Search Intent & SEO: A Comprehensive Guide


what is search intent

Ever since Andrei Broder coined the term search intent, it has become a valuable point of focus for the modern-day digital marketer. With Google and every other online business looking to deliver value to users, there’s much need to understand consumer behavior. As you know, understanding the needs of your target audience is the easiest way to ensure satisfaction as people interact with your brand. This is where search intent comes into play- helping you create pages whose content matches your reader’s expectations.

In this post, we delve into the concept of search intent and why it’s important for SEO success. We will also go through the common types of search intent and how to optimize for each and ultimately, outrank your competitors. But before that, here’s a refresher on search intent.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent, also referred to as user intent, is the ultimate goal or motive a user has when performing a search. It is the reason to why a user is looking up something on Google and other search engines. Ideally, when a searcher types a particular search query, they expect relevant search results as well as landing pages. Google figures out what the searchers want, so it can offer valuable page results. Your job as a webmaster or SEO is to provide content that is relevant to these users and satisfies their search intent.

It is natural for people to consume content or react to information depending on what they want. Therefore, a page that’s well-optimized for user intent can easily outperform those that are only optimized for the search engine.

Why Search intent matters

why search intent matters

Optimizing your content for search intent helps improve your rankings and click-through rates while enhancing visitor-engagement. As mentioned above, there’s an intention behind every search query. So, if you can figure out the reason behind every search, you can plan ahead and provide the most relevant content to the user. Keeping in mind that relevance is the foundation of success in SEO- this will be a big win for your online brand. Understanding and adapting to search intent yields a wide range of benefits. These include:

  • It helps match your offerings to the user intent
  •  It strategically increases brand visibility
  • It ensures your pages attract the right clientele
  • It reduces your bounce rates
  • It helps you identify the need for content expansion on existing pages
  • It helps you identify new opportunities and niches.

Types of Search intent

types of search intent

While every search query has a unique intent, we can group search intent in four primary ways as shown:

  1. Informational – The searcher is looking to learn something. This might be an answer to a specific question or problem such as “What is DevOps?” or “How does IoT work?” Ideally, most informational searches include questions, but can also be formulated as topics or keywords like “blockchain technology” or “Sydney Airport directions”
  2. Navigational – The user is looking for a particular website or online platform.  These types of queries often include brand names since the user already knows the page they’re looking for. It’s probably just easier for them to search on Google than type the website’s URL.  Examples of Navigational search queries include “ PayPal login” or “Gmail sign-up”
  3. Transactional – Here, the user intends to purchase something. It is also known as commercial intent and can apply to actions like downloading a file or generating leads. Examples of transactional searches include “Buy cheap Xbox” or “Refurbished MacBook pro price”
  4. Commercial investigation – The searcher is looking for information on a specific product or service. They intend to learn more about something before making a buying decision. In most cases, these users look for reviews and comparisons on available options. As such, they can easily convert if given the right landing page or content. Examples of commercial investigation searches include “best hotels in Orlando”, “Nightwatch Review”, and “GitHub vs GitLab vs Bitbucket”. 

Most queries formulated for local search have this type of intent. For instance “Content Agency Manchester” or “Residential cleaner near me” are designed for commercial investigation.

A study on classification of search queries shows that most searches on the web have informational intent. This type of intent accounts for around 80 percent of all searches. However, we believe it is important to optimize for the four types of user intent as every individual search is part of the buyer’s journey. In the next section, we will guide you on the best practices for intent optimization.

search intent classification

How to optimize for search intent

The first step when aligning content with user intent is to understand your marketing persona. Your target audience should drive much of your intent optimization efforts because by knowing their goals and pain points, you can predict the intent behind any particular search. Here are some actionable tips that will make your work easier when optimizing for the four types of user intent.

Analyze Google SERP results       

Performing a quick SERP analysis can give you tons of insight into search intent. This is why an ideal content optimization or keyword research process starts with analyzing the top-ranking pages as well as leading competitors. You can easily know what searchers want to see and the type of content that ranks for a particular keyword. For instance, if you perform a quick search on, ”how to create a website”, you will notice that some top results are detailed guides on how to create a website.  Others are free website builders such as wix.com and webspace.com.

Do the same for your keywords to get a glimpse of what your target audience finds valuable. Take note of the kind of content on the top search results and see how you can apply the same concept on your pages.

Uncover new opportunities

Rewriting existing content is not enough for intent optimization. You should go a step further and find new opportunities to expand existing content. You also need to provide new perspectives on topics that might interest your readers. But how exactly can you discover these opportunities? One of the easiest ways is to use the “people also ask” section on Google. This tool is super helpful when it comes to content ideation as it offers a set of questions related to a particular search query.  

analyze google search results

For instance, if you are targeting the search phrase “saving for retirement” the “people also ask” section provides topics that you might want to cover.

people also ask

Other than the related questions box on Google, you can also get inspiration from tools like Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, SEMrush, Serpstat, Majestic, Buzzsumo, Google keyword planner, and other content assistants. These are even more helpful as they provide the keyword’s search volume, relevancy, cost per click (CPC), social shares, and other metrics that help in choosing the most suitable keywords.

Finally, consider getting a list of commonly asked questions and issues raised by your site visitors. Their feedback or comments can give you some good insights into what other users want to see. If they’re asking something, you can bet a good number of people also have similar concerns. Therefore, consider creating new content that will address their pain points.  

Create relevant and optimized content

Now that you have your topic or target keywords ready, the next task is to create content that is relevant to the readers. Here, you start by identifying the most appropriate content format for your pages. Some common content formats include list posts, how-to guides, reviews, opinion pieces, case studies, and comparisons. There are tons of content formats, so you can never run out of ideas regardless of the topic or type of intent you’re tackling. If we perform a search on “How to… ” We see that most of the top-ranking pages are guides.

For your understanding, we will narrow down to the most effective content formats for the four categories of search intent. These four points sums it up all.  

  • When optimizing for informational search intent, use blog posts with tips, in-depth-listicles, step-by-step guides, how-to-posts, infographics, and checklists.
  • For navigational search intent, focus on creating webinars, presentation pages, case studies, product and service lists, e-books, product demo videos, online forms, and clear landing pages.
  • For transactional search intent, we recommend creating product pages, sales pages, live demos, appointment pages, pricing pages, free consultations and sign-up pages.
  • Detailed product reviews and service page descriptions are key when optimizing for commercial intent.

Add value to the reader

One of the best optimization tips for search intent and SEO is creating content that adds value to the reader. Useful and valuable content should be exhaustive, trustworthy and authoritative.

  • Exhaustive- Focus on creating in-depth content that users will be satisfied upon reading. This does not mean increasing the word count, but covering the subject or topic rigorously.
  •  Trustworthy – Trust can be created in so many ways depending on the type of content, topic, and intent. For informational intent, you can increase trust by using trustworthy references. Using third-party citations in product reviews and backlinks can also increase trust for transactional and commercial investigation. The bottom line here is that you should not market your brand by completely sidelining competitor offerings.
  •  Authoritative – Just like trust, you should back definitive claims with more information by linking to external sources or through your own findings from research.  

If you can create well-optimized content that is valuable to the users, you will not only benefit from satisfying search intent, but Google might as well reward you with a featured snippet. There’s a really cool guide on featured snippets on our blog and we highly recommend you check it out.

Here are a few more tips we found super-helpful when optimizing for search intent.

  • Creating unique, clear and descriptive call-to-actions
  • Applying images, videos, and other visuals to make your content more appealing
  • Using title and header tags appropriately across your pages
  •  Segmenting your content (people do not like generic content/listings
  •  Using commercial centric headings and buy links for transactional intent
  •  Measuring the performance of your optimization efforts using analytics. There are multiple SEO tools that can help you capture metrics such as on-site time, engagement rate, bounce rate, and conversion rate.

Wrap-Up

It is evident that adapting to search intent is in line with Google’s mission, “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” With the continuous improvement of Google’s sophisticated ranking algorithms, marketers who give searchers what they want will certainly get rewarded in the long-term.  Additionally, time is gone when you could trick Google with some black-hat SEO techniques- your chances for ranking on the SERP with these are now slim to none. If you want to beat the competition, follow the above optimization steps and you’ll hit higher ranks in no-time. 

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