The Human Goals of Searching

The basic goal of a human searcher is to obtain information relevant to an inquiry. However, searcher inquiries can take many different forms. One of the most important elements to building an online marketing strategy for a website around SEO and search rankings is developing a thorough understanding of the psychology of your target audience. Once you understand how the average searcher—and, more specifically, your target market—uses search engines, you can more effectively reach and keep those users.

Search engine usage has evolved over the years, but the primary principles of conducting a search remain largely unchanged. Most search processes comprise the following steps:

  1. Experience the need for an answer, solution, or piece of information. For example, the user may be looking for a website (navigational query) to buy something (transactional query) or to learn something (informational query). We will discuss this in more detail in the following section.

  2. Formulate that need in a string of words and phrases (the query). Most people formulate their queries in one to three words. Table 1-1 gives a more detailed look at the percentages of searches per query length.

  3. Execute the query, check the results, see whether you got what you wanted, and if not, try a refined query.

Table 1-1. Searches by query length (comScore, August 2011 data)


Percent of searches











When this process results in the satisfactory completion of a task, a positive experience is created for the user, the search engine, and the site providing the information or result.

Who Searches and What Do They Search For?

comScore reported that the number of search queries performed worldwide on the Web was approximately 158 billion across all engines in August 2011.

comScore data also shows over 1.3 billion people were using a search engine on a given day in that month. Search engine users in the US were slightly more likely to be women than men (50.1% versus 49.9%). According to comScore, as of August 2011, there were 216 million Internet users in the US, and two-thirds of those users had an income of $40,000 or more (as shown in Table 1-2).

Table 1-2. Internet users by household income (August 2011)

US household income

Internet users

Less than $15,000



11,999 (5.6%)


31,558 (14.6%)


49,651 (23%)


24,521 (11.4%)


29,698 (13.7%)

$100,000 or more

45,998 (21.3%)

You can find additional data from studies, surveys, and white papers on Search Engine Land’s Stats & Behaviors page (

All of this research data leads us to some important conclusions about web search and marketing through search engines. For example:

  • Search is very, very popular. It reaches more than 88% of people in the US and billions of people around the world.

  • Google is the dominant player in most world markets.

  • Users tend to use short search phrases, but these are gradually getting longer.

  • Search covers all types of markets.

Search is undoubtedly one of the best and most important ways to reach consumers and build a business, regardless of that business’s size, reach, or focus.

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