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How often do you Google your company’s name? Most people focus on the keywords and phrases they’re targeting, and they Google search to find out how their website ranks when someone searches for those keywords. And what if someone is searching for your business by name? Hopefully, your website will rank first in the SERPs, but it’s not the PageRank you should be checking; it’s Google’s Autocomplete suggestions.

Google’s Autocomplete is often helpful, and it can be hilarious, too. On the darker side, however, it can also be hurtful. Have you ever searched for a business, for example, and seen one of the Autocomplete suggestions come up as “scam” or “complaints” after the company name? Those types of negative results can be really detrimental to a brand’s image. Is Google’s Autocomplete hurting your brand? And if so, what can you do about it?

The Mystery of Autocomplete

Google doesn’t tell us exactly how Autocomplete works. It has its own algorithm that determines suggestions based on a number of factors, so none of the suggestions are selected personally. The factors that influence Autocomplete include popularity and frequency of search terms, a searcher’s location, social signals, and a searcher’s personal browsing history. Exactly how these factors (and possibly more) are used is unknown, and therefore it’s difficult to know how to best influence them. We know less about influencing Autocomplete than we do about using SEO to influence PageRank.

Monitoring Your Brand
It’s essential that you monitor the Autocomplete suggestions that go along with your company’s name and any other search terms that are unique to your brand, such as a specific product name. Google updates suggestions every few weeks, so it’s recommended that you evaluate your brand approximately every six months to check for any changes. Four Autocomplete suggestions will appear at one time for any search term, not including suggestions that come from similar searches a user did in the past (which will be at the top of the suggestions). If you do notice that something negative comes up, what can you do about it?

Influencing Autocomplete
There have been studies by different SEO firms and businesses in order to experiment with influencing Autocomplete. When it comes to small- or mid-size businesses, some popular categories of terms that may come after a company’s name are a location, company structure information (like LLC, Inc, etc.), employment information, and investment information. In an attempt to control what appears for your brand, it’s a good idea to create pages on your website dedicated to providing information about careers, investments, locations, etc. In order to keep negative terms at bay, you should be proactive in encouraging your customers to write positive reviews about your company.

Dealing with the Negative
If you do have the unfortunate experience of having a negative term come up in your Autocomplete results, you should do your best to generate positive press for your company. Put out news releases, run a promotion or coupon campaign (because coupon and offer-related suggestions are also common), or even start a charitable foundation or host a nonprofit event to help put your company in a good light. Unfortunately, if your company is involved in a publicized scandal, you won’t necessarily be able to hide from it. In that case, it’s important to remember that Autocomplete suggestions also rely on current trends and spikes in search terms. After the frenzy and attention wanes, you may find that the negative suggestions have dropped off naturally and your Autocomplete suggestions become tame again.

This article on enterprise level SEO and reputation management when it comes to digital marketing strategies was prepared by Mey Lau of SEOMap. You can read more of her work here.