Why Search Intent Matters for SEO: The Ultimate Guide

Posted on:
February 11, 2024

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What is Search Intent and Why Does it Matter for Your Brand?

Perhaps you're an experienced writer with knowledge of SEO and best SEO practices. Or perhaps you're new to the SEO world and learning how to best write content that will rank high on search engines and be seen by many. Either way, learning how to properly write for the desired search intent is absolutely critical for the success of your content. Welcome to The Ultimate Guide on Search Intent and why it matters for SEO, where we will discuss types of search intent, how to optimize for search intent, and YOUR audience's search intent.

Let's first talk about what search intent is. Search intent is the process of which you design your content to match what the user types into the search engine. When you sit down to start writing, you often have a topic in mind, perhaps a few bullet points to cover or maybe questions to answer. With search intent, your writing has to match the end result of the users inquiry in the search engine, ultimately giving them the answer they're looking for, the information they needed, or the education they were lacking.

Content that has quality search intent and is optimized properly will appeal to Google and other search engines. This is because users will stay on that page because they have found what they are looking for.

Imagine a user searches for "chocolate chip cookie recipe" and the results of this search are places to order chocolate chip cookies. The search intent on these pages would be off-base for the users intent. Quickly, the user would navigate away from these pages to find an actual recipe. In turn, Google would identify that this keyword, "chocolate chip cookie recipe" does NOT match on these pages and therefore would not rank them accordingly.

Inaccurate search intent will hurt your rankings with Google because users will leave your page faster when they don't find the information they are looking for. The all powerful Google is incredibly intelligent and won't reward websites that lead people astray.

Why does all of this matter? In short, search intent matters for SEO because when your search intent is ON, more visitors will click on your page and stay there. Google can see this and will reward your page by providing you with higher rankings to your site and associated pages. On the flip side, if your search intent is OFF, your site or pages won't rank for potentially high volume keywords or will seriously struggle to get seen, possibly affecting your business, sales, or potential revenue.

Types of Search Intent (4)

Did you know that there are four different types of search intent? Whether this is news to you or not, learning about these different types of search intent will help you cater your content appropriately. Let's explore each one.

1. Navigational Intent: AKA Trying to find something (e.g., “Walmart near me”)

We've all done it; grabbed our phones in a hurry to locate or find a specific business or address for where we need to go. We hurriedly type into Google, "Walmart near me", and are given a list of potential Walmarts in the general area, based on your location settings. Isn't technology amazing?

Navigational Search Intent refers to a user wanting to find a specific page, domain, or physical address. This is similar to Google’s “visit” and “website” user intents and includes local searches, hence why your location settings play a factor. Additionally, when dealing with navigational search intent, the ANSWER to the search inquiry is often a location (physical or web) that would be recognizable right away by a business name (i.e. Walmart, Suburu dealership, Mrs. Field's Cookie Shop, etc.)

Why It Matters for Your Business - Navigational intent keywords are all about making sure your customers (or future customers) can find you. These keywords are your brand name specifically and should always lead to YOU.

Consider both your brand name AND your niche when writing for navigational search intent. If you're an auto shop with oil change services, both your brand name ("Bob's Auto Shop") and your niche ("auto shop" and "oil change services") should be incorporated heavily into your content so Google understands that that is your content intent.

How to Properly Optimize for Navigational Intent - Start by making sure the structure of your site is organized to target your navigational intent keywords (a Contact Us page with contact information details, your exact location (if physical), phone numbers, etc.) Each section of your site should be clearly labeled, with page titles, tags, headers, and descriptions that tell the user what information they will find there. Additionally, make sure your URL is keyword-rich, descriptive of your brand and services, and easy to read.

Navigational search intent could be the difference maker for your business. If people can properly search for you and find you, more business can be yours. By adequately meeting your users search intent for the navigational elements of your business or page, you're well on your way to first page status.

Informational Intent: AKA Trying to learn more about something (e.g. “What’s a good family car?”)

As the name suggests, informational search intent relates to the user wanting to learn something. Often, users phrase these searches as questions and use words like:

- Who ("Who is the actor in "Top Gun"?)

- What ("What are the names of the Kardashians?")

- Where ("Where to find Christmas wrapping paper")

- Why ("Why are flags at half mast?")

- How ("How to change a lightbulb")

Questions asked can range from extremely specific (“How old is Tom Brady?”) to broad or complex (“phases of the moon”). Chances are you've asked Google an informational intent question before!

Why It’s Matters to Your Business - Like you, everyone wants to know the answer to something! Thankfully, we can ask Google. Informational queries make up the vast majority (more than 80%) of searches performed on Google. If you can build questions and answers into your content online, you will both appeal to both users search intent and Google (aka higher rankings). The ultimate goal is to answer questions related to your business, your product, your customers, and your user intent (aka the reason you created your website or that page).

Additionally, informational intent is important for building trust in your brand. When YOU are the source of the answer to someone's question, they often remember that. Your brand becomes embedded in their memory as a trusted source and one they could come back to again.

How to Properly Optimize for Informational Intent - To target keywords with informational intent, pay close attention to the information users, or customers, are searching for. Write your content as clearly as possible and use “how-to” language. Review the "People Also Ask" section for your brand and related keyword. Make sure you're addressing these most popular asked questions and even consider a Frequently Asked Questions page to address these main questions and match search intent. Don't forget to use tools, like Ahrefs, to identify the key terms your content currently ranks for and where your content may be lacking.

Transactional Intent: Trying to complete a specific action (e.g., “buy curtains”)

Bless the internet for providing us endless options for buying, selling, registering, and receiving the things we want and need. (How did they do it before the internet was born?!) We literally have at our fingertips the ability to buy, sell, send, and receive almost anything we could ever want. This has become one of the main reasons for online businesses and their success, hence the need for transactional search intent.

Transactional search intent refers to users wanting to do something specific. Although this is not specific to just purchases, it often involves some sort of transaction or process. A user doing a transactional search might want to make a purchase, find a deal, or, from a non-monetary perspective, complete an email signup, form submission, or registration.

Why It Matters for Your Business - Transactional keywords typically lead to conversions and sales. These are the keywords your future customers use when they've done the research, reviewed their options, or simply know exactly what they want and search for the quickest way to get it. Transactional keywords with an optimized product landing page or an easy sign up process rank higher than those without because the user completes a specific action and can be on their merry way.

How to Properly Target Keywords with Transactional Intent - This specific step of your SEO strategy is critical for conversions and achieving your business or personal goals. To properly target transactional content,

  • Know what you want your customers to do - Do you want them to sign up? Buy something? Submit a form? Pre-register? Knowing the process you want them to complete is essential. When creating content around your process, remember that your content must also satisfy the search intent. Would someone ask Google, "How to sign up for Dr. Allen's Pregnancy Course" if you're advertising Dr. Allen's Pregnancy book? The transactional search intent and language has to be clear.
  • Provide the most important information in the most user-friendly way you can - We've all been subject to an endless form with unnecessary questions or too many verification steps. Consider simplicity, safety of information, and end goal of your particular website. User-friendliness is one of Google's main goals, so the more user-friendly, the better. Alternatively, unfriendly transactional content can lead users to feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and ultimately drive them away from your site.
  • Make the conversion process as straightforward as you can - Along with user-friendliness is straightforwardness. You wouldn't ask for someone's payment information before they provide their address (since their location may influence shipping prices). Make sure your process is clearly mapped out in easy-to-follow steps with supportive terms to lead the person along ("Next", "Step 3/5", "Click to Complete", etc.)
  • Analyze your competitors - If your competition is successful in gaining sales, participants, or subscribers, consider a similar approach - but better! Understanding search intent on your competitor pages will aid you in your efforts to matching search intent on your own.

Commercial Intent: AKA Trying to learn more before making a purchase decision (e.g. “Ford vs. Toyota”)

Some people don't need to spend hours scouring the internet for compare vs. contrast articles on the best types of cookware, fashion finds, or vehicles. But are they normal? (Kidding). For the majority of us, doing research on available options is both helpful and necessary. Enter: commercial search intent.

Commercial search intent refers to the keywords your audience uses when they’re doing their research before making a purchase decision. In other words, it's like informational search intent and and transactional search intent had a baby.

Examples of commercial search intent keywords include:

  • Iphone vs. Android
  • Best types of Kitchenaids
  • Office chairs for home
  • Shipping options for shipping to Canada

Why It Matters for Your Business - Commercial keywords are all about showing your audience what you have to offer and giving them the information they need to convert. Whether you sell products or not, your content has to match the same intent as your users by providing content on that exact term (and more specifically, exactly how they asked it.)

Product comparisons, product listicles, and detailed feature descriptions are common types of commercial intent pieces and can provide high volume and traffic to your site when written correctly.

How to Properly Optimize for Commercial Search Intent - Like informational keywords, you want to target commercial keywords that someone would naturally type into Google. To do so, you need to know what your users are asking for (use tools like Ahrefs to determine this.) Then, structure your page so that users can find the answer as efficiently as possible.

For example, tables are ideal for comparing various products or services and meet commercial search intent easily. To rank in the top ranking pages, make sure to complete thorough keyword research and analyze your competitors.

How to Determine Search Intent from Keywords

This guide would not be helpful without outlining how to determine proper search intent from keywords you already rank for or are trying to rank for. Let's learn how by exploring these three content strategies.

  1. Awareness - The content strategy of bringing awareness to something is almost always informational search intent. Keywords like “how to make homemade pizza” would fall under awareness and informational search intent. This often does not include transactions or purchases, but includes the goal of education and awareness on a specific topic or series.
  2. Consideration - Someone needs to or is ready to make a decision, but they need to know their options and consider each one. Keywords like “best homemade pizza recipes” would fall in line with commercial search intent and provider a user with options to consider. Round up's are almost always of commercial search intent.
  3. Conversion - Transactional or navigational keywords (often branded) like “Digiorno's Frozen Pizza” or "Nearest Pizza Hut" are traditional conversion keywords that will end in the user finding the location or website of the desired search and completing a step, order, or process. With keywords that have a conversion goal, the search intents almost always involve transactional or navigational search intent.

How to Create and Optimize Content to Meet Search Intents

We've addressed the different types of search intent and explained how to determine them from keywords. Now let's focus on how to create and optimize the actual content (aka the bread and butter to a search engine optimization strategy).

Start by optimizing the content of your website for the queries users are using to find you already. Use a keyword research tool like Ahrefs or SEMRush to understand what keywords are ranking and leading to your page.

Next, compare your content to your competitors and higher ranking pages through a SERP analysis. (SERP stands for Search Engine Results Page and is the listings Google pulls when you enter a key term or phrase.) Type in the desired keyword to Google and evaluate each of the listings on the first page. Is your content well-aligned with your competitors, despite being branded their way? Do they better answer the questions most users are wanting to know? How can you tailor your content to be more attractive, more user-friendly, or help search engines understand your intent better? A quality competitor analysis can be your best friend in this part of the process.

Consider also running a content gap analysis on top of the basic review of titles and headings. What is the average word count for the top page results? Are these pages providing more or less content than your current page? Length of content is a large factor for Google's ranking system.

Lastly, structure your content according to Google's featured snippets and pay close attention to formatting. Lists, short paragraphs, quotes, images, and tables are readable by Google and should be a main emphasis in your optimization. Ultimately, the formatting of a well-optimized page with quality keyword research and spot-on user intent will result in a first page listing.

The Ultimate Takeaway of Search Intent: Providing Quality Content

Anyone can put content on the web and hope that it matches search intent. However, making your content the highest quality with proper search intent and well-designed structure will ensure success of your site because it satisfies your audience and builds credibility.

Building credibility often leads to continual business. Amazon is the ultimate online retailer for this very reason - they have built credibility through advanced SEO strategies involving in-depth keyword research, expert search intent, and user-friendly page navigation. For this reason and more, people come back again and again to buy from Amazon.

Even if your site is not one of the big online retailers, you can still create content that ranks on the first page and satisfies search intent. Trust in the guide suggestions above and do your due diligence of research and competitor analysis. In no time, you'll see the fruits of your labors.

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