What is Search Intent? An Ultimate Guide

You might have heard this before, but 46% of all searches have local intent. This means that for every 100 searches, 46 of them are specifically oriented towards finding something local. 

In an essence, this is what search intent is. However, there’s more to know about search intent and SEO than just local intent. It goes much deeper than that.

With four different types of search intent to understand and implement, there’s a lot to learn. If you’re a business owner who is interested in understanding search intent as part of your SEO strategy, you’ve come to the right place. 

In this ultimate guide, we’ll cover what search intent is, how to identify it, and how to use that information to improve your website’s ranking and visibility. Let’s get started!

What Is Search Intent?

Do you know what search intent is? If not, don’t feel bad – it’s a relatively new buzzword that’s only recently come to the forefront of effective SEO strategies and the Google algorithm. 

In short, search intent refers to the purpose behind a user’s search. Basically, when you use keyword search intent as part of your SEO strategy, you’re aiming to answer these two questions: 

  • What are they looking for? 
  • What are they hoping to find? 

 How does this all work, though? Whenever someone types a query into a search engine, they are expressing an intent. Search engines then use algorithms to try and match the best possible results to that intent.

It might be easier to understand the concept if we give you a real-world example, though. 

Example of Search Intent

Let’s say that you sell auto insurance. If the goal of your auto insurance quote landing page is to get people to put in their information to receive a quote then you want to target the keyword “auto insurance quotes.”

If you target the more general keyword “auto insurance” then you could get visitors to your page who are interested in understanding the different types of auto insurance. 

Or perhaps you could get visitors interested in information regarding what the process of getting auto insurance is like in Canada or Colombia. That’s not that helpful if you’re selling auto insurance and are offering quotes to people in the US.

While these visitors are great, and they’re still likely to view your landing page and perhaps submit their information, they’re not ultimately the users you want to target for that specific page. You want to target users who are looking for exactly what you have to offer.

This is why understanding search intent is essential for any business that wants to be successful in digital marketing

By understanding what type of searches your customers are making, you can ensure that your website appears as a top result for the queries that matter most to your business.

Why Is Search Intent Important to SEO?

So why is search intent important to SEO? For all of the reasons mentioned above, obviously! However, there’s a lot more to it than that. Namely, it pays to understand Google search intent so that you know what type of search intent to optimize your content for.

Optimizing for the wrong type of search intent can result in lower rankings and fewer visitors from organic searches. On the other hand, optimizing for the right type of search intent can help you improve your SEO and bring in more relevant traffic. 

Basically, by understanding and optimizing for search intent, you can attract more relevant organic traffic and improve your SEO at the same time.

The Different Types of Search Intent

There are generally four different types of search intent: navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional. Let’s dive into each type of search intent a bit more to help you begin to understand how your target audience might be searching for your products or services.

Navigational Intent

Searchers use navigational search intent when they are looking for a specific website or web page. This type of search is often used when people already have a general idea of what they are looking for and just need to find the right location.

For example, a searcher might use navigational search intent to find the website for a specific brand or to find the online booking page for a hotel. This might look like someone searching for “Facebook” or even for “Holiday Inn Rochester NY.”

Navigational search intent can also be used to find specific information on a website, such as the contact information for a business or directions to an event venue.

Informational Intent

Informational search intent is when a searcher is looking for information about something. This could be in the form of an answer to a question, or just general information about a topic. 

Searches with informational intent are usually characterized by words like “what,” “how,” and “why.” 

This is why informational searches often come before navigational or transactional searches, as people often need information before they are ready to take action. Because of this, informational searches can be an important part of the customer journey.

Transactional Intent

Transactional search intent refers to the intention of the searcher to transact or take action with the result of the search. That is, transactional searchers are typically looking to buy something. 

This could be purchasing a product, signing up for a service, or making a reservation. The key point is that the searcher intends to transact, or take some kind of action, as a result of their search query. 

One way to think about transactional search intent is in contrast to informational search intent. 

Informational searches are ones where the searcher is looking for information about a topic, but not necessarily looking to transact. For example, someone might search for “best running shoes” if they want to simply learn more about the best running shoes. 

In contrast, someone who searches for “buy women’s Nike running shoes” has transactional intent. They want to purchase running shoes (and a specific type of running shoes at that).

When customers have transactional intent, they’re typically further along in the purchase funnel and thus more likely to convert into paying customers. As such, ranking for transactional keywords can be extremely valuable for your business.

Commercial Intent

Finally, we have commercial intent. This typically comes after informational intent but before transactional intent. 

Commercial search intent is the intent of a user when they search for something with, well, commercial intent. This means that the user is searching for something with the intent to buy or convert in some way. However, they’re not fully ready to make that purchase just yet.

Typically, commercial searches are made when someone is trying to find a product or service to buy. They may be looking for a specific product, comparing prices, or looking for reviews. 

If you optimize your website for commercial search intent, you can increase your chances of appearing in these types of searches and getting more business. 

Be sure to give them the information they need to fully make their decision. Then, make it easy for them to complete the transaction.

How to Define Search Intent

Understanding the different types of search intent is only the first part of the process of optimizing SEO for search intent. You need to also understand how to define search intent. 

How do you know how your target audience searches for you and your competitors? Understanding what and how they’re searching online can help inform you of what kind of keyword search intent you should be targeting with your content.

You can do this in two simple steps.

Keyword Modifiers

As you’re conducting your keyword research, you’ll want to pay attention to the keywords that come up. While we suggest conducting a general search, it’s helpful to use a tool like Semrush or Ahrefs to see what keywords your competition ranks for.

While there are likely a lot of general keywords, there are likely a lot of keyword modifiers in there that help you understand your target audience’s search intent as it relates to your business (and those of your competitors, who you’re ultimately trying to outrank).

What do we mean by keyword modifiers? Keyword modifiers are words that you can add to your keyword to make it more specific. 

For example, if you are trying to rank for the keyword “dog food,” you might use keyword modifiers such as “organic,” “grain-free,” or “for senior dogs.” 

By adding these keyword modifiers, you can make your keyword more specific and improve your chances of ranking for that keyword. 

For example, you’ll likely see trends such as (using the example above) “buy grain-free dog food online” or “purchase organic dog food.” In that case, you’d want to target transactional longtail keywords in your content, too.

SERP Results

Regardless of what type of search intent your audience has, once you know you’ll want to search for those keywords in Google. Look at the top-ranked pages for the keywords you want to target. What kind of content are they featuring? What sorts of topics are they covering? 

You can use this information to develop a better understanding of what people are looking for and how you can provide it.

Likewise, take a look at the ads that appear alongside the organic results. What sorts of products or services are being advertised? This can give you an idea of what people are searching for and what they might be willing to spend money on.

How to Optimize Your Content for Navigational Intent

This isn’t likely where you’ll focus your keyword search intent efforts. However, if you want to optimize your content for navigational search intent then the best thing you can do is use descriptive titles and headlines. 

Titles and headlines should clearly and concisely describe the content that follows. If you have more than one store location, for example, then ensure that you create location pages for each store. 

This ensures that whenever someone searches for “X bakery in Rochester” they can find the Rochester location easily in the SERPs.

How to Optimize Your Content for Informational Intent

When optimizing your content for informational intent it helps to understand what kind of information your target audience looks for. Identify the keywords your audience searches for the most when they need more information about your product or services.

Then, create content that is relevant to the topic people are searching for. Make sure your content is helpful, up-to-date, high-quality, well-organized and easy to read. People should be able to find the information they need quickly and easily.

Keep in mind that your only job here is to provide them with information. Make it as easy as possible for them to view you as an authority and to trust your brand. They’re not looking to make a purchase yet; they still need information that will direct them toward that next step.

How to Optimize Your Content for Transactional Intent

There are a few things you can do to optimize your content for transactional intent outside of incorporating transactional keywords like “buy,” “purchase,” or “order” into your content strategy.

First, make sure that your content is focused on the product or service that you’re selling. Use descriptive, benefits-focused words to describe your product or services. Additionally, include clear calls to action that tell the reader what to do next. 

Finally, provide easy ways for the reader to purchase the product or service. After all, they’re ready to complete their transaction. Make that easy for them to do.

How to Optimize Your Content for Commercial Intent

The best thing you can do when optimizing your content for commercial intent is to write compelling and persuasive copy that will convince readers to take the next step and contact you or purchase your product. 

This includes using strong calls to action and providing clear information about what you offer and how it can benefit the reader. 

Remember, these searchers have already researched information but they’re not ready to purchase yet. So, your goal here is to help them access the information they need to decide to purchase that much easier.

Improve Your SEO Strategy

Whether you need help understanding how search intent plays into your overall SEO strategy or aren’t even sure where to start with digital marketing, we can help! 

Book your free 30-minute growth marketing session with our in-house marketing expert and receive a free marketing strategy that will serve as your digital playbook. 

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Antonio Calabrese GHAX

Hey, I’m Antonio Calabrese, Founder at GHAX. We love working with businesses who are serious about growth.

If that’s you, get in touch and be 1 of 20 this month to claim a free marketing strategy session.

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