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How Do People Search: How Learning to Search Better Made Me a Better SEO

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 14 years and 286 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

There are lots of ways you can learn to be a better searcher. I probably perform, at minimum, several dozen searches in a given day. Sometimes hundreds. There are two common reactions to not getting the results that I want: I use a more specific query. I use a more general query.

While writing this post about reaching your target audience, I was trying to find a very specific song lyric that seemed relevant. It was a very tough query to get results because it involved very specific information that had some very high result general terms associated with it.

Mind you, this is all happening within a matter of minutes, and I retroactively diagnosed the resulting thought process.
Here is the history of my searches (and results):
Query:hip hop lyrics dead presidents
Result: Initial query with decent results – probably longer than most folks originally search. I realized that I probably wasn’t going to find the specific song (since it is the general name “hip hop”) with this search
Query:dead presidents lyrics “hip hop”
Result: I tried making the query more specific with quotes – results were still to general
Query:dead presidents lyrics
Result: In the long run, this phrase probably would have worked as well as the last – it was general enough to find a broad site that I could search, but at this point I was still hoping to find the specific PAGE I was looking for directly from the SERPS
Query:“dead presidents” lyrics
Result: Though maybe combining the artist name words would help. No luck there. Turns out the artist name is also a Jay-Z song.
Query:“dead presidents” lyrics hip-hop
Result: Unfortunately the Jay-Z song is also hip hop music, and more widespread popular.
Query:“dead presidents” lyrics bigger than hip-hop
Result: I thought maybe the name of the song was a bit different (based on the chorus) – turns out they did a remake of the song (which didn’t look near as good). Starting to get pissed now.
Query:“dead presidents” lyrics “bigger than hip-hop”
Result: Tried grouping the song name together to be more specific Query:“dead prez” lyrics “bigger than hip-hop”
Result: A stab at being a bit more specific. Same shitty remake song results Query:hip hop lyrics
Result: I finally gave up, and searched more broadly – taking me to a general site, and doing a site search from there.

How Learning to Search Better Improved my Skills as an SEO

Okay, admittedly the title was just to get your attention, but I do often sit down and think through the process of someone doing a search by paying attention to how I searched, and how friends and family search. Sometimes it helps to search WORSE to understand SEO, when you start to assume that everyone actually uses the site: command.

I was actually pretty aware of this already, but this multi-search treasure hunt made for a pretty good example of what I had been wanting to demonstrate. Users “RE-search” two different ways on big engines – more specific, or more general. Most times, it will be starting with a general subject of what they are looking for – let’s say florists – when they realize that more national brands don’t fit their needs (or for whatever reason query results don’t fit their needs) – they will append a more specific modifier (wedding florist in san jose). While single phrases are cool and fun to rank for – conversion is where it’s at. I won’t beat this horse to death, but thinking through the behavioral search process can lead you to some insightful logical conclusions.

I didn’t find a whole lot of information on how people search, in a few brief searches. I’m aware of the normal INTENT of searches (navigational, transactional, informational), but there must be so much MORE that search queries can be labeled as. What is the fundamental learning process that goes into creating better searches? I imagine the process is somewhat similar for all people, where like most things, some catch on faster than others. Searching “better” for more relevant results is a learned behavior. I’d be willing to bet the big SE’s are doing behavioral studies on searchers. Sure must be nice to have the world as your guinea pigs:)

Aaron thinks everyone has ADD – I agree with him. I’m very impressed that he’s managed to concentrate long enough to compile a nice list of the reasons why. By the time I got done reading the article, I was, unfortunately, thinking about something else, and flipped to one of my twelve open firefox tabs, but have to say that the web is the great information equalizer, and while ADD may suck, I still think search can make you smarter too. Remembering that your customers probably have ADD too, helps to explain why they only stick around on your site less than two minutes, and why you should cater to that mentality as well if you want your site to be successful. Learn how to think and search like your users, and it will help to improve your business.

“To catch a fish, you must first think like a fish” – unknown

More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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  • Pete Quily

    While not everyone does have ADD, having it doesn’t always suck. Check out the top 10 advantages of ADD in a high tech career

    I got 22,000 unique hits in one day on this so it’s more than just my opinion:)

    Here’s one thing to try. Get a few people who don’t know the internet that well to search for info related to your site’s topic on google and watch quietly to see how they search. It might prove to be fairly useful. get them to try navigating your site as well

    good article