What is Search Intent?

Understanding the fundamentals of search intent can be the one thing that elevates an average content strategy into one that has the power to drive outstanding results. We consistently see businesses on the verge of securing strong ranking positions in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs), and although they have invested in high-quality content, something is missing. The alignment of keywords and search intent is critical, yet it often doesn’t get the consideration it deserves.

What this article covers:

What is search intent in SEO?

Also sometimes referred to as user intent, search intent is the core objective a user has in mind when entering a query into a search engine. In many cases, searchers are looking for particular information, resources, answers and solutions to their problems as they conduct each query. In fact, search intent is the very reason why a user is conducting a search in the first place.

Let’s take pizza as an example here. Searching for a takeaway pizza restaurant has a markedly different intent than searching for a recipe or searching for more information on the origins of pizza. So, while they are all centred around the same topic, users can have many different intents.

In the not too distant past, businesses were hyper-focused on keywords. Keyword integration was seemingly the only thing that mattered, so there was minimal regard given to the quality of the content that was being shared. As Google’s algorithms have evolved, its focus has shifted markedly to prioritise the user experience and, as such, satisfying their specific intent has become much more important.

Now, it is not enough to simply integrate your target keywords into a campaign. You must also ensure that you deliver valuable information that aligns with and builds upon those keywords.

What are the 3 common types of search intent?

If you are already feeling overwhelmed: don’t be. Because although you might feel as though there is a lot of information being thrown your way here, search intent can be broken down into three core types:

Informational Search Intent: Informational searches are very generic and are often conducted by users who are eager to learn more about the subject but aren’t expected to be in a position to convert. Say you are an eCommerce store that specialises in household appliances. Informational queries in this circumstance might include: ‘Fridge freezer size’ or ‘how should I clean my oven?’

Google has started to display more ‘People Also Ask’ queries in its SERPs, which means that it is easier than ever before for businesses to effectively capitalise on the keywords and phrases contained within these queries.

We have already mentioned that conversion rates aren’t expected to be high following this type of query; however, it’s vital that your site occupies strong ranking positions for informational search intent. Ensuring that your website contains content that answers this type of query will help you place your brand in front of people at the beginning of their journey on the buying cycle. Additionally, when you are in a position to rank well for this specific type of query consistently, you will often be positioning yourself in places that your competitors haven’t reached yet.

Transactional Search Intent: The clue is in the name here; transactional searches are frequently conducted by people searching for a solution to their problem and are ready to make a purchase. These searches are going to be directly related to the products or categories features on your website. Your appliance eCommerce website will likely experience transactional queries in the form of: ‘best oven for under £500’ or ‘buy washing machine online’.

During the initial stages of your optimisation process, you’re going to want to prioritise transactional searches over their informational counterparts.

Navigational Search Intent: Although they require minimal optimisation, it is crucial to be aware of the importance of navigational searches. These occur when a searcher has a particular destination in mind when entering their query. In fact, they are often looking for a well-known website and/or brand, and there is only a single search term they need to locate it: your brand name.

Why is search intent important?

Google cares about search intent, which is primarily why you should too. In fact, satisfying search intent is one of Google’s core goals. After all, if a user turns to Google with a query and is served page after page of irrelevant results, they aren’t going to feel particularly confident in the ability of the search engine to meet their needs in the future.

Every time a user searches for a specific query and is presented with irrelevant information, a signal will be sent to Google highlighting the likelihood of mismatched search intent. So, if a user searching for pizza recipes is presented with a list of pizza restaurants, they will enter another search without clicking on any of the results they have been served.

But this isn’t the only reason why search intent is so important.

Search intent can help you to broaden your reach: A robust content strategy should power your entire approach to digital and, as such, search intent needs to be a key consideration when creating and sharing content. After all, the more specificity you can give your content that matches particular search intents, the more users you will be able to connect with at various stages of your engagement funnel. Focusing your efforts on matching search intent will increase your chances of successfully connecting with consumers who are still in the research phase of their journey as well as those who are ready to convert.

How can search intent achieve this? By ensuring that you are fulfilling the needs of your audience and delivering the information they want in ways that are easy to digest. When you comprehensively fulfil the needs and wants of your audience, you will drive more traffic, secure more relevant leads and, ultimately, give your SEO rankings a boost.

Search intent can help you to improve your rankings: User satisfaction, authority and relevance are the three core ranking factors used by Google to organise SERPs. So, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see how keyword targeting that effectively mirrors search intent can help you boost your rankings.

In terms of relevance, if visitors find what they’re looking for on your website, they are much less likely to visit the website of a competitor. When your content and search intent are well aligned, you will see this reflected in a variety of your key performance indicators (KPIs), such as your bounce rate and your click-through rate (CTR).

Although much of your website’s authority is closely related to your backlink profile, it is also imperative to implement a robust internal linking strategy. This will tell Google that your site houses a selection of content that covers different intents and angles.

When it comes to user satisfaction, there is only one question you need to ask yourself: ‘Is your content relevant to your ideal audience and does it deliver value?’ That’s it. That’s all you need to know because if it doesn’t, you know that changes need to be made.

Search intent can help you to keep hold of valuable leads: Providing users with engaging information that addresses their search query is the only way to ensure you keep hold of every valuable lead that engages with your business. This also has the added benefit of increasing the time users are spending on your site, which will tell Google that your content is valuable and interesting. As such, Google may reward you with a more prominent ranking position in SERPs relevant to your content.

Search intent can help you to present your business as an authority: If a user arrives at your website and is presented with thin content that doesn’t meet their needs, they likely aren’t going to think very much of your business. On the other hand, if presented with relevant, high-quality information, they will get the impression that you are an authoritative figure within your niche and know how to answer any queries they might have about the industry or the products/services you offer.

How do you identify search intent opportunities?

SERPs are integral to understanding search intent. In addition to providing a wealth of information regarding different potential intents, they can also help you determine how much priority to place on a particular intent.

It is essential to ask yourself various key questions when searching for your query, including what search snippets can tell you about search intent. Even just looking at the first five results can be enough to put together a relatively comprehensive list of potential search intents.

You will also want to examine the intent that each result solves and who the content has been written for. Don’t forget, there are many stages of the user journey, and you need to know how to connect with the right people at precisely the right time.

Finally, it is important to make a note of who is ranking well and who isn’t. It is safe to assume that pages occupying the strongest positions are a good representation of the majority intent.

This is a process that will take some time as it will need to be repeated for each target keyword on your list. However, you can be assured that this will transpire to be an excellent time investment that will provide you with a wealth of valuable information.

How do I optimise for search intent?

There are billions of searches conducted each day, and to ensure you can maintain a competitive position in SERPs, it is vital to understand how to optimise your digital presence for search intent. There are five core steps to keep in mind when implementing your data-driven optimisation strategy to minimise your bounce rate and attract qualified traffic to your site.

Consider how users search: Google Analytics and webmaster tools will help you to determine the number of times specific queries were entered and how many of those searches translated into page visits. These tools will also help you understand the rate at which page impressions drive clicks and where you are currently ranking in SERPs for specific keywords, which will ultimately inform your understanding of how your audience is finding your site.

Leverage all available platforms: Although Google is currently the most-used search engine globally, it is imperative not to overlook the power of other search engines, including Bing and YouTube. Let’s take YouTube as an example here as it has more than 2 billion users and can help you to secure significant levels of traffic that you can then transform into leads and conversions. Don’t forget, however, if you aren’t creating content on the topics that your ideal audience are interested in and searching for; you aren’t going to connect with the right people.

Separate intent from usage and queries: Users often have preferences that they don’t share explicitly, which is why it is the job of search experts to optimise content for both active and passive queries. Active queries explicitly describe intent in the syntax, whereas intent within passive queries requires insight to understand the context entirely.

Let’s look at an example here. So, the active intent behind searching for ‘the best SEO agency in London’ is a list of SEO companies in London. But the search is also passively asking for a selection of other information, including reviews and maps.

Understanding how to appropriately satisfy both active and passive intent is essential to driving engagement and conversions at a significant level. After all, by fulfilling all user needs, you deliver valuable information seamlessly to your target audience.

Connect intent to answers: If users don’t always say precisely what they mean – and we know that they don’t – how is it possible to understand the preference of your ideal audience? The answer is to map out both present and hidden intent, and there are several things to keep in mind when embarking on this process.

When exploring the variety of ways in which users might enter questions into a search engine, it is important to consider everything from cultural and language differences to the demographics of your audience and even which devices they are using to access search. Mapping these search terms will help you to make optimisation changes that will enhance the overall relevance of your site concerning these specific search queries.

Content optimisation: Content is still king and as you need to provide the correct answers, to the right people, at precisely the right time, optimising your content is imperative. The faster your content appropriately answers a query, the more likely a user will stay on your site and explore more of what you can offer.

There are various content optimisation considerations to keep in mind, including presenting large quantities of information in formats that are easy to digest. It would be best if you also aimed to strategically and naturally place important keywords throughout your content, including in URLs, titles and metadata.

As we have discovered, search intent is an integral component of a strong SEO strategy. If you haven’t given appropriate consideration to this aspect of digital marketing or are eager to deep dive into the potential refinements you can make to drive more beneficial results for your business, the Search Creative team can conduct an in-depth audit and implement strategic recommendations that will deliver a strong ROI.

We know that your business can deliver a seamless user experience and leverage the digital landscape’s opportunities in new and exciting ways to outperform your competition. Don’t hesitate to get in touch as soon as you’re ready to explore how to boost your SERP visibility, effectively target your ideal audience at every stage of the purchasing cycle, and connect with every potential customer online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


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