Google, Yahoo and Bing provide various tools to help guide and direct searchers towards the results they “anticipate” those searchers are looking for, effectively turning the process into search-by-wire. These tools take the form of as-you-type suggestions, combined with additional search suggestions displayed on certain results pages.
Since these tools source their data from past search popularity, this leads to a chicken-and-egg situation, a recursive loop in which previously popular searches are surfaced again, and presented to new searchers. Some percentage of those new searchers click on one of the suggested keyphrases, thereby increasing its popularity – and the cycle repeats. Over time, stronger searches get even stronger.
What this means is that by studying the suggestions the search engines throw off for your topic’s main keywords, you’re reading the signposts that will be used by future searchers when researching that topic. This lets you position your site and content to take maximum advantage of those searches.
While all 3 search engines have superficially similar search suggestion tools, it’s worth taking a quick look at the differences and their impact on the suggestions on offer. After that, it’s time to get MINING!
Google Suggestion Tool
Head over to the front page of Google.com or your regional Google. As soon as you start typing into the search box, Google begins to try to complete your search.
Google will start showing suggestions as soon as you type a single letter (it may take a couple of seconds for the suggestions to be displayed), and returns 10 suggestions at a time, in a single column. Users can select from these 10 suggestions either using the up/down arrows on their keyboard and then pressing “enter”, or by mousing over and then clicking on the suggestion they want to select.
Try it now: go to Google.com and type the letter “a” into the search box. You should see search suggestions appear, similar to the screenshot below.
As you might expect, Google is “surfacing” some extremely popular searches, including “apple” and “amazon”. Great for Apple and Amazon, but not really useful for you… yet.
Where the suggestion tool comes into its own is when you prime the suggestions with a significant keyword relating to the niche you’re targeting. For example, type in “mortgage” and Google will return a list of suggestions that includes “mortgage calculator”, “mortgage rates” etc.
Important: Google’s suggestions always START with the keyword you entered. So even if “cheap mortgages” was more popular than “mortgage rates” Google’s keyword tool won’t suggest “cheap mortgages” to you if you started by typing in “mortgages”.
Google provides additional suggestions to searchers in the form of “Searches related to” suggestions that appear at the foot of the first page of results. These suggestions can contain the keyword in any position, not just at the beginning.
Yahoo Suggestion Tool
The Yahoo Suggestion tool is a more complex beast than Google’s offering. To see it in action, head over to Yahoo.com and start typing in a search.
Yahoo will pop up suggestions as soon as you type in 3 or more letters. The default behaviour of the search box on Yahoo’s front page is to show 10 suggestions, but only the top 5 are visible and users have to click the up/down arrows to scroll down to the other 5 suggestions. In practice, this means that only the most experienced users are likely to be paying attention to suggestions outside the top 5.
The Yahoo suggestion tool will show suggestions that have the keyword ANYWHERE within the suggestion, not just at the beginning like Google does. So for example a search on “mortgage” will suggest “mortgage calculator” but also “gmac mortgage”.
Once you’re on the first page of results, you can pull up even more data by clicking inside the search box. This will re-display the 10 suggestions, and also present “related topics”, i.e. additional searches (which may or may not contain your original keyword) that Yahoo considers are thematically similar to your keyword.
Yahoo also surfaces these suggestions at the top and bottom of the results page, presenting the top 2 suggestions by default as “Also try” suggestions, expanding to the top 6 suggestions if you click the “more” link.
This effectively means that users searching on Yahoo have many opportunities to be directed towards the top two suggestions triggered by the keyword or keyphrase they searched on.
Bing Suggestion Tool
Head over to the front page of Bing.com and start doing a search.
Bing will start turning up suggestions after a single character, just like Google. Again, like Google, Bing presents 10 suggestions in a single column of results.
A Comprehensive Strategy for Mining the Keyword Suggestion Tools
Open 3 browser windows, one each for the front pages of Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Make a list of the main keywords relating to your niche, and order it in terms of importance. Even if you’re coming to the niche “cold” you should at least be able to think of ONE keyword that’s relevant!
First, we’re going to go for the “big win” keyphrases, the monsters that you really should be focusing on.
Start with Google. Type in your chosen keyword and you’ll see a list of 10 suggestions all beginning with that keyword. Those are the 10 keyphrases that Google has determined are most “important” for that keyword. Write each keyphrase down!
Head over to Yahoo and do the same thing. The result should be another 10 keyphrases, each containing your keyword somewhere within them. Write each keyphrase down!
Finally, hit Bing’s front page and repeat the exercise. You guessed it, it’s time to write each keyphrase down!
You should now have a list of 30 keyphrases, 10 each from Google, Yahoo and Bing. Some may be duplicates, but that’s no problem – in fact, that’s brilliant as the duplicate keyphrases carry even more weight since they’ll end up doing double or triple duty.
Now take each of the 10 Google suggestions you just wrote down, and search for that whole keyphrase on Google. Scroll down to the bottom of the first page of search results and write down every “Searches related to” result you see (some searches won’t trigger any “Searches related to”, others may produce up to 8 results). By the end of this process, you should have anywhere up to 80 keyphrases written down.
Next, head over to Yahoo and search for each keyphrase in turn. Click inside the search box at the top of the results page, and record every “Related concepts” result you see. There are up to 12 per search (you’ll need to scroll left and right to see all of them using the arrows). At the end of this process, you should have anywhere up to 120 related concepts to work with.
At the end of this research process, you’ll be left with the top 30 keyphrases that the search engines will be presenting to visitors when “triggered” by the keyword you started with, plus up to 80 related searches from Google and 120 related concepts from Yahoo. You should also have a much, much better feel for the most popular keyphrases relating to your topic than when you started this exercise.