The 3 Types of Search Queries & How You Should Target Them


Search queries – the words and phrases that people type into a search box in order to pull up a list of results – come in different flavors. It is commonly accepted that there are three different types of search queries:

  1. Navigational search queries
  2. Informational search queries
  3. Transactional search queries

In the search marketing world, we tend to talk more about keywords than search queries (news flash: they’re not quite the same thing). But today we’re talking search queries. Let’s go into a little more detail on what these three types of search queries are and how you can target them with your site content.

Search Query Types

Navigational Search Queries

What Is a Navigational Search Query?

A navigational query is a search query entered with the intent of finding a particular website or webpage. For example, a user might enter "youtube" into Google's search bar to find the YouTube site rather than entering the URL into a browser's navigation bar or using a bookmark. In fact, “facebook” and “youtube” are the top two searches on Google, and these are both navigational queries.

How Should You Target Navigational Search Queries?

The fact is, you don’t stand much of a chance targeting a navigational query unless you happen to own the site that the person is looking for. True navigational queries have very clear intent – the user has an exact site in mind and if you’re not that site, you’re not relevant to their needs. Google, which classifies this type of query as a "go query" according to some reports, has even taken the step of reducing the total number of results on the first page to 7 for navigational brand queries, leading to a 5.5% reduction in overall organic first-page listings. However, some queries that appear to be navigational in nature might not be. For example, someone who googles “facebook” might actually be looking for news or information about the company.

Tip: Make sure you own your own brand’s navigational query. Ideally, your site will appear in both the top organic spot and as the top sponsored result in a search for your brand or company name. As Brad Geddes has pointed out, “in many cases, it is worth buying keywords even if you rank organically for them,” because your total profits will end up higher. Branded keywords tend to drive both clicks and conversions.

How to Target Search Queries

Informational Search Queries

What Is an Informational Search Query?

Wikipedia defines informational search queries as “Queries that cover a broad topic (e.g., colorado or trucks) for which there may be thousands of relevant results.” When someone enters an informational search query into Google or another search engine, they’re looking for information – hence the name. They are probably not looking for a specific site, as in a navigational query, and they are not looking to make a commercial transaction. They just want to answer a question or learn how to do something.

How Should You Target Informational Search Queries?

Informational queries are hard to monetize. Google knows this, which is why it’s been pushing the Knowledge Graph to address these types of queries. The best way to target informational searches is with high-quality SEO content that genuinely provides helpful information relevant to the query. Wikipedia, for all its flaws, is pretty good at providing basic, reliable-enough info on an extremely broad range of topics, which is why they rank on the first page for about half of all searches (well, that and their enormously powerful link profile).

Wikipedia leaves a lot to be desired for a lot of informational searches, though. That’s where you come in! Here are some of the ways you could target informational queries to drive traffic and leads to your site through organic search:

  • Write a blog post full of tips that would be useful for your prospective customers – if you’re a PR consultant, for example, you could write a blog post on how to create a press release.
  • Create a how-to video that is relevant to your business (like this home improvement dude who made a video on how to build a tree house).
  • Write a detailed, step-by-step guide that elucidates a process relevant to your business (for example, take SEOmoz’s great beginner’s guide to SEO).
  • Design an infographic that illustrates a concept (like our infographic on how the AdWords auction works).

There are many ways to approach informational content. Get creative. The goal is to position yourself as a trustworthy, authoritative source of information, not to try to cram your products down the searcher’s throat. This is the time to build awareness of your brand. If you can answer a searcher’s question, they’ll be more likely to think of you positively in the future if they need the kind of offerings you provide.

If you’re looking for more direction when it comes to content marketing, check out these related posts:

Transactional Search Queries

What Is a Transactional Search Query?

A transactional search query is a query that indicates an intent to complete a transaction, such as making a purchase. Transactional search queries may include exact brand and product names (like “samsung galaxy s3”) or be generic (like “iced coffee maker”) or actually include terms like “buy,” “purchase,” or “order.” In all of these examples, you can infer that the searcher is considering making a purchase in the near future, if they’re not already pulling out their credit card. In other words, they’re at the business end of the conversion funnel. Many local searches (such as “Denver wine shop”) are transactional as well.

Transactional Query Product Listings

Vertical searches are a subset of transactional search queries, and they represent people looking to make a transaction in a specific industry. These include local searches, restaurant searches, hotel searches, flight searches, etc. Google's moves in recent years to directly target vertical searches have led to accusations of antitrust violations.

How Should You Target Transactional Search Queries?

We recommend a two-pronged approach here. There is no reason not to target transactional queries with organic content, like optimized product pages and local SEO strategies, but you should consider using PPC to target these search terms as well. Here’s why:

  • These are exactly the kinds of queries that are mostly likely to deliver ROI in paid search. If people are looking for a specific type of product to buy, a sponsored ad is just as likely as an organic result to deliver what they need.
  • Sponsored results take up a lot of the available space on the SERP for commercial/transactional queries. If you want visibility above the fold for transactional keywords, you should consider PPC.
  • Google offers lots of bells and whistles for sponsored ads and product listings. For example, you can include a picture of your product. Your options in organic results are more limited and less controllable.
  • In one study, we found that people click on paid results over organic results 2 to 1 for queries with high commercial intent. This is probably because sponsored results take up so much of the above-the-fold real estate on these types of searches, because the new ad formats are so eye-catchingly clickable, and because lots of search engine users can’t tell the difference between ads and non-ads. (NB: Commercial search queries are just a small percentage of total search query volume overall, so organic results still take the lion’s share of overall clicks. More on that here.)

These are some of the reasons we recommend using AdWords for transactional search queries. It’s a scalable and cost-effective way to drives leads and sales. However, know that if you want to drive more overall traffic, your best bet is to build out your SEO content as well, since there are more informational queries than transactional ones.

Any questions about these search query types and what they mean for search marketers? Let us know in the comments!

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Alex Dumpfree
Dec 11, 2012

Excellent post for Search Queries! Now, I'm cleared. Is there any way we can create a search that could hit good in all 3 types of search queries? 

Elisa Gabbert
Dec 11, 2012

Do you mean, can you create content that could rank for all three types of search queries? In theory, it's possible, yes, but ideally, you'd have different pages to address the different types of keywords. It's hard to create a single page that will satisfy all the different kinds of needs. As mentioned in the post, it's extremely difficult to target true navigational queries. There may be some overlap between informational and transactional queries, but usually, people aren't researching and buying in the exact same step and with the same search.

Unit Nexus
Sep 25, 2013

Hi AlexThere is no way that we can target all type of search queries because all are totally different from  each other.Actually Naviagational Users dont know what they are looking for. For  e.g. if person type Electronics then it is not clear whetherhe want to study electronics subject or he wants to purchase an electronics item.We target only transactional and informational keywords only. And for both keywords we uses different strategy. How ever there can be one more type of search Query.That is Seasonal Search Queries.Which is further divided in two types1. Cyclic like Christams2. Non Cyclic such as cricket world cup 2011.Thanks  

Rick Noel
Dec 11, 2012

Nice post Elisa. Very well explained with specific expamples. Beyond PPC testing, what do you view as the best indices for comercial intent. Microsoft Ad Labs use to have the OCI (Online Commercial Intent)? Like Microsoft AdLabs OCI which has long since retired.

Elisa Gabbert
Dec 11, 2012

Hi Rick,A company called Clever Marketing told me they have a classifer API that tags keywords with query intent. But for the most part, I think you can intuit this based on the query. Head terms are harder to classify (for example, "ipad" could be someone who wants to buy or someone why just wants to know what they are). The more specific the keyword, the easier it is to judge intent. More competitive keywords (the Google keyword tool tells you volume as well as competition) also tend to have more commercial/transactional intent.Thanks for reading!

jenny smith
Dec 12, 2012

Various factors are there to use Ad Words and yes I agree with you that they should be used for transactional search queries as it is cost-effective way of improving the sales. Using Google AdWords can be extremely efficient way that will help in driving traffic and increasing the business website. I think this link may be useful to you guys as there is a pretty detailed description on does AdWords really work.

Marc Boers
Dec 13, 2012

Thank you for info!Advertising on your competitor's name, is that useless in your opinion? (Since it is not the intention of the searcher..) 

Elisa Gabbert
Dec 13, 2012

It sort of depends on the competitor -- not always useless, but difficult, and you will probably end up with a low click-through rate on those ads  (hence low Quality Score) so tread carefully.

Touch Point Digital
Dec 13, 2012

Great information, Elisa.  I agree 100% with what you said about informational search queries--provide something of value to your readers and teach them something.  By doing that, you become the expert and authority figure in their eyes and they will think about you when the need for your services arises.  Too many businesses try to use blogs and articles to sell and have the "always be closing" mentality.  That no longer works, at least not online.  Give first, then you will get.  Thanks for the nice tips.  --David

Dec 14, 2012

I'd like to say what an excellent and to-the-point post this is from Elisa. Thank you. I will definitely reconsider the design of my website.I realise now that the current design is not aimed at any one of the 3 types of queries Elisa talks about. I aim to concentrate on Informational Searches instead of all three. Thank you again.

Elisa Gabbert
Dec 14, 2012

A whole website doesn't need to focus on just one type of query. It's just difficult to try to aim for all three with a single page.

Dec 14, 2012

Unfortunalely long tail keywords are unit usually marked as "low search volume" and these do not trigger your ads, even though somebody look for it!Google goal is to push publicizer aloof from the "very" long tail.

Elisa Gabbert
Dec 14, 2012

I have personally found Google's results for very long-tail queries to be bad in general lately.

Dec 15, 2012

Hi Elisa,Nice and informative post, this will help me to make my site get more traffic through search engines.Thank you 

Blogger Whale
Dec 15, 2012

Informational queries provide 90% of the traffic to most blogs.Wiki although has good rankings for exact keywords, it fails when it comes to long tail searches.Blogs and website score high in that department.

Nick Stamoulis
Dec 17, 2012

The focus of an SEO campaign should be on informational search queries.  It's important to target keywords that aren't too broad because there is too much competition.  Incorporate long tail keywords into content that will help deliver traffic that is looking for something specific and further along in the buying cycle. 

Sep 23, 2013

Good information about search queries type. Did not have an idea about transactional queries. nice to share this information to gain knowliege
May 12, 2017

I loved this post! I just read your blogs fairly often and you're always releasing great stuff.

I shared this on my facebook and my follwers loved it!
Keep up you'll be able to work.

Orenj Technology
Sep 26, 2013

I didn't know that they're 3 classification for search queries not until I found out this page and read this entry! I think this will help me to find and put the best title tags for my website.

Spook SEO
Feb 05, 2014

Hi Elisa!I tend to agree with you that the best way to target informational searches is with high-quality SEO content that absolutely provides helpful information applicable to the query. Anyway, you got a very interesting post here. Thank you very much for sharing this. 

Mar 28, 2014

Thanks for the guide! useful and informative!

Tee Mistry
Jun 25, 2014

Hi Elisa,Very informative article. I'm also interested to know the % break-up of queries into the 3 categories.Including this chart in the article might be helpful.Thanks!Tee 

Salah Salama
Sep 10, 2015

At first I want to thank you for this awesome article, I really loved it. I understand now that if I am attending to make money from AdSense, I have to work more with the informational type of keywords because it leads more traffic to the website, am not I?

Feb 16, 2016

Thank you very much for sharing this.

lucky gautam
Aug 03, 2016

Outstanding Post! Very well explained with detailed expamples. Thank you for sharing with us.

Rahul Sharma
Sep 26, 2016

Thanks For Sharing.

This Article really clear my all confusion, now I know everything about Navigational search queries
Informational search queries
Transactional search queries

Keep Sharing useful article.

SEO Coimbatore
Apr 25, 2017

The three types of queries are Navigational search queries, Informational search queries, Transactional search queries

varsha awadhiya
Jan 16, 2018

Thank you for providing conceptual information I read your article and got a clear concept of the search query.

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