Types of search queries: transactional, navigational, informational

Internet users use search engines with different search intentions. Depending on what a searcher intends to do, he or she formulates his or her search query in a different way and therefore also expects a different result: for example, texts, videos or an entire website. Basically, three types of search queries can be distinguished: transactional, navigational and informational.

Search engine operators always try to display the most suitable content in the search results. This is because users will only continue to trust the search engine of their choice if they receive helpful results in their search.

In order to output the most suitable content, Google and Co. must understand the user’s intention. To do this, it is not enough to recognize the individual keywords and keyword combinations of the search input and match them with web pages that contain the same phrases. To accurately classify users’ searches, the intent behind the query must be recognized and properly classified. Users whose search query indicates that they want to buy something are thus directed to an online store. Users looking for information are more likely to find a tutorial or blog article on the desired topic.

Not every search query can be clearly assigned to just one intention. Overall, however, three basic types of search queries can be distinguished:

transactional search queries: queries that show that the user wants to perform a transaction, for example “buy texts” or “iPhone 6”.
navigational search queries: queries that show that the user wants to go to a specific website or provider, for example, “Youtube”, “Apple”.
Informational search queries: queries that show that the user is looking for information, for example, “make coffee”.

Transactional search queries, transaction-oriented search queries.

Search queries that indicate a clear intention to buy or another planned transaction belong to the transactional search queries (also transactional or transactional search queries). Searchers here are looking to purchase a (digital) product, whether for free or for payment. They use the search engine to select this product, call it up and purchase it on the relevant website.

Like all searches, transactional queries follow certain patterns. For example, verbs such as “buy,” “order,” or “download,” but also specific products or even product names, suggest a transactional search query. In addition, there are search queries that do not make it clear, but imply that there is a transactional intention behind them: a search for a flight from Frankfurt to New York, for example, indicates that a searcher actually wants to book a flight. Accordingly, the search engine may already indicate suggested prices and/or times here.

Navigational search queries, navigation-oriented search queries

Navigational search queries (also navigational or navigation search queries) are searches that are aimed at a website as a direct target. In this case, the user does not need any specific information about a product or company and does not have a clear purchase intention. He wants to call up a specific website and uses the search engine for navigation. Navigation-driven search queries are often used when the user does not know an exact web address or the correct spelling of the brand or company he is looking for.

Examples of navigation-driven keywords include “Apple”, “Frankfurt city library” but also “Nike running shoes”. Users want to reach the websites or targeted subpages of the brands, organizations or companies with these search queries. Often, out of ignorance or habit, searchers also enter a full URL such as “www.seo-content.org” in the search slot.

Informational search queries, information-oriented search queries

Informational search queries (also informational or informational search queries) are probably the most original form of search queries. This is because search engines were once created to filter out specific information from a mass of data (the World Wide Web) that had become unmanageable. Users search for information when they need instructions, background knowledge or specific information on a topic or product without having a specific purchase intention or a defined target page.

Information-driven search queries include an infinite number of different keyword combinations. They can be in question form, for example “How do I make coffee?”, but also as simple word combinations, such as “Make coffee”. Single words can also be interpreted as information-driven search queries, for example “dog”. Search engines then provide general information on the keyword searched for, often on information sites such as wikipedia.org.

Google’s results on search query types

Depending on the intent search engines like Google suspect is behind a user’s search query, they play out a different type of content. The results for transactional, navigational and informational queries can therefore differ greatly. While transactional queries tend to bring up the appropriate online store in the search results, navigational queries usually lead to the actual brand or company site. For information searches, Google often displays blog articles, tutorials, videos, but also knowledge databases such as Wikipedia or Duden.

In addition to the regular organic search results, Google is increasingly integrating its own services into the SERPs. For example, AdWords ads are played out for almost every search query, which Google uses to finance itself to a large extent. Here, too, the search provider differentiates between the various types of queries and generally displays more ads for transaction-driven queries than for information-driven queries.

In addition to ads, services such as Google Images, Google News and the Maps service are now an integral part of almost every search result. Transaction-driven searches often show results from Google’s Shopping service, searches for flights bring Google’s Flight service into the SERPs.

With the Knowledge Graph, Google has integrated a function that extracts information from web pages and makes it available to the user directly on the search results page. In this way, information-driven as well as navigation-driven search queries in particular can lead the user to an answer on the Google page without having to additionally click on a search result.

Not all queries can be clearly assigned to a search query type. For example, the search query “Apple iPhone” can result from an informational, transactional, as well as a navigational need. Accordingly, for certain keyword combinations, search engines display different types of content and websites on a results page, such as knowledge databases, tutorials, but also online stores. Google also tries to tailor its search results more and more individually to the individual user. The results of each search query are therefore always also dependent on previous search queries, the location of the searcher, or whether the user is logged into his Google account or not.
Effects for website operators

For website operators, the different search query types mean that they should position their content broadly in order to be found by users. They need to plan their content carefully and, above all, think about the user’s needs. Depending on what the goals of one’s website are – sales or information, for example – at what point, if any, a user is in the buying process, and who the target audience is, a good website should offer different content. Ideally, a company should produce the appropriate content for each type of search query.

For information-driven searches, helpful content such as blog articles, e-books, videos or tutorials can be created. High-quality, user-focused content spreads virally across the Internet and can also rank highly on search results pages.

Appearing in the results of transaction-oriented search queries, on the other hand, is much more dependent on Google and good search engine optimization. Here, good onpage and offpage optimization of the store or website form an important basis for good rankings.
In order to be found for navigation-driven search queries, it is first of all a basic requirement that one’s own brand is known and perceived as a strong brand. Only if users know a company can they even search for its website. Companies can raise their profile and increase their authority with good marketing, especially good content marketing. In addition, website operators should offer Google structured data in order to be displayed in the Knowledge Graph, as well as sitelinks so that users can also go directly to subpages. Both can be set up with the help of Google Search Console.

At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult for website operators to direct users to their own website. This is because they can only partially influence whether they are displayed for each type of search query. Ranking factors from Google and Co. that are often difficult to understand decide who appears in the SERPs and who does not.

In addition, websites not only have to compete against rival providers, but also increasingly against Google itself. With its own services and functions, the search engine provider is increasingly trying to keep users on its own site and in its own “system”. This trend can be seen in mobile search in particular: Users here have to leave the Google app less and less often to find the information they are looking for. The closed world of social media and developments such as Facebook’s Instant Articles or buy buttons in the apps additionally contribute to the fact that users need to visit a company’s website less and less often.

Search queries can basically be divided according to the intention behind them. Users basically use search engines for three reasons: to obtain information, to find their way around the web or to carry out a transaction. These intentions result in information-driven (informational), navigation-driven (navigational) or transaction-driven (transactional) search queries. Each type of search query can be identified by the keywords a user uses and the form in which he enters them into the search engine.

Google and the like display a different type of content in the search results to match each type of search query. They try to recognize the respective intention of the searcher and thus meet his needs. Increasingly, search engines are also integrating their own services for this purpose in order to make certain information available to the user even more quickly. In this way, the search engines themselves enter into competition with the content providers that appear in the “regular” organic search results.

Website operators can respond to the different types of search queries with different types of content, good marketing – especially content marketing – and search engine optimization, and thus respond specifically to the needs of users.


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