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What is predictive search? What is autocomplete?

Today’s online users have high expectations for search. Thanks to Google and other sites, they’ve come to expect certain search patterns and functions, like autocomplete, in all of their search experiences. Autocomplete, or predictive search, is particularly important because it leads users to better search results, thus improving the user experience. In this article, we’ll explain what autocomplete is, describe the benefits, and give some tips for using autocomplete in your search.


What are autocomplete and predictive search?

Autocomplete is a search feature where the search engine predicts the user’s query and provides suggestions as the user types. The user can select any of the autocomplete suggestions and be taken to results without having to manually type every character.

Autocomplete and predictive search, often used interchangeably with terms such as autosuggest, query suggestions, and search-as-you-type, are important for driving retention and conversions. This is largely because they help users find relevant results faster, thus reducing the bounce rate due to common issues such as user confusion, distraction, or the inability to find products or contents because the search engine can’t parse the query.

 Any site in any industry can benefit from predictive search. For example, e-commerce sites can use it to help users navigate their product catalogs, while media companies can use it to help users find relevant news, videos, and other content. 


How does autocomplete search help the user?

Users are accustomed to effective search, but their own search skills are relatively weak. In fact, only 1 percent of users know how to shift search strategies to get more effective results. Autocomplete can mitigate this problem in a few ways:


  • Offers successful queries. When properly optimized, autocomplete suggestions always lead to results, thus decreasing the chances of a no results page. By showing users some popular queries that are guaranteed to lead to results, you improve the chances of the user staying on the site and engaging with more content. 
  • Educates users about your site. Users may be unaware of the extent of your offerings. Autocomplete can show product and content categories that align with business priorities to expand user knowledge of your site.
  • Decreases search time. Since autocomplete works quickly to offer contextual suggestions, users rarely have to type their entire query. This can help users avoid typing long, complex queries and typos, which an un-optimized search engine might have trouble parsing. Autocomplete can reduce these errors and get users to relevant results faster, minimizing the chance of an unsuccessful search.
  • Improves user experience. Getting users to content faster and easier simply provides a better overall experience, and thus makes customers more satisfied with your service. This can improve brand image and increase conversions.


3 tips for creating a helpful predictive search experience

A great autocomplete experience needs to stack up to the likes of Google. To provide an optimal user experience, autocomplete and predictive search tools should:

  • Provide instant results. Autocomplete suggestions need to be displayed almost immediately after the user begins typing, without delay. Quickly delivered suggestions also make the interface feel more interactive and conversational which improves the overall user experience.
  • Highlight differences. To ensure users can easily read and differentiate between suggestions, use highlighting or bolding to make differences stand obvious to your users.
  • Optimize your suggestions. Autocomplete is only helpful if the suggestions are relevant. The suggestions should be based on a number of factors including business relevance, data generated from site search analytics, and business goals. An optimized autocomplete search engine should also be typo tolerant and use the same relevance factors your search engine does.


Building a comprehensive user experience with autocomplete search

While autocomplete is a necessary component of a site’s search, fine-tuning the relevance for your users can be difficult to figure out alone. Partnering with a search as a service partner like Algolia can provide you with the search UI, analytics, and other tools you need to create the best search possible. Read our e-book Search Beyond the Box to see how search capabilities like how autocomplete can help your business provide a more intuitive and response site search experience.

About the author
Xabier Ormazabal

VP of Product Marketing


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