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Google: 6 Need States Influence Search Behavior

Google: 6 Need States Influence Search Behavior

A research project by Google discovered a hidden way that consumer needs influenced search behavior. The researchers assert that these behaviors drive intent. Google concludes that marketers can drive more growth by tapping into these hidden need states.

This research was published in 2019, but somehow it did not get the attention it deserves. This article corrects that oversight.

Six Need States

Google’s research uncovered six need states. These need states are unlike anything else related to user intent.

Usually search intent is described as transactional, informational, navigational and so on. This is completely different.

These are underlying need states that drive search behavior.

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Google’s six need states are:

  1. Surprise Me
  2. Help Me
  3. Reassure Me
  4. Educate Me
  5. Impress Me
  6. Thrill Me

Google's Six Need States in Search IntentThis is how Google describes what these need states are about:

“…it’s a qualitative and quantitative segmentation approach that uncovers the functional, social, and emotional drivers of consumer behavior within a given market.

At its core, it provides a framework for understanding why people make the decisions that they do, which, in turn, can reveal opportunities for brands and companies to (better) satisfy those underlying needs.”

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Google classifies the six need states into three categories:

  1. Emotional needs
  2. Social needs
  3. Functional needs

Google asserts that decision making can be irrational and driven by how people feel.

Google’s research article provides the example of a fictional shampoo brand that has “reassuring” messages that makes a customer feel comfortable and safe. The brand does this with wording that communicates “how the product works“and other examples. I suppose messaging like “not tested on animals” would be appropriate for an organic type shampoo.

An example of the “Impress Me” need state would be celebrity endorsement and other glamorous types of messaging.

According to Google these need states have a deep effect on how people search:

“And those needs have a profound impact on search. How long the query is. How many times a person hits the back button. How many tabs a person has open. Which device they’re using. The number of search iterations. Whether a person prefers text, image, or video results. How many different things they type into the search bar.”

According to Google, the Impress Me state is related to luxury, status and a sense of importance. So high ticket items like expensive autos, premium products and travel experiences. So when someone searches for these kinds of products, they are looking to be impressed.

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These Impress Me need state is typified by searches that can be complex like, “What car should you drive if you make $150,000?

The Reassure Me state comes from a position of anxiety. According to Google the searches are less complex. Because this need state demands reassurance that they are making the right decision, things like videos tend to provide that reassurance.

Underlying Questions and Needs

I recently published an article about underlying questions that are hidden within a search query. When someone searches with a vague phrase like, “Carrots Benefits ” what they are really asking is, “Are carrots good for you?

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If you want to rank for Carrots Benefits, you very likely will need to write an answer for the phrase, “Are carrots good for you.” The evidence is in Google’s search results for both queries because the top two results are exactly the same, even the featured snippet is the same.

  • What I described was the underlying question.
  • What Google’s research describes is the underlying emotional need state.
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This is how Google explains why it is important to marketers to understand the consumer’s need state that underlies a search query:

“Marketers tend to think of search as purely transactional, something near the bottom of the traditional marketing funnel.

But with the marketing funnel changing, so should marketers’ approach to search. Emotion fuels marketers’ thinking when it comes to creative execution in other media.

It should also inform their thinking when it comes to search.

How your brand responds to these needs in search can shape the journey.”

I think that this concept is worth considering. Check out the research article and see if any insights pop up as to how your content can better serve your site visitors because of the emotional need state that visitor may be in.

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Read: Search Results Analysis: The Latent Question

Read: How Consumer Needs Shape Search Behavior and Drive Intent


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Roger Montti

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Roger Montti is a search marketer with over 20 years experience. I offer site audits, phone consultations and content and ... [Read full bio]

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