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People search for many different reasons. These myriad reasons can be broken down into a few wide segments, informational, transactional, and navigational searches. There are millions of searches when people simply need information, but often even informational searches are just the early stages of the purchasing process. It is important to understand the different ways and reasons the people search and be sure that your site is optimized to be found at each stage.

The type of searches that SEO people rarely talk about is the navigational searches. Navigational searches are search queries where people search for your exact domain name or brand name. Basically, they know exactly what they are looking for, but they choose to search to find it instead of typing it into the browser address bar.

Don’t think navigational search is a big deal? Check out the top 10 overall searches for July 2008 from Hitwise: myspace, craigslist, ebay, myspace.com, youtube, mapquest, yahoo, facebook, www.myspace.com, craigs list

Compete data shows 17% of searches are navigational. Why are there so many searches for domain names and site names? Many people will enter the URL or site name into the search box and it magically appears as the top link and the click on it. Sure, it adds an extra click that really isn’t necessary, but that’s how they learned to find things on the web so why change if it works?

As marketers, we need to understand that this is a huge part of the way people navigate the web and we need to be sure our sites are optimized to show up when people are looking for us.

Domain Name Searches
First off, make sure your site is indexed in the search engines. Does your site show up first in a search for your domain name? Unless your site is penalized, it should show up at the top of the results when you search for the domain name. Follow SEO best practices with regards to your website architecture and content. Don’t hide your content behind javascript or Flash navigation. Include a link to your HTML sitemap in the footer of your site. Make sure your XML sitemap is updated and submitted to the search engines. Be sure you are blocking any directories and pages of your site that you don’t want indexed, but be careful to not deny the search bots from indexing the pages you want them to find. Adding a / in the wrong place in your robots.txt file can get your site removed from the search engines.

Company/Brand Name Searches
Brand name searches can be an interesting challenge. It seems like it would be so obvious to the search engines and your site would automatically show up at the top for all searches for your brand name. Sometimes that is the case, but the larger your brand is, the more competition you will have for your own name. This could come in the form of affiliates, review sites, news articles, press releases, and many other types of pages. Usually it is fine to have that stuff showing up, as long as your official site shows up at the top. To make sure it does show up, be sure to feature your brand name(s) prominently on the site in textual format, not just graphics. Most of the time you will have plenty of links to your site using your brand name as the anchor text. If your site isn’t on top, however, or if you have a newer site or brand, it might take a while to get enough link juice to move to the top for your own name.

Another issue that I’ve seen on occasion is when you run into competition from other companies or products that have the same or similar brand name. They might be in a completely different market, but if they have the same name, you could have a hard time beating them for your own name if they are more established and have more link equity than your site. Another thing to consider with name searches is misspellings or spelling variations. You usually won’t want to look stupid by misspelling your own company name in the content on your site, but a few low-profile links with the misspelled version will often do the trick. Sometimes Google figures out what they meant to type and serves up your site anyway, so you should check to see what shows up for common misspellings.

International Search Engines
If you have content catered to an international audience, you should make sure your site is showing up for brand/domain searches in that country. Google is the biggest search in most countries, except Baidu in China, Yahoo in Japan, and Yandex in Russia. Make sure your site is listed and shows up for your name in the top 3 search engines for the countries you are targeting. The easiest way to get top billing in the country-specific search engines, including pages from country searches in the localized Google search, is to have a separate, localized site on the country’s preferred TLD. You can also set up international sites on subdomains or sub directories of your main domain. Then you can specify to Google which country each subdomain or directory pertains to.

Product Name Searches
Although not exactly navigational searches per se, I wanted to mention product name searches. People might search for a product name or SKU when they know exactly what they want to buy. They might be comparing prices or just looking for the best place to purchase. Or they may be looking for reviews and feedback from other purchasers of the same item. Or it could be existing customers looking for support information or accessories for their product. Whatever the reason, you would be well served to have your product pages showing up for these keywords. The best approach will depend on how competitive your products are. If you are the only one selling the product, all it will take is to get the pages indexed. If you are competing against thousands of other resellers, it will prove more difficult and you’ll need to do some serious optimizing and link building to those specific pages. Start off with the basics of getting the pages indexed. Spend some time searching for your products and see what you find. Analyze the level of competition and put together a plan to get your pages to show up on the first page. You might not get a ton of searches on any single page, but if you sell thousands of products, the aggregate traffic and sales from those keywords will make a big impact.

PPC for Navigational Searches
You should be able to show up for all of your brand terms without having to pay for the traffic. One thing to consider however, is that if you augment your organic SEO with paid listings, you increase the chances of getting people to click through to your site. This can be especially important if you have competitors bidding on your brand or other navigational searches. You want to do everything you can to make sure they get to your site and not your competition. On the flip site, you could use the same strategy to try to capture some of the navigational search traffic to your competitors by bidding on their brand names and offering a compelling alternative product or service.

More than Just Rankings
One last thing I wanted to mention about optimizing for navigational searches. Showing up for your domain and brand names is just the first step. Your really want as many of those searchers to click through to your site, so you should pay close attention to the title and description snippet that show up in the search listings. If you have a number one ranking, but no title or description, it will be easy for searchers to skip it for the more compelling link right below.