What is search intent?

Search intent, also known as user intent, means understanding the reason someone is searching for a particular term. Effectively, it’s the results the user is expecting to see when they type in their search into Google (or whichever search engine takes their fancy). 

Why is search intent important?

In the days of Google yore, keyword targeting was the pinnacle of your search strategy. Mapping keywords and featuring these on each of your website’s pages was a sure-fire way to earn boatloads of traffic. Then there was the longtail keyword - the keyword to rule all keywords, as it were. This gave rise to marketers spinning up thousands of pages to target the teeniest, tiniest niche terms, and for a while it worked (albeit at times to the frustration of the end-user). 

I’m not saying that mapping keywords and focusing on longtail keywords shouldn’t play a pivotal role in your search strategy. These aspects are still key to success in search. However, Google is cleverer today than it ever has been, and it’s only getting cleverer. This means there needs to be another facet to the strategy - another string to our bow. And, that string is search intent.

As with all aspects of marketing, there needs to be an element of psychology in what we do. Google's corporate mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” So, not only does content need to show Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness (say hello to E.A.T), above all else, it needs to be relevant. What use is all of that lovely traffic if the user simply bounces and doesn’t engage with your brand? It could just mean a wasted article, or, with Google focusing more and more on user experience as part of SEO, it could mean a drop in rankings.

How do I work out what the searcher's intent is?

Without digging into the brain of every person who uses Google, you’re never going to know exactly what the search intent for every query is. Take a search for the simple term ‘hats’ for example. The user could be looking to buy a hat. They may want to know more about hats in general or not know what a hat is. With these simple searches, it’s nearly impossible to understand what the user wants to see. 

With some searches, we can assume the user intent by the words and phrases used. Here are five main types of user intent:

Transactional - buy, purchase, cheap, pricing, book, etc.
The user is ready to make a purchase. If you’re running an eCommerce store, these are the queries to watch. These customers are ready to make a purchase. It’s important to note that you don’t need to put these terms onto the page itself. Google is great at understanding what is and isn’t an eCommerce store, and so is the user. Meta titles such as “Buy Hats Online | Cheap Hats to Purchase” are not going to help you rank better.

Consideration - reviews, best, top, comparison, etc
Just like the consideration stage of the conversion funnel, consideration search intent is where users are looking for more information before they make a purchase. They might be looking for product reviews, comparisons, or ‘top 10’ style articles to help them make their decision.

Informational - what, when, where, how, news, tutorial, tips, types etc.
Informational queries are where your top of the funnel content will typically sit. Question-based queries (the whos, whats, wheres, whens and hows) will always be informational.

Location - near me, nearby, from, directions, route, maps, etc.
Local searches are relatively simple to understand. If a user is looking for a coffee shop because they want coffee now, they’ll likely search for ‘coffee shop near me’ or something similar. If your business has a local presence, these searches are invaluable to you. I’d recommend optimising your Google My Business listings first and foremost, as these queries will very likely show map results.

Navigational - branded searches (for example, a search for ‘Selesti’)
Navigational intent is probably the easiest to understand. We’ve all wondered at one time or another whether a brand’s website is .com or .co.uk. Or, we’ve typed in the wrong URL and ended up on the wrong webpage. Our answer to this is to let Google do the hard work by simple searching for the brand name. This is probably going to be the easiest keyword for your site to rank for, and it’s very important that you do!

How do I optimise my pages for search intent? 

The first step in optimising your webpages for search intent is to understand what the intent is. I would recommend going back to keyword mapping. Firstly, highlight what the page does - is it informational, transactional, comparative, etc? Then, look at Search Console to see if the page's purpose matches the intent of the search queries. If there’s a mismatch, then it’s probably worth reviewing the page copy and, in some instances, creating a new piece of content to target this term.

Sometimes it might not be clear what the search intent for a keyword is. In these instances, you can get Google to help you out. Simply search for the keyword and see what results show. As I mentioned earlier, Google is getting cleverer and cleverer, and if the results show a particular intent, then it’s probably safe to say that’s what the user wanted to see (most of the time). 

Why don’t I just create pages for transactional intent? 

You might be tempted to focus on optimising your site for transactional queries because that’s where the money is, right? True. But, creating a content strategy that incorporates top, middle and bottom of the funnel content is the best way to improve your site’s overall SEO. It’s all about doing it right.

Top of the funnel content, or the informational intent searches, is great for getting traffic to your site, but many times, this leads to a dead-end, and users bounce when they have found the answer they’re looking for. The solution to this is to consider the user journey as a whole. 

If I search for “types of hat”, I’m looking for information about the different styles of hats there are. I’m probably not ready to make a purchase. If you run a hat store and want to sell me your hats, having a piece of content with the different types of hats that exist would draw me in, but once I have read it I’m likely to leave. One way brands attempt to combat this issue is with ‘buy now’ buttons or product carousels within the content. While this approach seems like a good idea, I’m not a customer ready to purchase, and so this content is either going to be ignored or I’m going to leave because the page appears too ‘salesy’. 

The solution to this problem is to consider your search intent and your funnel stage together. With the ‘types of hat’ article, it would be better to link to other relevant ‘mid funnel’ content pieces to move users naturally through the journey - content such as ‘top 10 trilby hats’ or ‘the best hats for winter’ - and integrating your products into these articles. 

Oh, and FYI if you do run a hat store, there are 9,900 searches on average a month in Google for “types of hat”. 

If you have any questions about search intent and how you can apply it to your content marketing strategy or just want to know a little more, please get in touch