Guest blog post by Nathaniel Broughton
For the last 2 years, Google and Bing (the only search engines that matter) have become more aggressive in “suggesting” what keywords a user should search.
Picture this scenario. You’re sitting with the cursor in your favorite search engine’s search bar. You begin to type . . . and within a few characters, up pops a short list of suggested, bolded keywords to complete your query. That’s Google or Bing guessing what it is they think you’re likely searching.
What are these suggest terms based on? What does it mean for your business?
Google’s suggest terms are influenced by the popularity of keyword search phrases. They aggregate this data and deliver the most common terms used. For example, if you start typing “r-e-a” into the search bar, there are a few keywords that most people tend to complete their search phrase with.
“realtor.com” is a top suggest keyword in Bing. “real estate” is a top suggest keyword in Google.
For businesses, brands, and even individual people, it gets more interesting. It’s important to first be aware of the suggested keywords that searchers are seeing. Search suggest is creating a new search environment for any business or professional online.
If you ignore it, you’re missing out on opportunities to drive new traffic, position yourself as an authority, and ultimately make more money.
Search Suggest Changes What People Search
First, consider how it can drastically change what people search. When this was introduced in 2009, my mortgage bank saw some keyword searches explode. Others completely fell off. This happened for both generic searches around our services, and for searches on our company name specifically.
With all agents and brokers generating business from the web these days, you understand the value of both types of searches. Say you are an agent in Newport Beach. With search suggest, “Newport beach hom” typed into the search bar brings up the following suggest terms in Google.
Notice “Newport beach home tour” listed there. Certainly, this keyword saw a spike in the number of times it was searched once it made the suggest list.
This is an immediate opportunity for an agent in that area to begin proactively marketing for that keyword. Whereas in the past, hosting a page and ranking for “Newport beach home tour” might drive marginal traffic, with it as a suggested keyword it might now be worth thousands more visitors each month.
Marketing Your Brand in New Ways
Let’s look at another example. This time one centered on an individual agent’s name. I recently worked with an agent in La Jolla to find my home. Her name is Meg Lebastchi. When I go to Google and type in her name, here’s what I get in suggest:
Notice the 3rd keyword on the list: “meg lebastchi la jolla”.
If I’ve just heard about Meg from a friend, I’m going to look her up. Since I know I’m looking to live in La Jolla, when I see that keyword suggested as I start typing her name I’m likely to click on it. (If nothing else, I’m much more likely to use that as my search phrase than I was previously).
While Meg has a decent set of results when you search this exact phrase, as a marketer I see this as a ripe opportunity for her to do something even more. She could register meglebastchilajolla.com for $8, and put up a simple website with her brand, picture, and her listings.
“meg lebastchi la jolla” is not a competitive keyword. Many agents are out there competing on very hard keywords like “san diego homes for sale”. This is low hanging fruit! Hosting a website on meglebastchilajolla.com and doing some simple SEO will earn her a top ranking in a short time. Doing so would allow Meg to have more control over what a user sees when they go searching for her name. Instead of a profile page on a national or company website, imagine what she could have an entire site dedicated to her. It’s a chance to show a potential client like me how she’s the best agent in La Jolla. Testimonials, pictures of her listings, and maybe some blog posts she’s written lately.
I think there are an unlimited number of opportunities like this for agents across the country. Google and Bing are changing what people search for around your name, and your service area. If you pay attention to it, you’ll find cheap, uncompetitive marketing opportunities to grab more business.
How Search Suggest Defines Your “Internet Reputation”
Another interesting aspect that has arisen from the introduction of search suggest relates to reputation management. You should monitor this not only for opportunities to promote yourself, but also to recognize what customers might see about your reputation.
Truly, what are the suggest terms for your company name? What are they for your individual name? Do you know?
You might be surprised to learn that some common suggested terms are “reviews” and “complaints”. As in, “yourcompany.com complaints”. Hmm, as a business owner I’m not too excited about that. But I also understand that you can’t please every customer. If you’re in business, someone’s probably got a complaint right?
What you can do is be proactive about it. Just the likelihood of someone searching “yourcompany.com complaint” jumps exponentially when that term gets suggested.
Imagine you’ve heard about a company from a friend. Or you’ve seen an ad on them. Or you’ve already started doing business with them, and the next time you go to find their site, you start typing the company name into the Google search bar.
On the list of suggested keywords is “company complaints”. Wait, what? People have had complaints? I want to read them. I want to see if working with them is still a good idea. Whereas 10 seconds ago this would not have been my search, now it is. This is why it matters so much.
Step one is to do these searches on your own and see what’s ranking in the results. Usually it is a mashup of your own website, some third party review sites like a Yelp.com or the BBB, and maybe a blog or two.
Are you happy with what comes up? There certainly are a lot of things you can do to proactively manage these search results.
For your own website, you might start incorporating these keywords into new or existing pages. I’m sure you have a testimonials page. But a complaint page? By housing a page on your site about complaints – that has “complaints” in the URL and in the title tag – you’ll likely rank highly for a search on “yourcompany.com complaint”.
It’s better to participate in the conversation than be outside it. On your own site, you can have a comment box that allows visitors or customers to leave a complaint. And you can be right there to respond to them to see how it can be rectified. The whole conversation is published right there for future visitors to see.
While no one likes complaints on their business, most people understand that they do happen. Seeing a company honestly responding to, and trying to rectify, complaints, is a good sign in my book.
Another easy action to take is to try and monitor the 3rd party sites and be active on them. If someone is bashing you on Yelp, get on there and have a voice. Deflate the situation. Let them know you care.
You might also reach back to the Meg example, and register domain names that match the search suggest terms. We did that with our mortgage bank. After seeing ‘vamortgagecenter reviews’ added to the search suggest box (and the # of searches for it going up 14x), we registered vamortgagecenterreviews.com. We built a simple website that allowed people to leave reviews of our services. It’s worked out great – and ranks #5 for that search.
There’s no question that search suggest is a powerful determinant of what users search each time they head to Google or Bing. As a professional, you are well-served to be aware of these terms as they change over time. The steps required to both take advantage of new marketing opportunities and to monitor your reputation in the search results are not difficult. Just stay aware, and stay ahead of the game. You’ll find ongoing opportunities to better your business from search engines that others will miss.
About the author: Nathaniel Broughton @natebro is a veteran internet marketer who’s helped produce three Inc 500 winning companies. He is the owner of Growth Partner Capital, a venture fund with services in SEO consulting, online reputation management, and premium link building.