Search Rank and User Intent



Last update: September 24, 2017

Your goal:

  • Outperform hundreds of trillions of competing pages on the web.

What is Search Ranking

Search engines read almost every page on the web, cataloging them for quick retrieval in response to a search query. Web pages are ranked to improve quality of search results by displaying the highest ranking page more prominently. Search rank is based on hundreds of 'ranking factors', some of which are:

  • credibility of the site
  • quality of the page and its contents
  • technical layout of the site
  • whether there's a positive user experience
In keeping with your goal of outperforming the competition, your web pages should be displayed on Page 1 to get the most traffic.

Your NEW goal:

  • Outperform trillions of competing web pages by creating high ranking content.

Now we know that high ranking pages get more traffic but are they best at addressing the search user's query? What if their intent was a little different from what the search engine interpreted?

User Intent and Types of Search Queries

In 2002, Andrei Broder, who is now Data Scientist at Google, wrote a paper called A Taxonomy of Web Search where he proposed that web searches generally fall into one of three main categories (quoting from Broder's paper):

  • Navigational: The immediate intent is to reach a particular site.
  • Informational: The intent is to acquire some information assumed to be present on one or more web pages.
  • Transactional: The intent is to perform some web-mediated activity.

Over the years, Broder's paper has helped Internet marketers understand the psychology behind web searches resulting in improved results for both the web searcher and web page author.

Google has always referred to the above categories as: Do, Know, Go queries respectively.

In the July 2017 revision of its Search Quality Evaluator's Guidelines, Google evolved the search query categories and added a new category that fits with the huge increase in mobile searches.

Quoting from Section 12.7:

Understanding User Intent

It can be helpful to think of queries as having one or more of the following intents.

Know query, some of which are Know Simple queries

Do query, some of which are Device Action queries

Website query, when the user is looking for a specific website or webpage

Visit­in­person query, some of which are looking for a specific business or organization, some of which are looking for a category of businesses

Know and Know Simple queries

A search query identified as a Know query results in information on a specific topic. The sub-category of Know Simple results in a short list or one to two sentences displayed in what Google calls the Answer Box, shown at the top of search results. Consider the two queries: "New York City" and "New York City population". The first will return detailed information about the topic, the second results in a single sentence: Google search results for a Know simple search query

Do and Device Action queries

A search query identified as a Do query starts some type of activity on a mobile phone. Those activities could be installing games, downloading or buying music or displaying information. Example: "what is my bmi?" requests the device to calculate your BMI.

A subset of Do queries are Device Action queries, which must contain a verb which is usually at the beginning of the query and may be: call, text, go (to a website), schedule (a meeting), play or watch. An example may be "play Whole Lotta Love".

Website queries

Website queries are normally associated with a request to visit a specific website. The query may include perfectly formatted URL like "" or "" or "". These queries could be imperfect URLs like ebay (find the ebay homepage), detroit news (find the Detroit News homepage) or Delta (find the website).

Visit­-in-­Person queries

These types of queries are intended to return specific information about a location including directions, hours of operation, and contact information of the entity or place.

An example of Visit In Person queries: Google search results for a Navigational search query

Using the information in this article you can create web pages with content that ranks well and responds to all or most types of search queries. You can improve traffic to your website and ensure your visitors are getting the information they need.

Your NEW goal:

  • Outperform trillions of competing web pages by creating high ranking content that addresses all the common user-intent search queries.

If you need help analyzing content on your site on how it's performing for the various types of search queries, feel free to contact us for help.