Searcher Goal Classes

Why should I care? Why should I care?
– Pete Townshend

As we understand “the why,” we become relevant.

Understanding searcher goals is the single most important element to raise your online marketing ROI. It gives you the knowledge base to craft finely tuned titles and descriptions, the clarity to create display ads that draw user attention and provides clear direction to focus your landing pages messaging and offers. It is not an easy task to obtain goal definition in search but it is a very valuable and essential practice since it makes everything you do more relevant to the user.

The seminal research on understanding searcher goals was done by Andrei Broder in 2002 while at AltaVista. Two years later Daniel Rose and Dan Levinson at Yahoo built on Broder’s work with in my opinion, the most important research done to date. Their research defined a number of query classifications they hoped to use to improve SERP relevancy. My interest however has always been on understanding goals to improve SEM relevancy.

A year ago I read in John Battelle’s book a take on a marketer’s perspective of goals. Jeff Bezos believed all searchers had one of two goals, discovery or recovery. Either they were trying to find something they knew nothing about (discovery), or they were trying to retrieve something they knew at least something about (recovery). I immediately thought about it in the context of the Yahoo research. I wondered how the query classes that Rose and Levinson discovered aligned with Bezos idea of recovery or discovery. As I merged these findings together it brought to light some interesting discoveries.

I mapped this all out in a chart that I call “Searcher Goal Classes.” I find it useful to look at this chart in reminding me from time to time that there are an unlimited number of goals but a limited number of goal classes. I’ve presented these ideas at a couple of SES shows and it has been well received so I wanted to share it here. I hope this chart is useful to you to further understanding searcher behavior. If you can think of a goal that doesn’t follow one of these paths please let me know. Download searcher_goal_classes.pdf






One response to “Searcher Goal Classes”

  1. Maars Avatar

    Hello Jonathan,
    great article and very clever mapping !


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: