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Google Autocomplete: Your Personal Brand’s First Impression
Pop Quiz: What is the first thing a searcher sees when they type your name into the Google search bar?
If your answer was related webpages found in SERPs, you’re wrong — that would be the second thing. The first thing they see are the Autocomplete suggestions that drop down from the search bar. This is your true first impression!
There are three basic facts of our Google-centric world: first, like it or not, we each represent the brand of our personal name; second, we are humans, and thus, we all make mistakes; and third, Google searches for individual names are tremendously popular in both personal and professional spheres. Given these basic truths, it follows that Google Autocomplete is critical to online branding.
Information gleaned from Google has a profound impact on personal branding — and these days, it isn’t just the search results themselves that matter, but the Autocomplete suggestions that are displayed before, and above, those search results. In light of this, many savvy business professionals are seeking out Google Autocomplete reputation management for image makeovers or maintenance.
Some Background (Autocomplete For Companies)
Last summer, Search Engine Land published an article I wrote discussing the effects of Google Autocomplete on brands’ SEO and ORM strategies. Our team gathered the Google Autocomplete values for several Fortune 500 and Inc. 5,000 companies and analyzed the data to identify the most common values and word groupings for different businesses. Here is the word cloud that shows what we found to be the most common values:
I’ve worked on reputation management for many companies, and I can assure you that negative Autocomplete values such as complaints, scam, or ripoff can have a severe impact on the business. Think about the sorts of people that might be doing research on a company. Not only do negative Autocomplete suggestions have the power to spook potential customers — we’ve also seen them cause significant problems in hiring, raising funds, and even leasing office space.
Autocomplete For Personal Names
Since that article was published, I’ve received several questions from people encountering negative Autocomplete suggestions for their personal names. These suggestions include Lawsuit, DUI, Bankruptcy, Divorce, you name it. In many cases, these suggestions are based on decades-old events, false claims, or a mistaken identity. And yet, Google Autocomplete is defining how people initially view each of them because of Autocomplete’s immediate impact on a searcher.
To help individuals put their best foot forward, we have jumped back into the data pool and identified the most common positive or neutral Autocomplete values for notable individuals. These commonly searched terms seem to be the easiest ones to focus on when attempting to alter Autocomplete suggestions, so they are good targets to aim for when forcing the negative terms out of the top values.
We started by pulling the top ten Autocomplete values of all Fortune 500 Company CEOs to use as our base values. The names of these CEOs all receive a high search volume, and their Autocomplete suggestions all include ten values for analysis.
We sifted through the data, carefully weeding out irrelevant information — for example, other high-profile individuals with the same name. Once we had the search results from all 500 CEOs, we grouped like values and calculated which words and word groups occurred most frequently among the sample.
The top ten most common Autocomplete values for Fortune 500 CEOs are:
- Net worth
(Note: For simplification purposes, bio & biography have been combined, as have wiki and Wikipedia.)
And, here is your word cloud showcasing the data (courtesy of Wordle.net):
How It Can Help
While most Autocomplete values are positive or neutral, often the most powerful and polarizing are not. Divorce, for example, was #30 on our list of most frequent Autocomplete value for a Fortune 500 CEO. Like each of us, CEOs and their corporate brands would rather highlight favorable characteristics than personal matters.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is listed as the 18th wealthiest man in the US and is consistently on Forbes lists of powerful people. And yet, despite the many things he has accomplished over the course of his career, a search for his name often suggests worst CEO.
Many searchers, endowed with a natural curiosity, would select the third Autocomplete result in the above illustration. This worst CEO result has a strong negative impact not only on Steve Ballmer’s personal brand, but also, by extension, his company.
Our analysis gives valuable insight into what people think and want to know about high-profile individuals and what Google Autocomplete will most often suggest.
Just as our previous research on Autocomplete for medium-large companies is readily applicable to businesses of all sizes, our new data and analysis on Fortune 500 CEOs can also be more broadly applied. We have used this data to improve the Autocomplete values of both CEOs and Average Joes.
Using The Data To Improve Google Autocomplete Results
Individuals who have negative Autocomplete results can improve them by taking matters into their own hands.
How does Google come up with its list of Autocomplete suggestions for a given name? Our testing shows the results are primarily derived from three variables:
- Search Volume
- Social Media Mentions
- Content (general mentions across the Web)
Because you can’t exactly put up a billboard on the highway asking millions of people to Google your name with the search phrases you want to populate Autocomplete, here are a few (white hat) methods for improving your Autocomplete suggestions.
- Social Media Accounts. If you are not already active on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, open these accounts in your name today. Sign on regularly and include positive details and keywords in your profile. These and other social platforms will trigger more people to search for you on those networks, which in turn, creates more signals for Google Autocomplete to generate these favorable suggestions.
- Profile Websites. Include mentions of your positive terms along with your name on every corner of the Web. Try sites like Freebase, About.me, HubPages, Squidoo, Quora, Crunchbase, and Wikipedia (if you pass their notability standards) to create content about yourself. You can write about anything — even your personal history — so long as you include the positive target keywords that you want to see in Autocomplete. The great thing about most of these sites (and there are hundreds of them!) is that you are in complete control of what is said next to your name.
- Get People Searching for “Your Name + positive words.” Start small and ask friends and family to Google your name with positive words like bio or wiki. When you travel, be sure to search your positive terms from different computers and IP addresses. Not hitting the road any time soon? Start closer to home and stop by local libraries and coffee shops to search your positive terms from as many computers as you can.
- Be Creative. You can add the desired search term to your business card or email signature so people are more likely to link you to that phrase when searching for information online. You might even consider including a direct link to a search result page in your email signature (e.g., I could add something like “learn more about me” as a link in my signature, and link to the Google search result page for ‘Brian Patterson reputation management research.’ When clicked, it functions similarly to when a person types that phrase right into Google.
Putting It Into Action
Before concluding, let’s return to our new friend, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and his Worst CEO Autocomplete problem. How would we tackle his Autocomplete debacle?
You might think we would start with his bio, as Bio is the most frequent Autocomplete value suggested for CEOs. In this case, however, as a first step, we would recommend that Steve Ballmer join Twitter. Because of Microsoft’s substantial investment in Facebook, it is likely that online outlets would pick up on this as an unusual move and highlight Steve’s Twitter account. Joining Twitter would also trigger significant search volume which could lead to an Autocomplete update that would include Twitter in the Autocomplete results. This would bring him one step closer to pushing Worst CEO out. (As an added bonus, I personally think he would be immensely entertaining in the 140-character format.)
There are, of course, black hat ways to manipulate Google’s algorithm. But, that generally results only in a short-term and unreliable solution. You can have control of your “first impression” on Google Autocomplete using a sustained, measured approach. These white hat tactics are not just for CEOs, either.
If you have additional ideas for credible, white hat ways to positively influence Autocomplete, please let us know in the comments. We love to hear your questions and feedback!
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.