The Role of Search Intent in SEO


by Stjepan Bosnjak | Aug 02, 2022

With Google getting smarter with each update, optimizing your content for keywords is simply not enough to get you to the top of the SERP. Not to mention that a user landing on your website provides no guarantee that they will perform the desired action or even come back in the future. What you need to do is satisfy search intent.

In this article, we’ll explore the role of search intent in SEO, help you get a better grasp on the subject, and provide some tips on what you can do to optimize your content with user intent in mind.

But first things first:

What is Search Intent?

The Role of Search Intent in SEO

Search intent is the motivation behind the search query. If the keyword the user types into the search bar is the “what” they are looking for, search intent is the “why”.

Are they looking to learn about a topic? To find a specific website? Or to compare products and make a purchase?
A firm grasp on search intent helps marketers understand what stage of the conversion funnel visitors are in. This knowledge can help you improve your site design, copywriting, and even your overall SEO strategy.

Knowing where someone is in the funnel can help you determine how to best serve them.

The more you know about your target market, the easier it will become to create high-quality content that converts them into buyers.

The Types of Search Intent

Understanding the different types of search intent will help you create content and optimize your pages (and your website) to provide users with exactly what they are looking for.
In essence, there are four types of user intent: informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional.

Informational Search Intent

Informational searches are the most numerous and diverse. People use search engines to find information, solutions, or read up on a subject far more often than to make a purchase.
From a marketing perspective, users with an informational search intent are early-stage prospects looking for some form of value from the website they end up visiting. More often than not, these queries are easy to identify as they include a question – “what…”, why…”, “how…”, “when…”, etc.

Navigational Search Intent

Users with a navigational intent are looking for a specific website or one of its pages. The reasons can be different. They may want to go back to a page they’ve already visited, they may consider the website trustworthy, want to browse their products to make a repeat purchase, simply enjoy the website’s content, or any other reason.
In essence, navigational queries aren’t used to find anything new – the user knows exactly what they are looking for and just want to get there. Hence, most navigational queries include a brand or website, for example: “how to clean laptop wikihow”.

Commercial Search Intent

Whether commercial search intent is a type of its own or a mix of transactional and informational intent is up for debate. However, we’ve decided to cover it separately, as there are some differences worth mentioning, although they do overlap to a certain extent.

Also referred to as commercial investigation intent, these types of queries are used by users who are in the process of comparing products before making a buying decision or looking for information to help them make the decision. Some examples of commercial queries would be “Acer Aspire 5 vs Dell Inspirion 15” or “Best laptop for work”.

These types of queries are similar to informational ones, with one important difference: the user is looking to compare the pros and cons of a product or find the product that best suits their needs and budget. And, while the user probably does have the intention to buy, they are different than transactional queries because the searcher is still in the decision-making process.

Transactional Search Intent

Transactional queries are motivated by an intent to make a purchase. These users know the product they want and are looking for the best deal. “Acer laptop sale” and “buy laptop online” are both examples of transactional queries.

In this phase, the user is less interested in information and comparisons and more interested in the price and availability.

Why Search Intent Matters for SEO

Why Search Intent Matters for SEO

User intent matters for SEO and marketing campaigns in general because it helps you understand not only what search terms people are looking up but also why. If you know how someone is searching for your products/services and information, you can use that knowledge to help you optimize your site for those keywords.

In addition, with Google’s algorithm getting better at understanding the meaning behind keywords and user experience, providing users with relevant results has become more important than ever before. That’s why pages that hit user intent and provide a positive UX flourish, and those that don’t drop in rankings.

Below, we’ll walk you through two important aspects of your overall SEO efforts that you can directly impact by optimizing for search intent.

Reach a Wider Audience and Increase Organic Traffic

Although not all types of queries have equal immediate value for a website, not optimizing for all of them would be a mistake.

Imagine an e-commerce store that optimizes only for the bottom of the funnel – transactional keywords. While their pages could have a good bounce and conversion rates and sell products in general, they would only be targeting the people who are ready to buy. But what about all the other users who are up the funnel?

Producing content to match all search intent types lets you target a wider audience, attract them to your website and brand, and then guide them down the funnel. This helps you gain more brand awareness, nurture leads, and, ultimately, increase your conversions.

Reaching a wider audience by targeting all search intents behind keywords will also help you rank for more queries and increase organic traffic to your website.

Reduce Bounce Rates

A page’s bounce rate represents the percentage of users that land on it and leave after a short time without taking an action. Usually, it is an indication that the user didn’t find what they were looking for, or that the page wasn’t the type of result they were hoping to find.

For example, if the user is looking for information about how a product is used and they click on a result only to land on a transactional page, they will most likely bounce. The same applies to the opposite case.

Having optimized pages that address the different intents behind queries will improve the overall user experience on your website, in addition to helping you rank for more relevant keywords.

How to Optimize for Search Intent

The Types of Search Intent

Optimizing for search intent basically means planning and creating content that will address all the “whys” behind the queries related to your brand or business. It requires understanding user intent and what they are looking for when they enter a keyword into the search engine and providing them with exactly that.

So, how can you do this for all four types of search intent? Below are a couple of suggestions to get you started.

Identify the Intent Behind Keywords

The first step to optimizing for search intent is identifying the intent behind each query relevant to your business. Incorporating this into your keyword research would be a good place to start.

Once you have a list of keywords with the search intent behind them, you can start grouping them accordingly. This way, you’ll have a clear overview of the keywords you want to target and their primary search intent.

With this information, you can start planning how you need to optimize your pages with user intent in mind and whether you need to create new ones (for example a blog to cover an interesting informational keyword).

Address the Search Intent in Your Content

Now that you know what the user is looking for, it’s up to you to produce content that will match their intent and provide them with some value.

In the case of informational queries, these are usually informative or educational blogs that help the user learn about a topic, explore the subject, give instructions, etc. If you can provide them with the information they were looking for quickly and in an easy-to-digest format (satisfying their intent) you are likely to start building brand awareness and earn yourself some repeat visitors.

The same goes for commercial intent. People investigating products to find the best option for themselves want precise data, comparisons and honest reviews. In short, much like informational queries, commercial ones are all about trustworthy information that is easy to understand and that can help them make a good decision.

On the other hand, satisfying transactional intent is all about simplicity and conciseness. When a user is ready to make a purchase, they want the process to be as seamless as possible. This means you need to keep your pages distraction-free and the content concise, including only information or data that can help the user convert. This goes for all types of conversions, whether it is a subscription, a purchase, or any type of goal you have in mind.

Once the user lands on a transactional page, their way towards making the actual transaction needs to be clear.

Optimize Title Tags and Meta Descriptions

The title tag is one of the most important pieces of information about a web page. Both search engines and users use this text to assess whether the page is relevant to the search query and whether they will find what they are looking for by clicking on it.

Titles should include the keyword(s), but also provide enough context to tell searchers why they should visit the site. In other words, it needs to grab the user’s attention and attract them with the promise that you are offering what they are looking for.

Meta descriptions are brief summaries of the contents of each individual page. Much like title tags, their purpose is to convince the user that the result satisfies their search intent.

How to Determine Search Intent

Discovering the search intent behind queries should be a part of any content strategy or keyword research, because user intent corresponds to where the user is in the marketing funnel.
There are a couple of ways to do this.
Firstly, in most cases you can infer the intent behind a keyword using common sense:

  • “how..”; “what…” ;”when…”; “why…”; “where…” and similar questions – Informational intent
  • branded queries – navigational intent
  • “best…”; “top…”; “option A vs. Option B” and similar queries – commercial intent
  • “buy…”; “…sale”; “…price”; and similar queries – transactional intent

In cases where the search intent isn’t as obvious, you can either rely on keyword research tools like Semrush, or do some manual checking.

If you decide to research the intent yourself, a good practice is to take a look at the top results for the query. Are they informational blogs? Pros and Cons lists? Collection or Product Pages?

Note what type of content ranks best for the keywords and you’ll have a good idea of what type of page you need to make it to the first page of Google. After all, Google wants the results that best satisfy the users’ needs right at the top of the SERP.

Wrapping Up

Understanding search intent is the first step towards producing user-friendly content and an important part of optimizing your pages for user experience. And, considering how much Google values websites that do both, user intent has become a crucial part of SEO and content strategies.

If there were a single takeaway from this blog, it would be this:

Make your buyers’ journey seamless and engaging. Reach them with valuable informational content, help them filter through their options and do their due diligence, and provide them with a superb user experience once they come back to convert.

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