Want to make the most of your search traffic?
Then you need to take a deeper look at search queries.
In this article, I’ll take you through the different types of search queries, and how to strategize for each.
Table of Contents
What is a Search Query?
A search query is what a searcher types into Google (or their search engine of choice) to pull up their desired results.
So, if I really wanted to know who George Clooney was married to, I would type “who is George Clooney married to” into the search box. And that right there would be my search query.
Now, in terms of SEO, search queries are important. In order for your content to show up in someone’s results, they need to be looking for it in their search query, and Google needs to know that what you’re ranking for is relevant to what that user is looking for.
But as marketers, we tend to put a lot of focus on keywords. Contrary to popular belief, those aren’t the same as search queries.
What’s the Difference Between Search Queries and Keywords?
I’ll be honest: it’s not a huge difference. But it’s an important one.
Think of the keyword like a model. It’s the vision we have of what a search should be.
The search query, on the other hand, is the reality. It’s the words that people are putting together in real time as they search, not what we assume or wish they were typing in.
In marketing, keywords are what we target and bid on, and hope that they’re included in a query.
For example, “cowboy boots” is a keyword you might to try to rank for. But that keyword alone can be attached to all kinds of search queries:
- Cowboy boots for women
- Kids cowboy boots
- Leather cowboy boots
- Cheap cowboy boots
- Why are cowboy boots so uncomfortable
- How do you clean cowboy boots
And the list goes on. The cool thing is that if you’re running a PPC ad, you can check your Google AdWords (assuming you’re using broad match or broad match modifier) you can see the exact search queries that are triggering your ad.
If you find that some of these queries are common and apply to your product, you can use them to form new target keywords and ad groups.
The Three Types of Search Queries
So, when we talk about a search query, it usually falls into one of three categories:
- Transactional search query
- Navigational search query
- Informational search query
Separating searches into these categories helps us better understand the intent of the searcher, and therefore serve them more relevant content.
Let’s take a look at each.
Transactional Search Query
If you’re a site owner, I’m gonna go out a limb here and say this is probably your favorite kind of search query.
A transactional search query can be obvious if it’s using words like “buy” or “on sale” or “where to buy” phrases. Sometimes, you can infer transactional intent by queries that include brand names (Ariat cowboy boots), and other times the search will be general (patio furniture).
The thing that sets them off as transactional is that each query signals some intent to buy.
How to Target a Transactional Search Query
Obviously, these queries are your most direct moneymakers, so make sure you have a strategy geared towards them.
Here’s how I do it.
Make Sure Your Product and Landing Pages are Fully Optimized
You want your content to be as easy to find as possible. So if you’re selling brown leather cowboy boots, make sure that keyword is included all over your page.
Make sure it’s in your images, your tags, your meta descriptions, everywhere.
Present all the information they may need in one easy to find place. Include detailed descriptions, prices, reviews, and clickable “buy” or “download” buttons.
Again, you really want to focus on specific queries here, so don’t optimize just for “cowboy boots.” Instead, include a little more description to focus on those searchers who know exactly what they want.
Use Rich Snippets
Rich snippets come in many forms. You can use them to add images, prices, availability, and ratings right in your organic search listing.
Why use them? Because they’re different, and they catch user’s attention. Beyond that, they include valuable information that could set you apart from the competition.
Some of the more valuable snippets for transactional search queries are:
- Product availability – this one’s used to show if you have a product in stock or not. That way, customer’s know right off the bat if you’re the site the looking for.
- Limited time offers – have a special discount or promotion going on? It’s the perfect time to seal the deal with those already looking to buy. By letting searchers know that this is a limited offer, you can capitalize on urgency. You can also use a limited availability snippet to let them know they have to act fast.
- Include an image or video – if you really want to stand out in the SERP, try including an image or video of your product. It will draw eyes (and clicks) away from your competitors.
- Reviews and ratings – good reviews signal a quality product. They make customers trust you and your product more.
You can get rich snippets by adding structured data your site (code written in a specific format). For more on that, head over here.
Run PPC Search Campaigns
PPC campaigns on the search network were tailor-made for transactional search queries.
People use Google to search to find things they want or need, now.
If someone wants to buy a cable knit sweater, they go to Google.
If someone needs a hotel in Muskogee, OK, they go to Google.
And if someone cracked a tooth and needs an emergency dentist near them, they go to? Yep. Google.
So, if you catch my drift, Google’s the go-to, and the listings that pop up at the top are the ones most likely to be clicked.
To quickly get to the top, you need a well-targeted PPC ad. These take up a lot of real estate in the top spots of the SERP.
And most of the time, whether it’s a sponsored or organic listing makes little difference to searchers.
In fact, paid clicks outnumbered organic clicks by 2 to 1, according to Wordstream.
And, search queries with purchase (transactional) intent are six times more likely than all other searches to display four ads at the top of Google.
So, when strategizing for transactional queries, make sure you ramp up your efforts in paid search. It will pay off.
Navigational Search Queries
They happen when, rather than typing a full URL into their browser, a user simply types the site name into the search bar.
These ones have pretty clear intent – if you want to go to Facebook, you type in Facebook. If you want to shop for Lululemon athleisure, you type in Lululemon.
How to Target a Navigational Search Query
I won’t lie, these aren’t the most exciting queries on the list.
They change very little over time, and if you don’t happen to own the particular website being searched for, you have little chance of taking over a navigational search.
Again, the intent here is completely clear – the user’s looking for one particular site. If it’s not yours, well, you don’t fit the bill.
In order to ensure you don’t miss a navigational query that is intended for your site, it’s imperative that your site’s fully keyword optimized.
Also, make sure you’re focusing on branded keywords. Your goal is to own every listing on the first result page – sponsored and organic.
- Brand + product
- Brand + sale
- Brand + service
Informational Search Queries
These queries are by far the broadest, and occur when users are searching for particular information.
So, my first example (“who is George Clooney married to) would be an informational search query.
Your job? Anticipate the questions, and have the answers ready.
Informational search queries make up the vast majority of searches, and most estimate that between 50%-80% of searches are informational.
How to Target an Informational Query
While these kinds of searches don’t produce much in the way of immediate value, they do provide that value over time.
These searchers are often done by people still in the research and awareness phase of the sales cycle, and by providing answers and relevant information, you can become a trusted resource for them.
To make the most of informational queries, focus on the following:
First, Focus on Providing Relevant, Optimized Content
Remember, your job here is to provide answers.
The best way to do that? Quality content, and lots of it.
This begins with a serious understanding of who exactly your target audience is and the questions they struggle with.
Understandably, anticipating informational search queries can be a challenge.
A good place to start is Google itself. The next type you type in a query, scroll down to the bottom of the page and find the “related questions” box. This will show you what kinds of related queries are commonly conducted.
Another personal favorite of mine is Answer the Public. Just type in your keyword (I’m sticking with cowboy boots for this example), and the site will generate tons of possible search queries and questions.
Those questions are what you want to build your content around. Focus on blogs and articles full of tips, FAQ’s and how-to’s. Use videos for more of a visual punch, and produce thorough, in-depth guides to establish your authority on a subject.
And, make sure your content is optimized. Include your target keyword throughout your headings and text (in a natural, non-keyword stuffing way), and use it in all of your images.
Find Featured Snippet Opportunities
Featured snippets are the new number ones in Google – literally. They’re actually called Position 0.
They’re large and in charge when it comes to search results, and rank above even the first organic listing.
For example, if I type “what is a featured snippet” into Google, the box that appears at the top is the featured snippet.
Now, no sugar-coating here: ranking for these snippets isn’t easy. Generally, your page needs to already appear on the first page of the search results for it to even be considered for a featured snippet.
If it does, you’re in luck, and there are few things you can do to increase the chances that your page will be pulled for the box.
First, you want to see which of your competitors are being featured already and find out how you can recreate what they’ve done. For example, if they’re using review or price schema and you’re not, you should probably consider applying it to your page as well.
You also want to focus on making your content as clear and concise as possible, and include the questions you’re answering in your copy.
Most of the content featured in the snippet box comes from keywords containing questions, and SEMRush reports that questions show a 480% increase in the percentage of keywords with featured snippets.
Think about it: when you’re looking information Google, you usually do so in question form, right? Right. Google recognizes that, and pulls snippets that match that query.
In general, you want to follow these principles:
- Answer questions revolving around your target keyword
- Answers should be brief or in list form
- Questions should be in H2 (your subheadings)
One more thing: featured snippets are usually what are read out as answers to voice searches, adding even more weight to the already lofty feature.
Concluding the Search Query
Here’s the thing about search queries: they’re one of the best tools we have to decipher searcher intent.
And if you can interpret the intent, you have a much better shot at delivering the content that user wants.
The strategy around each type of search query will differ, and for the best results, you need to plan accordingly.