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:

autocomplete-word-cloud-600x335

I’ve worked on reputation management for many companies, and I can assure you that negative Autocomplete values such as complaintsscam, 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.

Research Approach

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 Results

The top ten most common Autocomplete values for Fortune 500 CEOs are:

  1. Bio
  2. Salary
  3. Wiki
  4. Net worth
  5. Facebook
  6. Compensation
  7. Email
  8. Wife
  9. Twitter
  10. House

(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):

wordle-f500-ceos

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.

louis chênevert - divorce-1

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.

ballmer-worst-ceo-image

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:

  1. Search Volume
  2. Social Media Mentions
  3. Content (general mentions across the Web)

billboard-brian-patterson-reputation-management-research

This is one way to get people searching for what you want, but probably not the easiest.

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!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO | Google | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | How To

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About The Author: is Go Fish Digital's Director of Client Services, and is responsible for researching and developing strategies for Online Reputation Management (ORM), SEO, and managing web development projects. He blogs on the GFD blog and can be found on Twitter@brianspatterson.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    I need to thank my friend, Michael Salvo, for the tip on including a link to search results in an email signature. Brilliant idea from him – http://www.washingtondcseo.org/michael-salvo.html

  • SuggestRank

    We are working on autocomplete reputation/analytics for 3 years. In 2011 we created a little script named “SuggestCloud”. Our script is working with Wordle too, and uses Google, Bing, Yahoo, Youtube, Google Images and Google News autocomplete suggestions. You can see this script in action and some examples here : http://www.suggestrank.com/suggestcloud.php (in French)

  • Darrell Weaver

    Great article and an issue that I’ve had clients calling me about. Brian hints at a powerful technique of having someone else search for your brand/name plus keyword….INSERT oDesk job or crowd sourcing? Is that considered Black Hat or just savvy SMO? Thoughts?

  • Mike Moriarty

    Just to add on to Brian’s thoughts, we’ve seen problems for lawsuits, bankruptcies, DUI’s and show up in the top 3 autocomplete suggestions for individuals from events years and years ago.

  • Kat Haselkorn

    Great article Brian! I like seeing how social media can be used to improve reputations, not just to damage them…

    I think we’ve all seen the issues twitter and facebook and other networks can cause for individuals, so it’s great that there is a professional and personal advantage to setting up these profiles as well.

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Hi Darrell, there are certainly some black hat strategies. Google’s statement at SMX West a few years ago is that any attempt to manipulate Autocomplete will be deemed “abuse” and subject to “corrective action”. Here is Danny’s tweet from it: https://twitter.com/dannysullivan/status/45208561738985472

  • Kyle Haze

    This is really useful info and a very thorough piece. Thanks for sharing.

    I especially like the idea of adding keywords in your email signature. It’s such an easy tweak and yet can make a huge difference with how you develop your online brand or persona.

    Thanks for including tips for both big name CEOs and us little people.

  • David Haselkorn

    Very interesting, had never thought about it. Kind of like home sales: power wash the front patio and trim the front hedges – the first impression before the first impression.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.monica.5 Brian Monica

    I love the points about Steve Balmer! And while he is a bit over the top, we should still credit him for the success he’s been a part of.

    I’m sure that Press Releases and other targeted marketing efforts can help with this as well. If you work in the education field, communicating your name and some of your ideas to newsgroups, unions, or other areas could help generate a “white hat” way of getting more mentions, searches, etc to help repair your personal brand.

  • 360Partners SEO Team

    Very interesting. Do you think these strategies apply to the actual corporate brand or product search queries, in addition to the queries on individuals’ names?

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Good question. The values recommended in this article are more focused on individuals. We did similar research for brands, which you can find here: http://searchengineland.com/how-google-autocomplete-can-affect-your-seo-orm-strategy-131412

    There is definitely some overlap. Notably, ‘Facebook’ appears on both top 10 lists, so it would be applicable for both brands and individual names.

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    I like that analogy :-)

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Pretty interesting – do you have an English version that I could play around with?

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Hi Brian, all great ideas! Press Releases certainly help get some content out there with your target keywords, and using newsgroups is an old-school, effective way to get some buzz if it is relevant

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Thanks, Kyle. Glad you liked it! Michael Salvo in Washington DC tipped me off to the email signature thing, so all credit goes to him on that.

  • SuggestRank

    Hi Brian, we just have developped an English version for you here : http://www.suggestrank.com/en/suggestcloud.php .

    Technically, we generate suggestions in English for the USA (eg. for Google : hl=en and gl=us) from Google Search, G Images, G News, Bing Search and Yahoo Search.

    How do we generate a lot of suggestions for each search engine ? In fact we generate kw+a suggestions, then kw+b, kw+c, and so on for the whole alphabet and for each search engine.

    We have generated 3 examples of English “suggestclouds” on the page, for “Obama”, “Apple” and “Steve Ballmer”. Lots of negative words appears in Ballmer’s SuggestCloud : “idiot”, “crazy”, “worst”, “fired”, “frankenstein”, “trouble”, “nightmare” … and so on.

    SEO’s and webmarketers can also use our tool to discover some keywords other tools don’t deliver, because Bing or Goole News suggestions are not the same that Google Search ones.

    We think SuggestCloud is a great tool to see an “autocomplete
    reputation” at a glance for any brand, product, personnality or keyword.

    We also think – like you do – that “autocomplete reputation” will be
    more and more strategic for brands, personnalities and e-commerce. It
    REALLY IS the first impression, and not only in Google Search.
    Autocomplete is (or should be !) everywhere search is.

  • eDigitalFields

    Today. it’s necessary to build reputation over the web. The little negative reviews impact a lot to the overall reputation of business. There are also some tools, like topsy and socialmention, using it with a search of business or an individual name will helpful to find the real time data and other information to directly update if found negative. Second, the social media are also plays an important role building up a reputation.

  • http://kenmorico.com/blog Ken Morico

    Can someone explain how having a twitter account (or any of the profile sites) can help with Google autocomplete? The profile is just a webpage like any other, right?

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Hi Ken, It is more of a small, incremental step. If you have a strong Twitter presence, people will naturally search something like “Ken Morico Twitter”, which Google will start to see as a natural search phrase for Autocomplete.

    Also, you can include your other target words in your description, tweets, etc.

    And, you can use the bitly technique mentioned above of linking to a search results page, and periodically tweet those things out and get your followers to do the searches that you want.

    Overall, it is just one of many tools needed to manipulate Autocomplete.

  • http://twitter.com/BrianSPatterson Brian Patterson

    Very cool, thanks for doing that. Another tool that I use for research for target Autocomplete records is http://ubersuggest.org/

  • Dennis Brennan

    Spot on Mike and that’s why I’ve recently started following some of the Reputation Management leaders like http://ReputationChanger.com so as to keep abreast of those skeletons in the closet that many human beings possess…

 

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