3 types of search queries and their targeting in 2021
When you've been in the world of SEO Then, for a while, you will almost certainly know the three types of searches: navigational, transactional, and information searches.
These have been around for years and there are hundreds of blog posts talking about them.
But how relevant are these three types of searches in 2021? And how exactly are you aiming at it?
We'll go into a little more depth in this post.
But first, let's make sure we're on the same page.
What are navigation, information, and transactional searches?
Let's start by explaining the "traditional" definitions of these search types:
In a navigation search, someone is looking for a specific website. For example, if someone types "netflix" into Google, it is a navigational search as they are almost certainly looking for the Netflix homepage.
Google knows this, which is why Netflix is at the top:
However, navigational searches are not always possible straight Brand names. If someone searches for "iphone 12 amazon", this is probably also a navigation search. Although the searcher is looking for a certain product, he has already decided where he would like to buy it – on Amazon.
Google understands this too. Amazon is in pole position:
Here are some more examples of navigational searches:
- "iphone ”
- "tv plus ”
- "Apple Education Store "
In transactional searches, someone wants to buy something in particular, but has not yet decided where to buy it. For example, if someone searches for "buy a treadmill" it is a transactional search. Their language indicates that they want to make a purchase. They are not looking for information.
Looking at the search results again, it becomes clear that Google understands this, as all of the top pages are category pages from ecommerce websites.
Here are some more examples of transaction searches:
- "buy iPhone ”
- "refurbished Macbook "
- "MacBook Air Charger ”
When searching for information, someone wants to find information. For example, when someone searches for “What is a meta tag in?” SEO"Then this is an information search because they are obviously looking for a definition.
Interestingly, for many simple information searches like this one, Google not only returns relevant results, but also shows the answer in search results.
Here are some more examples of information searches:
- "best iPhone ”
- "iphone 12 vs galaxy s20 ”
- "iPhone 12 rating ”
- "how to backup iPhone "
How to identify any type of search
Before we talk about how to target each type of search and whether this is even possible, let's first explain how users typically identify them.
Historical, SEO Experts have searched for specific words or phrases in the query to infer the type of search. These are known as keyword modifiers. For example, if a query contains modifiers such as "Buy" or "Buy", it is almost certainly a transactional query.
Here is a cheat sheet of modifiers similar to those that many people use:
|WHO||(Brand name)||to buy|
|when||(Service name)||to order|
If you're using a keyword research tool like Keywords Explorer, you can use these modifiers to find keywords that fall into each section. Just find a topic, go to one of the Keyword Idea reports, and add the keyword modifiers to the "Include" filter.
Make sure you select "any" instead of "all".
If you are looking for informative keywords, you can use them even faster ask Report showing keywords formulated as questions (that is, including modifiers such as "What", "How", "Where", "When", etc.)
While this method is used to identify some of the keywords that fall in each bucket, it is far from foolproof as some queries are not as obvious.
Take, for example, a keyword like "ideal protein". The query alone cannot determine what the searcher is looking for. Would you like to buy a product called Ideal Protein (transaction), information about the ideal amount of protein to consume daily (information), or is there a company called Ideal Protein (navigation)?
It's everyone's guess.
Searching for keyword modifiers can also lead to completely wrong identifications.
Take a keyword like "Best Buy Laptops". If you decided this was a transactional query because it contained the word "buy", you were wrong. Best Buy is an American consumer electronics company searchers are looking for here.
What is the solution if looking at the query itself doesn't really help?
Something SEO Professionals use the presence of SERP Functions to identify the type of search. For example, if there is a snippet in the search results, it likely indicates an information query.
If the results include a shopping carousel, it is likely a transaction.
You can also filter these in the Keyword Ideas reports in the Keyword Explorer.
But these methods are not easy either. In our opinion, the only way to really understand the nature of the search is to look at the results for the query itself. Since Google wants to deliver relevant results to searchers, the top results are the best proxy for the type of search you have available.
Just look at the "ideal protein" results:
The top result is a website called idealprotein.com. So it's clear that searchers are looking for a specific website and that this is a navigational query.
This also applies to "Best Buy Laptops" where the best result is a page from BestBuy.com.
However, if you search for "laptops" – another ambiguous query – the results are all product pages from ecommerce websites telling you it is a transactional query.
So target any type of search
Most SEO This way, professionals who group their keywords into navigation, information, and transactional buckets can determine the type of content to create to target the query. This process usually goes like this:
- Informative = Blog post.
- transaction = Product page.
- navigation = … You will be ranking for these queries anyway.
You may recall that in the introduction to this article we asked whether the three traditional search types are still relevant or useful in 2021. Hopefully the answer to this question will become obvious.
The problem is that these three types of searches don't contain enough actionable information to understand how a keyword is actually targeted.
For example, we have already established that "laptops" is a transactional keyword. However, this does not mean that we can go to an old product page and have a chance of ranking. We need to understand more about what the seeker is looking for.
The same applies to a keyword like "best laptop".
When we look at the search results, it is clear that this is an informative keyword as all of the results are blog posts and not product pages.
… but you are unlikely to rank by writing an old blog post.
Something SEO Professionals try to solve this problem with additional search fields like "commercial investigation".
Commercial discovery keywords are those where searchers have decided they want to buy a type of product but are unsure which one to buy. So you're looking for reviews and comparisons.
Take another look at the results for "Best Laptop" and you will see that they match this description. All results are blog posts that review and compare laptops. So it is clear that this is the type of blog post that you need to write in order to be ranked for this query.
The problem with this solution is that it is still extremely limited as you will need to create far more than three or four search-type buckets to properly categorize each keyword.
What better way to classify keywords?
Lots of people in the SEO The industry has already asked this very question. If you're looking for a better way to classify keywords on a large scale, this post by Kane Jamison is well worth reading. He suggests using SERP Functions to classify keywords into nine types.
But what if you just want to understand the intent of a few keywords so you know how to target them?
In this case, we think it's a good place to start analyzing your search results for what we call the "3 Cs of Search Intent".
- Content type
- Content format
- Content angle
1. Content type
The content type refers to the overall content type in the search result. It will usually be one of the following:
- blog entry
- Product page (like this one)
- Category page (see above)
- Landing Page (see above)
For example, all results for "Speaker" are product category pages:
While the results for "Audio Engine HD3 Speakers" are individual product pages:
2. Content format
The content format refers to the overall format of the highest ranking pages. This mainly applies to searches where blog posts are the main content type and are usually one of the following:
- Step by step instructions
- Comparison (e.g. Ahrefs versus Moz)
For example, most of the results for "Tie a Tie" are instructions:
While most of the results for "SEO Tips ”are list entries:
3. Content angle
The content angle refers to the main selling point of the content. It's not quite as simple as type and format as it differs depending on the topic. However, it will help you understand what seekers care about and who they are.
For example, the angle for "best laptops" is clearly fresh as all results have the current year in the title.
This makes sense because the technology is evolving quickly. If you're in the market for a new laptop, a blog post you wrote a year ago probably won't be very useful.
On the other hand, the price is the dominant angle for "golf clubs":
Why things are not always so clear
Content type, format, and angle aren't always that obvious. This is because some searches like "protein powder" have mixed intentions.
There's a mix of list posts, category pages, and other content formats here.
In such cases, there is no definitive way to target the keyword. All you have to do is use common sense and make your best guesses.
How important is it to understand the intent?
Proper understanding of the intent is crucial. We know that from experience.
In 2016 we published a blog post about On-Page SEO where we examined on-page ranking factors. It was a great informative post aimed at what most would consider an informative keyword. However, it was never really rated for anything.
In 2018 we decided to revisit the post to see what went wrong. After looking closely at the search results, we discovered our mistake: people didn't want an in-depth study. They wanted a step-by-step guide. We misunderstood the content format.
So we rewritten and republished the post – and the traffic skyrocketed.
We have achieved similar successes with other posts and sites. For more information on how to do this, check out our complete guide to search intent.
While grouping keywords into navigation, transactional, and information buckets as a first pass approach can be beneficial when working with a lot of data, you may not understand how to target a keyword without looking at it SERP and dig deeper.
Because of this, we think that grouping keywords into the "traditional" three buckets will not be enough in 2021. You can't just group keywords with "modifiers" and assume they all fall into a specific bucket. You have to analyze either that SERP manually or create a better classification model – like Kane did.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know on Twitter.