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August 11, 2013

Where do actual your Autocomplete / Autosuggest terms come from?

Most sites with search either already offer autocomplete search as you type into the search box, or are planning to implement it soon. And most search vendors now offer at least a passing support for this feature.

There can be technical issues with latency and how the page gets rendered in the browser, but search engines are addressing these too, and technical aren't likely to be totally blocked on this.

However, one area that should be thought about more is where these search suggestions will come from. There are many ideas in the industry, and sites may decide to do a combination of things.

Example sources for Autosuggest / Autocomplete suggestions:

  • Dictionary based – this is labor intensive and is best used only for specific occasional overrides
  • Specific URL suggestion based
  • Word index based – the search engine taps its own index of document phrases – implementations vary by vendor
  • Search Logs – the main issue here is to filter out any potentially objectionable language
  • Taxonomy matches – suggest specific nodes in the taxonomy
  • Page Title matches – suggest the titles of specific pages
  • Synonyms
  • A hybrid combination of these

Other technical / design items:

  • How to match – just the beginning or more advanced matching
  • What happens when the user clicks or selects a suggestion – do you show search results, or go directly to a page.
  • Check that suggestion being offered will actually bring back results


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I would be interested in how others are doing this as well. I know that we are primarily using search logs to enable this. I am interested in the word index based solution and hearing what others have done to combine some of these techniques.

Implementing autocomplete in the enterprise is very popular, and in my opinion, very useful. The biggest problem I have seen is the impact on the system. Some types of designs will cause an exponential increase in query load, though this can be dealt with in several ways.

Another problem is, the business side of the equation rarely seems willing to support the requirement with any of the necessary additional financing.

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