What Is Search Intent And Why Is It Important For SEO?

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Search intent (also known as user intent or keyword intent) describes the purpose of an online search, typically via a search engine.

The intent of each search gives the reason why each user conducted the search they did and explains what exactly were they looking for in terms of results.

Search intent is often associated with search engine marketing as by matching the right intent of the user, publishers can improve their chances of earning organic traffic from search engines which endeavour to show the most relevant results first. 

You might think that understanding the individual search intent of each query would be obvious but there are many areas where this is not the case.

Moreover, some queries can have multiple intents, for example, if a user searches for “Churchill quotes” do they want quotes from the former Prime Minister Winston Churchill or do they want a quote from the insurance provider Churchill.com? 

What Is Search Intent And Why Is It Important For SEO

Why is Search Intent so important for SEO? 

For publishers who want more organic traffic from search engines (via SEO), matching user intent in their content is absolutely vital.

Why is Search Intent so important for SEO

Getting the intent right can benefit publishers in the following ways…

  • Rankings can improve: As mentioned already, search engines want to show the most relevant content first, so if your aim is to rank well on Google (or other search engines) then crafting the content on your site so it matches the search intent of the user improves your chances of ranking well.
  • Wider reach from all sales funnel stages: The more your content focuses on matching the user’s search intent, the greater the amount of traffic you can potentially earn. This includes users at every stage of the sales funnel, from those ready to purchase to those who are merely researching. For example, creating a product guide better serves users who are researching something before deciding to buy, rather than just presenting the product page itself.
  • Improved user behaviour: If your content matches the intent of the user, then site visitors will spend longer on your site and not feel the need to return to the SERPs to find alternative results, known as “short clicks”.

Understanding the 4 main types of Search Intent

It seems there is an unlimited number of search terms - with around 15% of search engine queries being entirely unique. That said, search terms will generally fall into one of the following 4 categories of search intent: 

  • Informational Intent 
  • Navigational Intent
  • Transactional Intent
  • Commercial Investigation

In order to match their content to these different search intents, it’s crucial for publishers to develop a more comprehensive understanding of what each search intent category is.

1. Informational Intent 

As the term suggests, informational intent describes users looking for specific information

Some examples of informational intent searches are as follows: 

  • What does search intent mean?
  • How to make your own pizza
  • Directions to London from Manchester
  • Martin Luther King
  • Today’s weather in Cardiff

Users who conduct a search with informational intent are looking for answers and additional information on a specific topic.

That topic can range from looking up how to construct a new cabinet to children searching for information for a homework assignment. 

For these searches, Google wants to provide webpages, articles, videos, and images that provide a fast and informative solution to their query.

However, as the above examples show, not all informational intent searches are questions. Simply typing in the name of someone (such as Martin Luther King) is still considered a search with informational intent. 

2. Navigational Intent 

This type of search intent tends to be used by people who are looking to visit one specific website or brand.

For instance, someone searching for HMRC is usually looking for the HMRC website to find a solution for something relating to taxes or other financial matters. Querying this term into Google will show the HMRC’s website first. 

Understanding the 4 Main Types of Search Intent

For queries where a company is also the name of something else, such as “apple” - search engine algorithms are sophisticated enough to discern what the intent of the user is;

so if you search the word “apple” - all the results relate to the tech company Apple, as this is what search engines deduce this is what the user is really looking for.

3. Transactional Intent 

Transactional intent searches are made when someone is ready to make a purchase. The searcher already knows what they are looking for and is online ready to make a purchase

These searches are more focused on reaching a product page as soon as possible. Sometimes, transactional searches aren’t always about product names.

They may instead be searching for the best place to make the purchase. This means that searches with transactional intent can be based on brand names

Below are just a few examples of this: 

  • Buy Adidas trainers
  • Shop Gucci handbags
  • Nike sportswear sale

A transactional search can be for a specific product, a service, or even a monthly subscription platform. Regardless of the item being sought, these users already know exactly what they want. 

4. Commercial Investigation

This type of search intent is predominantly used before someone makes a purchase. A user may begin to investigate the brand behind the product or service that they have an active interest in.

Searches will be made by people who are past the informal stages and are trying to narrow the search down further by comparisons in price, convenience, and other factors

Commercial investigation searches can sometimes be more localised and generally aren’t about a specific brand name. For example, the searches below would be deemed searches with a commercial investigation intent: 

  • Best gyms near me
  • Best burgers in Manchester
  • Best eCommerce hosting platforms
  • Accounting software reviews

Users at this point often indicate they are seeking more time to research what their options are and what suits them best.

Hybrid Intent

Whilst there are broadly four main types of search intent as outlined above, they sometimes cross over.

For example, a user might be looking for more information but also want to make a purchase. Often this is the case with esoteric products or services such as Making Tax Digital for example - which has informational as well as commercial intent.

Publishers who wish to rank for keywords with a hybrid intent therefore need to craft their landing pages so as to cater for both aspects of the blended intent of the user e.g they need to offer comprehensive information but also provide the means to make a purchase.

Hybrid Intent

Search Intent and Keyword Intent

Of course, the words used in searches are key to understanding user intent. But this also provides businesses with the opportunity to create some intent-focused keywords to improve their chances of ranking well.

For transactional intent, some of those intent-focused keywords can be as broad as terms like “deal”, “buy” or “sale” alongside the product names.

Informational intent searches may possibly deal with terms such as “why”, “how to”, or “information” alongside the subject being searched. 

It’s important to understand these intents, as a user who searches with commercial investigation intent isn’t going to want to be sent to a sign-up or product page on your website. 

There are a number of different SEO agency management software programs available on the market. Some of these programs offer more comprehensive features than others, but all of them should provide you with a basic level of oversight and management of your agency’s SEO efforts. 

Some of the most common features offered by these programs include: -The ability to track your keywords and their performance over time -The ability to create optimized titles and meta descriptions for your website -The ability to manage your clients’ accounts and invoices -The ability to send automated reports on your agency’s progress.

Optimization and Search Intent

With the fundamentals of your research in place and a better understanding of which keywords you’re looking to target, you can begin to optimize your content, images, and videos accordingly. 

Below are some simple but effective ways to get started: 

  • Use target keywords in your Meta Title, Meta Tagline, and the headings (H1, H2, etc) of your pages. If you can combine this with concise copy that solves a problem or offers a solution, you’ll benefit from a better click-through rate and more potential conversions down the line.
  • Keep in mind any consistency in formatting or content that you discovered in your SERP research. If a featured snippet contained lists or step-by-step guides numbered 1-5, it’s a fair assumption that Google will reward a business that formats its content in this way too.
  • Don’t be afraid to look at how successful competitors have cultivated their pages and formats. Take the time to read through top-ranking pages for your target keywords and take note of the tone and feel of their output. Did they miss something that you can take advantage of in your content?

Final considerations

It’s important to remember that search engines reward publishers who best match the intent of each individual sarach query.

Thus, creating content that does match the user intent is less likely ot receive a high volume of organic traffic. For e-commerce brands this means ensuring they serve content for users at every stage of the purchase cycle. 

Stick to the following key principles above all else:

  • Make your pages relevant to the search intent of the user
  • Know when to inform and guide during investigative searches
  • Lead searchers to product/sales pages when it’s a transactional search
  • Pick the right content format e.g written copy, video, image etc - see what is ranking well already and use this as a guide

And finally, don’t be afraid to simply ask customers what they want most. If you can remain consistent and open, and your business continues to keep the user’s mindset at the forefront of your content, you’ll be able to apply these attributes effectively.

Using real customer feedback to better enhance your content means you’ll be able to improve your landing page experience and earn even more traffic in the future.

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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