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Search Types used for Websites

Three Search Types All SEOs Should Know

Ad hoc search

An ad hoc search is the search type that SEOs are probably the most familiar with, even though we might not know the nomenclature for it. With an ad hoc search, the searcher's goal is to find as many relevant documents as possible regarding a topic. An ad hoc search is informational in nature, since the searcher is researching information about a subject. The searcher might or might not have previous knowledge about the topic but wants to read or learn more about it.
For example, suppose a searcher wishes to purchase a laptop but does not know what brand or type to purchase. The searcher might want to read reviews about different laptops before making a purchase. Some keyword phrases he might type into the search box can include:
  1. electronic laptops
  2. types of laptops
  3. digital laptop reviews
  4. best samsung laptops

Known-item search

A known-item search is similar to an ad hoc search but the target of the search is a particular document, or a small set of documents, that the searcher knows to exist and wants to find again. In other words, with a known-item search, the searcher knows a particular web page exists but does not always know or remember where it is.
Or, interestingly enough, the searcher might know where the web page is but finds it easier to type all or part of the URL into the search box rather than the address bar.

Named page search

Google Adwords keyword research tool

Clearly, this searcher wants to go directly to specific web page on Google's website. But I also like to do some advanced queries to see how well or poorly clients and competitors are optimizing their own sites. The queries I type use the following formats:
  1. [keyword phrase] [company/organization name or abbreviation]
  2. [keyword phrase] [part of URL with and without the .com or Top Level Domain]
  3. [keyword phrase] site:www.distributednetworks.com/

As I continue to research, label, test and verify web searcher behaviors, I continually encounter these types of searches. As you can see, some of these searcher behaviors have overlapping definitions, which can be confusing. Nevertheless, I maintain a list of different types of searcher goals so I can accommodate them in all of my client websites.

Information Architecture
Known-item searching is used when the user knows the name of what he or she wants to find. Example: you want to find the home page for a new movie release, but do not know the exact URL.

Existence searching is used when the user knows the item exists but not its name. For example, you want to find the product page for electric-powered cars.

Exploratory searching is used when the user wants to find more information on a familiar topic. For example, you wish to get some information on upcoming tour dates for a performing group.

Search for Scuba Diving: omprehensive searching is used when the user wants to find everything available on a given topic. For example, you want to learn everything you can about scuba diving, gear, certification, health risks, and travel opportunities.