What Is Search Intent & Why You Should Be Optimizing for It?
Would you visit an Apple Store to learn about Windows laptops? Or would you go to a McDonald’s to eat healthy food?
A resounding no!
Offering the right experience in the right places, that’s the concept of search intent.
By optimizing your web pages using the right words, you can improve your chances of ranking high, thereby getting more people to buy your products, sign up for your weekly newsletters, and even revisit your website to make more purchases.
The first step in making your content 100% ready is defining search intent – a key data point that helps analyze and correctly understand your potential customers.
In this article, we’ll go over what is search intent, the importance of search intent, the relevance of keyword intent, types of search intent, and tips on how to optimize web pages for search intent.
What is Search Intent?
So, what is search intent and why does it matter?
Like everything else in life, intent matters and that applies to everything from what we study in college to the products and services we purchase. Simply put, search intent allows you to understand why someone searches for something in particular. By understanding the user intent, you’re able to understand the user journey at different stages.
Let’s start by understanding what the 4 common types of search intent are:
- Informational: The user is seeking information about something
- Transactional: The searcher is interested in making a purchase, or transacting in any other way.
- Navigational: The searcher is looking for a particular website, brand, or even a physical place to make a purchase or learn about the services provided.
- Commercial Investigation: The user here is in a pre-purchase state, between the mid and bottom of the conversion funnel, looking for more information about the product or service category he’s looking to acquire/subscribe to.
Whether it’s a question your audience is seeking an answer for or a product they’re looking to purchase, search intent is a way to understand the purpose behind a search query.
Over the years, Google has been able to improve its algorithm in order to foresee what people will search for. This allows Google to rank pages according to the user search history, greatly improving search intent detection and SERP personalization.
That’s why your web pages must match the search intent of your audience. Miss this key aspect, and you risk losing target users to competitors.
Why Search Intent is Important for SEO?
“It’s impossible to rank a transactional page on an informational SERP”
The opposite is also true.
Google’s role is to provide users with the most relevant results for their query, and search intent is a big part of how SEO gives more relevant search results for a particular query. Better intent optimization leads to more relevant users to your website, thereby leading to improved conversion rates for your transactional landing pages.
Some of the other benefits include:
- Increase in Page Views: By meeting your user’s intent, you’re more likely to have them stay on your website and engage with your content better.
- Lower Bounce Rates: Since your customers are getting exactly what they are looking for, they stay on your website for longer and are either satisfied with the information on your landing pages or have found the product that they were looking for and are more likely to make the purchase.
- Greater Audience Reach: Intent optimization allows Google to show your page when there are multiple queries for the same topic.
Types of Search Intent
As every user is unique, they tend to have different preferences and reasons for initiating search queries – by now, you must be wondering, “what are the different types of search intent?”
Broadly speaking, there are four types of search intent you’ll usually find:
1. Informational Search Intent
This is when the user is looking for specific information about a particular subject.
It could be, “how to cook spaghetti,” “what ingredients do I need to cook spaghetti”, etc. In both cases, you can lead the user to your blog that gives a simple recipe for spaghetti and link it with your page where you’re selling homemade pasta sauce or spaghetti maker. The intention is to answer the user’s question and lead them to your product page in a clever and non-overtly promotional manner.
It’s important to note that not all informational searches start with, “what”, “why”, or “how”. Some could be as simple as tennis scores or NBA scores. Make information simple and easy to consume, and remember to include new content topics which provide all the relevant information with great visuals and unique, engaging content.
2. Transactional Search Intent
This is when the user already knows what they want to purchase and is looking for a website to buy it from. For instance, searches could include, “buy iPhone 13,” “MacBook air,” or “Ikea lamp.” To make it easier for your potential customer to navigate your website, it’s important to have a clear call to action (that’s easy to find), have a clean website design so that the user can get all the information they need within the first 30 seconds.
If you have product descriptions, make sure that the content isn’t too salesy (instead, focus on building trust through storytelling and creating an emotional connection with your audience).
3. Navigational Search Intent
This is when the customer already knows which website or brand they are looking for but they may not be sure of the correct website link, which is why they choose to Google it instead of going straight to the website.
This is why it’s crucial that when someone searches for your company name, it should show up right on top so that it’s easy to locate and access.
4. Commercial Investigational Search Intent
This type of search indicates that the customer is interested in a particular product or service but is seeking more information before making their final choice.
For instance, searches could include, “best restaurant in Boston,” “best sugar-free breakfast cereal,” “iPhone vs Android.” Here, users are generally looking for expert opinions that they can rely on.
How to Identify a Keyword’s Search Intent
The SERP landscape can tell us about the user search intent.
If your keywords are in harmony with the search intent, then there’s a greater probability that your website content will match the user intent.
For instance, transactional landing pages will have words like buy, discount, and specific product names your user is searching for. Similarly, informational posts will include words such as how, why, and what.
You can have a pretty good idea of the search intent by looking at the keywords, for example, “how to boil an egg” is clearly informational, but identifying keyword search intent is usually more complex than that.
The best and most precise way to identify a keyword search intent is by looking at the SERPs and investigating the results directly.
Here’s the “iPhone” SERP for example:
The “iPhone” keywords, without a CTR weighted average, is:
- 50% informational
- 20% navigational
- 20% commercial investigation
- 10% transactional
Here’s the breakdown:
It’s important to notice that keywords, or SERPs, with homogeneous search intent, are very rare, usually, what you will find out are mixed intent keywords or SERPs.
Let’s take a look at another SERP, this time, for the “keto snacks” keyword:
The search intent for this SERP is clearly more oriented towards informational content, but it’s still a mix. Without CTR weighted averages, here are the percentages:
- 80% Informational
- 10% Transactional
- 10% Commercial Investigation *(I’ll explain why)
Here’s the breakdown:
|#2||People Also Ask||Informational|
Now you’re probably wondering why I said there’s a 10% commercial investigation search intent on this SERP.
Well, the fact is that some of the informational results, like Taste of Home for example, also offer “Snacks to Buy” on their pages.
Does this mean that one specific result can also have a mixed search intent? Well, yes.
By now you should be able to navigate into each result in a SERP and find out what’s the search intent of any keyword.
How to Optimize Content for Search Intent
Search intent optimization allows your target audience to find your website and landing pages easily. This usually happens when your website content provides answers to a user query in the best possible way, be this answer a transactional page, a blog article, a product comparison, or simply, your homepage.
Here are a few tips that will help optimize your webpages for search intent:
- Perform in-depth keyword and audience research, including search intent analysis as explained earlier.
- Break down your keyword list by search intent.
- Informational and commercial investigation keywords are usually better suited for blog articles. Commercial investigation keywords can also be used on product category pages, when you have a decent amount of products/content there.
- Transactional pages are only suited for your website’s products and service pages.
- Group your keywords together in topic clusters. Semantically similar keywords and synonyms should be placed together, in the same group. Make sure that all keywords in each group have the same search intent.
- Webpages vs. Keyword Cluster Mapping
- After you have created the groups of keywords, create a spreadsheet with all your website pages. Only the most relevant ones, you can leave pagination off for example.
- In the spreadsheet you created with your website pages, add one column for web page search intent, and define each page search intent.
- Your goal now is to match one group of keywords with only one page. This should always be a single 1:1 matching. This avoids keyword cannibalization and helps your optimization process.
- Now you should check if the page search intent matches the keyword group search intent. If it matches, the page is fine, if not, you should find another cluster of keywords to target and you need to revisit the website copy/meta tags.
Please note that this is a very basic way to check and optimize for search intent, here you can get as complex as you want, including pulling Google Search Console data from API, automatically detecting search intent with Python, and using an NLU model, like IBM Watson, to extract relevant keywords, concepts and categories that will help you with the mapping process.
However, the goal of this article is to give you a clear understanding of what search intent is and the steps you need to take to optimize your pages search intent.
Final Thoughts on Search Intent
It’s important to ensure that your content is in line with the keywords people are searching for and the search intent of your customers. In short, update your current content to match the search intent of your customer base.
This way, when people search for your brand or product, they’ll see the correct page in your website immediately. This will help boost sales and help your audience engage with your website content better.
If you do not provide the users what they’re looking for, it will have a negative impact on your website Google rankings. If you want your website to consistently rank higher than the competitor’s websites, we suggest you provide your users with the information they are looking for, and both your customers and Google will surely pay you back for your efforts.
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- What is Search Intent?
- Why Search Intent is Important for SEO?
- Types of Search Intent
- 1. Informational Search Intent
- 2. Transactional Search Intent
- 3. Navigational Search Intent
- 4. Commercial Investigational Search Intent
- How to Identify a Keyword’s Search Intent
- How to Optimize Content for Search Intent
- Final Thoughts on Search Intent