Understanding Search Intent: A Beginner’s Guide

Understanding Search Intent: A Beginner’s Guide

What is search intent?

Search intent is the reason behind a query. In other words, it’s understanding why the users are making a search query in the first place. 

Do they want to buy a product, or are they just trying to learn something? There are even times when people are only looking for a link to a particular website. 

For example, instead of typing twitter.com into the address bar, they search for ‘Twitter’ and click on the first result. 

This is generally done when people have a hard time remembering the URL. 

Based on the reasons, the search intent can be classified into four types: informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional (which we will discuss later in the article). 

But first, let me tell you the importance of search intent for your SEO. 

Why is search intent important for SEO?

If you can understand your user intent when they type a specific query, you have a higher chance of ranking on that keyword than those who don’t. 

Google aims to satisfy users’ search intent by surfacing helpful information from the web. 

I’ll give you an example. 

Let’s say you are a company dealing with laptops. You did your research and want to target the keyword ‘best touchscreen laptop’. 

If you are not aware about search intent, your first attempt will be to try getting your product page rank for this keyword so that you can make sales.

But oops… that’s where your whole SEO strategy will go wrong. 

If you look at the search results, Google doesn’t actually show any product page. It draws up pages either with buying guides or review articles.

search intent example

Similarly, if you look at the SERP result for the keyword ‘buy touchscreen laptop,’ you will always see ecommerce store pages on the top. 

example search intent

That’s why search intent needs to be a crucial part of your SEO strategy. 

You need to understand why the user is making a specific search, and then you need to meet the requirements of the user through your content.

Because users love quality content. Here’s a study conducted by Ignite Visibility that shows written content is preferred over videos, images and audio.

Stats from Ignite Visibility study
Source: Ignite Visibility

Now that doesn’t mean backlinks and other Google ranking factors aren’t relevant anymore. They still are.

However, if you are not optimizing your page for search intent, it’s not going to rank; no matter what’s your link profile. 

In fact, Google even published an article on ‘How intent is redefining the marketing funnel.’

How does Google understand search intent?

Google is continually trying to change the ranking factors, and sometimes it can be tough to keep up. 

However, they dropped a bomb in 2015 when they rolled out a new algorithm for their search engine — RankBrain. 

RankBrain is driven by artificial intelligence (AI) that helps determine relevance of search results. 

With the help of AI, Google is able to understand and recognize how words shape context. That’s precisely how search intent works. 

RankBrain can tweak the algorithm of Google on its own. It can determine which ranking factor is best suited to interpret a specific search query. Based on this decision, it applies one of them or combines several factors together.

For example, if you search for ‘Artificial Intelligence,’ Google displays a featured snippet giving you a clear definition. The search intent for this keyword, as seen by Google, is informative wherein it assumes that the user is looking for informative articles. 

example for understanding search intent

If it finds out that user satisfaction is low for the search result, it tests new algorithms and rolls out new search results for that keyword. 

Pretty simple, isn’t it?

Types of search intent keywords

Ninety-nine percent of search query falls under four categories: informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional.

Before we try to understand them, let’s look at an example of each type.

Types of search intent keywords

#1. Informational keywords

Informational keywords are used to find information about a certain topic. It could be about people, places, products, or services. 

They have a very high search volume on Google. It could be a simple question like ‘who is the vice president of America?’ or something that requires an in-depth meaning — ‘how does SEO strategy work?’

Though it’s not necessary that all informational queries will be in the form of questions. It can also involve weather information, opening hours of cafes, and more. 

Some examples are LA weather, Kobe Bryant, etc.

#2. Navigational keywords

Navigational keywords are used to find a specific website, location, or brand. The user’s intent is pretty clear here as the searcher is looking for a very particular stuff. 

Since they already know where they want to go, most users prefer to search it on Google rather than typing the complete URL in the address bar. 

Say, if you want to visit Amazon.com, there are chances that your first instinct would be to type Amazon in the Google search box. And then, click on the first result that shows up. 

These keywords are usually easy to rank as they represent your brand name. 

Some of the other examples are Facebook, Forbes, Canva, etc.

#3. Commercial keywords

Commercial keywords are part of the research that is made before making a transaction. 

Your users are doing market research and are yet to make a final buying decision. They are trying to weigh their options by reading reviews or comparison articles. 

For example, “best running shoes”, “top computers under USD 1,000”, etc. 

They still haven’t zeroed down on the brand and are looking for help online.

Review articles can influence their decision making and help them make a choice.

Commercial keywords are one of the most profitable keywords. 

#4. Transactional keywords

This is the final stage in the buying funnel where your user knows what he wants to buy and is looking for related information. 

If you run an online business, transactional keywords are extremely important.

Transactional keywords are those phrases that potential customers use to find a certain product or service to buy. 

For example, “buy Nike red color joggers”, “Amazon Prime subscription discount”, “Bluehost Black Friday Sales Price”, “Restaurant ABC offers”; and so on.

Now, these can be both online or offline, depending on the product or service. These keywords are very crucial to rank for as users generally have a clear intent to make a purchase. 

Such keywords may have a low search volume, are generally long tail but have a very high conversion rate. That’s because the user intent is very clear and you can create content that serves that intent.

The search engine tries to find the right platform where users can buy those products or services.

How to leverage search intent for SEO?

#1. Do an extensive SERP Audit

The first thing you need to do is infer the user’s search intent for a particular keyword. You can do that by quickly running a SERP Audit with OnPage Champ

For example, when you search for ‘how to write a book,’ you will notice that the top 10 Google results include blog posts. 

That means if you want to rank for this keyword, you need to write a blog post and do an extensive SEO for that post, rather than trying to get your service page ranked.

serp audit onpage champ

Contrary, if you are selling Nike Shoes and you want to rank for the keyword ‘buy Nike shoes”, you can’t rank for the same by optimizing a blog post. 

The keyword is transactional and Google ranks all the ecommerce websites on the top. So you should also focus on your product page, rather than a blog post.

Simply said, pages that are already ranking have passed the relevancy test of Google and are ranking on the first page because of some reason. 

Use SERP Audit to identify that reason.

#2. Take care of important on-page SEO parameters

Once you have written content that matches the search intent behind the keyword, optimize it for important on-page SEO parameters.

As we said earlier, search intent is necessary but not the only factor when it comes to ranking on Google. 

You need to send the right signals to Google, identifying yourself as the best contender for your chosen target keyword. On-page SEO helps you with precisely this.

Give a closer look to the elements like:-

  • Title tag, meta description and URL
  • Heading tags and logical structuring of content
  • Exact match, broad match and LSI keywords occurrences
  • Use of multimedia (like images and videos) and their optimization
  • And so on

Google looks at how users interact with the organic results. They can tell if users actually like the search result or not by looking at parameters like click through rates, dwell time and bounce rate.

Quality content plus good on-page optimization helps in improving these quality factors.

You should use OnPage Champ to quickly scan the top 10 results for their on-page SEO parameters, and you can optimize yours based on what the competitors are doing to rank on the top.

#3. Change the focus keyword if you can’t match the intent

Let’s just say you have an article with a target keyword as ‘SERP audit tool.’

When you search on Google, it displays results that are product pages of different SERP audit tools.

example of search intent

That means that unless you have a SERP audit tool to offer to your audience, you will have a hard time ranking for this keyword. 

The best solution then is to change your focus keyword if you don’t have a tool. 

Based on the keyword research, you should tweak your keyword to ‘best SERP audit tools’ and create an informative blog post on it. 

That’s how you will match the SERP intent.

Here’s one of the case studies we recorded highlighting the same issue which one of our users is facing:-

Closing remarks

A lot has been said about search intent. It is clearly one of the most significant ranking factors. 

In fact, Google rolled out another algorithm update on October ’19 — BERT, as a supplement to RankBrain. 

With the help of machine learning, they are trying to make a vast improvement in how they understand users’ queries and help them find useful information. 

In a nutshell, if you want to rank for the long-term, you need to give your users what they want. Matching the search intent is how that happens.

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