When someone types something into Google Search, there’s typically a reason behind it. A person searching “ramen” might be looking for a top-five list of ramen recipes. Alternatively, they might be hunting for the nearest ramen takeout restaurant or even information about the history of the dish. Whatever their reason, their satisfaction with the search results is based on whether Google understood what they were looking for. In other words, their subsequent actions determine whether Google adequately understood their search intent.
So what is search intent anyway? More importantly, why does it matter for SEO and digital marketing as a whole? Are there different types? In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions one by one with tips your business can use to optimize your content and digital marketing campaigns along the way.
As highlighted above, search intent (also known as user intent) is essentially what it sounds like, describing the purpose or reason that someone performs an online search. When someone types in a set of words or phrases into a search engine like Google, that search engine has to determine what it is they’re looking for.
Naturally, this could be a range of different things. It could be something specific, like a brand or product to make a purchase. To expand upon the previous example, a person searching “ramen” might be looking for a particular brand they want to try. Alternatively, that person might be looking for more broad information about ramen, like where the first ramen dish was served. Just the same, that person might be looking for the answer to a particular question, like “what makes ramen so delicious?” If that’s not enough to satisfy their curiosity, they might be hunting for a link to a specific ramen-related website. Whatever the case may be, Google’s algorithm and others like it have to make that determination and try to provide the most relevant results.
It’s no secret that Google is the proverbial “king” of search engines. That being said, part of what makes Google so good is how adept its algorithm is at determining user/searcher intent. After all, their mission is to maximize access to information, and a primary goal of that mission has always been to deliver the most relevant and reliable search results to a given query. In other words, they’ve set out to make sure that no matter what a person searches on Google, they’ll find the information they need quickly and efficiently.
As such, narrowing down why search intent matters for SEO becomes relatively simple. At the end of the day, SEO professionals and Google both want the same thing: to satisfy user search intent with relevant content and results. For businesses looking to improve their online search rankings, this means that a successful SEO and content marketing strategy is one where search intent is the driving force behind every piece of content you create. Not only will this improve the effectiveness of your SEO keyword research, but it will ultimately improve the quality of your website, the leads you generate, and the likelihood you convert those leads as well. Best of all, optimizing for search intent can help showcase your business as a thought leader in your industry.
To give an example, as a digital marketing agency, we always strive to align our content to the needs of our target audience. In our case, this audience consists of businesses across different industries who are looking to outrank their competitors in organic search. For instance, if a fashion business was looking to hire a marketing agency to boost their fashion digital marketing efforts, we’d want to ensure that we optimized our SEO strategy and website content to match their search intent. This provides our business and our website with some major advantages.
For starters, the better we do at optimizing our fashion SEO strategies (and this applies to all the industries we represent), the more we engage our target audience, increasing the chances that users spend longer on our website to learn more about what we do and the digital marketing services we can provide. As a result, Google takes note of how often we engage our target audience for certain search queries, ranking us and our fashion SEO content higher in the process. These higher rankings translate to more website traffic, increasing our brand visibility. Likewise, because we’ve aligned our content to match the needs of businesses looking for services like ours, this provides an influx of more qualified leads. More qualified leads translate to higher likelihoods of conversion, and the cycle repeats itself.
Naturally, our agency and other businesses looking to improve their SEO efforts target a large number of keywords and phrases to do so. While there are millions upon millions of combinations of search terms across a variety of different interests and goals, all of these searches typically boil down to four primary types of searches:
Have you ever argued with friends or family over a simple fact until one of you finally said, “Just Google it?” Likewise, have you ever wanted to look up a quick how-to guide for a home project or a recipe for a new dish? These kinds of searches happen all the time and often across various subjects and topics. Known as informational intent searches, the desired goal is always exactly what it sounds like, more information.
As a result, many of these types of searches tend to be phrased as questions, with words like “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how” appearing in the search query. Likewise, for search queries with more concrete answers, Google will typically opt to use SERP features that answer the question directly, ensuring users don’t have to leave the page to get their answer.
Optimizing for Informational Intent
Informational queries comprise the majority of the searches performed on Google. As a result, businesses wanting to increase their visibility need to make sure that they’re creating informational and educational content as often as possible. Not only is this type of content great for building trust with your target audience, but it helps to show them that you’re an expert in your industry, making it an excellent way to target and convert more leads for your business. Best of all, Google takes note of how often users click on certain content in relation to a given query, ranking said content higher over time.
For eCommerce businesses or those looking to sell a service, this means that high-quality landing page and blog content designed to educate your consumers on the value of your products and services is an easy way to build trust with your target audience. Likewise, this helps to show Google that you’re a thought leader in your industry.
There are also searches classified as navigational intent, and these refer to users who are looking to navigate to a specific page URL or website, such as the login page for a Netflix account or the Contact page of a local business to give them a call. For these kinds of searches, it’s usually easier to search a similar phrase in Google rather than type out the URL. To add to that, the user might be unsure of the exact URL. As a result, these searches tend to be website or brand names and might include additional modifiers to help users find that specific page.
Optimizing for Navigational Intent
To optimize your content for navigational intent, you’ll want to make sure that your site structure is well-organized and easy to navigate. This means ensuring that every section of your site is clearly labeled, with page titles, headers, tags, and descriptions to tell users exactly what they’ll find on each page.
If you’re selling a product or service, make sure that each of their respective pages contains all the most relevant information, such as brand or product names, the product/service type, the issue that each product/service will solve, if applicable. That being said, don’t forget to optimize your URLs to be as descriptive and easy to read as possible.
When people are looking to buy something, they’ll often perform some commercial investigation to dive deeper into whatever products, brands, or services caught their interest. Searches in this category might include phrases like “best dishwasher” or “Samsung vs Whirlpool.” At this point, users are past the informational stage of their search, and they’ve narrowed down their list to a few choices. As such, these users are often comparing different brands and products to find the best fit for them.
Optimizing for Commercial Investigation Intent
Commercial investigation keywords and content are all about showing your audience what you have to offer and giving them all the information they need to convert. The quicker your target audience can find this information, the more likely they are to continue through the conversion process. As such, the right commercial investigation keywords and content can help you stay connected with your target audience through every stage of the sales/conversion funnel.
As with informational intent, optimizing for commercial intent means knowing what your audience is looking for and structuring your pages to help them find that information as efficiently as possible. Again, because these types of searches are typically from users looking to compare different brands, products, or services to make a decision, they’re likely on the hunt for the following, each of which should be prominently displayed.
Ultimately, you’ll want to make sure your commercial content is as structured, highly organized, and reader-friendly as possible. Users need to be able to educate themselves on the benefits of your products and services quickly so there’s a clear path to conversion. Naturally, this means also making sure to include descriptive page titles, headers, meta descriptions, and URLs in your overall strategy. To make the process more seamless, make sure to prominently display any additional links to purchase information or lead generation forms.
Transactional intent is also pretty self-explanatory, referring to searchers who are looking to make a purchase. This might be a product, a service, or even a subscription, and can range from B2C transactions to B2B services or even charitable donations. Whatever the case may be, these searchers generally have a clear idea of what they’re looking for, and there’s no mistaking the intent of a search like “buy louis vuitton bag” or “shop birkenstock sandals.” Given that the user is already in buying mode, these searches also tend to be branded. In other words, these users are beyond the research phase of a product and they’re looking for a place or product page to buy it from.
Optimizing for Transactional Intent
No matter what product or service your business is selling, optimizing for transactional intent means defining beforehand what a conversion means for you. For instance, are you looking for your consumers to register for something, or is the end goal to make a purchase? Likewise, it means targeting keywords and search phrases that clearly show a desire to convert, applying transactional phrases like “buy,” “deal,” “discount,” and “purchase” to your copy where appropriate.
From there, your content needs to provide all the relevant information needed and provide a clear path to conversion. Your page titles, descriptions, and headers need to include your transactional keywords and clearly indicate the purpose of each page. At the same time, your CTAs should be easy to spot and understand. To round things off, your website design should be clean, mobile-friendly, and easy to navigate, as the mobile-friendliness and user-friendliness of your website are definitive Google ranking factors.
With so much of your SEO strategy focused on user/searcher intent, it only makes sense that you know what to look for as you begin your research. Here are a few tips you can use to make that process easier.
While a big part of SEO research involves hunting down industry-relevant keywords and phrases with high search volume, this is only part of a successful content marketing strategy. As mentioned above, businesses looking to fully optimize their SEO content need to consider search intent at all times, as this can have massive ranking benefits for your content down the line.
Naturally, this means taking a closer look at your chosen keywords and, more specifically, their modifiers, as these can be helpful indicators of search intent. Furthermore, you can use the filter features of popular keyword research tools like Google Search Console and Google Ads Keyword Planner to filter terms that include certain modifiers or phrases you’d like to target.
Another great way to narrow down search intent is to gather intel from the search results themselves. Simply perform a search that matches one you’d like to rank for, whether that’s a topic, a product you’re looking to sell, or a service you’re looking to provide. From there, you can use the following to gauge Google’s interpretation of that search query.
Informational Intent SERPs: These types of search results will include featured snippets like a table, the answer box, or videos. Likewise, they might include a list of URLs, event listings, the “people also ask” box, the knowledge panel, a map, or recipes. Additionally, the top results will likely be organic, consisting of dictionary results, Wikipedia entries, or links to informative blog posts.
Navigational Intent SERPs: Given that users with navigational intent already know what they’re looking for, these SERP results will typically feature the most relevant page at the top, whether that’s the URLs for a company, the knowledge panel for a company, etc. To echo the example used above, a search for “Netflix” will display Netflix’s home page as the top result, while a search for “Netflix login” will feature the account sign-in page as the top result. From there, these kinds of SERPs might also feature knowledge cards, relevant site links, or top stories depending on how specific the search is.
Commercial Investigation Intent SERPs: Like informational intent SERPs, commercial investigation SERPs might also include a featured snippet, but they’ll also include paid advertising results at the top. Likewise, these results typically provide comparative information about the brands searched, rather than topical.
Transactional Intent SERPs: As mentioned above, transactional Intent SERPs are some of the easiest to spot. They typically lead with Google Ads results, shopping results, product reviews, and shopping carousels. At the same time, the organic results for these kinds of searches are usually product pages from online and brick and mortar retailers, with maps to their locations depending on the search.
Growing your online business with high-quality SEO content involves a lot of research and preparation, with the best results coming from a focus on search intent. At the end of the day, it’s crucial that your content provides users with the information they need when they need it, as doing so consistently can increase your brand’s visibility and improve your rankings in Google Search.
Whether you’re crafting informational content about the benefits of your products and services or targeting navigational and transactional keywords to help users find your website first, the digital marketing experts at VELOX Media can help you optimize your SEO and content marketing strategies for every stage of the buyer journey. As a Google Premier Partner with over 10 years of experience in B2C and B2B SEO, UX, paid advertising, and link building, we’ll provide you with a digital marketing strategy tailored to your KPIs. Reach out to the SEO experts at VELOX Media to learn how we can help grow your online business today.