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How To Model Search Term Data To Classify User Intent & Match Query Expectations

Query data is the first tool in every search marketers arsenal – it serves as a launch pad for developing information architecture, understanding market opportunity to creating landing pages with carefully worded ad copy to maximize conversions. To fully understand query data in any market segment, it is extremely valuable to understand and creating a model of search behavior.

A search behavior model is a data-driven process for classifying user intent for each search query to a specific source, type or subject. It’s a reflection of the total consumer search experience for products and services in any single market segment. Read more about Search Behavior Models here.

The Self Publishing Industry As A Test Model For User Intent

The ubiquitous spread of the Internet and the decline in the cost of printing books in small volumes has given rise to a growing online vanity publishing business. Memoirs and family genealogies are now easily preserved for future generations at a very reasonable cost. Family photo books are easily created, and if you are a budding short-story or fiction writer you have more publishing options than you ever had before.

When you examine the full dataset of 800 queries (extracted from AdWords) for self publishing, you find that it accounts for about 20 million searches every month. The first thing you notice in this data is the relatively small numbers of keyword searches for a company brand name. In my opinion, this may reflect low brand awareness in consumers’ minds for self publishing services.

There is also potentially a lot of noise in this data – many of these queries are about mainstream publishing, and reflect interest in traditional products and services. However, I think consumers often start their search for self publishing services with the more traditional publishing houses because there is very little consumer brand awareness around the concept of self publishing.

Understanding Search Behavior By Hierarchy

There are 20 high-level categories of search behavior found in these queries. Usually, you can identify two or three top categories (by search volume) that provide potential for information architectural focus. This model is different. A couple of the sub-groups in the type and informational categories are useful to information architects (IA), but not all of them. The whole source and transactional categories are focused enough to be exploited by IAs as landing pages.

Self Publishing Categories ONE

Sub-Categories Steer Behavioral Choices

When you look at sub-categories, the count rises to 29 behavioral patterns with type being the most interesting and varied. It’s worth looking at some of these sub-categories because they provide several landing page opportunities. In particular, How To and POD (print on demand) stand out.

Self Publishing Sub Categories TWO

Unique Assets In The Self Publishing Model

This is one of the more complex models I’ve ever seen. The large number of categories was a surprise, and many of them are not particularly useful in a self publishing context. However, there are a few off-topic categories that can be exploited. For example, when consumers are searching for a publishing company, (1.46 million searches) they are not specifying a genre, a type of book or even stating they are interested in self publishing.

These searchers are looking for an unnamed publishing company to provide an unknown service. It’s a good bet that these people are interested in publishing a book, but have not considered self publishing as an option. It is possible that some of this traffic can be converted with a “If you are looking for a publisher, consider Self Publishing” micro-site.

The following model is displayed in descending order by traffic volume with Information having the most, and Quality having the least. At a glance, you can see that consumer search complexity is focused in the information, type, transactional and value categories.

Self Publishing model

High-Level Categories In More Detail

Information: Informational queries account for 9,849,839 searches each month. Most of this traffic is vague in nature. It’s clearly publishing related, but it’s hard to tell if consumers are interested in “self publishing” or not. There are two sub-categories here that are focused in intent, and one of them will make a great landing page.

  • Information: How to – 539,223
  • Information: Specific information request – 14,851

When consumers make a specific request they are looking for a “guide.”  You also see advice, reviews and tips in smaller numbers. The how to category has about 45 queries with four distinct phrases being used that provide an opportunity for an architecturally (information) sound landing page. Consider the following phrases and how they can be fashioned into a page label, a tagline and a lead-in sentence.

  • How to publish [book(s)] – 149,080
  • Publish your [book, work] – 21,180
  • How to self publish – 9,520
  • Publish my [book, novel or story] – 6,080

These two categories of behavior suggest that the process of self publishing is not well understood by the average person and they are clearly asking for advice and help.

Type: Consumers search for a type of publisher 1,912,145 times a month. There are five distinct categories of search behavior in this group, and some of the sub-categories are fairly focused and valuable.

  1. Type (general) – 554,040
  2. Type, self publishing – 473,676
  3. Type, not a book – 407,154
  4. Type by genre – 240,610
  5. Type by book (subject matter) – 236,665

Let’s take a look at some of the type sub-categories in a little more detail.

Types (general): Though many of these types in the general category are somewhat vague, such as in “personal publishing”, there are three distinct phrase clusters that generate 500K searches a year that are related to “self publishing.” These partial phrases provide textual focus and should be worked into your website page copy.

  • Custom book printing / publishing
  • Short run books / printing
  • Vanity publishing

Types (self publishing): These searches are right on the money, consumers are clearly specifying what they are looking for. Though the phrase “self publishing” is the most ubiquitous, they are using a variety of term combinations (with significant traffic) to say the same thing. For example:

  • Self publishing – 165.9K searches
  • Self publishers – 121K searches
  • Self publish – 94.4K searches
  • Self book publishing – 37.5K searches
  • Self published – 19.8K searches

This is a page copy challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.

Types (not a book): This traffic is all noise, and of no value to you if you publish only books. Consumers are trying to find publishers of catalogues, comic books and postcards etc. Some of this traffic has the phrase self publishing in it, so you need to be aware of this when doing PPC campaigns. With 407K searches a month this may present opportunities to branch out into new areas. For example, there is consumer interest in publishing comic books!

Types (by genre): In this traffic, consumers are looking for a publisher by specifying a broad genre such as non-fiction or paperback publishers. Though these people have not specified interest in self publishing, they are telling you what their interest is. This provides opportunities to target this interest with custom landing pages and ad copy. The most common genres that would be interesting to a self publishing company include:

  • Christian publishers
  • Fiction publishers
  • Kids publishing

Type (by book): This traffic is all over the map, but focused in intent. They’re searching for a publisher by specifying the type of book they are interested in such as business books, graphic novels and travel. Though very few searches in this category specify interest in self publishing, they do tell you the type of books they want to publish. The most common phrases contain:

  • Romance – 113.9 searches
  • Photo books – 33.9K searches
  • Coffee table books – 33.7 searches
  • Poetry publishers – 22.1 searches
  • Cookbooks – 8K searches

These are the topics people are interested in, and therefore provide excellent landing page opportunities. They should also be templates within your software publishing platform.

Company: In this category consumers are searching for a publishing company without specifying a brand name or a genre. In this data you see that people are freely using a variety of terms interchangeably to specify a company. These terms include printer, firm, house, services and agents. The top three descriptions are:

  • Publishing houses – 370K
  • Publishing companies – 235K
  • Publishing company – 144K

By a wide margin consumers clearly like the phrase publishing houses over publishing company. I think all three should be used in website copy – however, the preferred term should be publishing houses.

Source: In this category searchers are looking to source a publishing firm using broad-based terms such as list of and directories. The most common term in this category is “online” which appears in 1.2 of the 1.3 million searches in this group.

Service: Here consumers are looking for specific aspects of the book publishing business. Some of this traffic is not of value to the self publishing company (e.g., typesetting and binding).  However, there are targeting opportunities in this data. Of the 1,134,700 searches done each month for publishing services, the following three could be provided by a self publishing company.

  • Book design – 305,660 searches
  • Book editing – 75,300 searches
  • Book distributors – 37,110 searches

Product: This traffic is of little value. Consumers are looking for physical products such as printing equipment, books and magazines. There is a lot of traffic here that you want to avoid in PPC campaigns (1,133,990 searches a month).

Software: About 85% of this traffic is about desktop and magazine publishing. Of the 776,170 searches done each month, about 80K can be targeted by the self publishing companies. The keyword phrase that will be of interest to you includes:

  • Publishing software
  • Book writing software
  • Book publishing template

Transactional: These 692,583 queries are on target and roughly fall into two distinct groups.

  • Transaction with various terms – 433,733 searches.
  • Transaction with single concept – 258,850 searches.

Let’s take a look at each of these groups in a little more detail.

Transactional (various terms): In this group consumers are indicating their transactional intent by using four distinct transactional terms. These are getting, make, write and print. For example:

  • Make, as in: Make a book – 339K searches
  • Getting, as in: Getting a book published – 27K searches
  • Print, as in: Print your own book – 8.7K searches
  • Write, as in: Write your own book – 7.7K searches

Transactional (single concept): The second transaction category is the “on demand” group. There are two distinct patterns of behavior here.

  • On demand [third term] – 108K searches
  • Print on demand [fourth term] – 90K searches

Digital: This traffic (689,570 searches) certainly presents an opportunity for the self publishing company. 60% if this traffic is interested in digital printing and publishing. A smaller subset of consumers express their digital needs using the terms “electronic” or “ebook.”  The remaining 40% are interested in PDF publishing, which is probably low value traffic.

Industry: This traffic is about the publishing business, and is of no value to you. The 225,900 searches are about deals, business and the publishing market.

Marketing: This traffic is about selling, distribution, PR, and marketing. One could imagine a recently published author would be interested in these services. With 214,382 searches a month it may make sense to think about offering some of these services.

Location: The 211,830 location-based searches are almost entirely based on country names or major cities. About 2% of the traffic mentions a language, product or a type (e.g., poetry).  Since publishing a book does not have to be a face-to-face experience it’s unclear what value there is in targeting consumers by location. All this traffic should be open to exploitation by self publishing firms.

Education: The search traffic in this category falls into two groups; interest in publishing in general, and interest in writing courses. 107K of the 139,280 searches are about writing.

Value: The interest in value is usually fairly pronounced in most search behavior, but it is not the case here. 90K of the 127,239 searches is concerned with cheap printing, but this could mean booklets and postcards. There is likely no value-based opportunity to be exploited here.

Brand: The real surprise in this data is the general lack of consumer searches by brand name. At 98,632 searches a month, this is extremely low traffic for an industry. This would suggest that consumers do not have a grasp of who the top companies are in the self publishing industry. This is reinforced when you consider that 1.7 million consumers are searching for self publishing services by company and source – both groups are using non-specific terms to describe a company that is unknown to them. These present a real market opportunity for dominating this industry sector.

Event: These fall into two categories. Poetry and writing contests, and competitions. The opportunity here is to sponsor a competition and award the winner with a published book of poetry or short stories. This would help generate traffic, and presents you with good PR opportunities for your self publishing firm. 73,320 searches a month are done in this category.

Magazine: Most of this traffic (62,860 searches) deals with the magazine industry, but 1K a month is for the “Self Publishing Magazine.” The value here is to provide a link on your site to the magazine as a convenience to your visitors.

Jobs: This traffic is completely off topic, and is of no value – unless you are hiring (35,700 searches).

Organizations: The majority of this traffic (15,306 searches) is for the Publishers Association. The value here is to provide a link on your site to the association as a convenience to visitors.

Quality:  I was very surprised at the lack of interest in quality-based searches (4,450 searches a month). In most cases consumers are very interested in quality and value, but that is not the case in this industry.


There is a lot of search variability in this industry. When you look at the variety of phrases that are used, you find consumers are expressing a single concept in a variety of ways. This variability provides options to conduct A-B landing page test to see which phrase converts the best. Here are several examples:

  • Self publishing
  • Print on demand
  • On demand publishing / printing
  • Make(ing) a book
  • Publish your book
  • Publish my book

Term Density

When you look at how often certain terms appear across all queries, we see some interesting data. It’s no surprise to see book, publisher and print dominating this list. The interesting terms are those that you can conceptually use as a labeling device for custom landing pages.

These terms represent a lot of search traffic, and when carefully combined into a title you have options to create micro-sites that statistically represent what consumers are looking for. For example, consider these phrases constructed from the list of top terms:

  • Online Self Publishing
  • Digital Online Self Publishing
  • Online Photo Book Self Publishing
  • How to Self Publish
  • How to Make a Book

The top 25 secondary terms in the following list account for 77% of all instances in keyword phrases.

Self Publishing Secondary Terms ONE

If you extend the list to the top 50 secondary terms, you account for 91% of all terms used in the self publishing dataset. Not all the terms are on topic, but those that are provide a very focused palette that can be used in website and ad copy.

Self Publishing Secondary Terms TWO

When you review this extended list you find further opportunity. In the above list you see the top types of books consumers are interested in getting published.

  • Photo books
  • Romance
  • Picture books
  • Fiction
  • Poetry

The density of these terms provide more support for developing custom landing pages and book template options in your software publishing platform.

Key Insights For Self Publishing Companies

So, what does this analysis do for your self publishing business? Let’s list some of the most important items to think about.

  • There is clearly an opportunity to provide consumers with “how to” content. They are looking to understand the process before they sign a contract.
  • At the highest level, consumers are interested in certain types, sources and want to transact for services. These themes should underpin your website information architecture and ad copy.
  • Consumers are doing relatively few brand searches. This indicates a real lack of brand awareness in their minds. Increasing brand awareness should be top of mind for any self publishing company.
  • Pay attention to the transaction categories – these folks are definitely looking for your services and they are using just six types of phrases to express their intent.
  • A lot of consumers are searching for book design services – this provides a landing page opportunity.
  • Consumer interest in contests and competitions provides sponsorship opportunities that can lead to new business.
  • There is a lot of noise in this traffic – the searches for magazines, jobs, products, industry, software and marketing services are clearly off-topic and you don’t want to inadvertently target these groups.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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