Search Intent: The Basics

Search intent, which can also be referred to as audience or user intent, is the purpose of an online search query. Essentially, it’s the reason why someone is searching for a specific thing in that instance.
What is search intent?

Search intent, which can also be referred to as audience or user intent, is the purpose of an online search query. Essentially, it’s the reason why someone is searching for a specific thing in that instance. For example, they may be looking for the answer to a question, shopping for an item or an occasion, or hoping to find a particular website.

Google and other search engines have worked to improve their algorithms so that they can find out people’s search intent. In order to provide the most relevant results, search engines need to determine why people are looking for something. If you want to find out why black holes are formed, for instance, you probably don’t want to be presented with ads showing telescopes for sale, even if the two things are linked.

When you post content, you’ll therefore need to make sure that it fits the search intent of your target audience. In order to do this, you will have to know what people are looking for and why.

search intent

Types of Search Intent

There are a few different types of search intent, which can be distinguished from each other. These include informational intent, transactional intent, commercial investigation, and navigational intent. We’ve explored these in a little more detail below:

Informational Intent

As the name suggests, informational intent is where someone is looking for information. People may want to know more about a certain topic for any number of reasons – perhaps they want to find out what the weather will be like tomorrow, or learn more about search intent! Whatever the reason, these users are hoping to find answers to their questions, and not be bombarded with sales ads.

Transactional Intent

Unlike with informational intent, someone with transactional intent would probably expect to see adverts, as they’re looking to make a purchase. Lots of people these days use the internet to compare prices of items, or they could simply go to a marketplace they use often, such as Amazon, to find what they’re looking for.

Commercial Investigation

While similar to transactional intent, people showing commercial investigation traits aren’t quite ready to make a purchase yet. They first want to research what options are on the market. For example, these people may be interested in buying a new laptop, but first need to see all the specs, to check which one would be best for their needs. 

Navigational Intent

Perhaps the most straightforward search intent, with navigational intent, people want to visit a particular website. So if they wish to log into their Facebook account, they might enter ‘Facebook’ into the search bar. You therefore need to make sure you’re ranking for your own business name.


Why Does Search Intent Matter?

Search intent is important because it changes the way you need to interact with your audience. You need to be aware of their intent online, and produce content that reflects this. The best way to do this is through keywords. You can tell from the words people use in their searches what sort of intent they have. For instance, if someone were to use the word ‘why’ or ‘how’, they probably have informational intent. Words like ‘cost’ or ‘comparison’ may indicate commercial investigation. You can use this to your advantage. 

By including intent specific words in your copy, you can improve your chances of being found by users with matching search intent. Alongside the examples above, transactional intent keywords may include deal, buy, and discount. Navigational intent is a little more tricky, as people are searching for a specific site, but you could mention the names of your main competitors in some of your copy, highlighting where your products are superior.

Optimising for Search Intent

When it comes to search intent, if someone is looking for information, there is no point showing them a product page. They might end up there eventually, after learning more about the product, but wouldn’t want to be directed to a product page immediately. So to optimise your content for search intent, you need to ensure your audience takes the appropriate user journey. But how do you go about this?
1. Research Search Intent
The first thing you need to do is research the search intent of your audience. This won’t always be easy, as people entering the same search query can have different search intent. For example, if someone searched for ‘how to buy a used car’ there is a high likelihood that they have transactional intent, but they may be undertaking a commercial investigation, or even just be interested in the process, with informational intent.
If you’re unsure, you can simply look at the search results pages, and see which intent fits your keywords best. Or you could ask your audience directly, by asking them to complete a short survey. 
2. Using Keywords
Once you’ve looked into the intent of your users, you can start considering which keywords would be the most effective. You’ll probably be targeting people with an intent to purchase, so should concentrate on keywords that match this. And you can’t simply research keywords once and move on – this is something that needs to be done periodically.
With keywords, you also need to have a strategy in place for both long tail and short tail keywords. Although you will want to include the obvious keywords in your copy, by weaving related phrases into the text, you can attract a wider audience.
3. Mobile Optimisation 
Another thing that is closely related to search intent and keywords is what sort of device someone is using. While this may sound odd, if you think about the fact that someone on a mobile device, rather than a desktop, will be on the move, this can change their attitude. They are unlikely to be sitting down and researching a topic in depth on a smartphone, but could be doing this on a laptop. 
What this means is that you should optimise your site for both desktop and mobile, with an emphasis on mobile devices. Despite the fact that just over half of all users favour mobile devices, not all businesses put a lot of effort into improving the mobile experience, and simply keep it the same as the desktop.
Making the Most of Search Intent

Search intent is an important part of your SEO strategy. There is no point in targeting people with no intention to make a purchase, for example, unless you think they might be interested in buying later down the line. Search intent is also closely connected to keyword research, which you’ll be undertaking for SEO purposes on a regular basis.

Essentially, you need to know the user intent in order to direct your audience down the appropriate path, and service their needs. If you’re able to deliver the outcome people are looking for, they should become more loyal to your brand, and potentially make a purchase later down the line.

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