Searching for things on the web has become so routine for most people that they probably don't even realize that they're following a regular process.
The search process goes like this:
- Enter a query.
- Get results back.
- Scan for relevant results.
- View a result or two.
- Refine my query, if needed.
People repeat this process until some need is met or abandoned.
There are two important aspects of a search query: intent and satisfaction. The need or goal of a search query is expressed as intent and can be inferred based on the terms used and the structure of the query. Satisfaction comes when the goal, however small, is achieved.
3 types of search queries
|Search query type||Objective|
|Informational||Find data or information about a topic.|
|Navigational||Get to a specific, known website or URL.|
|Transactional||Take the first step in a series towards acquiring some resource.|
Categorizing searches into these goal-based groups gives us a glimpse into the intent behind a user's search. Analysis and classification of search phrases is useful when planning an information architecture, a content strategy, or an SEO strategy.
To get more clarity about user intent, we can compare search phrases with the sub-categories of each query type.
Informational (I) sub-categories
- Directed (I,D) – I want specific information.
- Closed (I,D,C) – I want the one, unambiguous answer to a specific question.
- Open (I,D,O) – I want the answers to a specific question covering more than one topic.
- Undirected (I,U) – I want everything on this topic.
- List (I,L) – I want a list of things on this topic.
- Find (I,F) – I'm looking for a real world service or product that can be obtained.
- Advice (I,A) – I'm looking for advice or suggestions.
Navigational (N) sub-categories
- Navigational to Transactional (N,T) – I want a URL that is transactional. (Doesn't seem very useful as a category.)
- Navigational to Informational (N,I) – I want a URL that is informational. (Also doesn't seem very useful as a category.)
Transactional (T) sub-categories
- Obtain (T,O) – I want to obtain a specific resource or object.
- Online (T,O,O) – I want a resource I will get online.
- Offline (T,O,F) – I want a resource or object I will get offline.
- Download (T,D) – I want to find a specific file to download.
- Results (T,R) – I want a resource that can be found directly on the results page.
- Links (T,R,L) – I want a resource that appears in the title, summary, or URL of a result.
- Other (T,R,O) – I want a resource that appears somewhere other than in the the title, summary, or URL of a result.
- Interact (T,I) – I want to interact with a specifc resource or program.
Hierarchy adapted from: Determining the informational, navigational, and transactional intent of Web queries (2007) Additional source: Query classification; understanding user intent