Search Query TypesSearch Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising, Pay Per View (PPV) Advertising, Social Media Marketing (SMM), Social Media Optimization (SMO) and a slew of other acronyms for strategies and tactics designed to rank your small business website high on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP), are enough to make anyone’s head spin.

As a busy small business owner, you likely don’t have time to become an expert in the minutiae of all things search, but you do know that you need an online strategy for attracting customers and generating sales. A helpful way to simplify the way you think about how to approach search marketing, and online marketing in general, is to break it into two pieces—Informational and Transactional.

Web searches were originally broken down into three categories by Andrei Broder in a 2002 paper called A taxonomy of web search: Navigational, Transactional, and Informational.

Navigational searches are those with the aim of finding a specific website.

A transactional search is one performed by someone looking to purchase something, either immediately or in the near future. These searches are characterized by very specific terms that describe exactly what the buyer needs such as, ‘blue suede shoes size 7,’ ‘wireless laser mouse Windows 7,’ or ‘window repair service Denver, CO.’ Market to transactional searchers by providing content that presents exactly what they need and tells them how to get it. These searchers want to see results that include products they can purchase immediately along with detailed descriptions, prices, pictures, videos, reviews, and “buy” buttons; and services they can evaluate and schedule immediately along with rates, geographic service areas, hours of operation, and prominent contact information. PPC search engine advertising is tailor-made for the transactional search, as are website pages optimized to rank well for very specific search queries. (For example, optimize your page for ‘blue suede shoes’ not ‘shoes’ and not ‘blue shoes.’)

An informational search is one performed by someone interested in learning about a topic, but not necessarily in making an immediate purchase. In a business context, this type of search tends to be either very broad (such as ‘types of shoes’ or ‘computer mouse technologies’) or includes words that indicate the searcher is researching or trying to answer a specific question (such as ‘about,’ ‘advice,’ ‘how to,’ or ‘help.’) Market to informational searchers by providing the expert opinions, advice, and explanations they seek. While you certainly can use paid search advertising to attract informational searchers, social media mediums such as blogs, how-to-videos, or Pinterest boards are more effective ways to disseminate your expertise in your field; as are robust informational sections on your website, contributions to expert communities and Q/A boards, and being a quoted source for articles in industry-specific or general interest publications.

Informational searchers are not “hot prospects,” but they are valuable prospects. They can also be brand promoters—if they share your content on social media, “like” it, or otherwise direct their social network to your company. Use the informational search opportunity to build relationships and strengthen your brand– if you do a good job educating informational searchers and answering their questions, they will likely remember your company when it does come time for them to make a purchase.

According to research by Dr. Jim Jansen from Penn State, 80% of internet searches are informational, 10% are transactional, and the other 10% are navigational. However, spending on advertising targeting transactional search still significantly outpaces ‘softer’ investments aimed at informational searches. A recent survey found that almost half of all digital marketing budgets in 2013 were allocated to search, with 31% going to paid search and 18% to SEO; and that 63% of businesses will be increasing their paid search budget for 2014.

There are many reasons for the disparity, the most significant of which is that transactional searches are the low-hanging fruit. Spending on transactional search is more likely to result in immediate sales that are easily tracked to a source; while informational search spending is a long-term investment the results of which are difficult to directly attribute to a specific source or campaign.

Big businesses can afford to throw large advertising budgets to PPC, and hope for a positive Return on Investment (ROI). As a small business owner, you don’t have that luxury. But, you do have a strong understanding of your business and your customers—perhaps an even better understanding than some big company advertising agency that does not interact with customers on a day-to-day basis. You also probably have a passion for your business that will come through in the content you create—a passion that simply can’t be matched by even the best big business marketing “hired gun.”

When you look at the numbers, targeting informational search just makes sense. With only 10% of the search pie being transactional, and a majority of search spend targeting those searches, small businesses are easily crowded out by the big guys. However, if your small business can dominate even a very small portion of the informational search slice, it will still mean a significant pool of prospects.

That’s not to say you should ignore paid search aimed at the transactional searchers; it is a valuable immediate sales generation tool. However to leverage your small business advantage, use your passion, your customer knowledge, and the great equalizing power of the internet to make your small business stand-out in results for informational searches.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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