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Everything you need to know about search intent

Nathalie Parent

Marketing Coordinator

Nathalie has a background in music technology and performance, and is passionate about words, poetry, and writing. She's always ready for a good game of Scrabble, or a nice cup of tea.

Search intent is a powerful, but often-underused, SEO tactic. In this article, we’re going to break down what search intent is, why it’s important, and how to use it to your advantage. This can be the tool that makes you stand out in local search!

Everything you need to know about search intent


Everything you need to know about search intent

1. What is search intent?

what is search intent

Search intent is the reason that someone makes an online search. It’s their motive, their purpose, their cause for hopping onto Google in the first place.

There are two components that makeup search intent: keywords and search queries.

A keyword is the main term or short phrase that best describes the content a person is searching for. For example, someone who wants to find a restaurant that serves Italian food may use the keywords ‘Italian restaurant’ in their search.

Some keywords have a higher “difficulty” than others, meaning that they are harder to rank, and need to be used carefully. Check back soon to read our article all about keywords!

A search query is the full set of words (including their keywords) that someone puts into a search bar to try and find desired content, such as “open Italian restaurant near me.”

Google takes both the keywords and the search query into account when choosing which results to show, deciphering the search intent and giving the person results that correspond to what they need.

2. Why is search intent important

Search intent is important because it plays a huge role in the satisfaction of your online customers. Therefore, it is a major contributor to your SEO success.

In one case study, an Arhefs landing page was optimized for search intent and within six months saw its traffic boosted by more than 677%.

Those results prove the point. Search intent matters!

search intent in SEO

Search intent in SEO

While your customers probably don’t know about search intent, keywords, or search queries, Google does. Search intent is a ranking factor, meaning that it affects how high up in the list of search results your page lands. When someone makes a search and their query and keywords match the content of your page, Google can confidently rank it higher and show that page in search results.

Search intent also touches on other ranking factors, such as relevance, user satisfaction, and authority. By paying attention to search intent, you are also able to take care of some other aspects of SEO.

Search intent for your customers

Search intent for your customers

Search intent can show you where your online visitors are in the buyer’s journey. This allows you to optimize your web pages to be relevant to specific searches and online needs. This will lower your bounce rates and raise your page views, or even the number of times people come back to your page. When your online visitors are happy and become repeat customers, you’ll be happy too. After all, “80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers.

Remember that Google is all about user experience. The search engine wants to show pages that have true value to real people. When customers are happy to find your page in search results, you’ll be rewarded with a higher ranking and a wider audience reach.

3. Types of search intent and how to spot them

There are four major types of search intent. They’ll affect the way that online users interact with your web page and how you should approach SEO.

a) Informational intent

Informational search intent seeks to find information about a specific topic. It’s all about awareness.

informational intent

In the above example, you can see a search for the keyword “cat”. With no other keywords or parts of a query to use as context, Google decided that the intent of this search was informational, providing a definition as the first search result. That being said, popular cat videos were also included in the results because of the lack of context. Since the suggested videos include the requested keyword, Google decided they may be relevant as well.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to use a full search query instead of a standalone keyword. The more context Google has, the more relevant results will fill your results page.

If the search query, “what is a cat?” is used, Google will deliver similar results, and you can see that the first search result is the same in both examples. This is because this new search query also has informational intent. The difference with this second search is that the words “what is…” tell Google that a definition is being requested, so that is what it provides. Since this search query is more specific, the results page is showing more focused results than in the first example.

informational intent

Through keywords and queries, informational intent can be seen through the use of the five W’s (who, what, where, when, why), the request for a definition, comparisons, instructions, or the history of something:

  • What is the healthiest cat food?
  • History of cats as pets
  • How do you groom a cat?
  • Difference between Persian and Maine coon cat

b) Transactional intent

Transactional search intent means that a person’s reason for their online search is to buy something now or in the very near future.

Transactional intent is usually purposeful and direct; the person already knows what they want to buy, or where they want to buy from. Transactional searches lead to conversion (sales in this case) and are usually attached to queries that include the names of specific products, or the following words: buy, sale, shop, or product names.

transactional intent

The above search query is specific and provides solid context. Google understands that someone wants to buy a cat in Sydney, Australia, so it knows to show the Google Business Profiles of animal shelters and stores in that city.

c) Commercial intent

Commercial search intent seeks to find information about products or services, perhaps to compare price points or find sales. While it is similar to transactional intent in that a purchase could be made, commercial search intent is not as urgent and is not about sales alone. It falls within the consideration stage of the buyer’s journey, where a person is weighing options before coming to a decision.

Someone who is considering adopting a cat will have commercial intent when they research different types of cat food online with the search query “healthy cat food”.

The person might acquire information about the healthiest cat food, compare brands and prices, and read customer reviews. They are acquiring the information they need before taking the next step and making a purchase.

commercial intent

In the above search for healthy cat food, Google understood that the intent was commercial, not informational. It wouldn’t make sense to be shown results about the history of cat food, since most people making this search are going to be looking at brands to buy.

We can see that the first two results and the right sidebar contain relevant advertisements for cat food, each brand claiming to be healthy or made of natural ingredients. It isn’t until you scroll down to the first few organic results that we see articles and other commonly asked questions related to the keywords.

commercial intent

Commercial intent can be seen through keywords that indicate future action, such as the following terms: upcoming sales, product reviews, discount codes, and options.

e) Bonus: Local intent

While local intent isn’t an ‘official’ type of search intent, it’s definitely something worth remembering because it strengthens your search. This type of intent is shown when someone uses keywords that tell Google they’re looking for local information, such as the following:

  • near me
  • local
  • nearby
  • close-by
  • closest

These keywords all request businesses or services within a specific proximity to the person searching. It is very common for local intent to be found within transactional searches, but they can appear with others as well.

Google knows your location based on your Google profile, GPS, or information that it receives from Wi-Fi, mobile networks, or other sensors in your device. This information helps to give you accurate search results, especially in the case of local searches.

A local business should always use its neighbourhood or city as a keyword so that it will show up in the search results of people in their area.

4. How to optimise your page for search intent

At this stage, you know how to decipher the intent behind a search, and can start making use of this knowledge to boost your SEO potential and satisfy your online customers.

Step 1- Understand your content

step 1- Understand your content

In order to make use of your search intent knowledge, you first need to know why someone would want to land on your page. Where are they in their buyer’s journey? Do they want to learn (awareness), compare products or solutions (consideration), or have they made a decision to buy (conversion)?

When you know why someone wants to be on your page, you can start looking at the paths they might take to find you.

Step 2- Find relevant keywords

Let’s say you own a local Italian restaurant and want more traffic on your online-orders web page. You know that someone who would make use of that page has transactional intent, so your next step is to find the relevant transactional keywords most likely to land someone on your page.

Luckily, there are several online tools you can use to do this.

Semrush’s Keyword Magic Tool allows you to enter a keyword and see tons of information related to it, including search intent, related keywords, search volume, and keyword difficulty.

Find relevant keywords

Using such a tool will allow you to compare keywords to find the ones most relevant to your web page. The people who use these terms are the most likely to become customers since their intent and keywords match what you are offering.

It may be tempting to use a keyword planner to choose relevant search queries as well, but Google advises against doing so. This is because very specific phrases will limit the data that the keyword planner can give you.

Step 3- Optimise your page with your chosen keywords

Each of your web pages should be optimized for only one type of search intent. Do this by using your chosen keywords naturally in the titles, subtitles and the main body of your web page. This way, when someone lands on your page, they find the relevant information they need quickly.

Avoid keyword stuffing, a major SEO fail, as filling your page haphazardly with keywords won’t help you attract online attention and can actually have negative consequences on your page’s performance. Learn more about common SEO fails to avoid here.

Step 3- Optimise your page with your chosen keywords

You should also ensure that the information on your page is showcased in the appropriate way: A photographer’s portfolio page does not need to have an informational article on it. That would distract an online visitor who came to the page expecting to see photographs. Since the article would not match their search intent, it would probably make the visitor leave the page before they even had a chance to scroll and see the photographs further down.

Step 4- Upkeep

Step 4- Upkeep

Once your page is optimized for search intent, you need to find ways to maintain its newfound relevance.

A great way to track the success of any updates you make is through Google Analytics, which provides free data analysis tools to help you see what is working and what could be improved on your page.

Keep an eye on online trends, and on which relevant keywords are currently being used. For example, you may find that informational list posts (‘listicles’) are becoming popular in your industry, or that a new format is being favoured on payment pages. Take note and implement appropriate updates. Your page’s success relies on your awareness of what your customers want to see.

Conclusion

Search intent is a key ingredient in your successful SEO strategy, as you can use it to your advantage to bolster other ranking factors on your web page and satisfy your online customers. When you know what people want to see when they make certain searches, you can make sure that your web page delivers.

The four main types of search intent (transactional, informational, commercial, and navigational) play an important role in determining the layout and content of your web pages, and there are plenty of search intent planning and analytic tools that can help you out. Use the tools often and update your pages regularly so they can be as helpful as possible to your online visitors. Remember that when you put your customer first, great SEO results can follow!

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