When you and I perform a search on our favorite engine we actually have a reason, don’t we?  Wouldn’t it be great if we knew the intent of our customers’ searches so that we could better serve up what they’re looking for?

Turns out we can!  

It is generally accepted that there are three types of search queries performed by you and I when we do a search on our favorite engine:

  1. Informational
  2. Navigational
  3. Transactional

And knowing how these query types operate can help you put together an online marketing strategy to better reach customers in the right ways using your website.

One study found that ~80% of web queries are informational in nature, with about 10% being navigational and 10% transactional.  Ever wonder why they say Google’s organic listings receive ~80% of all traffic?

Informational queries

Informational queries are what people will use when they are looking to learn about something or some new topic; their looking to discover some kind of content (web page) that satisfies the need for the desired information.  Examples of informational queries would include:

  • uses question words (i.e., ‘ways to’, ‘how to’, ‘what is’, etc.)
  • queries containing informational terms (e.g. list, playlist, etc.)
  • queries that were beyond the first query submitted
  • queries where the searcher viewed multiple results pages
  • queries with a length (i.e., number of terms in a query) greater than 2

Navigational queries

Navigational queries tend to be more focused on finding a particular destination or website but the searcher really doesn’t know what the exact web address is that they’re looking for.  Here are some common characteristics:

  • queries containing company/business/organization/people names
  • queries containing domains suffixes
  • query length (i.e., number of terms in query) less than 3
  • searcher viewing the just first search engine results page (and clicking through to a destination right away)

Transactional queries

Are more about a searcher who has a specific action that they are trying to take, either purchasing a product/service or signing up for a newsletter or just completing some kind of action as defined by the owner of the destination site.  Commonalities can include:

  • queries containing terms related to movies, songs, lyrics, recipes, images, humor, and porn
  • queries with ‘obtaining’ terms (e.g. lyrics, recipes, etc.)
  • queries with ‘download’ terms (e.g. download, software, etc.)
  • queries relating to image, audio, or video collections
  • queries with ‘entertainment’ terms (pictures, games, etc.)
  • queries with ‘interact’ terms (e.g. buy, chat, etc.)
  • queries with multimedia or compression file extensions (jpeg, zip, etc.).

Build your site around visitor search intent

Similar to how cities are often built around water sources (rivers, lakes, costal areas, etc.), you’ll want to build your site and marketing strategy around search intent.  I really liked Rand’s post on matching keyword variation and intent, in other words, it’s better to hit the nail on the head using a single page targeting a single semantic idea vs build three competing pages which end up cannibalizing each other’s chances at targeting their intended traffic.

Search is a reverse broad cast system, which means that streams of search activity exist waiting for you to tap into.  Here are just a few tips designed to better help sculpt a high level search strategy:

  • Is your site only 5 or 10 pages?  Think about a strategy that adds a few more pages to the search index and you’d be a better candidate to receive informational queries.  Sites that run affiliate ads might benefit from this approach.  Heck, Google themselves makes their BILLIONS off affiliate ads (Adwords) – they just reap a fraction of the total traffic they receive through Adwords but it’s still enough $$ to allow their founders to decide which color airplane to buy next 😉
  • Have a strong brand off-line but you’re finding that online traffic isn’t too hot? Try moving your brand name closer to the beginning of your title tag, or at least somewhere in the first 62 characters of text.  Google is getting better at recognizing and started giving more weight to "brands" as some people have noted, which means your site could be receiving more navigational queries.  A little technical, on-site SEO can go a long way.
  • Have several pages on your site that talk about the same thing, but just worded a little differently?  You might be better off using less pages that capture your main point(s) and spending your remaining time building more, original content… and that helps to capture that ~80% or so of informational query search traffic.  Remember, Google only shows at most two results in their organic search results per domain so it might be best to make fewer pages that say more than simply more pages about the same semantic topic.  There are some exceptions that we’re seeing, where Google will show more than two pages from a single domain in a search, if Google thinks your site is extremely relevant (such as in a navigational query candidate/a brand search) but not likely to happen in most queries.



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