What is search intent?
Search intent (or user intent, audience intent) is the term used to describe the purpose of an online search. It’s the reason why someone conducts a specific search. After all, everyone who does an online search is hoping to find something.
But is someone looking for an answer to a question they have? Are they looking to visit a specific website? Or, are they searching online because they want to buy something? Many of these types of searches are part of the user journey online, but oftentimes they represent different stages.
Over the years, Google has worked hard to improve its algorithm to be able to determine people’s search intent. Google wants to rank pages that best fit the search term someone is using, as well as the search intent behind the search query. That’s why you need to make sure that your post or page fits the search intent of your audience.
4 types of search intent
There are a few distinct types of search intent. We’ll go into the four most commonly used ones:
1. Informational intent
Let’s start with informational intent. Lots of searches on the internet are done by people looking for information. This could be information about the weather, information about educating children, information about SEO, you name it. People with an informational intent have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.
You should be aware that Google’s understanding of intent goes much further than simply showing results that give information about a specific term. It knows, for instance, that people looking for [tomato sauce] are most likely looking for recipes, not for the sauce’s culinary history. It understands that most people typing in [Mercury] are looking for the planet, not the element. Google even understands that for some search terms, like [how to build a bird feeder], it’s handy to include videos and images.
2. Navigational intent
The second type of search intent is called navigational intent. People with this intent want to visit a specific website. For example, people who search for [Facebook] online are usually on their way to the Facebook website. So you want to make sure that your website can be found when someone searches for your company’s name online.
Keep in mind that ranking high for a navigational term is mainly beneficial if your site is the site people are looking for. A few years ago, we had a Google Analytics plugin and we ranked pretty well for the term [Google Analytics]. But that didn’t drive any traffic to our site. People searching for [Google Analytics] specifically were looking for the Google Analytics website and were often not interested in our plugin.
3. Transactional intent
The third type of search intent is transactional intent. Lots of people buy stuff online and browse the web to find the best purchase. People are searching with transactional intent when their purpose is to buy something at that moment. Often that means that they already know exactly what they want to buy and just want to get to that product page right away.
4. Commercial investigation
Some people have the intention to buy in the (near) future and use the web to do their research. What washing machine would be best? Which SEO plugin is the most helpful? These people also have transactional intent but need some more time and convincing. These types of search intents are usually called commercial investigating intents.
The words people use in their search queries give us insight into user intent. This also works the other way around. By formulating keywords with intent-specific words you can increase your chances of being seen by people with matching search intent.
What do we mean by intent-specific words? Well, keywords with transactional intent will often contain words like:
- product names
To give another example, informational searches can (but don’t necessarily have to) contain words like:
- how to
- best way to
How to optimise your content for search intent
Why are we telling you all of this? Because you want to make sure that a landing page fits the search intent of your audience. If people are looking for information, you don’t want to show them a product page. At least, not immediately. You’ll probably scare them away. But if someone wants to buy your product and lands on one of your lengthier blog posts, you might lose them. In this case, you want to lead them to your shop and the right product page.
Optimizing your product pages for commercially driven keywords is a good idea. For instance, if you sell dog vitamins, you could optimize a product (category) page for the search term [buy dog vitamins]. Perhaps you also have an article about administering vitamins. You could optimize that article for the search term [how to give vitamins to my dog] and aim it at people with informational intent.
Research your audience’s search intent
Sometimes it can be quite hard to determine the search intent of a query. And perhaps different users that use the same search term will have a (slightly) different user intent. Luckily, there is a direct source to look at if you want to know which intent fits your keywords best: the search results pages. Find out how you can use the results pages to create great content that’s intent-based.
If you want to know more about the search intent of your audience, another way is to ask them. You could make a short survey, containing questions about what people are searching for and make that survey pop up when people visit your website. That’ll probably give you some valuable insights into your audience and their intent. Do make sure not to be too intrusive with these kinds of pop ups as this can hurt the user experience on your website.
It’s crucial to ensure that the content you’re writing fits both the terms people are searching for, as well as the search intent of your audience. Make sure your post or page is informational when people are looking for information. Be the first result when someone searches for your company name. Provide content that helps people make an informed decision when they’re still investigating their options. But lead people to your sales pages if they are looking to buy one of your products.