What Is Search Intent? A Complete Guide

Chris Beck

Nov 27, 20206 min read
What Is Search Intent

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent, also known as audience or user intent, is defined as the purpose of a user’s search. 

With Google Hummingbird, Google RankBrain, and BERT algorithm adjustments, the search engine can interpret search intent and display results that meet that search intent, often through rich snippet results like the Answer Box and Knowledge Panel. 

Keyword intent can also describe keywords used by potential customers and leads at various stages of the conversion funnel. Since people look for, process, and use search results differently based on their ultimate goal, understanding and optimizing for search intent is hugely important for SEO. Here are a few topics I'm going to discuss regarding search intent:

Main Types of Search Intents:

  • Navigational. The user wants to find a specific page or site (think of your great aunt searching Google for “Facebook” instead of just going to facebook.com). They are dominated by branded keywords.

  • Informational. The user wants to answer a specific question. These queries will include “how to,” “what is,” “where is,” “why do,” and other interrogatives.

  • Transactional. The user wants to complete an action (conversion). This isn’t restricted just to purchases. It could be an email signup, lead generation form submission, store visit, or a phone call. Of course, some of those “somethings” might be hard to measure in analytics, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter!

  • Commercial. Similar to transactional intent, commercial intent is a great place to offer free versions of products and get yourself in front of their eyes. These “freebie keywords.”

As a practical example, take a look at these three queries:

  • New iPhone amazon. The search intent for this query trends toward navigational and transactional. They may be ready to add the item to their cart, or they are interested in getting to the Amazon page for this item. 

  • How to use my iPhone. This query has informational search intent. 

  • New iPhone deals. This is transactional search intent. 

A user searching for each of those queries will have very different expectations for their landing page.

How to Optimize for Search Intent

Intent optimization can be boiled down to “create pages that answer the user’s questions or allow the intended transaction.” It’s not really a complicated idea. But there are some good guidelines when it comes to optimizing for different intents.

Informational Intent Optimization

As mentioned above, these queries will include interrogatives like “what is” or “how to.” They can also include modifiers that indicate informational intent like “history of,” “meaning of,” or “age.”

The key to optimizing for information intent is to use the full questions in the most important on-page content:

  • Page titles

  • HTML header tags (<h1> and <h2>)

  • Descriptions

When you answer the question, be sure to put the body copy containing the answer directly below the header containing the questions.

So, something like this:

<h1>What is Search Intent?</h1>

<p>Search intent, also known as audience or user intent, is defined as the purpose of a user’s search.</p>

When answering a “how to” query, structure the content so the <h1> tag contains the query, and then put each step of the process in an <h2> tag:

<h1>How to Flip a Pancake</h1>

<h2>Cook the pancake on one side</h2>

<h2>Get a nice, big spatula</h2>

<h2>Slide the spatula under the pancake so that it’s centered</h2>

<h2>In one solid motion, flip your writes 180 degrees</h2>

<h2>Only flip your pancake once</h2>

For additional advice, add in body content for each point after the <h2> content.

Transactional Intent Optimization

The key to optimizing for transactional search intent is to make it clear how the user can convert and what conversion will mean for them.

A transactional landing page should follow these principles:

  • Clear CTA: The call-to-action (CTA) should be clear, obvious, and eye-catching. It should stand out from the rest of the page, be the first thing that draws the user’s eye, and make it obvious what clicking the button will do.

  • Clear design: Website visitors form their opinions of a page in under a second, and 95% of those opinions are based on visual design. Get your message across in as few words as possible and use visuals to express the value and benefits of your offer.

  • CROed text: When writing product description text for transactional intent, focus on building trust, creating an emotional tie, and simplifying the decision process for the reader.

Finally, try to keep your conversion process as short as possible. Limit forms to only the information actually needed for the conversion, and consolidate as much as you can on the landing page (account creation, file downloads, newsletter signups, etc.).

How to Use Search Intent for Your Business

Obviously, transactional queries are going to be your first thought when it comes to targeting intent. But don’t be blinded by dollar signs. The great thing about search intent is that each one represents an opportunity for your business, regardless of what that business actually does. Here are some ways to leverage search intent to your business’ SEO and digital marketing strategies:

  • Navigational: These are easy pickings, but you still need to pick. Make sure you have landing pages for your products, services, and other offerings. Optimize those pages using product and brand names in title tags, meta descriptions, and HTML headers.

  • Informational: These queries make up the vast majority of searches performed on Google, so you can’t afford to ignore them. Consider these queries your opportunity to acquire leads to be converted later, establish your brand as an authority, and make people aware of what you have to offer.

  • Transactional: Ok, these are your money makers. Create landing pages that allow users to make the transaction/conversion directly on the landing page. That means signup forms, lead submission forms, or add-to-cart buttons.

  • Commercial: If you offer free versions of your products and/or services, create pages to target these queries. Even if you don’t have a specific product that answers their needs, you can still get value from these users—curate lists of free resources. Much like with informational queries, you can use these queries for brand/offer awareness, lead generation, and future conversion. 

SEO Benefits of Intent Targeting

Search intent is a huge part of how semantic SEO delivers more relevant search results to users—so better intent optimization results in more relevant and qualified traffic to your website.

This means improved conversion rates for your transactional landing pages, but will also result in boosts to informational pages as well:

  • Reduced bounce rates: people are actually getting what they want, so they stay on your pages.

  • More page views: Meeting a user’s intent makes them more likely to engage with the rest of your website.

  • More answer boxes: Having your content selected for Google’s featured snippets can be a great benefit. It allows your pages to rank in position 0 above the first search result.

  • Wider audience reach: One of the great things about intent optimization is that Google is smart enough to interpret multiple queries as having the same topic and intent. That means it will show your intent-optimized page for a lot more queries.

These benefits are what make intent optimization so powerful. Do it right, and you will see larger audiences, more qualified traffic, and better engagement metrics for your content.

Are You Optimized for Search Intent?

Begin taking stock of your current website and determine the intent behind the pages you currently have. You can use the Keyword Magic Tool to find different intents for keywords that you’re interested in. Get started on your keyword research today, and make sure to match search intent to your content!

Author Photo
Chris BeckChris Beck, a 2017 U.S. Search Award Winner and 11 time Landy Award/U.S. Search Award Finalist, is Senior Consultant for Deloitte and founder of Chris Beck SEO consulting. He has 8+ years of extensive experience and is very passionate about SEO and making clients more money. Connect with him on LinkedIn or email him at beckcr6@gmail.com for a free consultation.