What is Search Intent?

Search Intent Defined 

One common aspect of SEO that is often overlooked is search intent. SEOs and companies can do all the keyword research they want, but if optimizing for search intent isn’t factored in, does it really matter? Not really if you didn’t deliver on the keyword intent. Let’s dive a little deeper.

Search intent is the thought or reason behind why someone searched what they did in Google or another search engine. They intend to be served up a specific type of result.

Maciej Fita, Marketing Manager at Brandignity, told us, “Search intent is basically using the right keywords so your content, products, assets, and more can rank for a person conducting a search. It’s important to factor in search intent because that is what’s going to cause someone to click on your result.”

If someone types in a question they expect to get an answer back, if someone is searching for a product like an outdoor cooler they expect to get results where they can buy or shop from. If their user intent was different and they were looking for reviews or comparisons, they would most likely search something like outdoor cooler reviews or the best outdoor coolers. 

What this means is that if you had a site that didn’t sell outdoor coolers, but rather you provide reviews to users for outdoor gear, the chances of you ranking for the term outdoor coolers are slim to none. Those results and clicks are going to go to large box retailers who sell outdoor coolers. Your review site has a better chance of ranking for longer tail keywords like comparisons or reviews. 

Google may test with your result at some point and show it on the first or second page of the search results, but chances are it’s not going to get the clicks like the other listings or result in a very high bounce rate. All of this data collection helps Google determine the long-term intent of keywords and what results to provide to the people searching. 

The Types of Search Intent

There are three main types of search intent. Gaining an understanding of these will further help you optimize your content for search intent. 

Informational Intent 

Informational intent is when someone is searching for answers or information. These are most often question-based or longtail queries, but they don’t always have to be. They could be seed keywords that Google determined the user is ultimately looking for information on. You may see shopping results mixed in, but for the most part, if the intent is informational, you will see the SERP dominated by informational results like the example below for a green clay mask.

Navigational Intent

This is when someone is searching for a specific website or brand. They know where they want to go. These types of searches most likely have a brand associated with them.

Transactional Intent

Transactional intent is when someone is looking to complete a specific action on the web. The most common is when a user is looking to buy something, but it doesn’t always have to pertain to eCommerce. A user can also be looking to complete a conversion by booking an appointment or seeking more information on a service offering. 

Why is Search Intent Important?

Google’s main reason for existing is to provide the best search results to users. Their platform is built on the heels of searcher intent. Search intent matters because it’s the key to gaining and keeping keyword equity on the first page of Google.

If you aren’t honing in on keywords based on the intent of the users searching for them, you won’t keep the result. Google tracks clicks and if you’re not getting any, you’re not going to hold your position. Search volume doesn’t matter if your site or page isn’t intended to give the end-user what they are looking for. 

When you go to do keyword research for your site or a client’s site, do more than just suggest keywords with search volume. Give them recommendations on how to change their page or what type of page to build to produce a result that meets the user’s expectations. Taking this extra step in your keyword discovery is key. 

Jane Kovalkova is the Chief Marketing Officer at Chanty. She gave us the perfect example of why intent matters for brands. Chanty is a simple AI-powered team messaging system built for easy cross-company communication much like Slack.

She said, “We achieved great success with the keyword Slack alternative, where the intent is to find a product that is similar to Slack but better in some aspects. The search intent here is informational. The visitor wants to learn more about the competitors before purchasing. We also target other keywords like Slack pricing, where the aim of the visitor is to buy something. The intent is completely different. Search intent is something that you have to figure out on your own.”

Examples like this are why search intent is important. Optimizing for intent and getting it right was super important for Chanty. It’s helped them gain customers that were both at the beginning of the funnel and also farther down. That breadth of keywords exists for all companies, you just need to know how to find them.

Research for Intent

More effort needs to be spent on your keyword research. It needs to go a step beyond downloading some spreadsheets and making recommendations based on ranking and search volume. Tools won’t tell you a searcher’s intent. It’s a human element that only you can figure out. 

How to Determine Search Intent?

Analyze the SERPs

One thing we’ve done to ramp up our keyword research here at LSEO is to literally Google terms ourselves. Google is your best friend in this situation. This allows us to analyze the SERPs (search engine result pages) to see what is populating on the page. Is there an answer box or featured snippet? Are the top results product pages, content pages, or an FAQ page? Taking this step will help you determine what type of page or how to structure the page you already have on your site to compete at the top of the SERP for said keyword. Just make sure you clear your cache or browse in incognito so your past search history doesn’t influence the search results. 

Analyzing the search results can be so beneficial. Not only can it help you determine the type of result that Google awards for a keyword, but also allow you to see how you should structure your content, or what you should include based on the top results. The tip here is simple, make your pages better!

One company that has had success with this is Sip Coffee. Their founder Ahmed Mir told us, “You can immediately understand the search intent of a query by reviewing the results on page one of Google. Based on all the results you can tell what users are expecting to find. As a result, that is how you should write and try to rank for the searched query.”

Levi Olmstead, the Director of Marketing at 2ndKitchen, also told us from her experience, “For many search terms, you’ll need to do proper research on what is ranking at the top of SERPs before starting to piece together a new article. If you don’t you’ll find yourself not presenting the right content and ultimately will not rank well for the keyword you’re targeting.”

Use Paid Search Data

Here you will use some paid search data to help you analyze the intent of keywords. Keyword Planner is a tool that is part of your Google Ads account. Searching for keywords in Google Keyword Planner or even a tool like SEMrush, you will also generate a CPC associated with that keyword.

Analyzing the CPC will help you determine if a keyword is earlier in the funnel or later in the funnel. Keywords earlier in the funnel tend to be more informational-based and generally have a lower CPC. Keywords later in the funnel tend to be more transactional-based which is accompanied by a higher CPC. This can help determine the intent of a keyword you want to target. 

Analyze Your Analytics and Search Console Data

Are you getting clicks based on the number of impressions you are getting? Is your bounce rate high? If you answer no, then this can mean that some of your pages don’t have the right intent behind them based on what users want to see. You should monitor your data closely to see how your pages are performing in the SERPs. This will allow you to find where you need to hone in and transition the information on your page to meet the needs and expectations of users.

How to Optimize for Search Intent?

The trick is to simply make sure that your pages look like what Google wants to rank for a keyword that is important to your business. That’s what I talked about in the keyword research portion. The way to determine this is to physically analyze the SERPs. Once you’ve done so and you think you have the intent locked down, build or optimize a landing page.

Google’s algorithm never really stops evolving, so you can’t just do this once. If you see stagnation or even a drop in ranking of a search query, evaluate the SERP again to see if anything may have changed. You may need to make further optimization or even change the questions or topics you discuss on your page as Google may be rewarding a different style of article.

Adam Jackson, the Digital Marketing Manager at Big Leap, told us, “Search engines are continually trying to serve the content that best satisfies the searcher’s need. If your content is optimized to respond directly to the user’s intent then your chances of ranking will go up. Second, since the search engine algorithms are constantly getting better at understanding a user’s search intent, the ranking landscape can change for a keyword at any given moment.”

“For example, I worked with a swim school company that used to rank first for pool lessons, but then Google modified its understanding of the user’s search intent for that keyword and now the first page results for that keyword almost exclusively have to deal with the game pool (Billiards).”

Search Intent is Here to Stay

It’s inevitable, it’s something that cannot be ignored in digital marketing. Google is operating and trying to understand things like humans do. They want to provide the best results based on what users intend to find after they type in a keyword or keyphrase and hit enter. 

Quick story. We had a client that sold a certain type of product online. Each product was a specific line in their catalog. For each product, they also had a thorough content page accompanying it explaining the different aspects and benefits of the product. We had to determine whether it was beneficial to link to the content page or the product page first in the navigation based on click and user flow.

To help us determine what users wanted to see we turned to Google to analyze the intent of the industry. It turned out that users searching within that specific industry wanted to shop first, so that helped finalize how we wanted to lay the site out. The content pages were better served as secondary pages or to target longer-tail keywords. 

That’s not always the case though. We also work with an international beauty retailer. I will come back to the green clay mask example. One would assume when you search that term you are shopping for a green clay mask. However, that was not the case. The first result ranking for that term was a blog post highlighting the five benefits of green clay masks. 

Both of these examples prove that searcher intent needs to be factored into your strategy. You can’t assume, nor can you just pick keywords and target them without knowing what type of result to produce. When you select keywords for your site, go the extra mile. It will all be worth it in the end when you start watching your target keyword rankings move positively!

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