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Search Intent and SEO: A Complete Guide

Search intent is an important ranking factor and should be put into consideration.

SEO is an effective way of getting traffic to your website. By ranking high on google, you attract more people to your site which leads to more sales and returning visitors.

To get people to your website, you need to optimize your content for the right words.

However, to increase your chances of ranking, convincing people to buy your goods, subscribing to your newsletter, or even coming back to your website, you should take search intent  into account.

In this article we will discuss what search intent is and how you can optimize your content for search engine.

In this guide, you will learn:

What is search intent?

Search intent represents the reason behind a searcher’s query. In other words, why did the person make this search?  Do they want to learn something?  Are they looking to make a purchase?  Or, are they looking for a particular website?.

Matching search intent is one of those must-do things to show search engines that your page will fulfill their goal to deliver the most relevant results for any given query.

And while it might sound like you’re trying to satisfy Google, what you’re actually doing is learning what you need to do to satisfy the searcher’s intent.

Why is search intent important  to SEO

How well you understand search intent impacts your ability to rank and whether your readers are satisfied with your page’s content.

So if you want to succeed with SEO and content marketing today, search intent needs to be a big part of your approach.

In fact, google’s most recent edition of their quality rater guideline are obsessed with search intent.

Google rater guideline

And google recently published a report called: “How search intent is redefining the marketing funnel”

google search intent is redefining the marketing funnel

In other words: backlinks and other traditional Google ranking signals still matter.

But if your page doesn’t satisfy Search Intent, it’s not going to rank.

How frustrated would you be if you wanted to learn about how motorcycles work, but all your search results tried to sell you one instead? That experience is what you’re trying to prevent by adding user intent into your SEO strategy.

A thorough understanding of search intent can help you: 

  • Do more effective keyword research by targeting search terms that align with your business’s and your audience’s needs.
  • Create content that answers user questions and structure pages in a way that’s friendly to both users and search engines.
  • Rank higher by creating content that search engines understand to be more valuable and relevant to their users

The four 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 search intent

Lots of searches on the internet are done by people looking for information.

This could be information about the weather, information about  parenting, information about SEO, and so on. People with an informational intent have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.

Examples of informational searches:

  • “who is Julian Assange?”
  • “Manchester airport directions”
  • “Donald Trump”
  • “football scores”
Informational search intent (Google's search results for the term "Egg sauce")
Google’s search results for the term “Egg sauce”

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 [Egg 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. Transactional Intent

Transactional search intent means users want to do something specific, either in person or using their device. Despite what the name implies, this isn’t restricted just to purchases. A user doing a transactional search might also want to complete email signup, form submission, store visit, or a phone call. 

Some transactional queries are direct, making what the user is trying to do obvious.

For example, a user in Moscow, who wants to go see a movie might search “movies near moscow”

Here, Google returns a carousel of movies playing in local theaters and websites where users can find more information or buy tickets.

 If they click on a movie they’re interested in, they can browse individual showtimes and even purchase tickets on their favorite site.

Other times, it’s unclear whether a user’s intent was transactional, commercial, or informational. This often happens when the search term is the name of a specific product. In that case, the search results will include various SERP features to help research that product or complete their purchase.

Google search results for the term "iphone 13 pro max" (transactional search intent)
Google search results for the term “iphone 13 pro max”

In this example, the knowledge panel contains transactional content (comparing prices at different outlets) and commercial (basic product information, user reviews and ratings, and questions about the product).

3. Navigational search intent

The third type of search intent is called navigational intent. The searcher is looking for a specific website. They already know where they want to go. It’s probably just quicker and easier for them to Google it than to type the entire URL into the address bar. They may also be unsure of the exact URL.

Examples of navigational searches:

  • “Facebook”
  • “search-pilot”
  • “beginners guide to SEO moz”
  • “Twitter login”
Navigational search intent (Google search results for the term "Facebook")
Google search results for the term “Facebook”

Keep in mind that ranking high for a navigational term is mainly beneficial if your site is the site people are looking for.

4. Commercial search intent

Some people have the intention to buy in the (near) future and use the web to do their research. What sewing 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 intents.

Commercial search intent (google search results for the term "sewing machine")

How to optimize 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.

Conclusion

Search intent is perhaps the most important “ranking factor”.

Fail to give searchers what they want, and your chances of ranking are slim to none. We’ve seen this time and time again with the content we publish here on the search-pilot blog.

Even if you do manage to “trick” Google for a short while and rank with a low-quality or ill-fitting page, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll figure things out eventually.

It might be tomorrow, or next month, or next year, but when they do, your rankings will drop like a stone.

If  you want to rank long-term, make it your mission to give searchers what they want.

Google will almost certainly reward you for doing so.

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.

Now, it’s your turn

Did you learn anything new from this post? do you have any question or topic you would like us to write about? Do well to let us know in the comment section.

Don’t forget to share this article with your friends and members of your team.

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