Getting Smart With: Google Autocomplete and WordPress

Getting Smart With: Google Autocomplete and WordPress

If your business or website is brand new, it can be difficult trying to figure out what your audience wants or expects from you—mostly because they don’t exist yet.

Until you have large droves of traffic coming to your site that you’re able to analyze or a huge database of email subscribers or social followers that are willing to engage with you, how do you find out what your audience wants?

Market research is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to create a viable business that can compete in the marketplace. That said, conducting market research can be rather expensive and time-consuming. While you could hire someone to manage this for you or you could invest in a pricey set of tools to aggregate the data, why don’t you start by using a tool we all have easy and free access to?


Autocomplete can turn up some pretty crazy results sometimes.

Like when you type “I ate a…”

I ate a baby Google autocomplete
Autocomplete at work.

Or when you want to know “Where does…” (not sure why Bill Cosby is one of the top suggestions!)

Google autocomplete
Where does…

Or when Google is a few years behind the Harry Potter train when it tries to answer “Why doesn’t…”

Google autocomplete
Why doesn’t…

For the most part, though, Google’s autocomplete tool is actually a great resource, especially if you want to get to know your audience better. It’s also a good way to find out what sort of long-tail search terms are being used as it pertains to your company, services, products, niche, and even web design.

So, please join me as I look at the various ways in which you can use autocomplete as a market research tactic for your WordPress website. I’ll also review a couple WordPress plugins that can add autocomplete functionality to your site, in case you want your own personalized set of autocomplete insights to work from.

A Little Background on Autocomplete

Google was officially launched in 1998, so it’s had roughly two decades to gather data on how people interact with the Internet. Having observed how people use search for so long, it makes sense that such a powerful feature like autocomplete would eventually evolve from it.

Kevin Gibbs, a former Google employee, came up with the idea for and helped launch autocomplete functionality back in 2004. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that it became a mainstay on Google and not just an optional feature users could opt into.

Despite Gibbs’ major contribution to search and furthering the convenience factor of the Google search engine, he believes that someone would’ve eventually come up with the technology for autocomplete. “I don’t feel when I look at a search box that it’s something I did. It feels like this is just how the world’s supposed to work.”

Here is how Google defines autocomplete today:

“When you start a search on Google, you can find the information you’re looking for faster using search predictions. Search predictions are possible search terms you can use that are related to the terms you’re typing and what other people are searching for.”

There are also two other factors that can come into play with autocomplete:

  • Location: So long as you’re logged into Google when conducting a search, you may receive autocomplete suggestions based on what people in your geographic area have searched for.
  • History: If you begin to type something resembling a frequent or recent search you’ve done, it will auto-populate with your previous search term.

There are even some people who speculate that autocomplete results pull directly from Google’s search algorithm and ranking, which means that autocomplete isn’t really a laughing matter after all. If your site ranks well in search, then Google’s autocomplete results and search terms may favor your site over the competition’s, if this speculation is true.

8 Ways to Use Autocomplete in Your Market Research

As I mentioned earlier, there are two ways to use autocomplete to your benefit. You can use it in market research to find out more about your audience. You can also use it as an enhanced search feature on your own WordPress site. Let’s tackle the former first.

1. Determine General Interest

One of the first things you can do is use Google to determine what sort of general interest levels there are in the niche or audience you’re targeting. In the example below, you can see that one of the most common concerns and questions small business owners ask is about needing a website.

Google autocomplete
Does my small business need…

2. Register Brand Awareness

Now, if your business is brand new, you won’t be able to do this one yet. But once your site is up and running, you can use autocomplete to find out what people are Googling when it comes to your company name, your particular services, etc.

As you can see, people are very concerned with McDonald’s lack of hot dogs.

Google autocomplete
Why doesn’t McDonald’s…

3. Scope out the Competition

This is a good one to use if your site is brand new and you want to get a sense of how the already established competition is doing with your audience. Clearly, Burger King is not doing that well if the top autocomplete results revolve around making customers ill.

Google autocomplete
Why doesn’t Burger King…


4. Identify User Pain

One of the things you should be doing before creating a website for a new client is determining what the audience’s shared pain is. Or, rather, gathering this information from your client who should be aware of what solution they’re bringing to the table. If they’re unsure or you want more information, you can do a Google search to find out. The below example would be good for a veterinarian or dog trainer website.


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My dog is…

5. Identify More Specific Complaints

You can find out if there are any major complaints or issues your audience has with your industry, service type, or product. Simply use your brand name, product name, etc. in conjunction with a word like “complaints”, “scam”, or even “lawsuit”. This’ll give you a good idea of any bad press associated with what you’re trying to do, so you can go out of your way to address or avoid it on your site. If your business directly interacts with the public, this is a must.

Google autocomplete
Housekeeping scams


6. New Keyword Opportunities

Let’s say your site has been live for a while, but you’re just not generating the amount of traffic you expected this far in—at least for certain keywords. If you’re targeting a larger or global audience and you’re using colloquialisms only a small segment of the population would understand (like making a “run to the packie”), you’ll quickly have confirmation of your problem through autocomplete.

Google autocomplete
Run to the packie…

7. Gauge Web Design Preferences

You can use autocomplete to see how people feel about new web design techniques you’re thinking about trying on your site. Or maybe you have tried them and are curious to see why there has been a drop in engagement. You can then use those insights to adjust your site’s design, copy, keywording, etc. In a search for “how to get rid of pop”, the first autocomplete result had over 1.5 million pages in response; the second had over 2 million.

Google autocomplete
How to get rid of pop…


8. Find New Content Ideas

Finally, you can use autocomplete to come up with new ideas for content. If you know people are searching for the same idea over and over, then it is most likely a topic worth pursuing on your blog. Jamie Press, Search Director of White Chalk Road, discussed how autocomplete results inspired ideas for his client’s content.

WordPress Plugins to Add Autocomplete to Your Site Search

Google Autocomplete is pretty cool, right? Sometimes it makes you laugh and other times it’s really helpful for your business. How about taking it one step further and giving your site autocomplete functionality? You’ll improve the search experience for your visitors while also giving yourself more granular and accurate insights into what people are looking for.

There are two WordPress plugins you can use to add autocomplete to your site’s search function.

  • Ajax Search Lite Plugin

    This Ajax-powered search plugin will provide your visitors with more efficient and fast searches through your website. In addition to being able to filter for more accurate search results, this plugin also includes keyword suggestions as well as Google autocomplete functionality to improve the experience further.

    Interested in Ajax Search Lite Plugin?

  • Search by Algolia

    In addition to giving your site super-speedy search results (they claim that they populate in less than 35ms), you can totally customize the search experience. So, if you believe that users would benefit more from searches by date instead of popularity, you can adjust the settings accordingly. And, of course, you can enable this plugin to include autocomplete functionality.

    One thing to note is that this plugin is free to use, but does require that you sign up with Algolia to use their service. The Community plan is free and is really all you should need if your site is new.

    Interested in Search by Algolia?

Wrapping Up

We often spend so much time concerned with whether our WordPress sites will show up in Google search or where they’ll show up in a search that we forget there are other ways to utilize this smart tool to our benefit.

By studying how people search for key phrases that are relevant to your business, you can better shape the experience they’ll have on your WordPress site.

Over to you: Do you ever use Google autocomplete as a valid research tool for personal or professional purposes? If so, do you have any advice how to get the most out of it?

Brenda Barron

Brenda Barron Brenda is a freelance writer from Southern California. She specializes in WordPress, tech, and business and founded WP Theme Roundups. When not writing about all things, she's spending time with her family.