what is search intent for seo?

What is Search Intent?

6 min read

Search intent is the reason behind a user’s search on a search engine, and it’s one of the most important considerations in devising an effective SEO strategy. Search intent is the key to identifying your most important keywords and is crucial for finding the audience that will engage with your content in ways that are the most meaningful for your business goals.

Why is search intent so important for SEO?

The short answer: Google wants to provide the best results in search every time. “Best” is what delivers on the expectations when someone submits a query.

Enhancing user experience

Delivering on expectations always makes for a better user experience. Google built its brand on this in its earliest days. Anyone who used search engines pre-Google will attest to what a game changer it was to get a full page of high-quality search results that were just on the topic you were looking for.

These days, we also expect the top results to match the intent driving our search. Sometimes you want a blog that compares and reviews two similar products. Other times, you just want to see a product page where you can buy the one you’re looking for. There is different intent, and often very different keywords, driving these two searches.

Boosting SEO rankings for the right keywords

Search engine algorithms have evolved to prioritise user intent over simple keyword matching or density detection. This means that understanding and aligning with the specific needs or questions users have when they input a query can significantly influence a website’s ranking.

Put simply, when your content is tailored to match the genuine intent behind a search, it’s more likely to be deemed valuable and authoritative by search engines. This not only boosts the chances of ranking higher for the targeted keywords but also ensures that the traffic coming to your site is of high quality—users genuinely interested in what your website offers.

In essence, by focusing on search intent, you can achieve a dual win: higher SEO rankings and increased relevance in the eyes of your audience.

Driving conversions

At the intersection of SEO and conversion optimisation lies a profound understanding of search intent.

When users initiate a search, they’re on a quest, whether it’s for information, a specific product, a service, or an answer to a pressing question. By accurately deciphering and fulfilling this intent, this positions you not just as a passive information source, but as an active solution provider. As a bonus, a highly relevant interaction at that early stage could establish you as their go-to resource for future needs.

Understanding search intent can also give you the foundation to design user journeys on your website that guide visitors toward conversion points. Ensuring your content is all engaging and relevant can encourage users to interact more, stay longer, and be more receptive to calls-to-action. If you’re able to do this consistently, you’re well on your way to having loyal, lifetime customers for your brand.

Types of search intent

Search intent often gets broken down into four different types. These include:

Informational intent

When users are on a quest for knowledge, they exhibit informational intent. They may seek answers to specific questions, explanations of complex topics, or insights into particular subjects.

Informational searches often start with “what,” “how,” “why,” or “when.” For example, they may ask, “What is search intent?” or “How to optimise for search intent?”

To satisfy informational intent, you can create:

  • blog posts
  • guides
  • tutorials

Navigational intent

Navigational intent is when users are trying to find a specific website or page. They already know where they want to go; they just need help getting there. Some examples are “Facebook login” or “BizWisdom blog.”

To cater to navigational intent, ensure your website is easily findable and that key pages are correctly indexed.

Transactional intent

When users are ready to purchase or perform a specific action, they demonstrate transactional intent. These searches often include terms like “buy,” “order,” “download,” or “sign up.” For example, they will search “Buy iPhone 12” or “Download SEO guide.”

Creating clear and compelling product pages, offering special deals, or providing easy download options can fulfil transactional intent.

Commercial intent

Sometimes, users are in the research phase, considering a purchase but needing more information to decide. This is known as commercial investigation intent. Some search keywords they often use are “best”, “vs”, or “review.” For example, “Best SEO tools 2023” or “iPhone 12 vs. Samsung Galaxy S21.”

This is where detailed comparisons, reviews, or feature breakdowns are helpful.

The 3 C’s of Search Intent

Another popular breakdown of search intent is the 3 C’s, which delve more into the aspects of content that might contribute to it matching one of the flavours of intent in the previous section.

Content type

The first “C” refers to the content users seek. They might look for blog posts, product pages, tutorials, forums, or reviews, depending on their intent. Recognising the desired content type lets you present information in the most relevant and accessible format.

Example: A user searching for “how to tie a tie” might prefer a video tutorial, while someone looking up “benefits of silk ties” might be more interested in a blog post.

How can this help you: Tailor your content format to match the user’s intent. If they’re seeking instructions, offer step-by-step guides or videos. If they’re researching, provide detailed articles or whitepapers.

Content format

While content type refers to the nature of the content, content format dives deeper into its presentation. Are users looking for lists, how-to guides, Q&A sessions, infographics, or podcasts? The format can significantly influence engagement and satisfaction.

Example: A query like “top 10 SEO strategies” suggests a preference for a listicle, while “SEO strategy explained” might lean towards a comprehensive guide.

How can this help you: Pay attention to the subtle cues in search queries to determine the best format for your content. A well-structured list can be just as valuable as a detailed article if it aligns with the user’s intent.

Content angle

The final “C” pertains to the perspective or angle from which the content is approached. It’s about understanding the user’s underlying motivation or the specific aspect of a topic they’re interested in.

Example: “Benefits of SEO” vs. “Challenges of SEO” – both address SEO but from differing angles.

How can this help you: Recognise the sentiment behind search queries. Are users looking for positive aspects, drawbacks, comparisons, or historical perspectives? Tailoring your content’s angle to match the user’s intent can lead to deeper engagement and trust.

Strategies for understanding and optimising for search intent

The key to leveraging search intent is to understand what your target audience is looking for and ensure your content aligns with what they need.

Invest time in search intent research

Search intent research involves aligning traditional keyword research, the query patterns for each of the four types of search intent, and the expectations that those 3 C’s can potentially fulfil.

In other words, this type of keyword research is not just about going to your favourite SEO tool and asking it what the highest volume searches are. While it’s nice to know the most popular searches, the key is to align what’s popular with where you can offer genuine value.

Conduct thoughtful keyword research

Of course we don’t totally ignore search volumes. By studying the popular phrases and terms that users are typing into search engines, you can gain insights into what users need, their problems, desires, and the type of content they might find valuable. This understanding forms the foundation for creating content that resonates with the audience.

You can then categorise these phrases and terms into different types of search intent, such as informational, navigational, transactional, or commercial investigation.

The tools that can help you at this stage are platforms like Google’s Keyword Planner, ahrefs or Answer the Public, though your knowledge of the way your target audience searches is also invaluable. Remember that keyword tools give their best guess, and your expertise should be given more weight.

Research the search results

When in doubt as to how Google is interpreting intent, Google the query and see what comes up. Are they blogs? Are they product pages? It’s a simple strategy, but this bit of reverse engineering can help you deduce the primary intent behind the query as Google understands it, and what type of content is the “best”.

Additionally, features like “People Also Ask” boxes or related searches provide further clues about users’ questions and interests related to the keyword. By reverse engineering these results, you can gain a clearer understanding of what Google deems most relevant for users.

Create content that aligns with the intent

Once you understand search intent and the type of content that will best match this intent, it’s time to create it. Again, ensure you match the content type, format, and angle. As discussed in the 3 C’s section, aligning these aspects with search intent is crucial.

And, an exercise we always recommend before creating a new piece of content is to actually write it down the answers to that question: What is the search intent? Don’t just think it, write it down. This is one of the first things we always encourage helping our clients learn how to write for SEO.

Monitor and adjust

Understanding and optimising for search intent is an ongoing process. So as part of your SEO program, you should regularly monitor how your content is performing in terms of engagement, rankings, and conversions, then adjust as needed if you notice misalignments or areas for improvement. SEO is dynamic, and staying adaptable is critical.

Does your SEO strategy include search intent considerations?

Are you concerned your content and SEO strategies are missing the mark when it comes to search intent? Call BizWisdom today for a discovery session and let’s discuss your goals.