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Everything You Need To Know About Search Intent Optimization

In SEO, search intent is a deceptively simple concept that can power up your search efforts when you put it to good use. If keyword research answers the question of “what” potential customers are searching for, search intent answers the question of “why” they’re searching for it. But what is search intent and how can you optimize for it?

Jan 17, 2023

9 m read

The answer to “what is search intent?” can be distilled into one word: WHY.

Why is the most important question you can ask before you start building better content marketing resources for your website. Ask yourself not just why you’re creating the content but why your audience needs it, why it’s valuable, and why someone is searching for it.

Understanding the answers to those questions puts your content squarely in the path of the people who need it (and your product) the most. Being clear about why someone is searching for your solution differentiates wildly helpful, super-optimized, and hyper-converting content from words that simply sit on a page.

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent gives you insight into the “why” behind a search query. In other words, why did the person conduct this search? Are they researching products and want to read reviews? Are they ready to make a purchase? Do they want to learn how to do something? Or are they trying to find a particular website?

I’ll let you in on a little secret — search intent might be one of the most underutilized but highly-effective tactics in the SEO tool kit.

That means if you use search intent to bolster your digital marketing efforts and your competitors don’t, you’ve almost got an unfair advantage. Except — it is fair. Search intent is a common-sense technique that just happens to boost the power of your SEO efforts.

Why Is Search Intent Important for SEO?

Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

In short, Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant search results for their queries.

If you want to rank higher in Google Search, you need to create content that’s highly relevant for a specific query. As a matter of fact, search intent matters so much to Google that they dedicated 17% of their search quality evaluator guidelines to understanding user intent. That’s 13 pages out of a 175-page document.

Google even goes so far as to assert intent is redefining the marketing funnel by pointing out that people no longer follow a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase.

Instead, their focus expands and contracts in unique and unpredictable moments. Every time someone turns to their device for an immediate answer, they’re expressing intent and redefining the traditional marketing funnel along the way.

Have I convinced you of how invaluable keyword intent is? Great! Time to dive in and learn all about it.

Four Types of Search Intent

Chances are, you’ve already done keyword research to establish a solid foundation of core keywords that matter for your business. Understanding search intent is the next step to expanding your primary keywords into keyword themes that align with specific categories of search purpose.

Your intent-specific piece of content will send a stronger signal to Google about that page’s concept and purpose. This, in turn, helps Google match what you’re offering with what specific searchers are seeking.

Let’s take a closer look at the four types of search intent.

1 – Informational Intent

In this type of query, the searcher is looking for information. It could be they need the answer to a simple question, like, “How many teaspoons are in a tablespoon?” Or they could be looking for a more detailed explanation to a question like, “How do I ask for a raise?”

Although it helps to think of informational search queries as questions, they’re not always formulated as such.

Other examples include:

  • “Grand Central Stations directions”
  • “Claire Foy”
  • “WFH ergonomics”
  • “Lakers score”

2 – Navigational Search Intent

With a navigational query, the searcher already knows where they want to go. They may run a search because they’re unsure of the exact URL, or they figure it’s quicker and easier to have Google return the link than to type the URL into the address bar.

Some examples:

  • “Zappos”
  • “CoSchedule login”
  • “whiteboard Friday”
  • “Grammarly”

3 – Transactional Intent

A transactional intent is just what it sounds like — the searcher wants to purchase something. They know what they want to buy, and they’re looking for the best place to buy it from.

Example transactional queries:

  • “best price smart desk”
  • “buy iphone”
  • “rei promo code”
  • “bluetooth headphones cheap”

4 – Commercial Investigation

This searcher is in the research phase before making a final decision on a purchase. They’re still weighing their options and are looking for reviews, round-ups, and comparisons to steer them in the right direction.

A few examples of commercial intent searches:

  • “best desk chair”
  • “hootsuite vs. sprout social”
  • “pet plate review”
  • “best burgers in brooklyn”

That last example is a local search. It’s common for local searches to have commercial investigation intent, like “coffee near me” or “upper east side realtor.”

Now that you have a broad understanding of search intent types, let’s talk about how to determine search intent.

How To Analyze Search Intent

Often, the wording of a query points to the intention behind it, which can help us look at these in the aggregate. For example, the intent of someone who Googles “buy iphone” is clearly to purchase an iPhone (a transactional query).

Someone searching for “how to make sourdough starter” is obviously looking for instructions on how to do something (an informational query).

The following table shows how certain modifiers align with particular search intents.

Informational
Navigational
Commercial
Investigation
Transactional
examples brand name best buy
guide product name product descriptor
(size, color, type)
cheap
how service name review city name,
type of business
ideas top coupon
learn order
resource price
tips pricing
tutorial
what
where
who
why

Use Keyword Research Tools

Here’s a step-by-step how-to for using a keyword research tool like Ahrefs to apply the modifiers in the table above and filter for keywords with specific intent.

Using the example of “sourdough starter:”

  1. Type your keyword into the search bar.
  2. Select the ‘Matching terms’ report option.
  3. Click the ‘Include’ dropdown, enter your modifiers, and apply to your search filter. (We’re using “how, what, when” in this example.)
  4. Sort the resulting list by search volume to see the most popular informational searches for “sourdough starter.”
search intent in ahrefs

You can now see different informational keywords you can use to optimize existing pages or create content.

Use this same process to find keywords for transactional and commercial investigation queries.

Put Google Autocomplete To Work

A quick and easy way to apply search intent principles to see what people are searching for is to take advantage of Google’s auto-complete function.

Type in a modifier from the table above, followed by your keyword. Then watch Google tell you what people are searching for.

seo search intent targeting: screenshot of Google autocomplete for why query
seo search intent targeting: screenshot of Google autocomplete for why query
different types of searches for what queries
screenshot of Google autocomplete for how query

Follow the SERP Features

When you query Google, the search engine results page (SERP) will contain organic results, paid results, and SERP features.

Some SERP features include:

A query for “Claire Foy” returns a SERP that looks like the example below:

claire foy featured snippets in SERP

This SERP includes:

  1. Organic results
  2. People also ask
  3. Knowledge panel

This is interesting, not just because I’m a fan of The Crown, but because the SERP features often point to search intent.

The table below will give you a rough idea of which SERP features correspond to specific search intent. Using these SERP features can help you focus on search intent for your content.

Informational
Navigational
Commercial
Investigation
Transactional
featured snippet site links ads ads
knowledge card tweet box featured snippet shopping results
people also ask knowledge panel
videos

For instance, if you’re selling desk chairs, you can use Ahrefs to run a keyword search for “best desk chair.” In the ‘Matching terms report,’ expand the ‘SERP features, check the box next to ‘Shopping results’ and apply the filter to see common queries used by people hoping to purchase the best desk chair.

matching terms in ahrefs for search intent

Search Intent Isn’t Always Cut & Dry

Although the techniques we’ve outlined here are helpful for search intent analysis, you’ll need to apply your own insights to sort through keywords with mixed search intents. 

Mixed search intent is most common in results for brand searches. For instance, if you Google “iPhone,” you’ll likely see search results that contain transactional, informational, navigational, and commercial investigation intent because searchers who use that query might be looking for reviews, historical information, a place to buy, or the Apple website.

If searchers might be looking for your service or product for different reasons, create specific content to target each search intention. Don’t try to create one piece of content that will appeal to people who want to learn about something and people who want to purchase that thing. Instead, create one type of content for informational purposes and one type of content for transactional purposes.

Worried about keyword cannibalization if you try this strategy? Learn how to avoid it here.

Four Steps To Optimize for Search Intent

Understanding search intent will dictate the type of content you create. If the keyword has informational intent, you’ll write a blog post. If it has transactional intent, you’ll create a product page.

Easy right? 

Well, yes. And no.

Trying to apply only four search intent categories to billions of web pages makes it painfully obvious that these categories are too broad to apply wholesale to any particular situation.

So, we need to dive a little deeper to look at SERPs more closely.

Here’s how:

1. Know Your History

When you’re doing keyword research, you’re looking at a snapshot in time. You’ll need to look at your keyword’s history to understand if and how seasonal, social, or market factors might influence the number of searches for that keyword at any given time.

For instance, a search for “hand sanitizer” probably had transactional intent before March 2020. Between March and July 2020, that same search was likely run because people couldn’t find hand sanitizer in the store and wanted to know how to make it (informational).

2. Match Your Content to Search Intent

After confirming your keyword has clear search intent, you want to analyze SERPs for that keyword to determine these three things:

  1. The right type of content to create.
  2. The right format to present your content in.
  3. What angle you should take with your content.

Let’s take a closer look.

Content Type

Look at the search results for a keyword and see what type of content is being returned.

What do you see?

  • Blog posts
  • Product pages
  • Category pages
  • Landing pages

The content types on page one of the SERPs are most relevant to the search intent you’re targeting (Google ranks them highest for their relevance to the query). Follow the lead of your competition’s high-ranking results and choose your content type based on what you see here.

Content Format

Likewise, ask yourself what format Google deems most relevant to the search intent of your keyword. When you look at the search results, what ranks high?

  • “How-to” guides
  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • List posts
  • Opinion pieces
  • Reviews
  • Comparisons

This helps you narrow down the format to apply to your content. Are three of the top five results “how-to” guides? You’d be wise to follow the crowd.

Content Angle

An angle is the unique perspective you decide to take with your content.

Assessing the angle of top-ranking pages will give you insight into what matters to searchers.

For instance, if you Google “how to make waffles,” you’ll see that people are keen on finding out how to make Belgian waffles, perfect waffles, fluffy waffles, and easy waffles.

example of how Google SERPs show content angle"

Knowing what searchers value in their waffles will help you choose an angle for your post about how to make waffles. Follow the crowd by targeting highly sought-after angles and add your unique twist to it.

3. Learn from the Best

Creating SEO content involves some trial and error. You create content and watch how it performs, adjust for the next time and then see how that performs.

Drawing inspiration from top-ranking content is one way to bypass time-intensive trial and error. The content you find in the top ten search results for the keyword you want to rank for is likely doing something right.

Click through to high-ranking pages and learn from them. Are there charts and graphs? Lots of links to related content? A clear structure with easy-to-find info? Embedded videos? Infographics?

Let’s be clear. You’re not ripping people off. Your job is to identify what’s working in high-ranking content and apply those principles to your own original content.

4. Know What People Ask

Looking at the SERP feature “People also ask” will help you flesh out your content with related ideas that matter to people searching for your keyword.

For example, if we’re creating a blog post about how to make waffles, we might want to include details about making them without milk or how they stack up (pun intended) against pancakes for health-conscious breakfast fans.

example of how Google's people also ask shows search intent

Key Takeaways

Phew! We’ve covered a lot of ground here.

Let’s sum it up from a 10,000-foot view.

  • Creating content with search intent in mind aligns you with Google’s mission and helping Google help searchers is a win, win, win.
  • Understanding what searchers are looking for and why will help you meet them exactly where they are with what they need and in the most helpful format.

Support Your SEO Goals With Quality Content

Understanding search intent can help you get more from your keyword research services and create content that meets your audience’s needs. But what if you just don’t have the time to create high-quality posts that will rank well in SERPs?

At Victorious, we support our customers’ SEO goals with a full suite of SEO services — including SEO content writing services. Get a publish-ready post that features all of our SEO best practices. 

Ready to learn more? Schedule a free SEO consultation today.

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