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Why Google recommends you use auto-complete on your website

Veterans of the World Wide Web are often surprised to learn that Alta Vista, once a popular destination for searchers, was only retired in July 2013. Despite the abundance of search engines still available to internet users, Google reigns supreme in the world of search , responding to over 1 billion users with almost 12 billion queries each month. With 67% of the search market being served by Google, the giant is clearly at the front of our minds, so it’s hardly surprising that SEO efforts are firmly focussed on ranking with them.

People always ask me ‘How can I get my website to show up on Google?’ hoping for access to some kind of secret recipe or sneaky backdoor! I let them down gently and explain Google’s own mission – to provide useful links to web pages that answer and delight their search customers, and the importance of quality content. ‘Relevance and reputation’ as the mantra goes; design for the user, not for Google.

Nevertheless, when Google speaks, we listen. Last week’s ‘You & A’ interview with Matt Cutts at SMX in Seattle certainly caught my attention.

Almost a tradition now, the head of Google’s web spam team delivers a keynote by answering questions from the audience.

Amongst the usual chatter about Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin and the launch of another Payday Loan algorithm update, Matt’s advice was centred squarely on the importance of mobile and firmly reminded us that a mobile dominated internet is “coming faster than you realise”. On his own air commute to the conference he noted “three times more users on mobile devices than laptops”.

Finally, Matt confirmed some website features that are counted in Google’s ranking algorithm and, while thinking of mobile, asked for a show of hands to see how many in the room have auto-complete set up on their web forms. He confirmed that “user-friendly websites will win” and never more so than during the ‘mobile revolution’.

Tips for more user-friendly forms:


  • Quick and easy is the key, take a long hard look at your web form – do you really need ALL the information you’re asking for?
  • Split if you have to – a one-step checkout is preferable but if you have to collect a lot of information you might be better to split it into two steps. Tests show that users are more willing to supply personal data AFTER they’ve made a commitment like a purchase so maybe you could hang on to those profiling questions for another? Do some A/B testing and see what your customers really think.
  • Enable customers to auto-complete where possible. As well as the inbuilt capabilities of mobile text entry – address lookup services such as Capture+ from PCA Predict mean your customer doesn’t have to go through the pain of typing their whole address into separate form fields.
  • Mark up form fields with types so that the relevant keyboard is presented on mobile devices (eg: a number pad for phone number entry).
  • Validate data – give instant feedback to your users if data doesn’t look right – validate phone numbers, email addresses and even bank account details.

Making a web form more user-friendly doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s a no-brainer that simpler web forms will convert higher by reducing your cart abandonment rates – no-one enjoys filling in text boxes, especially not on their mobile device. With this advice from Google, there’s now even more reason to improve your form usability.

Did you attend SMX this year? What was your key learning from the event?

Useful links:

How Google search works

Using Google for Business

Fabulous forms for fat fingers