Understanding visitor intent: transactional, navigational and informational queries

Search intent, (also commonly called user intent or query intent), refers to the categorisation of a search term depending on what the searcher was intending to find. 

A key part of any content strategy is matching your content to the needs of your users. 

Search engines are increasingly moving towards delivering search results that consider the context and intent of the searcher. This can be seen in updates such as Hummingbird (Google) in 2013 and Korolyov (Yandex) in 2017.

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Types of search intent

Typically, content is split into three broad groups of intent: informational, navigational and transactional. This concept is also known as ‘Do, Know, Go’.  

When a searcher performs a ‘do’ search, they’re looking to make a specific action like purchase a product or book a service. The search results will likely return ecommerce sites and/or brand sites for these types of searches.

Know’ searches are informational. Users perform informational searches to find answers to questions, learn more about a topic or find inspiration. 

Building content for informational intent is a little nuanced, since information searches can vary from straightforward searches to broader, more complex searches that don’t always have a clear answer. 

Often searchers use informational queries to research and prepare for trips and experiences, or to build knowledge and confidence before travelling somewhere new. Essentially, they want to ‘know before they go’. 

Go’ queries are typically brand or known entity queries, where a user is looking to go to a specific website or location.

A searcher may use one or a combination of intent queries depending on their stage in their customer journey. Some very broad queries can arguably fall into more than one of these groups, or transition from one intent to another as the customer journey diversifies. 

As an example, a searcher at the start of their electric car buying journey may conduct several broad, informational searches to understand the electric car landscape before narrowing their search to focus on a make or model. They may then rule this option out, and return to the informational, research phase again. 

QueryInformational ‘Know’Transactional ‘Do’Navigational ‘Go’
Should I get an electric car?X
Is road tax free for electric cars?X
Best electric carsX
Kia eNiro X
How long is the waiting list for a Kia eNiro?X[X]
Used Kia eNiroX
MG ZS EV vs Kia eNiroX
MG MotorsX
Where can I buy an MG ZS?X[X]
MG dealerships  Berkshire[X]X

User intent and the SERP landscape

Each user intent type will have a varied search engine result page (SERP), though you’ll usually find more ad-heavy SERPs for navigational queries, more localised or brand oriented results for navigational queries and knowledge panels for branded navigational and informational queries. 

Whilst SERP landscape shouldn’t in itself influence your approach to content creation, it’s worthwhile being mindful of it when considering how well your content may perform. You should ensure your content is well structured and optimised for gaining SERP features such as featured snippets. Content which targets highly competitive queries, (or queries with a very crowded SERP landscape), will need to be authoritative and highly relevant to stand a chance of achieving organic clicks.

What if I don’t know what the intent of a keyword is?

Before you begin creating content for your chosen keywords and topics, you’ll need to have an understanding of how that content will meet your target audiences’ needs. In other words, how will your content match the searcher’s intent better than your competitors.

If you’re unsure where you content piece may fall in terms of searcher intent, the best place to start is by looking at the SERP for your chosen keyword or query. Are the results being returned related to products and services, or are they more informational?

You can also use tools like SEMRush, Buzzsumo and AnswerThePublic to discover which kinds of keyword modifiers are being used. Keyword modifiers can usually give you a clue into the intent behind a keyword or query:

Keyword modifiersInformational  ‘Know’Transactional ‘Do’Navigational ‘Go’
‘Buy’, ‘sell’, ‘cheap’, ‘compare’, ‘next day’ 
Who, What, Why, How
[brand] + [product], [brand].com, nearest [brand] store 
‘Where’, ‘Near me’, ‘[product/service] in [location]’, ‘local’ 

Now that you have an understanding of search intent and how it relates to keywords, let’s move on to look at how to use this knowledge to find gaps in your existing content.

Search Quality Evaluator guidelines

The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines form an important part of Google’s strategy to improve their search algorithm.

According to Moz, Google has employed over 10,000 people as search quality raters.

Their primary goal is to assess whether a website has high quality content which meets the needs of the site visitor.

The guidelines are used by humans to judge the quality and trustworthiness of websites and the SERPs. Whilst these human quality raters aren’t able to directly impact rankings, their checks are designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the Google’s search ranking algorithms, and feed into any necessary tweaks.

Speaking on the subject, John Mueller of Google said, “It’s not the case that we take the quality rater guidelines and one-to-one turn them into a code that does all of the ranking […] so quality rater guidelines is not one-to-one our ranking algorithm”.

The guidelines are extensive, (typically spanning around 170 pages) and are updated several times a year. You’ll often find that SEO publications such as Search Engine Land and Search Engine Roundtable will publish highlights and key changes following the updates. 

In December 2019, the guidelines were updated to emphasise the importance of diversity and impartiality in reviewing sites. This goes hand-in-hand with their emphasis on the need for diversity in search results ‘to satisfy the diversity of people who use search’. Evaluators were reminded that their ratings ‘should not be based on personal opinions, preferences, religious beliefs, or political views’. 

In this article, we’ll cover some of the core aspects of the guidelines.

Purpose

All pages on the internet are created with a purpose. It’s important for search quality raters to determine the purpose of a page, so that they can evaluate how well that page fulfills its specific purpose and how well it meets the users’ needs. 

Sometimes a site or page’s purpose is helpful to users (by informing, teaching, entertaining or helping them to solve problems) and sometimes not (by deceiving, misinforming, offending or slandering). 

In terms of rating sites based on their purpose, Google specified that ‘websites and pages should be created to help users’. A page created with the sole intention of making money ‘with no attempt to help users’ or to intentionally mislead or defraud would be considered the lowest quality page.

Expertise, Authority, Trust (E-A-T)

E-A-T is a criteria used by Google to assess which content on the web is reliable, accurate, of good quality and published by reputable sources. 

In order to be considered good quality, content needs to demonstrate:

Expertise – It should be highly knowledgeable about the specific topic or subject in question. This could be demonstrated through in-depth content on the page in addition to the qualifications and experience of the author. 

Authority – Backlinks from relevant, authoritative sites remain a strong factor for rankings, and in turn, for determining the E-A-T of a site. Furthermore, brand mentions on authoritative sites, shares across social media platforms and (where possible) having a Wikipedia page for your brand are all signals to Google of authority.

Trust – Whilst expertise and authority are both important for gaining good rankings in Google, trustworthiness is essential for maintaining them.

Ways to promote your site’s trustworthiness to a quality rater would include:

  • Correctly implementing HTTPS and ensuring all resources on the site are secure
  • Providing up-to-date contact details for the website owner(s) that can easily be found. (Where applicable, the physical location of the office or shop address should be included)
  • Adding an easily accessible T&CS and privacy policy (these are usually found in the footer)
  • Offering clear delivery, refund and return policies (if you sell goods)
  • Where applicable, giving safety guidance for products you sell
  • Where you are providing information to others, include reference to sources along with an author bio 

Your Money or Your Life (YMYL)

E-A-T doesn’t just judge a site, it looks at the author of content too. This is particularly important for Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites.

YMYL sites are particularly scrutinised, due to their sensitive nature. These sites include medical, financial and legal in addition to government sites. YMYL also covers shopping, banking and financial transactions. 

Generally, sites with a YMYL focus (or even a section that covers YMYL), will endure higher scrutiny under these guidelines as Google seeks to protect their users from fake news and potentially harmful medical products or information.

The nature of page quality illustrates the need to grow a strong and authoritative brand online. It’s not something you’ll achieve overnight, but continual and incremental improvement of your site will help serve its intended purpose and meet your users’ needs.

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