Query Classification: Do, Know, Go

 

Google tries to classify search queries into one of three categories: Do, Know, and Go. The type of classification determines the type of web pages that Google tries to deliver as results. Understanding this classification system can help you understand why Google delivers the kinds of pages that it does.

  • Do: The users wants to do something, like buy a product or book a flight. Ecommerce is mostly about Do queries.
  • Know: An informational query, where the user wants to learn about a subject. Very often single-word queries are classified at least partially as Know queries, while the plural version is considered a Do query. Wikipedia almost always ranks toward the top of the results for Know queries, and Google is increasingly trying to show Knowledge Graph entries for Know queries.
  • Go: Also known as a navigational query, the user wants to go to a specific site. Someone searching for “Zappos” or “Trello” almost certainly is just looking for the link to that website.

Not every query is only a Do, Know, or Go query. Often Google thinks there could be different intents behind a single query. For example, a user searching for “Amazon” probably wants to go to Amazon.com, but they might be looking for information about the tropical region in South America. So it could be a Go, or a Know query.

Google solves for these kinds of queries by delivering its best guess as the first result or two, then interspersing some results from other possible query intents. This is one of the reasons that Wikipedia is one of the most often ranked websites on the web: Google seems to like covering its bases by returning at least one Know result for many searches, and Wikipedia is a massively authoritative Know type results.

That said, if you’re not Wikipedia, it’s incredibly difficult to rank well for a term with different intent classification than your site. If you write an in-depth article about Zappos, you will have a very difficult time ranking for a search for “Zappos”, because that has such a strong Go intent. Similarly if you are an ecommerce store you’ll have a harder time ranking for reviews keywords, because those have a strong Know intent.

It can be done, mind you, especially in low competition areas, but it’s far more difficult and you’ll often have poor user metrics — bounce rate and time on site — because most people searching for that phrase are looking for something different. In most cases you’re better off trying to go after search terms that correctly classify to your site.

Another way of saying that is: it’s very difficult to rank for keywords for which your site isn’t a good result. You may think your ecommerce store has awesome user reviews that make it a good result for “tablet reviews”, but in actuality users are better served with something like CNET that provides expert editorial and educational reviews. And Google knows that from user metrics, which we’ll be discussing at length when we get to ranking factors.

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