Intent MarketingSEO

The 3 Search Query Types All SEO Pros Detect to Convert Faster

By Nadav Shemer
Sunday, October 20, 2019

Search queries: the words and phrases that your potential clients type into the search box in order to pul up a list of results.

Queries come in different flavors, but they always belong to 1 of 3 categories:

  • Navigational search query
  • Informational search query
  • Transactional search query

SEO pros know that once you detected the category, you detected the intent. And once you know what the user’s intent is – providing them with compatible content and converting them into paying customers is as seamless as having a walk-in enter your shop and smacking his hard-earned dollars on the counter.

But let’s start from the beginning:

Back in the fall of 2002, Andrei Broder, now a distinguished scientist at Google, was a VP at AltaVista. He published the research that culminated in his seminal paper “A taxonomy of web search” and was the first person to talk about intent in search queries. 

For those of you who forgot, AltaVista was, at some point, the most used search engine in the world.

Here’s a reminder:

Altavista was once the biggest search engine

It was surpassed by Google around 2001, purchased by Yahoo! in 2003, and shut down altogether in 2013. 

However, Broder’s conclusions are still very much alive.

Broder’s paper was the first document to classify search queries into 3 distinct categories: 

Back in the fall of 2002, Andrei Broder, now a distinguished scientist at Google, was a VP at AltaVista. He published the research that culminated in his seminal paper “A taxonomy of web search” and was the first person to talk about intent in search queries.

This taxonomy is still a valuable aid for digital marketers today, particularly when trying to identify high-intent users.

So let’s break down the types and see how SEO pros categorize, detect, and convert potential customers:

1. Navigational Queries: Highly Specific to One Brand

According to Broder, the purpose of a navigational search query type is to reach a particular website, either because the user visited it in the past or because they assume such a website exists. 

If you’re wondering why a website wouldn’t exist, remember that Broder wrote his research in 2002 when many businesses still didn’t have an online presence. 

These days, if a business doesn’t have a website, it’s the business that doesn’t exist.

Navigational queries (e.g., “Allstate property insurance” or “EveryPlate meal kit”) signal high brand consideration but don’t reveal a great deal about purchase intent. The user might have decided to purchase a policy from the brand or might just want to read about the brand’s products. 

Either way, if the search is for a brand other than your own, there’s not much you can do to capture their traffic (nothing that will generate positive ROI, in any case). 

If a user searches for your brand, the best thing you can do is position yourself at the top of the search rankings for your brand’s name and deliver solid content.

Yes. This also means buying keywords (such as your brand name) even if you rank for them organically.

2. Informational Queries: Risk Area for Brands?

According to Broder, the purpose of informational queries is to find information assumed to be available on the web in a static form.

Informational queries (e.g., “what is home insurance” or “how to use a dating app”) indicate that a user wishes to learn more about a specific subject. The user is not necessarily ready to purchase; more likely, they are gathering information with an eye to purchase at a later date. 

Informational queries aren’t necessarily signals for high intent, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Providing useful content is a great way to grab the user’s attention and have them remember you when they are ready to purchase.

In June 2019, for the first time, a majority of all browser-based Google searches ended without a click on an organic or paid search link, according to data from SparkToro and Jumpshot. Some people predicted this zero-click trend would happen back in 2012 when Google launched the Knowledge Graph; the widget that appears on the right-hand side of the search engine results page (SERP) when you type navigational-type queries:

Featured snippets, those boxes that appear near the top of the SERP in response to informational queries, are clearly also a factor:

Lior Wiznitzer, Natual Intelligence’s Director of SEO, researched the zero-click trend: “We had an unwritten rule with Google, and they seem to be changing the rules. The deal was: we provided the content, we built websites, and we let Google crawl our websites for free and present that information to users. In return, Google would index our websites and reward them with the best positions so that users would click on our sites and eventually convert,” Wiznitzer said.

“Nowadays, I feel like we keep feeding the monster. In some cases, the site is just redundant because the user gets all the information they need, very quickly, on the SERP itself, and doesn’t even visit the site. I see this trend becoming much more aggressive as Google tries to compete [against brands] on [attracting] users. That will be a major challenge for marketers and SEOs: on the one hand, to get the exposure; and on the other, to actually get the users in their website.”

So dominating the first SERP is the best tactic. And you can learn how to do it in 5 simple steps.

3. Transactional Queries: The Golden Egg in Intent Marketing

The purpose of the transactional search query type is to reach a site where further interaction will happen. Ecommerce was still in its infancy, but already it was big enough for Broder to note that the main categories for transactional queries included shopping and “web-mediated services.”

Transactional queries (e.g., “best home insurance for older homes” or “cheapest home insurance in Dallas”) indicate low brand consideration but high, immediate purchase intent. These queries signal that the user has decided they need a product or service – now all that’s left for them to do is find the right brand.

While consumers behave slightly different from vertical to vertical, a transactional search query type is the consumer equivalent of what’s known in the business world as a request for proposal or request for quote. In other words, the consumer is looking for information to help them compare brands.

As digital marketers, the best response is content (comparison charts, articles, or guides) that allows the user to easily compare the options and make the right purchase decision.

Are You Reading the Signals?

Whether you’re in insurance or loans, dating or diets, web-hosting or VPN, your success depends on capturing high-intent users through the detection of a specific search query type.

No matter your industry, Natural Intelligence’s marketing specialists can assist with customizing solutions to attract high-intent customers to your website. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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