Understanding the Three Types of Searches and How they Rank

3 types of search

To understand how to get your pages to rank well, you should understand what search engines want. If you can build pages the way search engines want them, your pages will show up at the top.

To do this, its important to understand the three types of searches that can take place on a search engine. These three categories have been invaluable to SEOs for many years, helping many of us explain the different types of search query that we should consider.

So without further ado, lets see what they are!

For search engines, there are three types of searches:

  • Navigational You are searching for the official website for an organization, a company, an office, or a person.

  • Informational You are searching for information. You want to learn about a subject or how to perform a task. This can be text information at a web page, a how-to video, and so on.

  • Transactional You are searching to get something. You want to buy a product or service; you want to hear a song, watch a video, or download a PDF; you want to use a tool or service at a website.

Google, in their human rater guidelines, call these three categories:

  • Do
  • Know
  • Go

Keep in mind that your website may show up in different ways for each of these searches. Here are some examples:

  • If someone is looking for your company, that’s a navigational search. If they use your company name, most likely you’ll be at the top. Google will show your main website to people who are searching for your site.

  • If someone is trying to learn about a product or service, Google will show the pages with the best information about that topic. For your site to show up in that search, you need to have authoritative information on your site. On the flip side, this means that pages with not-very-useful information will not show up for these searches.

  • If someone wants to buy a product or get a service, Google shows the most credible vendors or suppliers for that item to facilitate a transaction. To rank high, your site should be a reliable merchant. This also means pages that are only affiliates won’t be in the results.

Navigational Searches

This type of query is when the user knows what they are looking for and wants to navigate to that page, or website. Intent, is definitely there, but creating a strategy with this could be tough. If you focus on enhancing your brand recognition, this becomes easier over time.

Informational Searches

Informational searches are exactly what the name implies. They are when a user is looking for information, not to make a purchase. Usually they are looking for an answer to a question like “How do I change a tire?” or “What does SEO stand for?” Tweak your site so it also shows up in the informational search results! Say you own a jewelry store and are looking to promote your engagement rings section. Why not create an informational guide or video about the 4 Cs of diamonds (cut, cost, clarity, color) so the soon-to-be-proposing boyfriend come across your site when they are looking for information about how to go about selecting a diamond engagement ring.

Transactional Searches

Like all searches, transactional search queries have their own specific patterns and formats. These include not only verbs such as “buy”, “order”, or “download” but also specific products and product brand- names. Furthermore, though it may not be made explicit, there are some searches that imply a transactional intent. For example, a search for details of flights from Frankfurt to New York suggests that the searcher may actually want to book a flight. So, the search engine will also offer suggestions on pricing and/or flight times.

If a website offers information — such as the NHS or the Government website — the site should offer authoritative and complete information. Search engines will therefore give the site preference.

For merchants, this means the original manufacturer has an advantage. If you are the manufacturer of a product, create landing pages that clearly show you produce the product. You will rank higher. If you are a reseller, write informative pages so you can rank higher than your competitors.

How Does Google Rank the Results for Searches?

How does Google decide which pages will rank for the three types of searches? Google uses software (the algorithm) to evaluate pages. Google also has people who work as Quality Raters. Google collects the millions of daily searches, sorts these by frequency, and sends them to people who evaluate the search results by authority, usefulness, and relevance.

  1. The first ranking is for official sites. These are the official pages for a country, a government office, an organization, a company, a city, or a person. Examples include the Bundestag.de (the parliament of Germany), RedCross.org, Guinness.com or BCN.es (the city of Barcelona). If yours is the authoritative site, it will generally be the number-one result for a navigational search.

  2. The second ranking goes to pages with information. This means the page should be comprehensive, high quality, and authoritative. Ideally, this is a page by a college professor or graduate student with an overview of a topic. It should be neutral and factual. It should not be too broad or too detailed. Wikipedia and other encyclopedia articles tend to rank highly.

  3. The third ranking is for pages that are relevant. For Google, this means the page matches the user’s search. If the page answers an aspect of the search, it has some useful details, or it has partial information, then it appears in the search results.

Below these are pages that are either not useful or spam. If Google doesn’t think a page is appropriate for the search, they may lower its ranking. Google also gives preference to things that have names, such as countries, organizations, institutes, cities, companies, products, brand names, people, and the titles of books, films, and music.

Often, a page may rank high but doesn’t fulfill these criteria. This only means the page is at the top for now until someone writes a better page. Just because your page has been at the top for the last five years doesn’t mean it will stay there. If Google’s reviewers find better pages (official, informational, or relevant), those pages will move up.

What Lowers Your Ranking

Your page’s rank may be lowered for several reasons:

  • If you’re offering information (free PDF, free download, free book, and so on) but the visitor must first register, your page will be rated as unavailable.

  • If there is any erotica on the page, the page is rated as porn. If you have a page with 49 photos of the University of Florida women’s swim team in swimsuits and one photo is provocative, the entire page is rated as porn. You should put that one image on another page.

  • If you use any methods to mislead the search engines, your page is marked as webspam. (Any good SEO consultant will tell you this.) Webspam includes pages with redirects to other sites, keyword stuffing (too many keywords or inappropriate use of keywords), content text from Wikipedia or other sites, or a parked domain. Parked domains are old domains that have traffic from other sites but have been taken over and now have different inappropriate content.

SEO Consultant

This article was written by Gaz Hall, a UK based SEO Consultant on 1st March 2020.

Gaz has 20 years experience working on SEO projects large and small, locally and globally across a range of sectors.

If you need any SEO advice or would like him to look at your next project then get in touch to arrange a free consultation.