see.  She goes to Google.com and types in her brand name (or worse, her customer does this), and a top suggestion from Google is ‘Scam’, ‘Complaints’ or ‘Lawsuit’.  Nothing sets of alert bells in a prospective client’s mind like Google suggesting a company is a scam.  These recommendations are from Google Autocomplete, and they should be taken very seriously by business owners.

You may remember the case of DecorMyEyes from over a year ago.  They were exposed by the NY Times as having some of the worst business practices and an overall neglect of their customers.  And, as you might expect, their Autocomplete values now mirror this sentiment:

But you don’t have to run a terrible business for Google to associate some pretty nasty words with it.  Remember, this is all done automatically via Google’s algorithm, so sometimes things just aren’t fair or correct. In some cases all it takes is a single bad review, an upset former-employee, or an unscrupulous competitor who’s discussion of your business can end up influencing Autocomplete with negative words. We’ve helped many clients, from high-profile indivudals to corporations, push suggestions like these out of Google Autocomplete:

  • reviews
  • scam
  • lawsuit
  • complaints
  • affair
  • bankruptcy

In each of these cases it wasn’t fair for Google to associate these words with these entities.  And yet, there is no direct recourse with Google unless you plan on suing them.  Unfortunately no one in the US has prevailed with such a lawsuit, and bringing something like this to trial is risky for your reputation anyway, so it probably isn’t the greatest solution.  So, what is someone (or some company) with an Autocomplete problem to do?  Before we get into solutions, we should start with a brief overview of how Autocomplete works.

How Does Autocomplete Pick Suggestions?

Based on all of our testing and work, we believe that Autocomplete is populated based on these signals (in this order):

  1. Search Volume – The number of people searching each value
  2. Web Mentions – The number of times the value is used across the web
  3. Social Media Mentions – The number of times the value is included in updates on sites like Twitter and Facebook

Far and away the biggest factor is the first item listed, search volume.  Google weights this heavily in determining which values are shows.  After that, mentions of keywords on the web and in social media help signal to Google which keywords should be included.

Timing is also an important factor in Autocomplete, although not a direct contributor. We generally see Autocomplete update once every six weeks or so, but if something is breaking in the news, Autocomplete updates can happen almost instantly (this is similar to ‘Query Deserves Freshness‘ in Google Search results).

Using This Knowledge to Influence Google Autocomplete

Because we know that search volume is the primary signal for Autocomplete, we expect that if we can get large amounts of people to search our positive (desired/target) keywords, we can push out the negative values.  In our experience, this has proven to be 100% true, so the trick is in finding those large amounts of people and getting them to take action.  Here are some of techniques that can be used to get people searching what you want:

Use Your Email List

Having a large email list is a powerful tool in changing Autocomplete. You’ll have to be creative for it to be effective, but there are a number of different ways to make it work. One example is to send a newsletter with a teaser story and tell people to Google your desired positive search term to find out more. Or offer a really attractive coupon via email, but the only way they can find it is by searching your positive term. We take great care in developing these email campaigns to ensure that both the intent is not obvious and that recipients will likely take action.

Run Traditional Advertisements

Companies have had success with using TV commercials to influence Autocomplete. Instead of giving their website out, at the end they just tell viewers to Google XXXXXX to find out more. That XXXXX is one of the desired, positive keywords. The same can be done with print media.

Use Your Social Media Profiles

If you have a large following on a social media website, you can concoct ways to get people searching your desired keywords. You can also use a little trick of actually linking to the search results for your positive keyword, which when clicked actually counts as a search for it. For example, this link brings up the search results for “My Company is Great”: https://www.google.com/#hl=en&sclient=psy-ab&q=my+company+is+great&oq=my+company+is+great

Have a Network of Searchers

This has proven to be the most effective technique, but it is also the most time consuming to build and manage. We work with a network of tens of thousands of people, in locations across the world, who can execute searches on our behalf. Because Google is aware that people may try to manipulate Autocomplete, there are safe guards in place to help prevent that. Through careful management we are able to implement strategies to protect against others detecting what we are doing. For companies that just want the problem fixed and to not have to deal with it themselves, this is probably the most straightforward solution.

Everything Else

The items above apply primarily to search volume, which is the main Autocomplete signal. While that is always our focus, we also balance it out by adding mentions of our positive keywords on the web, in blogs, and on social media website updates. This makes it appear more natural to Google that our target keywords are becoming more popular. This is an important piece of any campaign that attempts to influence Google Autocomplete.

Reputation Management Continues to Grow

Five years ago this problem didn’t exist.  There was no Google Autocomplete/Autosuggest,  you only had to worry about your rankings. But the world of Reputation Management is becoming more and more complex.  Now you need to worry about your online ratings, user reviews, social media mentions, Wikipedia page, Autocomplete suggestions, and more!  If you haven’t done this lately, Google your brand and checkout everything Google is doing with it, from rankings to Autocomplete values – you may be surprised at what you find!