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September 12, 2008

New from Google: The “Suggest” Search Tool

Have you noticed anything different lately when searching on Google? Google has recently added a new search tool called “Suggest”, which automatically gives users additional suggestions when they type in search queries. For example, if you type the term “web site development” into the search bar, Google automatically displays a list of other terms that may be related (see example below):

While this is likely to be very helpful to users as they perform searches on Google (I personally love this new feature and use it a lot), what does it mean for your small business?

It means that your business may have to adjust the keywords and phrases currently used on your site to include some additional general industry terms. As users become familiar with seeing a list of suggestions each time they search, they may be less likely to think of their own terms to search on, and instead begin to rely on the suggestions from Google.

The Suggestion List
How does Google determine which terms to display in its list of suggestions? According to Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land, Google looks at all of its searches, then lists some additional popular terms that contain the word that the user types into the search bar. Right now, it appears that the suggestions are fairly general, although they are based on the most popular searches related to each specific term. However, it’s quite possible that as the suggestion tool “learns” new queries from users, the list of suggestions that is displayed could change based on how users actually search and which terms become most popular.

But as you consider adding some general industry terms to your keyword mix, that doesn’t mean that you should abandon your existing keyword strategy, especially if it is performing well for you. Company-specific keywords, long-tail keywords, and geographic terms are still worth targeting, especially if these keywords continue to rank or show good search activity in your analytics. Yet, this could change as searchers become accustomed to using the broader terms in the suggestion list, so you will need to monitor your analytics closely to watch for this trend.

Tougher Competition
Over time, if searchers indeed prefer the broad industry terms that are displayed in the suggestion list, then you can bet that these terms are going to get even more competitive than they already are. Be proactive; as you see your monthly stats changing, make sure you respond quickly and don’t be afraid to update your pages to establish a broader industry focus rather than highlighting only your specific products and services.

To learn which keywords and phrases are most likely to be displayed for your business, you may need to do a little research. Go to Google and type in the most common industry terms that your customers use, then take note of what is displayed in the suggestion list. Do the same for the terms that your competitors use as their keywords, and also test your own keywords as well. The phrases that are displayed in the suggestion list are the phrases that you may need to optimize for.

A Change in Strategy
Another strategy is to build additional content pages that focus on the broader industry terms that Google Suggest displays to its users. Not only does this make your site more relevant to these terms, it also provides fresh content for your site which in turn gets the attention of search engine spiders that are always looking for new or updated content.

As search engines continue to evolve, improve, and change, so must your optimization efforts. SEO is truly not a one-time activity; it is dynamic and ongoing. With each new initiative (such as optimizing to include Google’s suggested keywords/phrases for your industry), you must monitor your analytics carefully to see the results of your efforts, and make adjustments based on those results. The more you are able to keep up with search engine changes and improvements, the more likely it is that your customers and prospects will be able to find your business when they search for the products and services that you offer.

The new Google Suggest tool may change the way users search for information, but it will probably be months before we know what effect it will actually have on keywords and the way in which web sites are optimized. But for now, small businesses would be wise to find out what broad industry terms Google displays, and include those terms in their ongoing SEO strategy – sooner rather than later.

Lauren Hobson, President of Five Sparrows, LLC, has more than 15 years of experience in small business technology writing, marketing, and web site design and development. Five Sparrows provides professional web site and marketing services to small businesses and non-profit organizations, giving them access to high-quality services at affordable prices. To read articles or subscribe to Biz Talk, please visit