During December, SEO experts began noticing that Google was quietly testing a new feature in its search box.
This is an extended version of the box that we call the Enhanced AutoComplete Box.
In the right column of the box, Google pulls the top three People also ask questions, and people are also looking section featuring many related terms and entities.
Although there is a wealth of information, most media outlets and blogs just rehash what the box is and how they got there.
But it is not the fault of these publishers.
That’s all the smarts there is to it right now, as it’s clearly just a beta test that Google isn’t ready to comment on yet.
At the same time, the information presented by the new auto-complete feature is obvious to industry experts.
Many SEO professionals have probably noticed the new feature and think they know what Google is doing.
Maybe we don’t have the whole story yet, but I have an idea of where Google might take this.
SEO experts can take advantage of enhanced auto-completion to perform keyword and topic searches.
What is Google’s Enhanced AutoComplete feature?
First, let’s cover what the new and improved auto-completion box actually is.
Here is a screenshot of what it looks like:
Google doesn’t give you one for every search. But for a few general topics (check out the other screenshots in this post), all I had to do after clicking Enter was to click once more in the search bar, and the bigger box appeared.
Before we get to what’s in the expanded box, the first thing you’ll notice is that this thing appears above the zero position code snippet and the knowledge panel on the right.
What does this tell us? We can’t be sure yet.
At a glance, the new expanded area appears to be just a new way for the search engine to organize some of the most important search features for your query.
At the bottom of the left column, in their usual place, are the autocomplete suggestions for your term.
In the new column on the right are three People also ask questions, and below are some items in the people are also looking section.
Note that the box does not contain organic search results, and I wouldn’t expect Google to start picking the results to show there.
Well, why would it be? The results are already there for you to see, in Google’s preferred order.
All in all, Enhanced AutoComplete seems like a way to make your search a little easier if you’re looking for any of these three PAA questions, or to purchase this digital marketing book, or to do business with GoDaddy.
If you’re wondering why Google would feature items in its expanded search box that it already offers right on the SERP, just chalk it up to additional user experience optimization.
You know why PAA questions exist. You know why Google Knowledge Panels exist.
What the enhanced autocomplete box does is simply move the most relevant items from that extra content to a more important real estate item so you don’t even have to scroll to find it.
If you want organic SERPs, you can scroll down the page as usual.
So what do I think of the improved auto-complete box?
It contains eye-opening information that you can leverage for your digital marketing efforts.
Using the improved auto-complete box for searching keywords and topics
At this point, anyone can claim to know exactly what Enhanced AutoComplete Box is and how it can be used.
But I believe I can extrapolate what the box is supposed to represent.
If there is already a PAA section on a given SERP, as well as a knowledge panel for the most common topics, Google selects a few things from each section to present to you.
You know that the elements presented to you are the most reliable and relevant on the page.
Like what we are already used to seeing in SEO, digital marketers can take advantage of Google selections to conduct keyword and topic research.
Take a look at this version of the box below, for my search query [pizza].
You will see the autocompletes, the PAA questions, then the people are also looking.
But now take a look at the regular SERP for [pizza] below.
The SERP shows me exactly what you would expect for such a query. I have one card from my location, the local package to the left, and the PAAs below.
Now look at the improved auto-complete box. He shows me Domino’s, Papa John’s, Little Caesars and DoorDash.
Do you see these entities anywhere on the actual SERP I showed above?
Because Google presents these results to me, it assumes certain things about my query, namely that I want to eat pizza right now.
If so, those are options I’m trying (like DoorDash) and a handy way to get it as well.
What if I was a new pizza franchise that wanted to compete with Domino’s and Papa John’s? What if I too wanted to enter Google’s enhanced autocomplete box for a [pizza] question in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania?
If I was digital marketing savvy, I would look at these companies’ websites to see what their meta information looked like, what they used for H1s, and how they optimized their pages for SEO and user experience.
I would look at how easy it was to order pizza from their sites or find a location near me.
After reviewing the sites manually, I would then take a look at the sites in a tool like SEMrush to see what was going on behind the scenes.
What are they doing well that my pizza franchise website should do to work well?
Ultimately, I could find that these sites have healthy domain authorities built on backlinks and Core Web Vitals and content.
However, I could also browse the keywords of these sites to see what opportunities there are for my franchise.
In the context of this example, any pizza franchise owner should know that Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Little Caesars are pretty big.
But you never know what your site can do until you look at a competitor’s keyword profile.
There’s a good reason why Google chose to put these three companies in my enhanced autocomplete box over three others.
In classic SEO reverse engineering fashion, we can use Google’s choices to find out what kinds of results the search engine really wants to see.
The pizza example above is particularly great for keyword research because Google gave us search competitors that don’t even show up in my organic results.
As I say, it’s obvious.
But what about thematic research?
I don’t think there are any particularly interesting revelations to be made about it.
Google moves the top three PAA questions to the improved autocomplete box for some searches, and with these we can also reverse engineer the SEO of these results (to see what content works for these websites).
So, in general, the SEO community already knows how to take advantage of the PAA.
However, I guess we can see all three “featured” PAA in the box as further confirmation of Google’s confidence in these results.
That is: if for some reason you were not paying attention to the PAA before, you should definitely do it now.
Google tells content marketers everywhere that many people also ask these three questions related to your query, and if they searched for the general query [pizza], they might also want to know if pizza is healthy to eat or who invented pizza first.
Depending on your market niche, these content topics may interest you.
Maybe you run a pizza blog.
Everything is possible.
As you may have seen in the SEO media, Google recently beta-tested many other SERP features that take up the width of the page, from featured snippets to card packs.
This tells us that Google is wondering if serving content in this format will be better for the user experience.
Users will just have to get used to all the changes that Google implements permanently.
SEO pros, however, should take note of the improved autocomplete box and all the other beta tests they’ve seen lately.
Google is giving us some clues about possible new SERP priorities to come, and it’s up to all of us to rise to the challenge.
Featured Image: THEBILLJR/Shutterstock