When writing to be found on Google, search intent is the most important critera to check off.
No matter how well you write or how strong your keywords are, your content will fail if it isn’t what your searcher is looking for.
Creating content that aligns with search intent is integral to the success of your content marketing efforts as it helps you write relevant content, increase brand awareness, and drive conversions.
In this post, we discuss:
- What search intent is
- The types of search intent there are
- Why search intent matters
- How to identify search intent, and
- How to optimise content for search intent
Let’s get into it.
What is meant by user search intent?
Search intent, or user intent, is what a user aims to accomplish when they type a query into a search engine.
It is the reason behind a search query.
Does the user want to find something? Do they want to learn about something? Are they looking to buy?
Or are they searching for a particular website?
For example, the intent behind searching “history of coffee” is different from searching “coffee near me”, “how to make coffee”, or “Starbucks Coffee”.
While these searches all revolve around coffee, the intents are different.
“History” denotes that the user wants to learn more about coffee. “Near me” indicates that they are looking for places close by to get coffee.
“How to make” shows that they are searching for a step-by-step guide to making coffee. “Starbucks” shows that they want to know about the coffee in Starbucks, specifically.
Over the years, Google (and other search engines) has improved its machine learning models to determine users’ search intent. This is because they want to rank pages that best answer the search intent behind a search query.
What are the types of search intent?
There are trillions of search queries, but they all fall into four major categories:
Navigational search intent, or “Go” search intent, means that a user is trying to get somewhere.
They are looking for a specific page or website. Usually, this means that they already know what they are looking for, and are using Google to search for it rather than type the URL into the search address bar.
Many navigational search queries are branded keywords or terms. For instance, someone can search for “Nike” on Google, instead of going to nike.com.
This happens when they are unsure of the exact URL or if it’s just easier to Google it.
Examples of navigational searches include:
- “facebook login”
- “coschedule headline analyzer”
- “directions to lax airport”
- “dominos pizza”
Let’s see how a navigational search query works.
Say, you want to see how good an article headline is. When you search “coschedule headline analyser” in Google, here’s what you’ll get:
Google interprets your query to mean that you want to use the tool so the first result is a direct link to the product itself.
Informational search intent, or “Know” search intent, means that a user is finding the answer to a query.
They want the answer to a specific question or are looking to expand their knowledge on a certain topic.
Some informational search queries present as questions—what is, who is, why will, where is, how does, etc. Others don’t.
Instead of interrogatives, they have modifiers—how to, examples of, guide to, tutorial for, etc.
Examples of informational search queries include:
- “what is a laptop”
- “what is the capital of Zimbabwe”
- “history of the cold war”
- “charles darwin”
- “how to make pancakes”
For instance, everyone is talking about Web 3.0 these days. Apart from what you read on Twitter, you don’t really know what Web 3.0 is. So you search “web 3”.
Here’s what will pop up:
Notice how each article in the results offers a definition of Web 3.0. They also tell you why it matters.
Google understands that you don’t know what Web 3.0 is and why it’s such a big deal. So it proceeds to give you results that explain exactly that.
Commercial search intent, or “Do” search intent, means that a user is getting ready to buy something.
They have enough information about what they want to purchase. They are now weighing their options and investigating products/services to find the right one for their needs.
At this stage, they look for reviews and comparisons to help them make the right decision.
Examples of commercial search queries include:
- “ahrefs vs semrush”
- “best domain flipping service”
- “leadpages review”
- “wordpress or squarespace for blog”
Commercial search queries also include localised terms (non-branded) like “best coffee shop in London”, “cheapest hotel in Brunei”, “carpenter near me,” etc.
Say, you want to build a website and you’re looking for the best hosting platforms to use. You want to use WordPress so you’re down to two options: WP Engine and Kinsta.
You can only pick one so you search “wpengine vs kinsta”.
These are the results:
See how all the articles on the search engine results page (SERP) compare WPEngine’s and Kinsta’s features?
Google knows you want to purchase one of the two hosting platforms. So it gives you comparative reviews to help you make the right decision.
Transactional search intent, or “Buy” search intent, means that a user is ready to make a purchase.
They already know what they want to buy. It could be a product, subscription, or service. Whatever it is, they have finished their research on it and are now looking for the best deals and places to purchase it from.
Content that satisfies this search intent includes landing pages and product pages.
Examples of transactional search queries include:
- “buy iphone 12 pro max”
- “proton vpn promo code”
- “zoom pricing”
- “kfc bucket chicken price”
For instance, your old laptop crashes and you need a new one. You’ve scoured the internet for the best laptops available, and you settled for a MacBook.
Now you want to buy one so you search “buy macbook pro”.
Here’s what you get:
Notice how you’re not given information on how Apple created Macbooks.
Instead, the SERPs show you sites you can visit to immediately purchase a Macbook Pro, whether it’s on Apple’s online store or through third-party vendors.
Why is search intent important?
Search intent is important because it helps you create the right content for your target audience.
Understanding search intent gives you better knowledge of the queries your audience searches for in relation to your product or service. When you have these insights, you’ll be able to tailor your content to answer those queries and satisfy search intent.
Google loves content that satisfies search intent.
That’s what Google aims to do—provide results that perfectly match the intent of the searcher.
So when you create content that aligns with search intent, you increase your chances of ranking high in SERPs.
Having a high rank in SERPs increases the visibility of your website, which in turn increases conversions for your product or service.
Search intent for SEO
You want to write a blog post. So you pick a good topic and use a keyword research tool to find some high-volume, low-competition keywords.
You write the article. It’s exquisite—concise sentences, proper punctuation, original images, and fresh stats.
You even use a content optimisation tool to place terms that will help you rank faster and higher.
You hit ‘publish’ and… zilch.
No one visits your page, or if people do visit, they don’t engage or convert.
This can happen when your content does not align with search intent. Begum Kaya, SEO consultant at BK Solutions, says this about search intent in relation to SEO:
“The more SERPs change and improve, the more SEOs need to understand and utilise search intent to their advantage.
For example, indented search results now show related pages grouped under the main one, which is a huge opportunity to identify user journeys and create appealing content to expand your SERP estate.
Understanding user intent is not only vital to creating content your audience wants but also to gain a competitive advantage — which is the hard part if you ask me. SEO today requires understanding SERPs and the search intent and leveraging those together.”
Optimising your content for keywords is not enough anymore.
It used to be.
Many marketers focused on placing keywords in their content with no regard to quality or relevance.
While keyword placement still works, Google’s smarter and has shifted its focus to improving user experience by providing searchers with the best possible results. So, while you target strong keywords, you should also have valuable content that matches those keywords and is geared towards your audience’s search intent.
Tory Gray, Founder and Principal SEO consultant at The Gray Dot Company echoes Begum Kaya’s sentiments:
“Bottom line, if you can’t meet the intent of the user, your SEO efforts are worthless!”
Optimising your content to increase organic traffic is great, but all that traffic isn’t useful if it doesn’t convert.
Creating content that matches search intent can also increase your conversion rates.
Search intent helps you understand the motivation behind a user’s online behaviour. That helps when you’re trying to tailor your content to specific customer segments and increase conversions on your web pages.
Alex Birkett, CRO expert and co-founder at Omniscient Digital, knows this.
“I’ve optimised thousands of blog posts and landing pages and one of the most underrated forms of qualitative research is understanding search intent.
Sure, you can ask people what they want – through surveys, HotJar polls, interviews, etc. But if you’re getting organic traffic, you’re getting implicit intent signals, which can be much more honest than what people say they want.
Half or more of conversion optimisation is just matching expectations, and search intent is one of the easiest ways to do that. I’ve had conversion increases of double to triple when I change the offer to match intent, versus 10-20% lifts when I change copy and messaging on the same offer.”
Search intent is the genesis of successful conversion optimisation. If you fail to address user intent, you’ll fail in conversion optimization.
It’s that simple.
How can you identify search intent and optimise your content accordingly?
Before you can optimise your content to satisfy search intent, you have to first conduct your search intent analysis. Don’t worry; this is simpler than it sounds.
Start by identifying the search intent for the keyphrases or queries you’re targeting.
How to identify search intent
The simplest way to identify search intent is to study the SERPs.
Search for the focus topic or main keyword that you want to optimise your content, product or service for. Then, study the results that pop up.
Usually, the top results on the first page are the ones that most closely match user intent. Pay attention to them.
Do a search that matches the keyword for which you want to rank, either on a topic or for a similar product or service.
If the top results show the URLs of a company, a company’s tweets, or Google Ads for a company, it usually means that Google has determined that the intent is navigational.
If the top results are articles, and you have a knowledge panel, an answer box, the ‘People Also Ask’ box, videos, or a map (or a mixture of these), Google has identified informational intent.
Google denotes commercial search intent by bringing up product reviews and comparisons, FAQs, and Google Ads.
If the top results show Google Ads, a list of stores, a booking tool, URLs that point to vendors, and shopping results, Google has determined that the query has a transactional intent.
How to analyse search intent
Once you’ve identified your users’ search intent, you need to analyse it and decide whether you should press on and optimise your content to satisfy that intent. Here’s an illustration from CRO expert, Alex Birkett, that demonstrates how to do that:
“Say someone searches for “customer satisfaction” and the offer on your page is an enterprise software demo. But you look at the SERP page for that keyword, and it’s all super high-level informational blog posts.
People at that stage probably aren’t ready to buy, so you might not want to offer something so transactional. No amount of copy and design is going to change that fundamental intent and desire.
So what can you do? Change the offer. Build an eBook, a checklist, something that adds value to what the searcher is already looking for.”
Content creation based on answering queries
After you’ve analysed the intent behind your queries, write a blog brief including the queries you’ve extracted from Google. The brief will ensure that you create helpful and relevant content for your visitors.
How to optimise for navigational intent
Searchers with navigational intent are usually looking for a business’ main web pages, especially the homepage, contact, or log-in pages.
So optimising your content for navigational intent would mean getting people to find your website by searching your business name directly, rather than finding it through a random Google search.
The best way to do this is to build awareness about your brand. The more popular your business is, the more people would search for your name.
How do you do that?
If your business is new, focus on creating content that positions you as an authority on your niche. This way, users can easily find your web pages when they search for particular products or websites.
Content that boosts authority includes:
- Landing pages
- Presentation pages
- Product demo videos
- Product and service lists
- Case studies
Here’s how you can optimise this content for navigational intent:
- Build landing pages for your products, services, and other offers.
- Optimise each landing page you have placing your product or brand names/keywords in strategic places like the title, subheadings, alt texts, and meta descriptions.
- Keep your business name and contact info (office address, email address, phone number, mailbox) up to date on your website, contact page, social media profiles, Google My Business profile, online listings, map listings, and directories.
- Try to get listed in Google’s Knowledge Graph so that you can get your own knowledge panel.
How to optimise for Informational Intent
Informational search queries aim to increase awareness and build knowledge. That’s why you should create high-quality top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content that provides useful information about the search query.
Content formats that satisfy informational intent include:
- Long-form blog posts
To optimise content for informational intent, you should:
- Include an informational word in the title that relates to what’s in the content: ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’, or how.
- For long posts, include the topic keyphrase(s) above the fold. This reassures readers that they’re reading the right content, and also gives you a chance of nabbing a featured snippet.
- Use the ‘People Also Ask’ and ‘Related Searches’ sections of SERPs to get more ideas on what to address in your content.
- Use the right medium to answer the question, e.g. lists, images, tables, etc.
- Make sure your content is scannable and mobile-friendly.
Pro-tip: Optimise informational content for user experience as well as SEO. This means using elements like headers, subheaders, bulleted lists, numbered lists, etc. to make it easier for readers to absorb information.
Jenny Abouobaia of SEO with Jenny says:
“I always encourage people to not only consider search intent in terms of SEO but also user experience. Consider what someone is looking for when you create the content and the design of how your post will be presented.
For example, if writing a recipe post or a product recommendation, I always have a “jump/skip to recipe/review” button at the very beginning of my post. I even make it sticky.
Although we want to create comprehensive and engaging content, if I’m standing in my kitchen, flour in hand, searching for a cookie recipe, the last thing I want is to spend 15 minutes reading a blogger’s story on how they discovered this recipe on their spiritual journey through India. All I want is to know which ingredients I need here and now.’”
How to optimise for commercial intent
Searchers with commercial intent are in the decision-making stage, so the content you create should nudge them in your direction.
The main goal of optimising for commercial intent isn’t to get tons of traffic. It’s to help the searcher make a buying decision (and stay on your site long enough to send positive ranking signals to Google).
Content that satisfies commercial search intent include:
- Product comparisons
- Case studies
To optimise these pages, you should:
- Use commercial search terms in the title and headings. These terms include ‘top’, ‘best’, ‘review’, ‘comparison’, ‘vs.’, etc.
- Use eye-catching images to provide comparisons between your product and a competitor, or a breakdown of your pricing plans and features.
- Always tell searchers the next steps to take; an incentive of sorts. For example, you could tell them to sign up for your newsletter, download a free checklist/eBook, or offer a free demo/free plan/freemium plan of your product.
How to optimise for transactional intent
Transactional search queries take searchers to web pages where they can buy something like a product page or a registration page.
The best way to optimise for transactional intent is to make it easy for searchers to convert.
You can do this by:
- Using transactional words in your copy: ‘buy’, ‘purchase’, ‘discount’, ‘cheap’, ‘download, ‘sign up’, ‘register’, etc.
- Clearly stating your product name and description above the fold
- Using attention-grabbing CTAs and strategically placing them across the page
- Appealing to users’ emotions through your copy and visuals
Here’s an image Ben Labay, CRO expert and Managing Director at Speero, used to explain this:
“Check out this example of three different search terms and landing pages for Grubhub:
1. restaurant delivery near me
2. food delivery deals near me
3. hamburger delivery near me
The intent is very different here for each, and the landing page experience and what is presented should be unique.”
Notice how the landing page copy above the fold has query-related transactional words.
The first one has ‘restaurants’ and ‘near you’, in addition to regular transaction terms, ‘order’ and ‘free’. The second one has ‘deals’ and ‘near you’, with regular terms like ‘exclusive’, ‘coupons’, and ‘promos’.
The last one has ‘hamburgers’ and ‘near you’, with regular terms like ‘order’ and ‘free’.
Create content that align with search intent
Optimising your content to align with user search intent is your best bet for ranking high in the SERPs.
Search intent, however, can change over time. Your content might meet search intent now, and fail to later.
So you need to re-analyse your content occasionally to ensure that they still satisfy intent.
Using everything you’ve learned in this blog post, you can apply the same principles and techniques when conducting a content refresh.
The moral of the story? Whatever you’re creating, think about the user’s intent. Otherwise, you are just writing for yourself.