Is Google watching what I search?

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Does Google watch what we search? It’s a frightening question for sure.

It makes me think of the stories friends have told where a few hours, or even minutes, after a conversation they suddenly start seeing ads on Instagram for the very thing they talked about. It’s as if the app is listening (cue dramatic music).

I’m not saying that your Google Home is spying on you, or even that Google search boxes read minds and are suggesting searches before you type them – that’d be pretty freaky if they had the cognitive power to do so. I have noticed a pattern recently when searching in Google. It appears that searches are being string together, and search suggestions are changing based on my previous behavior.

This subtle, yet observable, change is extremely useful as you research something you aren’t exactly familiar with on Google. In fact, it’s almost as if Google is helping you search beyond the suggested searches. This could have massive implications on your content strategy as well, and working with Google to improve your rank.

Let’s dive in to see an example.

Are Google suggested searches changing based on my previous behavior?

I noticed this most when I looked up people or things I was not familiar with (like movie characters and I want to know the actor). I first started noticing this a couple weeks ago, however it didn’t click that this is what I was seeing until last week.

As a fun example, here’s what I see when I search ‘Jeff’:

Mr. Goldblum is solidly #5 in the ranking.

But suppose I do not know who Jeff Goldblum is, but I do know that he played Dr. Malcom in the hit 1993 movie Jurassic Park and I’m curious who the actor is. This happens quite a lot (and is how I noticed this pattern from Google).

Searching ‘Dr. Malcom actor’ gets me Jeff Goldblum as the top result, no surprises there.

Now see what happens when I search for ‘Jeff’:

Interesting. A very different set of suggested searches. Not only is Jeff Goldblum front and center but the next few searches are different and Jeff Bezos, formerly #1, is now 5th.

This is extremely subtle, yet it’s also an extremely powerful change.

I’ve not been able to find anything from Google to confirm a change here, however it appears that the suggested searches are changing based on previous behavior in a session. When I close out of my browser and resume searching it appears that things start from the beginning, however while I am searching down the rabbit hole it definitely feels like Google is leading me forward.

How can we leverage this?

As with all changes that Google makes, my head jumps to “this is cool… how can I use this to drive more traffic?”

If Google is paying attention to how related certain searches are, then it opens the door to many more ranking opportunities. For a page on Jeff Goldblum it means you’ve got to write about him and the fact that he has played popular characters in movies and on television. This is nothing new: it just means creating deep content that covers a topic from all angles.

You can imagine though, there are probably topics for your business that people are researching – what are the questions they ask before they get to you? What types of questions do people completely unfamiliar with your line of work ask that then get them to the ‘right’ questions that your site answers?

If Google is indeed leading people down a road of searches, knowing those absolute beginner-level questions and covering them on your site is a great way to rank for the early searches and continue ranking as the suggested searches change and your prospects continue through their research.

Going forward

It’s always fun catching changes from Google ‘in the wild’.

This could just be an AB test that Google is running to see how well the change improves the user experience on their site (Google is always running tests). If it stays, it’s a great thing to keep in mind as you build out your content strategy. We tend to focus on the stuff that we care about, but this is a great reminder to focus on the content your customers and prospects need at every stage of their journey – not just when they get to you.

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