Changes to Google’s autocomplete API and the effect on keyword research

Posted by Jo Cameron on 29 Jul, 2015
View comments Keyword Research
Find out how recent changes to the Google autocomplete API will affect your keyword research

autocomplete chocolate

 

On the 10th of August Google will be removing access to their unofficial autocomplete API which drives several popular keyword suggestion tools.

Google states on their blog post:

“In the interest of maintaining the integrity of autocomplete as part of Search, we will be restricting unauthorized access to the unpublished autocomplete API”

We don't know for sure if this change will be the end for tools like Übersuggest, but given that the  tool is primarily driven by the API, a big change is to be expected.

Potentially the Bing Suggest API could step in and fill the void.

Just to quash any concerns about Wordtracker keyword tool straight away, this change has no impact on our tool or data. Wordtracker’s data remains independent of Google, and we don’t use their keywords, volumes or any other aspect of their AdWords data within ours. Although we do provide Google data as an additional source in our tool via SEMrush.

 

What is autocomplete?

Google’s autocomplete feature works by offering a handful of popular suggestions as you type a search. It’s been around since 2004, so you’re probably so used to it you don’t even notice it anymore (unless a somewhat bizarre or humorous result stops you in your tracks).

Autocomplete juggles, and sometimes struggles with the topics, questions, and concerns searchers plug into Google and attempts to thrown up something helpful that saves us time.

In some cases the results can reveal more about our society that we’re communally comfortable with.

The comedy and tragedy of Autocomplete spawned a confusing, hilarious, and addictive Family Feud spin off, Google Feud. I’m sure we’ll all be very sad to say goodbye to this game after August 10th.

Autocompleting searches with popular results helps by guiding users through the search process. It might even lead your search down a different path to what you initially intended. It’s not uncommon that I might get stuck during a phrase and toggle down to an autocomplete result to kick start the searching process.

autocomplete Search

Along came the 3rd party autocomplete tools

The impact of autocomplete on a searcher’s intent drew the interest of SEOs and online marketers. If user’s searches are being corralled into more popular phrases, then businesses in these niches are going to be interested in this behaviour. The keyword tools offering quick access to suggestions in niches filled this need for marketers and they quickly became popular tools in the SEO community.

The API was a source for tools like keywordtool.io and Übersuggest to gain access to popular search terms without messing about without scraping Google or paying for keyword data.

Übersuggest doesn’t display search volume or competition metrics, but many bloggers, marketers and business owners use these tools as a starting point for keyword research within a niche.

 

Why is this data insightful?

SEOs are interested in this data because the phrases are already identified as popular search by Google. Additionally future searchers would presumably be influenced into making that search, perpetuating its popularity

 

What are the limitations?

The main limitation to locating a keyword on one of these tools and jumping into creating optimized content for your site is that you have no idea how much competition you face, and how strong that competition is.

Creating amazing content that helps your visitors, is sharable, and drives traffic takes time and energy. So you want to make sure you're not diving headlong into an area that is dominated by the likes of Wikipedia, Google images and/or Amazon.

 

So where do we go from here?

Marketers who want to gain insight into autocomplete searches can still do so manually. Just enter the first part of your phrase and toggle through the alphabet, like in the animation below:

autocomplete animated gif

But that’s not the end of this task. What chance would many of us have ranking well for “photography blog” or “photography business”?

Jot down some keywords that appeal to you and plug these into the Wordtracker tool. Now you’re seeing organic search volume and competition metrics (as well as longer tail keywords associated with those kinds of searches).

You'll also want to pop in your head term, in this case 'photography' so you can see what suggestions our data has to offer.

You can test the Wordtracker keyword tool out free for the first 7 days.

You can find out more about how the tools works and more about the numbers and what they mean by watching our introduction video series.

 

The future for autocomplete data

Google indicates they’re tightening up access to the API because accessing this data there is no user benefit "outside the context of web search":

"Over time we’ve realized that while we can conceive of uses for an autocomplete data feed outside of search results that may be valuable, overall the content of our automatic completions are optimized and intended to be used in conjunction with web search results, and outside of the context of a web search don’t provide a meaningful user benefit."

Will we see autocomplete data in the GKP? It’s unlikely. Autocomplete data drives organic inbound marketing, not PPC which fills the Google coffers.

Google have made moves in the past to unplug features that distracted from paid results. For example, it has been speculated that authorship was removed from the SERPs in 2014 because all those authors' gorgeous smiling faces were too enticing, reducing clicks on paid results and in turn revenue for the big G.

For now, though, we’ll have to wait and see what happens after the 10th of August...

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