How Google Suggest Changes SEO

As I write this Google is rolling out their Suggest feature to the main page of Google. Suggest essentially feeds you suggestions in real-time as you type, suggestions for popular keywords. It is an exciting new feature, but not without implications to SEO as we know it.

It will look something like this, except it won’t be just in the Google Labs anymore:

How Google Suggest Changes SEO

The real way that Google Suggest changes SEO is for long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords are typically 4-6 keywords in length, words that probably won’t appear on Google Suggest. Just look at the keywords in my screenshot above, Google will only show relatively popular keywords based on what you type.

Like Bumper Bowling

Instead of giving users free reign in what they type, Google is holding your hand to help you figure out what you want, and will essentially bias searches towards “head keywords” or “short-tail keywords”, which are the more popular keywords usually 1-3 words in length. It’s kind of like going to a bowling alley and your friends want to use the bumpers. It makes people lazy and doesn’t incite thinking or testing.

Killing the Long-Tail Keyword?

Will this kill the long-tail keyword? I doubt it will kill it, but I do foresee a drop in long-tail keywords. Think of your grandma, after typing a word, if she sees a list of related keywords what will she do? Yes, she’ll pick one of them. What will you do? I think overall, Google Suggest will particularly be used by less technically adept users that may feel like those are the only options they get to search with, instead of really typing what they are looking for.

Change of Game? What to do

I do think this changes the SEO game a bit. Let’s say your main keyword is “SEO Tools” like in the screenshot above, what keywords are you going to make sure you have a blog post or page for first? Yes, those pages that Google suggests first, probably starting at the top. It’s almost like there is a new layer of ranking, where the actual keyword that a user picks now goes through an added filter, and then they see the SERPs. It’s the same principle, the higher the keyword, the more likely it is to get clicked.

My recommendation is to hold a keyword meeting, start with your seed keywords and use Google suggest for all of them. The 10 keywords you get for each of your seed keywords should be your first priority (if they are relevant obviously), starting with the keywords listed at the top.

What say you?

Update: A few other write-ups about Google suggest you might like, the best being by Aaron Wall at

Update 2: A nice post by Scott at made me realize that it might also work the opposite way, making for less 1-2 word keywords. After typing in one or two keywords you then get 3-4 word keywords suggested. Maybe we call these “medium-tail keywords”, which would be less popular than 1-2 keywords, but more popular than 4-6 word long-tail keywords. Very interesting dynamic that this brings to the SEO table, and it definitely should make all of us revisit our keyword lists as well as our content using those keywords.


  • I think it will affect some searchers but not others. Let’s remember that the short tail will usually bring about a broad search term when the longtail was developed by us users by tryign to narrow down search to what it is what we’re exactly looking for.

    The daily Google searcher understands that BMW M3 will bring about a much broader result then if they are looking for Blue Coupe BMW M3 Convertible.

  • Thank you for your recommendations. I wish I didn’t agree with you about the effect of loosing long-tail terms and insight. Repeating your take-away that I plan to incorporate, for sure:

    “The 10 keywords you get for each of your seed keywords should be your first priority (if they are relevant obviously), starting with the keywords listed at the top.”

  • RedEvo says:

    For your keyword list you could use seed keywords. It’s free and provides a unique way of creating a seed keyword list.

  • There will always be long tail keywords. When I watch how the average user searches, they pay no attention to suggestions. Most don’t understand how to use auto-complete for URLs. They just keep on typing the full address.

    I use search suggest if it was what I was going to type in anyway. Then I usually add to it to fine tune my search.

    How much this affects your SEO may depend on how savvy your searches are. If you market to the mainstream web searcher, I doubt it will have that big of an effect.


  • MiriamEllis says:

    Thanks for the good writeup, Michael, and for the links. Scott’s post was especially good, I thought.

    Still waiting to see this show up on my computer. I take it you are already seeing it?


  • David Mihm says:

    Michael, this is a great post. Clear and concise, and accurate in its predictions, I’d say. I agree with Dana — I wish it weren’t true! Going to be harder for SMB’s to compete with fewer long tail searches…

  • Marc Beharry says:

    I think your points are valid but I actually find it useful. But I will probably rethink this later and return with one of my typical google bashing rants. sorry, i meant skynet bashing…

    And i like the search results numbers next to the phrases which gives us a quick view on the popularity of each phrase.

  • Dave Bascom says:

    This is a very interesting new twist to search. I think you’re right that this will certainly have an impact on search volume for certain keywords.

    I wonder if we’ll see even more automated searches as marketers try to influence the suggestions that Google offers up to match up with keywords that they rank well for, or even for keywords with little or no real competition. Could demand be created for keywords by manipulating the suggestion list?

  • Lots of great comments, thanks for your thoughts.

    @DaveBascom, great point, obviously they base the suggestions on popularity. Unlike Google Trends though, that many have seen gamed, I would guess it is popularity over a stretch of time, versus trends that is trying to get intraday trends.

  • Michael, doesn’t this feature already exist, more or less, in the Google toolbar? The toolbar search doesn’t list # of results, but it does suggest.

    Have you also noticed how Title Tags show up in the Auto-Complete with Firefox 3 for sites you’ve previously visited? This isn’t an SEO thing, per se, but a new feature where SEO tactics carry over.

  • I agree with you Michael, and a lot of the the comments here.

    I find it funny that people accept the fact that some minuscule UI changes to a site can increase conversion two-fold, but don’t believe the suggest tool will alter search behavior.

    In the end I’m fairly certain that this does enhance the search experience overall for the end user so I don’t see it going away any time soon.

  • Thanks a lot. Very-very informative article.

  • beadalgo says:

    Very good article. very useful. thanks.

  • Lex says:

    How does the integration of google suggest affect the data results in the keywords trends?

    I am being shown graphics that show a steep evolution in search terms around august – this is in part due to the financial situation / banking search terms – but I wonder whether suggest has affected this too.

    Is anyone tracking search terms over the period before & after?

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