Google Autocomplete is one of the most advanced predictors of search engine input in the world. Autocomplete (sometimes called Autosuggest) is the Google function that shows the most commonly searched phrases based on your initial input in the Google search bar. It looks like this: This mainly shows Google users the most popular searches for certain terms.
So in the example above, Google’s telling us that when people start typing “search engine,” they mostly follow it with “search engines,” “search engine optimization,” and “search engine land” — in that order. That gave us at WebFX the idea to look into something we’ve always wanted to know — what do people want to know about each state in the US? With Google Autocomplete at the ready, we got to work.
Keep in mind: Google’s search results and Autocomplete changes with the tides, so some of these may no longer be accurate by the time you read this.
Search 1. “State…”
For the most part, Autocomplete for state names just filled in some quality about the state.
That might be a university, a location, a map, a sports team, or an iconic state event. In some states, people were more interested in political occurrences. That’s why “Wisconsin Primary” and “California Primary” show up on the map.
But some other states get swept under the rug in terms of search popularity. For example, Kansas’s most popular Autocomplete term is “Kansas City,” which is split in half between Kansas and Missouri. There’s also “Indiana Jones,” which is a bummer for the state of Indiana since it lost its Autocomplete battle to a fictional movie character.
Some states are defined by brands, too. “New York Times” is a great example, although that company is at least part of that state’s identity. “Texas Roadhouse,” on the other hand, doesn’t have that same distinction, and neither does “Oregon Trail.” Also, Rhode Island is best known for “Rhode Island Red,” which is a chicken.
A stately chicken.
They’re like tiny lions.
But one search stuck out to us more than the others.
That search is “Missouri Public Defender.” Public defenders are lawyers employed at public expense to defend someone in a criminal trial when the accused can’t afford a lawyer for themselves. (The “You have a right to an attorney…” part of the Miranda Rights.) So why are public defenders so in vogue in Missouri? It could be because Missouri public defenders are currently in high demand, but there aren’t enough of them to go around.
Missouri is in the bottom 24% of state incomes too, so public defenders don’t earn much. On top of that, Missouri ranks #11 in the US for violent crime. That’s probably the biggest reason why “Missouri Public Defender” is so popular in Google, although the other factors definitely play a role as well.
With that ultra-general search done, we still wanted some more data. So we started on a new term.
State 2. “Does State…”
A lot of these searches make sense.
People want to know if they can get controlled substances (like alcohol), openly carry firearms, pick up fireworks, watch sports, or just generally learn more about a state. Some searches make sense. “Does Minnesota Have 10,000 Lakes?” is a good one (it has 11,842).
We also see a lot of brands sharing state names like Texas Roadhouse, California Pizza Kitchen, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. (We also see some grammatical errors, but hey, that’s what Autocomplete showed us.) Aside from all the searches about alcohol, guns, and food, we have some pretty strange queries in this batch. The first is “Does Arizona Have Pee in It?” It took us a while to crack this one because, well, just read it.
But it turns out people aren’t looking up the state of Arizona — they’re looking up Arizona Tea. There was a rumor in 2015 that Arizona Tea products tested positive for human urine. Gross?
But like most rumors, the idea is still out there even after it’s been debunked, and apparently a lot of people are worried about it. The second weird search term is “Does New York Have a Baby?” This baffled us for a while because New York is kind of the baby of York, England, and as far as any of us knows, New New York doesn’t exist (yet). But New York is actually the nickname of Tiffany Pollard, a regular on the show Family Therapy with Dr.
Jenn. Apparently her personal life attracted a lot of attention in early 2016, and people were really interested in her pregnancy. Third, there’s the search “Does Montana Have Speed Limits?” The short answer is yes.
The long answer involves some decades-old legislation about increasing the daytime speed limits on interstate highways, which is currently 80 miles per hour. In 2014, state legislators proposed increasing it to 85.
Montana: Fast, but not ridiculous.
So at one point, it did seem like Montana would just keep increasing the interstate speed limit indefinitely. But there’s still a hard cap for daytime and nighttime driving. Finally, there are three queries that we just don’t understand.
It’s not because we can’t answer them — we just can’t imagine why they’re so popular. Idaho, North Dakota, and Delaware all share the same popular search query — “Does [state] Exist?” Again, the short answer is yes. And we apparently can’t stress that enough.
These states actually exist. Let’s start with Idaho. Apparently, there has been a long-standing conspiracy theory that no one can name someone they’ve met from Idaho or even someone who knows someone from Idaho.
We’re not linking to any of these sources because why would we subject you to that, but you can search the query yourself to see. As is the trend with conspiracy theories, none of them offers any hard evidence that Idaho is fake, but the question is so popular that it’s made its way onto Quora. Now for North Dakota.
This state also exists, which should come as a shock to nobody. The conspiracy theories around North Dakota are identical to Idaho — have you ever met someone from North Dakota? This question has become so popular that it’s been asked on Reddit as recently as last year.
Last, we have Delaware. It’s also a state, and it’s also real. The conspiracy theories are the same as before, and they’ve debunked the same ways.
But this question also made it to AskReddit, so it’s apparently pretty popular to question whether an entire state exists.
Search 3. “Is State…”
But just like every other map, this one has some interesting searches. “Is Alaska Bigger Than Texas?” is a great one.
The next interesting search is “Is New Mexico in the US?” After some research, this question probably comes from confusion about New Mexico and its proximity to Actual Mexico, as opposed to any kind of conspiracy theory. New Mexico is in the US, but it’s actually one of the newer states. New Mexico became a state on January 6, 1912, and before then, it was a territory.
Its rich history stretches back hundreds of years, but it’s only been a state for about 100. “Is Kansas Flatter Than a Pancake?” is also a fun search term. If you take this question literally, you have some math ahead of you. Fortunately, Annals of Improbable Research did the math, and Kansas is literally flatter than a pancake.
By a lot, too. The last search term that caught our eye was “Is Mississippi Racist?” Because this is such a sweeping generalization, the answer has to be no. But where does that question come from?
It’s kind of hard to tell, really, especially because that’s a difficult concept to prove with data. The idea could come from anything from stereotypes about the South to the fact that Mississippi didn’t get around to the 13th Amendment until 1995, meaning slavery was still kind of a thing until the 90s. So this search query could have its roots in news, personal experiences, stereotypes, history, or any combination of the four.
Regardless, it’s definitely unique and definitely something Google can’t concretely answer.
Search 4. “Why Does State…”
Seriously — where do we even begin?
Let’s check out the West Coast first. The term “Why Does California Have So Many Earthquakes?” is a great question. The western edge of California is almost entirely situated on the San Andreas Fault, which is roughly 800 miles long.
But these two plates can’t push against each other forever. They also move a few inches every year, about the same rate your fingernails grow.
As the plates move, sometimes they “slip” and move faster than they should. The result is an earthquake. The bigger the slip, the bigger the earthquake — and the San Andreas Fault slips a lot.
Another interesting search is “Why Does Montana Hate the FBI?” Similar to the question about Mississippi in the last section, this query is hard to quantify and answer. But history gives us one possible answer. In the 1990s, a small sect of anti-government actors called the Montana Freemen declared themselves and their land free from any government control.
In 1994, their practice of counterfeit checks and bank fraud caught up with them, and their bank foreclosed on their land. But the Freemen stayed. In 1996, the FBI spent 81 days negotiating with the Freemen, and eventually the sect gave itself up.
These negotiations came after the Waco firefight in 1993 and the Ruby Ridge shooting in 1992, so the FBI really didn’t want to resort to violence. But the lingering legacy of the Freemen appears to be a resentment of the FBI. The final query we want to talk about (although we could talk about all of them) is “Why Does Nebraska Have a Unicameral Legislature?” This caught our attention for one big reason — it’s a really good question, and it’s pretty important to know (especially if you’re from Nebraska).
Unicameralism is the practice of having only one legislative house. The federal United States has two — the Senate and House of Representatives — but Nebraska is the only state with one. Members of that house are called “senators,” and the main advantage of this system is efficiency.
As Nebraska’s website points out:
“The last bicameral session in 1935 ran 110 days, passed 192 bills, and cost $202,593. The first unicameral session two years later ran 98 days, passed 214 bills, and cost $103,445.”
So Nebraska likes unicameral legislation because it’s apparently efficient. Considering governmental bodies are always concerned with spending, that’s a pretty good reason.
Search 5. “Should State…”
Our last map was the most fun for us. Instead of looking up what people wanted to know about states, we looked up what people thought about states. “Should [state]…” isn’t our most diverse map — but it is our most interesting, we think.
This is also the only search we conducted where we got nothing back for one of the states. Wyoming’s Autocomplete was blank, which is kind of fascinating in its own way. Most people have an opinion on what their state (or any state) should do, so it’s almost like Wyomingites are too busy enjoying the outdoors to look stuff up on Google.
Starting from the west again, let’s check out some of the stranger queries on this map. First, “Utah Should Know.” Honestly, we got nothin’ on this one. This could be related to Utah’s Right to Know concept of public works, but it could also be about someone looking to move to Utah or researching Utah’s election status.
“Why Should New Mexico Be a State?” is another fun one, but it’s also a question with no concrete answer. We can’t think of a reason why it shouldn’t be a state. The US can probably just roll with it at this point.
But “Should Saudis Fear North Dakota?” is way, way more specific. Despite how it’s worded, this actually has very little to do with Saudis as a people and more to do with the Saudi Royal Family’s control of the oil industry. North Dakota has a lot of shale oil — enough to put a decent dent in Saudi sales to the US.
So the fear isn’t about anything political or racial — it’s all business. “Should Indiana Jones Be Immortal?” is another fun one. It refers to part of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where Indy meets someone who’s immortal, but doesn’t become immortal himself.
This concept has a lot of fan theories behind it, but it also has the distinction of being our only Hollywood-related query on the map. Looking north, we find that Maine is still dominated by the Maine Coon…
Just like our hearts.
…and in the same region, people have lots of questions about New England. “Massachusetts Should I Take a Breathalyzer?” is an interesting question.
It comes from a Massachusetts law that mandates your license is suspended if you refuse a breathalyzer test. In the case of first offenses, the penalty is actually more lenient than getting a DUI. So this question refers to a state loophole about drunk driving — should someone definitely lose their license for a while, or should they risk the breathalyzer and a full DUI?
We also enjoyed “Pennsylvania Should Secede” because that’s where WebFX is headquartered. The question appears to come from a Brexit-fueled piece in Philadelphia Magazine that talks about a poll where Pennsylvanians want to get rid of Philly. There was also a 2013 article that encouraged Philadelphians to lead the secession.
And a bunch of half-baked social media petitions. Realistically, Philadelphia probably won’t leave Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania probably won’t leave the United States. It’d just make life harder on everyone.
But apparently, enough people search this query on a regular basis to make it show up in Autocomplete, so what do we know? Last, we all liked “Should I Leave New Jersey?” because it made us laugh. Also yes.
Yes you should.
What Google Autocomplete query stands out to you?
Do any of these Autocomplete queries stand out to you? Have you searched any yourself?
Let me know in the comments!
Trevin serves as the VP of Marketing at WebFX. He has worked on over 450 marketing campaigns and has been building websites for over 25 years. His work has been featured by Search Engine Land, USA Today, Fast Company and Inc.
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