If we stop and consider what Search, this thing we all love so dearly, actually is, it fundamentally boils down to facilitating successful information retrieval (IR). A User is looking for something. They pick the medium by which to conduct their search. Based on the returned results from the corpus (ie collection of various authoritative documents), the user then selects a document/site. If this is not close enough, the User refines the criteria for their search and tries again. Not terribly complicated… well, maybe?

According to the traditional tenets of IR, a User is strictly seeking information. In the current (and rapidly evolving) state of eCommerce, Social, Social as OS, Local Search for SMB brick and mortars etc, the complexity of a Users IR needs have broadened along with the semantic overlap. As these needs have become more elaborate, the modern day search engine has matured as well. By original standards, the Yellow Pages were one of the best ways to be effective with IR for just about anything non-academic. As information of all types has come to favor bits and bytes, Google of course changed the playing field with its inbound links equal authority concept, removing some of the guessing game as to which local plumber was the better one! Now with real-time search and the overall influence of peer conversation, the tables are turning yet again. But back to the point…

Users, or those searching for something, are notoriously horrible at actually describing what they are seeking with any level of accuracy. Are they looking for a specific site? Are they trying to be ‘self service’ and get hours of operation or a phone number? Are they trying to sign up for an event or make a purchase? This is where we as SEO’s need to consider what Andrei Broder @ IBM research refers to as the taxonomy of web search.

While Broder’s research was done in 2001, the principles are perhaps even more applicable in today’s discipline of Search. Broder suggest that there are three types of query intentions.

  • Navigational
  • Informational
  • Transactional

Let’s take a few minutes to explore this web search taxonomy:

Navigational Queries

There is a reason that ‘Googling’ – to perform a search – has made it to several of the worlds oldest published representatives of the English lexicon. Users typically are not using the direct type method, or bothering to remember your URL, to get to your property unless they are a long term established customer. With this, Users most often type in a brand name, with the expectation to be connected with the brand’s main site.

In practice:

  • User searches “Southwest” | Probable expectation of Southwest Airlines
  • User searches “Swiffer” | Probable expectation of Swiffer’s Main Site
  • User searches “Apple” | Though it could be Apple Records, health benefits of an apple, apple juice or orchards, the User is most likely looking for Apple Computers

Informational Queries

Informational queries serve a series of slightly ambiguous purposes. The simplest function of this query type is for finding things like the price of an item/service, hours of operations, store location(s), etc. The Informational query also has its role in the consideration phase of the buying cycle. A User knows what products or services exist. Now it becomes the query type of choice for Users trying to better understand the best solution for their needs.

This is without question one of the hardest layers for an SEO to effectively target. While being difficult, it is arguable that this is also the highest value type of query for which to target positive SERP visibility. This is where authority and authenticity of a brand can really come through. If a User is able to easily identify and connect with content they deem as valuable, the odds that they will do business with your brand increase greatly. Further, if you continue to provide them with a positive post purchase experience, you just might have made a new long-term customer.

In practice:

  • User searches “Airfares to Las Vegas” | Probable expectation of a page offering details about airfares deals to Las Vegas
  • User searches “Swiffer Wet Jet Coupons” | Probable expectation of a page that has available Swiffer Coupons
  • User searches “Apple iPod Supported File Types” | Probable expectation of a iPod specs page

Transactional Queries

The nature of a Transactional query, thankfully, is considerably more straight forward. Users are most likely done with their research and are ready to commit to, or subscribe, or purchase whatever it is that you are selling. While this type of consumer behavior is split a bit between navigational queries with transactional intent, the fact is, they are ready to conduct business.

Additionally, this is a type of query that is typically associated with a downstream, bottom of the funnel, high value Long Tail type of concept for targeting. These are the ones that the referring logs won’t show super high instances, but the conversion metrics attributed to them are often quite high.

In practice:

It is worth considering these concepts when you are developing your Organic SEO strategies for your site’s content and business objectives. These ideas should provide a bit of guidance in helping you establish the intention of each page on your site(s) and where those pages fit in the User’s IR process.