How does autocomplete maximize the power of search?

We finish each other’s…

sentences search results.

Want a partner who knows what you’re thinking and can complete your thoughts?

It’s probably not going to happen, at least very often, and it might be a little weird if it did.

But what about a search engine? Now that would be more likely (and possibly preferable).

When your love interest isn’t consistently tuning in to your needs, autocomplete suggestions (not to be confused with the slightly different autosuggest) are the next best thing. This software functionality completes users’ words or strings of letters entered in the search box without them having to type out full phrases. When you want to be understood, and also get to a helpful search results page fast, it’s good practice to use the autocomplete feature.

What is autocomplete?

Autocomplete search suggestions functionality, also known as predictive search (and typeahead), is a software function in text-based applications that aims to automatically complete a word or phrase as you type it.

You’ve probably used autocomplete many times to view relevant suggestions. You know, you begin typing a Google search term and the search bar finishes it for you in a drop-down menu of trending terms. You watch your email program predict contact names as you’re typing in email addresses. You start entering product names you hope to find on Amazon or your favorite ecommerce site and see a slew of autocompletes. An autocomplete list is magical.

How did autocomplete originate?

The concept of autocompletion was initially conceived as a piece of software intended to help disabled people who found typing difficult to manage. To their relief, autocomplete helped out by jumping into the user’s search input process and finishing what they were struggling to get out.

The technology eventually found its way into the mainstream, trickling into heavyweight search engines like Google and Bing. Software engineer Kevin Gibbs brought the idea to Google and was pivotal in launching what he called Google Suggest (now Google Autocomplete; his utilization of technological advances such as Big Data and high-speed Internet created an eerily accurate and personalized predictive service.

How does autocomplete work?

Despite its relying on complex technologies, autocomplete works in a fairly simple way. The autocomplete function detects what a user appears to be typing in the input field, and, with each keystroke, begins to match words and phrases in the site search index.

The process of how words and phrases appear in the search index in response to user input and are  prioritized over others, however, is more complicated. 

For starters, search engine companies like Google have a blacklist, so certain words and phrases, such as those related to violence, hate speech, and copyright infringement, are omitted. 

The way autocomplete technology pulls words and phrases from the search index and ranks them depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Popularity. Popular search terms, those searched for often and by lots of people, naturally tend to get selected first. 
  • Freshness. This takes into account how new a piece of content is. Fresh content might rank higher, if relevant, than something that pulls traffic but is outdated. Website owners should wait no longer than a couple of years to refresh blog posts and web pages. 
  • History. The rest is history; more accurately, your search history. If you want to know why certain search terms appear as query suggestions for you — and only you — remember that it comes down to what you’ve searched for before. 
  • Location. Autocomplete doesn’t just pay attention to what someone is searching for, it’s cognizant of where they’re searching for it. A geospatial framework delivers search results that cater to linguistic idiosyncrasies and popular search terms within a geographical area, turning up, for instance,  information on local retailers’ physical stores. 

Why is autocomplete important for you?

What benefits do ecommerce website owners get out of supplying autocomplete search functionality? The list is long.

According to SlideShare, 80% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that provides a personalized customer experience. So for your prospective customers, along with other personalized search features, autocomplete could be a game changer. 

A search engine is like the gateway to your online or app content. A search bar without autocomplete is like a gate that’s locked or hasn’t been oiled; to gain access, people have to do more work.

The more easily the gates swing open, the more quickly your users can get to your products, services, or content. A sophisticated search tool is a welcoming, open gateway.  

Specifically, autocomplete helps users:

  • Search for content fast. Autocomplete speeds up the search process by anticipating user search queries (in a way that can feel serendipitous) and completing the search term you seem to want, saving tons of time. It’s true that in a single instance of using autocomplete, the time saved might seem negligible. But cumulatively, says Google, it can save more than 200 years of typing per day.
  • Eliminate typos. Autocomplete doesn’t just predict text and give relevant search suggestions. It spells intended terms and phrases completely, Which lets searchers quickly say “Yes!”, stop scrolling, and click. Another benefit is avoiding misspelling: many people even use the autocomplete functionality in search engines (think Google or Bing) to do spell checks.
  • Sail through the search process. Many sites now use autocomplete suggestions lists, so this functionality has become a kind of search benchmark. That’s deserved, because autocomplete moves people smoothly from entering a user query to potential conversion. A smooth-sailing user experience creates happy customers who are also likely to go out for another spin.
  • Search on the go. When smartphones like Apple’s iPhone first became popular, mobile users complained about the tiny IOS keyboard. Even now, trying to use a tiny mobile device keypad can mean going back and deleting letters. The good news is that autocomplete jumps in early with a dropdown to complete words and phrases for you.
  • Convert. Autocomplete isn’t just fabulous for those who feel incomplete without it. The best benefit, of course, is that It can completely overhaul your ecommerce website metrics. The benefits of autocomplete  — a better user experience, mobile-friendly search, and accurate search results for things users are super interested in — mean that people find their way to what they need in your online store. The direct result? More conversions.

Algolia completes you

Prospective customers want to move through an excellent search experience seamlessly, in a way that feels personal to them, and a powerful search engine with autocomplete can help them do just that. On-site search improves site usability and drives up ROI.

Algolia provides best-in-class search and discovery technology for businesses, delivering personalized shopping experiences that can boost conversion rates 30%+. Our API lets you seamlessly implement search on your sites and in mobile apps. You can:

  • Enable easy site navigation. With search autocomplete, you can swiftly guide users from the search field to their relevant results and linked content.
  • Uncover merchandising and sales opportunities for your ecommerce search by utilizing eye-opening search analytics. 
  • Do regular optimization of your search-results rankings to level up your SEO capabilities and get your site’s web pages to rank in Google and Bing.

Discover the many advantages of Algolia autocomplete and the other search features that set us apart. We offer tiered pricing, too. Let’s talk!

About the authorCatherine Dee

Catherine Dee

Search and Discovery writer

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