Ranking for Keywords & Modifiers

15 Dec

Search queries: Ranking for Keywords & Modifiers

It’s generally agreed that there are three types of queries made by search engine users: Navigational, Informational, and Transactional.

  • A navigational query is intended to find a specific website, e.g., to find the Tumblr site, the user enters “tumblr” into a search bar rather than entering tumblr.com into their browser’s navigation bar or using a bookmark.
  • An informational query aims to find an answer to a question or to learn how to do something. It addresses a broad topic (e.g., pregnancy, cooking) and is not seeking a specific site but rather one or more gems among millions of results.
  • A transactional query is made to research or make a transaction, such as a purchase.

All nice and neat. However, it’s rare that users just enter one search term. In fact, according to a recent study by GroupM UK and Nielsen, the average query is 2.84 words. So, when optimizing your site and benchmarking your SERPs, you need to account for the fact that your potential customers are refining their search terms with additional modifiers (Yahoo’s Year In Review shows the most popular ones across a wide range of subjects).

Modifiers for navigational queries are not really an issue. These queries have a very clear intent — the user wants a specific site, if you’re not it then you’re not relevant. As important, if you have a decent site, you should be #1 in all search engines for your own brand name anyway, so if a user is looking specifically for you, they should find you easily.

However, some queries that appear to navigational might not be, e.g., a query for “linkedin” might be looking for news or information about the company or its products or services, its advertising rates, earning per share, shareholder value, office locations, etc.

Modifiers for informational and transactional queries require thought and action. You need to optimise and benchmark yourself for the modifier terms users may use to query your products or services for either informational or transactional intent or both.

Informational Search Query Modifiers

A query for “grilling” or “grill” could be modified with a range of terms like “receipes”, “chops,” “ingredients”, “charcoal”, “sauces”, “barbeque”, “BBQ”, “pans”. A company selling related equipment and food would want to optimize for these terms and more, and to benchmark its SERP performance for them.

Transactional Search Query Modifiers

A query aimed at researching or making a purchase may include exact brand and product names (like “Apple iPhone 5”) or be generic (like “smartphone”). Some will include further modifying terms like “deals”, “buy,” “purchase,” “compare”, “features”, “reviews,” “complaints”, “returns”. A company selling smartphones, including the Apple iPhone 5, would need to optimize for these and similar terms as well as to benchmark its SERP performance for them against competitors.

Many local searches (such as “car rental London”) are also transactional, as are vertical (niche) queries for restaurants, hotels, flights, electricians, dentists, etc. Again, these queries will almost always be modified with a place-specific term. Companies depending on local and location-based search will want to optimize for geo-location and benchmark its SERP performance for location-based queries — many of which will be from mobile users, so use a mobile phone to run your SERPs as well as a desktop. The top SERPs will be different.

Beyond keyword research (which is site-focused), do query research (which is customer-focused)… find out and formulate the type of queries customers might be expected to make when looking for your products or services, locations and terms of business, and for what other people say about you. And benchmark your SERPs for them.

Next, we’ll look at ranking for branded versus non-branded keywords.


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