Google Autosuggest Manipulation: Is It A Legitimate Strategy?

Google Autosuggest or Autocomplete is a Google Search feature allowing searchers to find information quickly as they type their query, by seeing a list of related search prediction as seen below.

The feature was originally introduced in September 2010. Quickly, some people started spreading rumors of the end of the SEO industry, such as this article “Google Instant Makes SEO Irrelevant” from Steve Rubel (article now deleted).

Others, on the other hand, were quick to see an opportunity: manipulating Google Autosuggest to promote certain keywords. Brent Payne was the first to publish his experiment proving that using a high volume of queries for specific keywords was impacting the suggestion feature, as seen below.

How to Manipulate Google Autosuggest Manipulation?

Originally, a high number of queries using specific keywords was sufficient to get your query listed in Google Autosuggest. Brent Payne even published a guide on how to manipulate the suggestions using Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace for work.  The process was simple, pay 5cts to each person doing a google.com search for the specified query and copying the first line of text visible (to control that the task was actually performed). For $100, Brent was able to get 2,000 searches, and his queries made its way to Google Autosuggest.

The algorithm has however evolved a lot since its launch and manipulating the suggestions isn’t as simple anymore. Google now takes into consideration factors such as the frequency, the rate, the manner and the location (sometimes as specifically as the Zip code). This means that if your business is in Vancouver, BC, you will need to hire people located in Vancouver (physically or via proxies) to perform your searches. Note that in order to work, the searches would need to come from different IP addresses.

Why Manipulate Google Autosuggest?

There are various reasons to manipulate Google Search's suggestions:

  • Reputation management: some companies are negatively affected by suggested queries such as “Brand name + scam” and other damaging terms. Google Autosuggest management is used here to replace the suggested queries.
  • Associate brand with keywords: manipulating Google Autosuggest could allow you to add a brand name to popular keywords, for example you could associate a web development company to the query “web design” in order to get “web design by company ABC” automatically suggested.
  • Competition “attacks”: it’s quite unethical, but you could also associate competitors’ brand name with negative terms such as “scam”, “bad reviews” and other damaging keywords.

Is Google Autosuggest Manipulation A Legitimate Strategy?

No, manipulating Google Autosuggest is definitely not legitimate, and is explicitly against Google’s guidelines. As a matter of fact, it could get you in some trouble if Google realizes that you’re trying to trick its algorithm and get your website penalized (which take tremendous efforts to recover from, when possible).

And in case you’re wondering whether Google is actively watching this practice, Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, explains that Google keeps your browser history for 18 months even if you delete it to prevent spam, including spam to Google Suggest:

Google may store searches in a separate logs system to prevent spam and abuse and to improve our services. […] An easy example of preventing spam would be to detect and stop people trying to spam Google Suggest, which is based on queries that users do.”

How Companies Sell Google Autosuggest Manipulation Services

Despite the ever increasing complexity of the Google Autosuggest algorithm, and the fact that it is explicitly against Google’s guidelines to manipulate it, some companies still offer this kind of service. One recent example we encountered was a local company offering to “lease” keywords for a monthly recurring fee. This fee was directly correlated to the keyword search volume, as the more popular it is, the more you will have to generate queries to manipulate Autosuggest. This type of company is concerning as they will sometimes use articles from reputable sources, and even Google patents to lead you to believe that what they are doing is of good practice. It is not.

 

The conclusion of this article seems obvious: we recommend you don’t try to manipulate Google Autosuggest. Rather, focus your efforts on other less risky digital marketing activities that can benefit your organization - feel free take a look at Smartt’s digital marketing services, brand strategy services, and get in touch with us if you want any additional information. Also, read Brand Relevance in a Social Media Age to see how you leverage social media to improve brand ima