Performics and Northwestern University Prove That Search Query Language Reveals Behavioral Insights into Purchase Intent

In partnership with the Bing Search Network, the study finds that searchers with high purchase intent are 180% more likely to click on results with concrete words like “shop,” while searchers with browsing intent are 20% more likely to click on results with abstract words, like “best”

CHICAGO--()--Performics and Northwestern University, in partnership with the Bing Search Network, have released a new study showing how search query language indicates where a person is in their shopping journey. The study also confirmed that aligning search results with the searcher’s distance to purchase significantly increases engagement.

The study was conducted by the Intent Lab, a research partnership between Performics and Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications. The Intent Lab collaborated with Microsoft to leverage searcher intent from the scale of the Bing Search network. The study comprised of a comprehensive search query review, lab experiments and an ad intervention study on actual click-through rate (CTR) data.

“Our study found that a person’s search query can indicate their psychological distance to an action or goal, like buying a product or service,” said Ashlee Humphreys, Associate Professor at Northwestern Medill. “We found that search queries that contain fewer concrete words and more abstract words, like ‘why,’ indicate an abstract mindset, which tends to occur early in the purchase journey. Concrete queries, like ‘shop,’ indicate a shorter distance to action. Study participants with a buying goal used search queries that were 15% more concrete (less abstract) than participants with a browsing goal.”

The study also found a match between searcher intent and likelihood to click on an ad:

  • Participants with browsing goals were 20% more likely to click on search results that emphasized the word “best” (abstract word)
  • Participants with buying goals were 180% more likely to click on search results that emphasize the word “shop” (concrete word)
  • Participants with concrete words in their search query were also 135% more likely to click on retailer search results (vs. non-retailer results, where they’re not able to buy immediately)

“Search isn’t just a marketing channel for brands. It’s also a behavioral insights machine. Search query language uncovers consumer signals that can inform media planning and optimization in search marketing and beyond,” noted Esteban Ribero, SVP Planning & Insights at Performics. “Our study proves that marketers who identify the mindset of consumers by their search queries and match ads and experiences accordingly, will increase performance.”

As part of the study, Performics ran three live ad campaigns in the beauty products category, bidding on keywords with various levels of concreteness: “how” (most abstract), “best” (abstract) and “buy” (concrete). The study found a 17% increase in likelihood to click when matching concrete/abstract search keywords with the ad.

As a result of the study, Performics developed an Intent Scoring Algorithm that codes every search keyword in the advertiser’s account based on the level of concreteness/abstractness and then uses this measure to identify the consumer’s place in their buying journey. The alignment of keywords to intent mindsets allowed for more tailored ad copy, bids and landing page experiences that drove conversions and increased efficiency.

To learn more about the study and for more insights into consumer intent, visit The Intent Lab.

About Performics

As the original performance marketing agency, Performics is the premier revenue growth driver for many of the world’s most admired brands. Across an expansive global network operating in 57 countries, Performics leverages data, technology and talent to create and convert consumer demand wherever it is expressed—search, social, display, commerce and offline channels. Performics is built for the relentless pursuit of results. Headquartered in Chicago, Performics is a Publicis Media company. To learn more, visit

About Northwestern University Medill School

Medill, a leader in education since 1921, offers programs in journalism and integrated marketing communications that combine enduring skills and values with new techniques and knowledge that are essential to thrive in today’s digital world. Medill has a long-standing reputation for academic excellence. As the media industry experiences unprecedented change, Medill leads the way. The school’s graduate and undergraduate programs are educating a new generation of multimedia journalists and integrated marketing communications professionals who are not only thriving in this evolving media landscape but also helping to shape it.


Dan Malachowski, 212-468-4145
VP, Director, Marketing

Release Summary

Performics and Northwestern University Prove that Search Query Language Reveals Behavioral Insights into Purchase Intent


Dan Malachowski, 212-468-4145
VP, Director, Marketing