Understanding search intent can be the secret ingredient that brings your content  from okay to outstanding.  

Here we’ll discuss the different types of search intent, how to determine the best intent for given keywords, and how to optimize for search intent. First–let’s iron out the basics.

What is search intent?

Search intent (also known as user intent) is the primary goal a user has when searching a query in a search engine. Many times, users are searching for a specific type of answer or resource as they search.

Take pizza for example. Searching for a pizza recipe has a different intent than searching for a takeout pizza, which is also different from searching for the history of pizza. Though they all revolve around the same overall topic (pizza), these users all have different intents.

Why is search intent important for SEO?

Google cares about search intent

The short answer is: Satisfying search intent is a primary goal for Google, which in turn makes it a primary goal for SEOs. When a user searches for a specific term and finds irrelevant information, that sends a signal back to Google that the intent is likely mismatched.

For example, if a user searches “How to build a website,” and they’re shown a slew of product pages for CMS platforms and hosting sites, they’ll try another search without clicking on anything. This is a signal to Google that the intent of those results do not reflect the intent of the searcher.

Broaden your reach across funnel stages

When it comes to running a business and building a successful content marketing strategy, I can’t stress enough the importance of remembering search intent, and letting that be the driving force behind the pieces of content you create and how you create them.

And just why is this so important? The more specific your content is to various search intents, the more users you can reach, and at different stages of the funnel. From those who are still to discover your brand to those looking to convert, you can increase your chances of reaching them all by focusing your efforts on matching search intent.

You can improve rankings

Since Google’s primary ranking factors are relevance, authority, and user satisfaction, it’s easy to connect the dots and see how improving your keyword targeting to mirror search intent can improve your overall rankings.

Relevance: This has to do with your user’s behavior. If they find the information they’re looking for on your site, they’re less likely to return to Google within seconds and explore a different result (pogo-sticking). You’ll notice a difference in such KPIs as click-through rate and bounce rate when your content is relevant to search intent.

Authority: While much of a site’s authority is connected to backlinks, it’s also important to develop a strong internal linking strategy that signals to Google “I have a lot of content covering all angles and intents surrounding this topic” to rank well. Additionally, you can increase brand authority and visibility by creating valuable content around topics your brand is well versed in, that satisfies various intents.

User satisfaction: Does the content you create provide value and is it relevant to your audience? End of story.

Types of search intent

While there are endless search terms, there are just four primary search intents:

  1. Informational
  2. Preferential/Commercial Investigation
  3. Transactional
  4. Navigational

Now you may be thinking, that’s all well and good, but what do they mean for my content? Luckily, I’ve broken each one down with example terms that suggest intent. Keep in mind, however, that searches are not binary –– many will fall under more than one category.

Informational

As you may have guessed, searches with informational intent come from users looking for... information! This could be in the form of a how-to guide, a recipe, or a definition. It’s one of the most common search intents, as users can look for answers to an infinite number of questions. That said, not all informational terms are questions. Users searching for simply “Bill Gates” are most likely looking for information about Bill Gates.

Examples:

  • How to boil an egg
  • What is a crater
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Directions to JFK Airport

Preferential/Commercial Investigation

Before they’re ready to make a purchase, users start their commercial investigation. This is when they use search to investigate products, brands, or services further. They’re past the informational stage of their research and have narrowed their focus to a few different options. Users here are often comparing products and brands to find the best solution for them.

Note: These searches often include non-branded localized terms such as “best body shop near me” or “top sushi restaurant NYC.”

Examples:

  • Semrush vs Moz
  • Best website hosting service
  • Squarespace reviews
  • Wordpress or wix for blog

Transactional

Transactional searchers are looking to make a purchase. This could be a product, service, or subscription. Either way, they have a good idea of what they’re looking for. Since the user is already in buying mode, these terms are usually branded. Users are no longer researching the product, they’re looking for a place to purchase it.

Examples:

  • Buy Yeti tumbler
  • Seamless coupon
  • Shop Louis Vuitton bags
  • Van’s high tops sale

These searchers are looking to navigate to a specific website, and it’s often easier to run a quick search in Google than to type out the URL. The user could also be unsure of the exact URL or looking for a specific page, e.g. a login page. As such, these searches tend to be brand or website names and can include additional specifications to help users find an exact page.

Examples:

  • Spotify login
  • Yelp
  • MOZ beginner SEO
  • distilledU

How to determine search intent

Consider keyword modifiers

As we briefly noted above, keyword modifiers can be helpful indicators for search intent. But it’s not enough just to know the terms, you may also be wondering, when it comes to keyword research, how do you find these terms?

Thankfully, there are a range of trusted keyword research tools out there to use. Their filter features will be most useful here, as you can filter terms that include certain modifiers or phrases.

Additionally, you can filter keywords by SERP feature. Taking informational intent for example, you can filter for keywords that rank for knowledge panels, related questions, and featured snippets.

Read the SERPs

Another way to determine search intent is to research the SERPs. Type in the keyword you’re targeting into the search bar and see what Google comes up with. You’ll likely be able to tell by the types of results what Google deems the most relevant search intent for each term.

Let’s take a closer look at search results for each intent type.

SERP results for informational intent

As mentioned above, informational keywords tend to own SERP results that provide condensed information. These include knowledge grabs, featured snippets, and related questions. The top results are most likely organic results, and consist of Wikipedia, dictionary, or informative blog