Understanding Search Intent
Explainers

Understanding Search Intent

What is Search Intent?

Search intent, also known as user or audience intent, describes the purpose behind an online search. Search intent tells us the user’s primary objective when typing a query into a search engine.

Google cares about search intent, and therefore you should too. Improving your keyword targeting to match users search intent will lead to better rankings, increased traffic, and a higher chance for conversions.

Understanding search intent is critical for both SEO and PPC, you need to make sure the landing pages adequately answer the key user needs behind the queries or keywords used that relate to your product or service.

How does Google rank pages?

Relevance is how relevant your content is for users searching for your product or service.

“The most basic signal that information is relevant is when a webpage contains the same keywords as your search query. If those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information is more likely to be relevant. Beyond simple keyword matching, we use aggregated and anonymised interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries. We transform that data into signals that help our machine-learned systems better estimate relevance.”

Authority is how often your site is cited or linked to by high authority or expert sources.

“In order to assess trustworthiness and authority on its subject matter, we look for sites that many users seem to value for similar queries. If other prominent websites on the subject link to the page, that’s a good sign that the information is of high quality.”

User satisfaction is how well your site loads and works for users on different devices, especially mobile.

“When ranking results, Google Search also evaluates whether webpages are easy to use. When we identify persistent user pain points, we develop algorithms to promote more usable pages over less usable ones, all other things being equal. These algorithms analyse signals that indicate whether all our users are able to view the result, like whether the site appears correctly in different browsers; whether it is designed for all device types and sizes, including desktops, tablets and smartphones; and whether the page loading times work well for users with slow Internet connections.”

What are the different types of search intent?

The three main types of search queries are: Informational, Navigational and Transactional.

Some marketers also suggest that commercial investigation is another type of search query, but often the lines between commercial queries are other types aren’t clearcut and are better targeted through covering the other three types adequately, for example, searches on brand terms have a wide set of intents to be catered for.

  • Informational queries are some of the most common queries, they are information-oriented and are often in the form of a question.
  • Transactional queries are queries performed by wishing to make a purchase, they usually have a clear idea of what they are looking for.
  • Navigational queries are searchers looking for a specific site or page, many users find it easier to perform a quick search than type in and remember full URLs.
  • Commercial investigation, these queries are the type of searches a user would perform when conducting research into companies, brands and products before making a purchase.

How to determine search intent

Now that we know the types of search intent, we must learn how to identify user intent from search queries. One helpful indicator for determining user intent is keyword modifiers. These are words added to keywords that help show the exact meaning behind a user’s search.

Words like “buy”, “purchase” or “for sale” show us that a user is making a transactional query, whereas words and phrases like “how to”, “where” and “when” more than likely indicate an informational query.

Another way to determine search intent is to research the SERPs. By typing in your target keywords, you can see what pages are currently ranking well, and what type of content they provide. You can see what content the search engine deems most relevant for that term; you can also explore the “people also ask” questions for further context.

Final thoughts

Understanding the intent behind user searches is critical for SEO and PPC to avoid wasted time and money, which is why it should be one of your key priorities when building your content, SEO or PPC plans. Covering the range of your potential customers’ search intent with your content or targeting will result with a larger market share and ROI, in turn leading to more impressions and more site traffic.