Increase Qualified Traffic with Query Intent

By Bryson Meunier, Product Champion, Natural Search

When I first started teaching myself SEO back in the late nineties, the driving force behind keyword research was search volume. When it came time to select keywords for a page, most keyword research experts as I recall were emphasizing the ability of effective keyword research to drive traffic to a web site. This is true, of course, in the sense that optimizing for more popular, high volume queries could drive more natural search impressions and clicks if the web page gets ranked for these high volume queries. This fundamental truth of search marketing hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the discipline. These days, however, any search marketer who is only looking at search volume when doing keyword research is only getting part of the picture, and missing an opportunity to drive more qualified traffic by considering the user intent of a query.

Since search engines are now using query intent to determine relevance, as we’ve seen in Yahoo!’s recent study of mobile queries and Google’s leaked Quality Rater’s Handbook, one would think that more search marketers would start to include query intent as part of their keyword research. Yet aside from an SEOMoz illustrated search intent overview, and past RM odes to intentionality, the topic isn’t mentioned much outside of academic search papers. If you’ve missed all of it, query intent is defined as the presumed intent behind a search query. Andrei Broder defined the three basic types of search query intent as navigational, informational and transactional in his 2002 paper “A Taxonomy of Web Search”:

Navigational queries are probably the simplest to explain. These are queries that indicate a user’s desire to go to one specific site, such as when “”, “united airlines” or “Nabisco web site” is entered into the search box. From a natural search standpoint, these are queries that most brands don’t have to optimize for. Nonetheless, for brands optimizing for awareness or consideration metrics, identifying potential navigational keywords can help drive more targeted traffic in both paid and natural search.

Transactional queries indicate a user intends to interact in some way with the web site. The most obvious transactional queries include “buy” or “sale”, but transactional queries could also include terms related to coupons, videos, images or adult subjects. Anyone familiar with the search funnel will recognize these as the shop and buy keywords that might be considered most valuable to a direct response campaign.

Informational queries represent the bulk of the queries that exist on the web. Some say informational queries make up as high as 80% of all web searches. Informational queries can be defined as everything that’s not navigational or transactional and typically are broken down into directed: closed, directed: open, advice, locate, and list. These queries can be targeted by advertisers looking to increase traffic or engagement, but aren’t the best performers in direct response.

Volume isn’t everything. At Resolution Media we consider query intent as one of several factors to consider in every keyword research deliverable we do. Doing the same can help drive not just the most traffic to your digital content, but the most qualified traffic.


Dave McAnally said...

Query intent also seems like it should inform the content you develop as an inverse thing. I think people will always want 'more traffic' to their site, but one of the cool things about understanding query intent is that you can use it to build content that (in theory) would not only win more traffic out of search engines, but resonate better with larger audiences. Would you agree or am I completely off?

Bryson said...

You're completely off about most things, D, but I agree with you here. :) Understanding the intent behind the query will definitely allow content publishers to make their content more relevant to the user's query, which should increase engagement as well. Great point!

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