Search Intent: What Is It?

15 December 2020

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Search intent comes up a lot when discussing SEO. It generally comes up during the keyword research stage of optimisation.

So what is search intent? It is the motive behind a query. It’s the reason why a person made their search.

What were they looking to achieve when they searched? That’s what search intent is. It’s the user intent behind the search.

Why is Search Intent Important?

When a user or potential customer makes a search, Google (or another search engine) aims to provide them with the most relevant result for their query. This is Google’s end goal.

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

So why is search intent important? It comes down to rankings. You want your website to rank. By creating content that matches user intent, a website can rank as the most relevant result for a specific search.

Understanding intent, and creating content with keyword intent in mind is at the heart of a successful SEO campaign.

What types of Queries are there?

What is a navigational query?

Navigational search queries happen when a searcher wants to navigate to a specific website. They already know what they are after. It might be quicker to Google the name of the website than type the URL, or perhaps the searcher doesn’t know the exact URL they are after.

Examples of navigational queries:

  • Gmail login
  • Netflix
  • BBC news

What is an informational query?

Informational search queries pose questions, but are not always formatted as questions. In simple terms, the searcher is looking for information. More often than not, a lot of these searches have the answer appear in the organic search results, which is why search intent can be so important. Why spend ages optimising a page for a keyword people are searching, if the answer is shown in Google?

Examples of informational queries: 

  • What is 15% of 180
  • Peak district directions
  • Weather

What is a commercial investigation query?

Searchers at the commercial investigation stage are looking to compare products and services through reviews and recommendations. They are looking for a specific service, or product, but are still looking around and finding comparisons against other products. You will also notice that some local searches are commercial investigation queries. Other examples could include search terms such as, “cheapest parking in Brighton”.

Examples of Commercial Investigation queries:

  • Best hairdryer
  • Apple watch vs fitbit
  • Top coffee shop in Birmingham

What is a transactional query?

Transactional searchers are the people at the bottom of the funnel. Their search has a transactional intent to it. They want to make a purchase. Whether that’s a product or a service, they are likely to have a good idea of what they want to buy, and are looking for a place to buy it.

Examples of Transactional queries:

  • Spotify premium subscription
  • Buy gaming chair
  • Columbia hiking boots sale

How to identify search intent

By determining the search intent behind a keyword, you can improve your content to better target user intent. Often, keyword modifiers can indicate search intent.

For example, question modifiers like “who”, “what”, “why”, or words like “tutorial”, “tips” or “guide”, would suggest informational queries.

Brand, service names or product names are often found in navigational queries.

Searchers at the commercial investigation stage will use words like “best”, “top”, “comparison”, or another similar word in their queries.

Transactional queries are usually straight forward. They will usually contain words like “buy”, “purchase”, “order”, or focus on price, cheap or discounts.

Searching for a keyword yourself is another way to determine the search intent behind it. Sometimes a keyword you think fits into a type of search intent, actually belongs to another. It is always useful to check the actual SERPs for a keyword you want to target, to get an idea of what ranks already, and what type of intent is being met.

Type your target keyword into the search bar and see what type of results Google provides. For example, a transactional search query like “buy red nike air max” will generate paid or shopping results, product carousels and product category pages.

On the other hand, an informational search query like “weather Scotland”, will return results that provide not only the answer in the SERPs (you get a forecast at the top), but also informational websites, featured snippets, and “People also ask”, which contains other informational searches that may also answer a searcher’s question.

Why optimise content for search intent

Establishing the intent behind a search query will inform how you write and structure content for each page of a website. Keep search intent in mind to ensure that the content you create is relevant to the searcher and answers their query. In turn, this could improve rankings, and increase conversions.

Always try to work out the intent behind any keyword research you carry out. If you do your research via topic research, or you gather a list of seed keywords, it is always worth the extra few steps to figure out the intent.

What does a user expect to see when they search this? Ask yourself, what would you expect to see on the results page. A product page or specific product page? Or would you expect to see a blog post with very informational content on it?

Keyword research tools like the Questions report in the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer, or SEMRush Topic Research, can provide insight and suggestions to improve your content based on intent.

The final takeaway. Make sure your content matches intent. Want converting traffic? Then make your content the best answer to the search that you can.

For expert support with optimising and improving your website content, get in touch with the digital marketing team at Unity Online.

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