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Is Google Suggest Eliminating You From The Search Results?

When Google launched ‘Suggested Search’ in 2008 (since renamed ‘Autocomplete’), few people realized the tremendous impact it would have on users even before they see the results of their search query.  Eye-tracking studies show that people begin scanning the suggested search phrases as soon as they appear.  With estimates of click-through rates running as high as 70% on desktops and 90% on mobile devices Google Suggest is the most used part of Google's search engine.

There are positives and negatives to Google Suggest.  If your dealership appears in the suggested search listings for popular keywords and people click on your listing, your competitors will be virtually eliminated from the search results.  Likewise if your competitor appears in the suggested search listings for popular keywords and people click on their listing, you will be eliminated from the search results.

Let’s look at an example of how Google Suggest eliminates dealers from the search results.  Assume you live in Fairfax, Virginia and you just saw Ford’s television commercial promoting its new lightweight aluminum body F150.  You decide to find your local Ford dealer and take a test drive so you go to Google and begin typing ‘ford fairfax va’.  As you enter your search query Google displays a list of suggested search queries and by the time you get to the letter ‘v’ Google displays the following list of suggested search queries.

5bb7861ad5126cebacc6b2a49a9552fc.png?t=1Google Suggest indicates Koons and Sheehy Ford are located in Fairfax, but in fact neither of these two dealers are in Fairfax.  Ted Brit is the only Ford dealer located in Fairfax, but Google has not included Ted Brit in its suggested search recommendations.  However, since you are not aware Ted Brit is the Fairfax Ford dealer you will probably click on the first dealer in the list.  Let’s see what Google returns on page one of its search results when you click on ‘koons ford fairfax va’.

Google Search Results Above The Fold

As you can see the Koons organization dominates both the organic search results and the map listings above the fold.  Sheehy Ford and Battlefield Ford appear below the fold in positions 7 and 9, but only 4% of users click on the bottom four search results.

To understand why this occurs and how to make sure your dealership is not eliminated from Google’s suggested search recommendations and organic search results requires a basic understanding of how Google’s various algorithms work.

How Google Collects and Indexes Website Data

Google’s web crawler (Googlebot) discovers webpages by collecting the inbound links on a webpage and following these links back to the source page of the link, thus the derivation of the term ‘backlinks’.  Googlebot collects three types of data; the identity of the page (it’s URL), the text (keywords and content) and the inbound links.

After Googlebot collects the data, Google’s indexing and quality scoring algorithms analyze the keywords, content and backlinks in order to index the keywords and assign quality scores.  One of the quality scores measures On-the-Page ranking factors and the other quality score measures Off-the-Page ranking factors.  Google then compares these quality scores to the quality scores of all other websites within the same industry (auto dealers for example) and establishes industry benchmarks.

Ranking Factors

On-the-Page ranking factors deal primarily with the content of a website and the level of user engagement.  The most influential of these ranking factors include the following in order of importance:

  • Keywords – everything begins with a keyword search so it is vital that your primary keywords are included in your URL, at the beginning of your page titles and descriptions, in your heading tags and in the first 100 words of your page content.
  • Internal Backlinks – links from other pages within the same website indicates the importance of the page to the entire website.
  • Word Count – optimum content word count for a page is between 750 and 1,500 words.
  • Page Loading Speed – between two and four seconds is acceptable.
  • Time Spent on the Page – should not be confused with bounce rate, which is not a major ranking factor.

Off-the-Page ranking factors deal primarily with measures of popularity and include the following in order of importance:

  • Brand Searches - how many people are searching for your dealership by name and clicking on your links in the search results.
  • Social Signals - how many people have acknowledged you via social media.
  • Backlinks - how many websites are linking to pages on your website.

How Google Determines Page Rank Position

Google's original algorithm determined page rank position based on how many backlinks a page contained weighted by the quality score of the source page of the backlinks.  In the fall of 2011 Google altered the way it calculated page rank position when it released the Panda algorithm.  Since Google is extremely secretive about how its algorithms work, SEO professionals were forced to make educated guesses as to how Panda changed the calculation based upon a lengthy trial and error process.  However, in March of 2012 the US Patent Office issued the Panda Patent and the SEO community got its first look at just how dramatically Panda changed the way Google calculates page rank position:

  1. Panda introduced “reference” or “navigational” search queries into the calculation of page rank.  These are search queries containing the names of brands (organizations or individuals) and are more commonly referred to as ‘brand searches’.
  2. Panda established separate quality scores for Off-the-Page and On-the-Page ranking factors.
  3. Panda organized websites into industry categories for the purpose of comparing the quality scores of websites within the same industry to establish minimum quality scores for ranking purposes.

When you work through the mathematical page rank formula detailed in the Panda Patent you discover that doubling the On-the-Page quality score increases page rank position by only 1%, but doubling the Off-the-Page quality score increases page rank position by 32%.  This indicates Off-the-Page ranking factors (measures of popularity) have 30 times more impact on page rank position than On-the-Page ranking factors.

However, this is true only if the On-the-Page ranking factor quality score is greater than the minimum quality score established for the industry.  You see this in the mathematical page rank formula when you reduce the On-the-Page quality score below the industry minimum quality score and then increase the Off-the-Page quality score.  No amount of increase in the Off-the-Page quality score will increase the page rank position.  In other words, a thin content website with a popular keyword in the URL is not going to rank for that keyword regardless of its popularity (quantity of backlinks, social signals and brand searches).

The Most Important Ranking Factors

Every year Search Metrics compiles a list of ranking factors in order of importance (correlation) and the top fifteen for 2014 are listed below:

  1. Brand Search & Click Rate – correlation .67
  2. Keywords – Relevant Terms – correlation .34
  3. Social Signals – Google +1 – correlation .33
  4. Backlinks - Number of Backlinks – correlation .31
  5. Social Signals - Facebook Shares – correlation .28
  6. Social Signals - Facebook Total – correlation .28
  7. Social Signals - Facebook Comments – correlation .27
  8. Backlinks - Visibility of Backlinking URL – correlation .27
  9. Social Signals - Facebook Likes – correlation .26
  10. Social Signals – Tweets – correlation .25
  11. Backlinks - NoFollow Backlinks – correlation .24
  12. Keywords – Proof Terms – correlation .23
  13. Backlinks - New Backlinks – correlation .21
  14. Backlinks - Backlinks from News Domains – correlation .20
  15. Backlinks - Percentage of Backlinks with Keywords – correlation .20

Notice that all of the top fifteen ranking factors belong to one of the following four categories:

  1. Keywords – When someone enters a search query Google searches its keyword indices to identify keywords or combinations of keywords that are related to the keywords in the search query.
  2. Brand Search & Click Rate – How many people are searching for you by name (brand searches) and clicking on your links in the search results.
  3. Social Signals – How many people have acknowledged you via social media with Google+ being the most important for Google’s search engine followed by Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
  4. Backlinks – The quantity of backlinks from websites with high domain authority relevant to your industry (,,,, etc. have more weight than backlinks from non-industry related sites).

Test Campaign Proves ‘Brand Search’ is the Key Component of Google’s Suggested Search and Page Rank Algorithms

When you compare the ranking factor correlations in the Search Metrics study you discover the correlation of Brand Search & Click Rate (.67) is twice as high as all other ranking factors.  Combined with the results of the mathematical formula detailed in the Panda Patent above, there appears to be strong evidence that the number of people searching for your dealership by name (brand search) is the most important factor in determining whether your dealership appears in Google’s suggested search recommendations and ranks on page one of Google’s search results.

We decided to test this recently with a ten dealership group located in a metro market with 700,000 households.  All of the dealership websites were supplied by auto industry website providers and none of the sites were under monthly SEO contracts.  We compared the ten websites to each of the three to five brand competitor’s websites and found all to be approximately of equal quality.  After eliminating any variables that could impact the results of our test, we then tapped into a large crowd sourcing network (750,000 members) and contracted members living in the dealership group’s metro market to perform daily search queries for 50 targeted keywords tagged with the name of the groups various dealerships.

After entering the branded keyword search query the contractors were instructed to navigate to the dealership group’s various websites via one of the third-party links in the search results (,, etc.) so as not to alter the website's organic search traffic, and when reaching the site they were instructed to view at least three pages on the site for a minimum of two minutes.

Below is an example of a targeted keyword and the related branded keyword search query the contractors were instructed to enter (the dealership group in our test campaign wishes to remain anonymous so we are using Koons for this example – Koons was not the dealership group in our test):

Targeted Keyword:                         Ford Fairfax Va

Search Query Performed:              Koons Ford Fairfax Va

After four weeks of entering daily branded keyword search queries we noticed the group’s dealerships began appearing in Google’s suggested search listings for the targeted keywords.  We also tracked all of the keywords the dealerships were ranking for on page one of the search results and the organic search traffic to the websites.  After ninety days the group experienced an average increase of 57% in the number of keywords the dealerships were ranking for on page one of the search results and an average increase of 34% in the volume of organic search traffic to the group’s websites.  A few of the dealerships experienced 70% to 85% increases in page one ranking keywords and 50% to 60% increases in organic search traffic.

Alex Lau
Great write-up. I like the statistics you've brought to the table, most don't use numbers (LOL!).
David Roberts
Excellent blog! And with everyone searching on mobile devices and smaller screens, smart automotive groups will implement branded keyword search campaigns and leave the competition in their dust. Brings new meaning to the old Yellow pages logo line, "Let your fingers do the walking."
Chris K Leslie

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