Search Intent

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent is what someone is looking for when they use a search engine (like Google.)

It is also referred to as user intent, or keyword intent.

Search intent is their primary objective — the purpose for why they’re using Google. That purpose can be various different things — directions to a restaurant, reviews for a pair of shoes or even information about a famous person.

There are 4 general types of search intent — we’ll cover this in a second.

But first, there is one thing we need to be very clear about.

Search intent is not the same as search query.

Search Intent ⁠— What they are looking for when they use Google

Search Query ⁠— What they type into Google

These two things don’t always line up. Ideally they should, which is what Google aims for.

The 4 Types Of Search Intent

There are 4 basic types of search intent.

  1. Informational
  2. Navigational
  3. Commercial
  4. Transactional
source: backlinko

Informational

Informational search intent is when an individual is looking for information. This might be about something simple, or something that is rather in-depth.

Good search query examples include:

  • “NBA scores”
  • “Who is Donald Trump?”
  • “Directions to LAX airport”
  • “How do cryptocurrencies work?”

Informational queries are considered more “Top of the funnel” keywords. They are terms that people search when they are new/early in their buying journey.

Informational queries are a great opportunity to educate potential consumers about their issues, while giving them a first impression with your brand.

If you can help answer some of the questions people have at the top of the funnel, you will have an opportunity to nurture that relationship down through their buying journey and potentially sell them something at the end.

Navigational

Navigational search intent is when someone is looking for a specific website/webpage. Instead of typing the specific URL, they simply Google search it.

Good search query examples include:

  • “Twitter”
  • “YouTube login”
  • “SERP Co SERP University”

If someone is looking for a Brand’s specific property (like Twitter) or URL (like the login page) there is not much value in a keyword like that. You have already done the hard work of getting your brand in the consumers mind.

Commercial

Commercial search intent is when someone is researching a product or service to buy. They are looking at reviews and comparisons — they are weighing up their options.

Good search query examples include:

  • “Netflix vs hulu”
  • “Samsung galaxy s10 review”
  • “Best chinese food in los angeles”

These can be seen as “Middle of the Funnel” keywords.

A consumer is already educated about their PROBLEM, and fairly knowledgable about some of the potential solutions on the market – the products & brands that can help them solve their issue.

Many times these are even “Bottom of the funnel” keywords – because the people searching them are actually quite close to making a purchase decision. For example – if you are searching for “Best chinese food in los angeles” you might be in your car, hungry, ready to eat and just waiting for the first 4 star reviewed place to pop up so you can click “get directions”.

Transactional

Transactional search intent is when someone knows what they want to buy and is ready to make a purchase. They’ll enter a search query into Google, trying to find a place to buy.

Good search query examples include:

  • “Buy iphone 11”
  • “NBA league pass coupon”
  • “Converse chuck taylors cheap”

These are often called “money keywords” and are referred to as “Bottom of the funnel” or “high buyer intent”.

Why? Because the people searching these have basically already decided in their mind that they what they want to buy, and they are ready to pull the trigger.

Why Is Search Intent Important For SEO?

Search intent is important because Google (and other search engines) value it when ranking webpages.

Google’s own mission statement confirms this.

Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

The key word there, is useful.

Google wants its search results to be useful, to actually be what people are looking for. They want search queries and search intent to match.

They even have an entire section about search intent in their search quality evaluator guidelines.

Google also released this report — How Intent Is Redefining The Marketing Funnel.

It’s an interesting read. It really shows you how much Google values what search users are looking for.

If anything, simply ranking for your keywords, showing up on SERPs is not enough. What good is it being ranked #1 on Google, if it’s not what they’re looking for?

Traffic is nice, but it’s not really worth anything on its own.

It has to translate to something.

Content that doesn’t satisfy search intent won’t last long at the top. Google is big on user signals, like bounce rate and dwell time.

Best Practice

Find Out What Search Intent Type Your Keywords Are

Some of your keywords intent will be obvious — “buy converse chuck taylors” is clearly transactional. Alternatively “how to write a poem” would be informational.

The clue is in the wording.

Here’s a graph of keyword “modifiers” that’ll help you identify search intent.

source; ahrefs

If your keyword features one of these modifiers, its user intent should be clear.

Another easy way you can uncover keyword intent is to investigate the SERPs.

Now, obviously, the top results for your keyword are going to satisfy search intent. How could they not? You can’t rank that high without doing so.

Type your keyword into Google and observe the results — we’ll use “best seo tool” as an example.

Each top result is a piece of content about the best seo tools. People who type this search query into google are researching. They want to find out what the best option is.

This suggests a commercial intent.

But if we look at the results for “backlink checker” we get different results.

The results are all actual tools, not content write-ups about “what is the best tool.”

The search intent here is clearly transactional.

Another thing to look out for on results pages are SERP Features.

SERP features are special results that appear on results pages — usually at the top or side of the page.

They act as a way for search results to be more in-depth, and enticing to click on.

There are 4 main types of SERP features.

  • Rich Snippets
  • Paid Results
  • Universal Results
  • Knowledge Graphs

The on-page SEO post covers SERP features in-depth, you can read more there.

Use this graph to help you match the SERP feature with keyword intent.

source: ahrefs

The Beats headphones example from above clearly has a transactional intent.

Using these methods (observation, modifiers, SERP analysis) should be enough to discover search intent.

Takeaway: Use observation, modifiers or SERP analysis to uncover search intent.

Analyze The SERP Ranking History Of Your Keywords

The reality is that SERPs are always changing. You can analyze it to uncover user intent, but it’s just one snapshot in time.

You need to look at the SERP ranking history of your keywords.

To do this, we’ll use Ahrefs’ Keyword Explorer tool.

Enter your keyword into the tool, and scroll down to the “SERP position history” section.

The example in the image (how to write a resume) show extremely consistent results. This tells us that the current SERP ranking is authentic. Search intent is clear.

Compare that to the results for “mercury.”

The ranking history is highly variable, always changing. It’s hard to gauge keyword intent from this.

On the other hand, this presents an opportunity. Google hasn’t found the right results it wants. You can shoot up the rankings with the right strategy.

Most results are going to be somewhere in-between the two examples above.

Take “notre dame” for example.

In these instances, you’ll want to focus on the consistent results. In the above example, it’s the green and purple lines.

These will give you the best idea about user intent in moderate cases.

Takeaway: Use ahrefs Keyword Explorer tool to analyze your keywords SERP history.

Optimize Your Content For User Experience

User experience is extremely important when it comes to your content. How do you think Google discovers search intent?

User signals.

Google watches what search users do — when they click on a result, do they stay there? Or do they leave instantly?

Bounce rate, click-through rate, pogo-sticking, dwell time — these are all measurements Google tracks, and use to determine search intent.

If your content is not optimized for user experience, you’re bounce rate is going to be high, dwell time low. You’re not going to rank very well.

There are 4 things we are going to address to improve user experience.

Minimize Popups

Popups can be extremely intrusive, absolutely ruining the user experience of your content.

It’s best to just avoid them altogether.

However, exit-intent popups are fine.

Exit-intent popups are popups that appear when you move your cursor to exit the page.

They are naturally less intrusive than all other forms of popups.

Avoid Small Font Sizes

Really small font size can absolutely ruin user experience. How can you expect someone to read something they can’t see?

No but seriously — look at how hard this is to read.

Now compare it to this — a much larger font size.

Much easier to read.

So what size do you want to use?

According to a 2016 study, 18 points font size. In pixels that’s 24.

The truth is, there are lots of studies/research saying all sorts of font sizes. The main constant however, is avoiding a size that’s too small.

Test out your font size yourself. Ask yourself, “is this hard to read?” Show it to a family member or friend.

Use Subheadings

Subheadings make your content easy to navigate, easy to understand.

Like chapters in a book, the content is sliced and diced into different sections.

Pro tip: combine subheadings with a table of contents for maximum content navigation.

Don’t Forget Videos & Images

Videos and images are a great way to increase your contents readability.

They do this in 2 ways.

  1. Break up walls of text
  2. Show information through an effective medium

Long walls of text are very hard to read — images and videos act as a way to break them up.

Images are also highly effective as a way to show information.

Here are 4 statistics backing this up.

  1. Our brains process images 60,000x faster than text (source.)
  2. It only takes our brains 13 milliseconds to process images (source.)
  3. 90% of the information processed by the human brain is visual (source.)
  4. 80% of humans remember what they see, opposed to 10% of what they hear and 20% of what they read (source.)

The age-old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true.

And as far as videos go, they’re a whole bunch of images. They work even better.

Takeaway: Optimize your content for user experience by minimizing popups, using the right font size, using subheadings, images and videos.

Analyze The “People Also Ask” Box

The “People Also Ask” box SERP feature is a goldmine for content ideas.

These are actual questions people want answers to when they type your keyword into Google. This is more than just analyzing the SERP results to uncover user intent — these are SPECIFIC questions.

Adding these questions to our content will help satisfy search intent greatly, skyrocketing you up the rankings.

Look at how I’ve covered some of these questions for “search intent” in this post.

NOTE: Not all questions (from the box) should be used.

When you click on the questions, more and more will appear. They tend to become more random and irrelevant as the list goes on.

Focus on the questions at the top.

Takeaway: Insert questions and answers from the “people also ask” box into your content.

Analyze Top-Ranking Pages

Nothing helps you optimize your content for search intent like looking at who’s winning.

Google tends to want a very specific type of content when it comes to keywords.

Check out this example — “on-page seo.”

Notice anything? All the top-results are actionable guides. This is the specific type of content to make for this keyword — this is the content that satisfies search intent.

Ahrefs actually has a case study about this keyword (on-page seo.)

They had originally created a study for their on-page seo post.

It didn’t rank well. What was wrong?

They didn’t satisfy search intent. All the top-results were actionable guides, so they redid the post.

Doing this resulted in a 3,100% increase in traffic.

source: ahrefs

The post now ranks top 10.

Looking at the top results is not just for uncovering search intent. It’s also useful for discovering what type of content Google wants.

Takeaway: Take content ideas from the top-ranking pages for your keyword.

Don’t Forget About Commercial Pages

It’s not all just about content — you also need to optimize your commercial pages.

Lots of Google searches are looking for these commercial pages. Someone might be trying to buy something, or wanting to sign-up for a free trial. Maybe even just get a quote.

Here’s an example — “nike roshe.”

No content results, all commercial pages.

If you want to rank for this keyword, don’t make a blog post. Make an e-commerce product page.

Now you’re probably thinking… “Duh, of course commercial pages would come up for a search query like that.”

True — a product name google search is most likely going to result in pages to buy said product.

But not always.

Take “air fryer” for example.

See that? Content results.

Never presume. Always research search intent. If you don’t, you might spend days on a piece of content that doesn’t have a snowballs chance at ranking.

Final Thoughts

Search intent is the reason why people use Google — the primary objective. It can be to buy something, to get directions to somewhere, or even just information on something.

It’s so important for SEO because it’s important to Google. They care about what search users want. Knowing how to optimize for it is crucial.

In this post we covered all you need to know about search intent.

Have any questions? Feel free to ask below!

To learn more about SEO, continue reading the guides in our learning hub, and join our mastermind community group here: SERP University.
Lars Erik Larson

Lars Erik Larson

Lars Erik Larson is a digital marketer specializing in writing long-form B2B Marketing and SaaS content that builds brand and ranks highly on Google. Lars runs Wordsmith Method, a content marketing business targeting small businesses and startups. Lars also acts as one of the expert mentors at SERP University.

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