What is search intent? (and how it can boost your SEO)

Are you looking to rank higher on search engines? Then search intent should certainly be on your radar. Understanding what your audience is looking for and aligning your content with their needs is essential in boosting your traffic. Perhaps you may have high quality content already. The problem could be that ranking for your keywords because the content isn’t in line with the search intent of your audience. This article will discuss the different types of search intent, and why it is so important for your SEO and content marketing strategies.
May 5, 2021 |

12 minutes

Photo of Marco Genaro Palma, SEO consultant in Amsterdam for PRLab

SEO Consultant at PRLab

Photo of a laptop and a research on Google, for the article

1

What is search intent?

Before we go any further, we need to answer the basic question, what is search intent? Well, it can really be put quite simply: search intent is essentially the reason for your search for which there are four categories, but more on that soon. Firstly, we need to explain why this concept is so important to understand and utilize in your SEO strategy.

2

Why is search intent important for your SEO?

Search intent is important because Google wants to provide users with the most relevant content to their query. Their whole value proposition is based on this, and people use Google because it does provide content that is high quality and relevant to users.

As such, satisfying the search intent of users is incredibly important to Google, which means it is incredibly important for SEO. If people are searching for content and are not clicking on anything but making new searches, it tells Google that they found irrelevant content. This is how its algorithm learns what to show people, and what to rank higher.

This relevance, alongside authority and user satisfaction are primary drivers of your ranking on Google. Search intent is important for SEO because it has a direct impact on these factors. If your content is relevant to the search intent of your users, then they’re far more likely to stay on your website instead of returning to the search page. By having content that is providing the relevant answers, Google considers your website to have more authority, as you are giving users the information they want and need, which increases your user satisfaction.

SUMMARY

Search intent is important because it’s one of the main factors in how Google decides what content to show users.

3

SEO benefits of intent targeting

Understanding search intent means you can deliver more relevant content for your users, which has many benefits for your website and business.

1

Increased traffic

Ranking higher on search engines means people are more likely to find your website and click on your link.

2

Wider audience reach

Google groups together queries as having the same intent, so having optimized content means you’ll be able to cover far more topics and queries.

3

Reduced bounce rates

People are more likely to stay on your website if they are receiving the content they want.

4

More qualified leads

If your content is more relevant to the user, then they are more likely to be genuinely interested in your brand and more likely to make a conversion.

Overall these metrics contribute greatly to having better brand visibility as your awareness and authority increase.

SUMMARY

Overall these metrics contribute greatly to having better brand visibility as your awareness and authority increase.

4

The four types of search intent

Informational

Informational search intent is users who are searching for… you guessed it, information! This could be a definition, instructions or a how to guide. While they do take the format of a question, informational intent can be harder to detect if people are just searching for information about an individual, such as ‘Messi’ or ‘PRLab’. Some examples of informational searches:

  • Why was Steve Jobs so successful?
  • What is the population of Texas?
  • Closest cinema
  • How to make pancakes

Navigational

Navigational search intent are searches that are trying to navigate, as in reach a specific website. The user could be unsure of the URL, or are looking for specific products or services of a brand.

Some examples of navigational searches:

    • Instagram login
    • PRLab SEO guide
    • Spotify

Commercial Investigation

More often than not, before we purchase something online, we like to research what it is we are buying. This intent is known as commercial investigation although is sometimes also referred to as preferential. It is particularly common for local searches to have the intent of commercial investigation.

  • Best pizza takeaway near me
  • Is the new IPhone worth it?
  • Best photo editing software

Transactional

Transactional searches are made by people who are already looking to make a purchase, be it a product, service or subscription. With this intent, users are no longer researching information, but are looking for places to actually buy what they’re looking for.

  • Examples of transactional intent:
  • Buy converse in sale
  • Car insurance quotes
  • London to Amsterdam train tickets

These different intents mean it’s necessary to have different landing pages and content tailored to each intent, as people can search about something similar, but want entirely different information. Take a look at this example.

  • New laptop Amazon → This is both transactional and navigational
  • How to set up new laptop → this is informational intent
  • Best laptop 2021 → this is commercial investigation
  • New laptop deals → transactional

While all these searches are related to new laptops, users will have different expectations of the results they’re after.

5

How to Determine User Search Intent

The best way to understand search intent is to think about it the same way that search engines understand it, and that is using keywords that relate to each intent. Certain keywords are strongly linked to different intents, as this table will make clear.
Informational
How, what, who, where, why
Guide
Closest, biggest
Direction
Navigational
Brand names
Products and service names
Commercial Investigation
‘Best...’ or ‘top...’
Brand 1 vs brand 2 (comparison)
Review
New features, product attributes
Transactional
Buy, order, purchase
Specific store in local area
‘cheapest…’

You can use these words to help you improve your keyword research, using them as filters to search for specific intent. The first step in determining search intent then, is to analyze the SERPs, the search engine results pages.

This is because while you may not know the intent, Google’s algorithm usually does. When you search a keyword, look at the paid ads, the organic listings, and the knowledge graph result (this is the graph on the right of the search bar that contains information from a variety of sources, gathered by Google). These keywords that people search for will also influence what is known as a featured snippet. What is that you ask?

A featured snippet is a short piece of text or image pulled automatically from a web page that appears at the top of Google’s search result to quickly answer your query.

In addition to just text, featured snippets can be shopping results, related questions or video results. What one they show depends on the intent of the search, meaning that featured snippets are a useful tool in understanding what the search intent is behind a query.

Let’s go over an example of using SERPs to infer search intent. Let’s say you’re a company that sells boxes and packaging, and you want to optimize for the phrase best boxing. Perhaps an obvious example, but it highlights what SERPS can tell you.

You might assume that people are looking for the services related to your product, but a quick search reveals that actually people are looking for content related to the sport of boxing. You’ll see websites about the best boxers, shopping results for books about boxing, and Google maps showing boxing gyms nearby. The organic results show lists about the greatest boxers, or the greatest boxing movies. This then, shows that ‘best boxing’ has informational intent behind it.

SUMMARY

Pay close attention to the keywords and phrases used by the top performing websites of your competition. Google has already decided these are the most relevant phrases, so align your search intent with what’s performing.

6

How to optimize for search intent

The way you optimize for search intent is to create content that effectively answers the users question, giving them the information they need, and allowing them to make a smooth transaction. Let’s cover the SEO techniques used to optimize for search intent. Firstly, you need to determine

Optimizing for Informational Intent

As mentioned above, these queries often begin with an interrogative, or modifiers that indicate the seeking of information such as the closest, oldest or an example of a particular thing. These queries make up the majority of people's searches, so ignoring them isn’t an option.

The best way to optimize for informational intent is to use the full questions in the most important parts of your content. So your titles and headers, your descriptions and your meta-description.

You want to make it as easy as possible for your not only the user to understand the information, but for Google to also easily recognize the value and purpose of your content. There are other SEO techniques you can use to tell Google your value, and you can read about these methods such as SCHEMA markup here.

Optimizing for Navigational Intent

It might seem obvious, but it’s important to have a designated landing page for your products and services, and optimize the headers and titles to ensure there’s no confusion about what the page is.

The key to optimizing transactional content is to make it very clear to the user how to convert and what the benefits of converting will be. This means your transactional landing page needs to have a very obvious CTA (call to action) and a high quality design.

When a visitor lands on your page they form most of their opinion on the visual layout. If it’s difficult to navigate, and you aren’t communicating your value and offer in as few words as possible, people may simply bounce to another website. Any text should focus on simplifying the experience, explaining the value of the product and building trust.

Transactional

Like informational intent, people who are commercially investigating should be targeted with content that is aimed at building brand awareness and trust. The content should offer clear and honest information about what the user is looking for, guiding them subconsciously towards a conversion without forcing it on them.

Commercial Investigation

Key to optimizing for transactional intent is identifying when this is actually the intent. Although this is important for every intent, for transactional it matters a lot as it is with transactional intent the user is most primed to convert.

The way you do this is to look at the top results on search engines for any given keyword. As discussed in the boxing example, searching best boxing comes up with informational content rather than websites selling boxes, so you know this is not a keyword relevant to you.

SUMMARY

Tailor the relevant pages to the relevant intent. If people want to buy, then make it easy for that process to happen. If people want information then share with them honest reviews or practical help.

7

Best practices for search intent

There are some principles for your content that will help you produce well designed and targeted content for your different intent pillars. Whatever intent you are making content for, make sure it aligns with the following:

1. Content Type

See what type of content is ranking at the top of organic search results. It could be a blog post, a product landing page or an article for example. You can usually tell from the title what type of content it is. In order to compete, you will have to align your content with the most popular, relevant type.

2. Content Format

The format is the way the information is presented to you. So you may see that the most dominant type is an article, but this article could be an instructional guide, a review, comparison or an opinion piece.

Aligning your content format is generally more important for informational and investigation intent, for navigational and transactional searches are looking for specific things and the focus is then on just being as clear as possible.

3. Content angle

This refers to the description used in the title of the content you’re searching for. This gives you insight into what users value when they are searching for a particular thing. For example when searching recipes, it’s common to see words like ‘easy’, or ‘perfect’. Although when talking about a product for a purchase, maybe you’ll see the price being mentioned, or any deals they have to distinguish themselves.

8

Optimizing for user experience

This is the best way to think about the alignment of your content type, format and angle. It is all designed to make the user experience as good as possible. If people are having a productive experience on your website, they are less likely to leave, and Google will recognise that your website is relevant and useful to the user. Here are the best practices for optimizing your content for the user.

1. Limit Pop-ups

Not only is Google not a fan of pop ups, but neither are users. Particularly on mobiles pop ups are very user unfriendly and complicate the browsing experience.

2. Have a readable font

It is recommended you use a font size of 14px+, because it doesn’t matter how good your content is if no one can read it.

3. Use subheadings

The headings throughout your website make it easier for people to find the information they are looking for, as well as giving Google an easier time indexing the meaning of your content so it can find it faster, and show it to more people.

4. Use videos and images

It’s important to have visually engaging websites, and videos and images break up walls of text making it less intimidating to read. They are also ways of presenting important information in a simple way for people to understand.

9

Conclusion

This article should have made clear the importance of search intent for your SEO content strategy. If you don’t understand or misinterpret the search intent of your users, then you are most likely missing the target when it comes to providing the correct information and content style for your audience.

Designing content for search intent means you are maximising your efficiency. Often, the certain keywords don’t need content, as it is very clear that people are searching for a transactional purpose. Designing an article around a keyword that is dominated by e-commerce sites is therefore unproductive.

Search intent is therefore one of the most important SEO factors of ranking in 2021. Your chances of ranking are slim if people are simply not interested or getting value out of your content.

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