What Is a Search Query?

Whenever you Google something, you enter a search query. A search query refers to the word, words, or phrase you enter into a search engine to look for something online. In the example below, the phrase “best thriller movies to stream” is the search query.

Search query in the Google search bar.

In this article, we’ll go over the difference between search queries and keywords, plus the three main types of search queries and how to craft your content to meet the user’s intent.

What Is a Search Query vs. Keywords?

While the terms keyword and search query are often used interchangeably, there are marked differences between the two. (Also, search term is another way of saying “search query.”)

Typically, a single keyword or a long-tail keyword isn’t considered a search query. Instead, a search query is more specific to the natural wording a person uses when looking for information online.

  • Keyword: A word or words used in online content that refers to the topic covered.
  • Search Query: The string of words that a user types into the search box of a search engine.

For example, “thriller movies” is a keyword, while “what are the best thriller movies to watch” is a search query.

While you can search for just a keyword, Google will auto-populate related search queries to narrow down what you’re looking for, like in the example below.

Auto-complete search query examples in the Google search bar drop-down menu.

Also, a search query may be a misspelled version of a keyword, or it may have an out-of-order way of using the keyword. For example, “movies 2023 thrillers” could be considered a search query. These types of queries don’t make good keywords, though, because they’re hard to use naturally in copy.

Search Queries and Search Intent

There are different reasons why a user searches for something online. These reasons are referred to as search intent, and there are three main kinds:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional

Knowing the search intent of a query helps you create content to satisfy the customer.

For example, if someone searches for “best movie soundtracks,” they’re probably looking for a list of the top movie soundtracks of all time. This type of search query doesn’t indicate that they want to go to a music store or buy a vinyl record yet.

If you optimize a product page that sells one album for the keyword “best movie soundtracks,” you’re not going to keep the attention of the user who clicks your link in the search results.

Not only will you not convert the visitor, but Google will eventually catch on to the fact that your content isn’t meeting search intent. This can hurt your rankings.

On the other hand, if you create a listicle of the top 100 movie soundtracks of all time and optimize it for that search query, that does satisfy the search intent. If you have an e-commerce website that sells records, you could then optimize each product page for a transactional search query like “buy [soundtrack name] online.”

3 Search Query Types

Let’s go over each type of search query and how to create content that satisfies the search intent.

Informational Search Query

This is the broadest type of search query because the user is looking for information. Often, these search queries are formed like a question (but not always).

  • Best thriller movies of all time
  • How to make baked potatoes
  • Things to do in Los Angeles

To create content that matches intent, it’s important to know what the user is not looking for. During the info-gathering, the user does not want to buy something or go to a specific website. They’re just researching.

How to Target an Informational Search Query

While informational searches are difficult to monetize because users aren’t ready to buy yet, they can be great for website traffic and converting visitors to newsletter subscribers, particularly if you have a strong lead magnet. Informational content also helps build brand awareness.

Your best option is to create high-quality SEO content that provides helpful, relevant and thorough information. This makes users and search engines happy.

Instead of trying to sell your products or services, this is the time to show your visitors that you’re an authority in your niche and that you have a ton of information to share with them.

Here are a few ways to create standout informational content:

1. Write a tips article that provides tons of information or tells the reader how to take action.

Cover every aspect of the topic that the reader may want to know about.

For example, when searching for “how to start cooking,” this article from Eater is the top result. It covers all the basics, like how to read a recipe, what you need to stock a pantry, cooking safety and more.

2. Create a video that shows people how to do something.

This type of content targets people who prefer video to text when learning about a topic. Here are the top video results for the “how to start cooking” search query:

Video search results in Google.

3. Design an infographic that illustrates the topic.

Similar to video content, an infographic is another way to impart information to people who learn visually instead of reading copy. Plus, infographics are highly shareable, which can help your content spread on social media and get you backlinks.

You can either create an infographic that fully explains your topic or use an infographic to illustrate a smaller part of your content that’s also useful on its own.

For example, this Aromatics Cheat Sheet infographic could be added to a broader article with cooking tips for beginners.

Navigational Search Query

A navigational search is usually for the purpose of finding a web page for a brand or product. This may be a social media account or a website for a brick-and-mortar store, for example.

  • Movie theaters near me
  • Best online grocery stores
  • Getty Center exhibitions

Even something as simple as “Amazon” can be considered a navigational search query because the user is looking for a specific website. Ultimately, the user wants to go somewhere specific online, and they need help finding that digital location.

How to Target a Navigational Search Query

It’s difficult to target this type of query unless you own the website the user is searching for. Unless you own Amazon, for example, you probably won’t get your site to rank for “Amazon” at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).

Here’s what to do:

First, make sure that you rank in the top spot for your brand’s navigational queries.

Second, look into the true search intent of certain queries. Sometimes, people who are looking for information related to a website will only type in the website name, assuming that recent news reports will show up on the SERP.

So, a search for “Amazon” may be for the Amazon website, or it may be for news about Amazon if something headline-worthy recently happened. If your website covers e-commerce news, you could use a long-tail keyword related to Amazon that will serve the user’s search intent.

Transactional Search Query

By the time a user is at the transactional stage, they’re ready to make a purchase. It’s common for these queries to include words like “buy” or “order.”

It’s also normal for the query to include the brand or product name. However, even a search query on the vague side (espresso maker vs. Breville espresso maker, for example) can indicate the intent to buy.

  • Buy movie tickets online
  • Comfort food cookbook on Amazon
  • JetBlue flights to Los Angeles

At this point, the user is (a) very sure that they want to make a purchase and (b) clear about what it is they want to buy.

Sometimes, navigational searches are also transactional searches. For example, “online wine shop” can be both navigational and transactional. The user is looking for an online destination where they can make a purchase.

How to Target a Transactional Search Query

Since people at this stage are ready to buy, they’re not as turned off by advertisements as people in the other two stages. That’s why it may be worthwhile to pay for sponsored ads and product listings at this point.

Also, sponsored results show up at the top of the SERP for transactional search queries. Not only are they more noticeable on the page, but they’re often attractive, too, with colorful imagery that makes the user want to click.

Sponsored ads for espresso makers at the top of the Google SERP.

Keep this in mind, though: Even if you run an e-commerce shop, you still want to spend time creating informational content. There are more informational search queries than transactional ones, so to increase traffic to your website, you’ll need that type of content.

Wrapping Up

A search query is the phrasing that a user enters into Google or another search engine to find information. It often includes keywords, though a keyword on its own is not necessarily a search query.

Search queries and search intent are linked because the way a user phrases the query gives content creators a clue as to what they’re searching for. When you can create pages that match search intent, the user and Google will prioritize your content.

Informational search queries are the most common type, but they’re not the best way to convert visitors into customers. By having content that caters to all three types of queries, you can create a well-rounded website that will satisfy visitors no matter what stage they’re in.

And when you add a link strategy to your SEO efforts , you’ll be able to guide your visitors to different parts of your website that they’ll find useful.

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