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February 04, 2014

Types of search queries

Search queries are not keywords. Keywords are not search queries.

I’ve heard the two get mixed up too often and thrown around in casual marketing conversations way to often, and I know I’ve caught myself mixing them up on multiple occasions in the past. So what’s the difference, and why is it a big deal to know the user intent of search queries?

First, check out this post on Keywords vs. Search Queries.

Now that you know the difference between the two, let’s take a look at the three common types of search queries and how you can match user intent with copy and design to ensure that the user has a consistent experience from search to click through to first impressions of the site. This will minimize funnel leakage throughout the entire process.

It’s important to keep in mind that some search queries can have multiple intent.


1. Navigational Search Queries

Navigational search queries

This user knows where he wants to go or where to get the information he is looking for, and is looking to get direct access to a pre-determined location.

An example of a navigational search query would be “YouTube”, “PGA tour”, etc. Navigational queries are common on mobile devices and on desktop when a user types into a browser’s navigation search bar rather than the address bar.

Users who enter your website through a navigational search query are most likely past the discovery phase of the typical inbound marketing sales funnel. This user has heard of your brand one way or another, they might even be a return customer.

The user intent of navigational queries is very broad depending on your niche or business. If someone searches “PGA tour” they’re most likely looking for the leader board, whereas the intent of someone searching for “YouTube” will be to watch online videos.

Conversion ideas for navigational searchers

  • Social shares. As mentioned earlier, this user is familiar with your brand and is more likely to share your content.
  • Interactive action. For example, YouTube wants to engage their users by interacting with video content.

2. Informational Search Queries

Informational search queries

This user is searching or researching information about a topic, product, event, etc. Informational search queries have the broadest reach of the three types.

Informational queries help users research just about anything from “how to bathe a puppy” to “what golf clubs do the pros use”, or something as simple as checking the local weather. These users are high in the sales funnel and are just discovering they have a need for something.

The user typical informational search intent is to gain more knowledge about whatever they are researching. They are most likely not ready to purchase a product, so focus on converting them deeper into your funnel.

Conversion ideas for informational searchers

  • Content subscription. The user came to your site seeking information, focus on beefing up your email and RSS subscribers.
  • Social media. Get this user to follow your brand, if you showed them the information they were looking for, you’ll have an easy time getting them to follow you.
  • Give away free content. Give away a eBook, whitepapers or tool in exchange for an email.

3. Transactional Search Queries

Transactional search queries

This user has the intent to perform a specific action. A transactional search query might sound strictly purchase based, but can include anything from signing up for a free trial, downloading a video game, finding a local business, or purchasing something online.

For example, “buy PS4 online”, “pink iphone 5 case”, and “mexican restaurant in Phoenix, AZ” are all transactional search queries.

Transactional search queries are by far the highest converting type to work with. These users are at the bottom end of the funnel now and are ready to convert, you’ll be able to directly correlate ROI driven metrics with your marketing efforts.

Conversion ideas for transactional searchers

  • Online checkout. Optimize your checkout process and make that sale!
  • Phone call. Whether you’re a local pizza shop or you sell hockey sticks online, people still use the phone when purchasing. You can use a call tracking service such as Twilio to keep track of phone conversions.
  • Get them in your store. If you own a local business with a brick and mortar location(s), make it easy to find your locations and directions.

Integrate All Three Types Into Your Strategy

When developing your content strategy and site architecture be sure to keep the three types of user intent and search queries in mind. You’ll gain valuable customer insight that you may not have previously known, which will make the conversion process easier.

Don’t focus in on specific query types, there are conversion opportunities for just about every business in each type of search query. As marketers we are often caught up in the “need direct sales” mentality by focusing too heavy on transactional queries and ignoring users who are still in the research and informational phase.

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