What is search intent and why is it important for SEO?
Chris Taylor - Content Strategy and Content Marketing

Chris Taylor

What is search intent and why is it important for SEO?

Search engines are designed to help users find the information they are looking for as quickly and easily as possible. In order to do this, search engines need to be able to understand the search intent behind a user's search query.


From an SEO perspective, if you can understand what someone is looking for, you can then create relevant and valuable content that meets their need. This should help to improve your search engine ranking and ultimately increase your conversion rates.

What is search intent?

Search intent (or user intent) is the reason (or purpose) why a person enters a particular query into a search engine. Broadly speaking, we can categorise search intent into four main types of intent: navigational, informational, transactional, and commercial investigation. 

Looking at these categories, you can quickly identify what the purpose is behind a search. SEOs (search engine optimizers) and content writers will use this knowledge to create content that meets the needs of the user. Don't forget that your future customers will demand different types of content depending on the stage of the customer journey.

What are the four types of search intent?

The four types of searches are: informational, transactional, navigational, and commercial investigation. Each type of search has a different intent and user.

Informational intent

When someone is looking for information on a topic. To create content for an informational search query you would include "informational keywords".  We tend to recognise these using the question format (who, what, why and where). For example: "What is search intent?"

Navigational intent

Navigational intent is when a user wants to go to a specific website. Navigational keywords are usually associated with brands. For example a navigational search could use the terms "Facebook" or "Twitter".

Transactional intent

Transactional intent is when a user is looking to make a purchase or complete a transaction. For example: a transactional query could be "book tickets to the theatre on Broadway".

Commercial investigation intent

Commercial investigation intent is when a user is looking for product information or comparisons, but hasn't decided yet. For example, what do you think is the commercial search intent behind this query "Best cameras for vlogging"?


If you have an affiliate website or an ecommerce site, it's very important that you understand the commercial queries that direct people to your competitors. You can then target those commercial keywords with your own content.

What is SEO?

Broadly speaking, SEO is the process of improving the visibility and ranking of a website or web page in search engine results pages (SERPs). This can be done through optimising the website content, structure, and on-page elements like titles, metatags, and anchor text, as well as developing off-page SEO tactics like link building and social media engagement. 


If you’re going to get good at SEO, you need to understand the user intent behind search queries. And if you ignore the user intent, you won’t be able to create content that satisfies your prospective customers. In other words, you won’t be very successful with your SEO efforts.

Why does search intent matter for SEO?

Search intent is important for search engine optimization (SEO) because it allows you to match the user's intent with the right piece of content.

Create content that meets the needs of your audience

Content design tells us that all content should meet a user need. When you conduct keyword research you are also developing an understanding of search intent. By using this knowledge to create content optimised for user intent, you can target certain keywords or phrases that are more likely to be used in search. You can also create different types of content that may be more relevant to the search query. Ultimately, this will also improve the user experience and potentially improve conversion rates.


For example, if someone is searching for a product, they will likely want to see a product page. 

However, if someone is searching for information, you need to make sure that the piece of content matches their search intentions.

You can improve your website’s ranking

When a user enters a specific search query, they have a specific intent. By targeting that search intent, by matching the right keyword with the right search intent, you can improve your ranking and make sure that users are finding what they're looking for.

The goal here is to improve your ranking and persuade more people to click through from the search results page.

Reach more people at different stages of the marketing funnel

It is clear that search intent has redefined the marketing funnel. Google and other search engines have morphed into answer machines. Prospects don't move through the various stages of the customer value journey in a linear fashion. Sometimes they jump back and forth. But that's ok. Your job is to make sure you maximise the opportunities at each stage. Therefore you can create valuable content at each stage of the customer value journey. 

When considering your funnel, you should probably take a step back and consider your content strategy. There's no point understanding the intent of users, if your business goals are not aligned with your digital marketing activities. If you have a content strategist on your team you can ask them to consider what impact the intentions of users could have on your marketing funnel

Don't forget, search intent is one of the most powerful tools in digital marketing because it helps you to understand what people are searching for online. By understanding the intent behind online searches, you can better serve potential customers by creating relevant content that matches their needs.

How does Google understand intent?

Google's understanding of user intent has evolved rapidly over the years. What started as a focus on keywords has developed into a much more nuanced understanding of the factors that go into a search query. 


As searchers became more sophisticated, Google began to better understand the intent behind queries. Google is now able to take into account factors like the user's location, search history, and the time of day to provide more relevant results.


Google understands search intent by looking at user queries. They can tell what type of intent the user has by the way they word their search. If the user is looking for something specific, like a product or service, then it is considered a navigational search. If the user is just looking for general information, it is considered an informational search. If the user is looking to make a purchase, it is considered a transactional search. 


With this knowledge you can create content that meets the needs of your potential customers. When you are doing keyword research, make sure to consider the phrases used by your customers. It’s very important to use their language and tone in the content you create.

Can a search have multiple intents?

Yes, a search can have multiple intentions. A user may enter a query with the intention of finding a specific piece of information, but the search engine may interpret the user's intent differently and return results that are not as targeted to the keyword as the user intended.


This is why it’s important to target multiple keywords when creating blog posts. High quality blogs and articles will be as informative as possible, making it more likely that their content is relevant to multiple different search queries.

How can you determine search intent?

There is no definitive answer to this question, as the search intent behind a given query can vary depending on the individual who is performing the search. However, there are a few general tips that can be useful in trying to determine the search intent behind a query.

Analyse the query

You can look at the query itself and try to infer what the person is looking for. Different types of queries tend to be associated with different types of search intent.


For example, navigational queries are typically associated with a search intent to find a specific website or page, while informational queries are typically associated with a search intent to find information on a given topic.

Keyword Research

Use keyword research to learn what people are typically searching for when they use that keyword. If most of the searches are transactional, then it's likely that people are looking to make a purchase when they use that keyword. If most of the searches are informational, then people are likely looking for information when they use that keyword.

Analyse the SERPs

Another tip is to look at the result pages that are returned for a given query, as these can often provide clues as to the search intent behind the query. For example, if the majority of the results returned are for websites selling products, it is likely that the search intent behind the query is commercial in nature.

Visit the top websites

If you do a search for your keywords, make sure to visit the top pages in the search results. Analyse these ‘landing pages’ and try to determine what type of intent they serve.

Use common sense

Finally, it can also be helpful to use common sense and intuition when trying to determine the search intent behind a query. Individuals tend to perform searches with a specific purpose in mind. We’re all human! 

When looking at the query, you want to look for keywords that indicate what the person is looking for. 


For example, if they use a transactional keyword like "buy" or "order," then they are likely looking to make a purchase. If they use a how-to keyword like "how to fix," then they are likely looking for informational content. And if they use a people search keyword like "John Smith," then they are likely looking for someone specific.

Is Keyword Intent Different from Search Intent?

Yes, keyword intent is different from search intent. People use different keywords when they are looking for different things. For example, someone might use the keyword "buy shoes" when they are looking to purchase shoes, while someone else might use the keyword "shoe size" when they are trying to find out what size shoe they need. 


Always consider the four different types of search intent (informational; transactional; navigational; and commercial investigation) when researching your content. Each type of search intent requires different keywords.

How to optimise your content for search intent

Once you have a good understanding of the different types of search intent (informational; navigational; transactional; commercial investigation), you can start creating valuable content that is more likely to rank higher in search engine results pages (SERPs) for those specific keywords. 

In order to optimise content for search intent, you’ll need to first understand what keywords your audience is using to search for similar pieces of content. This is called keyword research. Keyword research is essential to understanding which keywords to target for each piece of content we create.

Search intent is the reason why someone performs a search. It could be to find information, to buy something, or to do something. When we create content, we can leverage search intent to help our content rank higher and be more visible in search results.

Remember to always keep your audience's needs and interests in mind when doing keyword research or creating any piece of content. This will help ensure that your content is relevant and useful to them.

For example, if we want our content to appear in featured snippets, we need to target keywords with informational intent. Or if we want a local plumber to feature in the map pack, we'd need to focus on optimising their site and content for 'local searches'.

Monitor your keywords

All website's will fluctuate and change over time from changes to the search algorithm. This means your position (like everyone else's) within Google's ranking is subject to change. Given that you're relying on natural language processing to infer search intent, it's important to understand how quickly those fluctuations occur.


What you're really doing is judging search intent at a specific moment in time. What happens next month, or even next week, could mean very different things.


For that reason, it pays to check the ranking history for your keywords. This tells you exactly how many times each page has gained or lost positions in SERPs, and how long ago that happened.


You'll notice some patterns here. Pages that are consistently ranked #1 tend to do well over longer periods of time. But there are exceptions.


Pages that rank on the first page are often good indicators of future performance. So if you see one of those pages ranking high, don't assume your job is done. You can always optimise further.


The same goes for the pages that fall out of the top 10. These pages can often be revived with revised content. It’s usually easier to edit existing blogs than to start from scratch. But always remember to consider the search intent when revising old content.

Does your content align with Google’s 3 C’s of Search Intent?

Once you've determined your chosen keyword, it's time to look at the actual search results. This step involves analysing the search results for three things: content type; content format; and content angle.

Content type is used to describe what kind of content you find in the search results.

  • Is it a list of products?
  • A blog post or an article about a specific topic?
  • Maybe it's a category page. For example, a page with the latest sports headlines.
  • Or it may be a landing page. For example, someone providing a service in a local area.

Content format means just what you'd think. What format does the content take? Examples include how-to guides, listicles, news, video, etc.

The content angle is really another way of saying: check out the headline and meta description. If there is a search pack, what can you learn from the site who has 'won' that? Try it now. Go and search for your favourite recipe and see how many different ways people can present what is basically the same information. Those who create a more enticing headline will have a higher click through rate. 

Look at the search results and top ranking pages for ideas

Google provides some clues into how it ranks pages based on keywords, but there are many factors involved. You'll need to dig deeper. Here are three ways to do just that:

1. Analyse the SERPs

Pay special attention to headlines and descriptions. What words and phrases are being used? How can your content benefit from a similar approach? Can you spot any opportunities?

Google’s “People also ask box” allows you to view questions that people are asking about your topic. This feature is great because it helps you understand what topics are important to searchers and gives you ideas for creating relevant content.

2. Visit the top-ranking pages

Search engines know exactly what people are looking for. They can tell whether someone wants to learn how to cook healthy meals, find out where to go to get a good deal on a car, or learn how to manage money better. And they can tell whether those searches are related to specific topics or just general queries.

But one thing search engines don't know is what the searcher intent really is. They can't tell whether someone is searching for something because he or she needs help solving a problem, or simply wants to satisfy curiosity. This is why I'm always telling my clients to visit the top-ranking pages for their keywords.

There's nothing wrong with relying on the most relevant information to show up in the SERPs. But if you're trying to figure out what your customers really want, you should visit the top-ranking sites for your keyword. You'll gain a lot of insight into what they're looking for, and how well your site fits their needs.

3. Run a content gap analysis

If your target audience is searching for content that isn't already available on your site, then you need to create new content. However, there is another way to find "content gaps".

Sometimes, the content gap exists at the page level. This can happen even if you've written a great article. This is why understanding search intent is so important when it comes to SEO. I'd recommend you learn about keyword clusters and how you can integrate many keywords into your content.

Try to take advantage of SERP features

Google uses SERP features like numbers, lists, and images to help guide searchers toward what they're looking for. These are important signals because they give us clues about the type of information we want. For instance, Google knows that people searching for "best restaurants near me" probably don't just want the best restaurant; they want to know where to eat nearby. So Google provides a map, reviews, and directions to make it easy for people to find what they're looking for quickly.

Visit 'How Google Search works' to learn more about the various SERP features you can take advantage of.

Research your audience’s search intent

The most important thing to remember about search intent is that it is always changing. One day, someone might type "how do I..." into Google, and the next day he or she might type "what is...?" So, it's important to keep track of trends over time.

One way to find out whether your target keyword is trending is to check the search results pages. This is where searchers go when they perform a specific search. For example, say that you're looking to promote your car dealership. When someone searches for "car dealers," the top three results are likely to include information about buying cars, selling used cars, and financing. These types of queries are typically associated with informational needs, while "cars" and "buyer" are usually related to transactional needs.

You can see exactly how many times each result appears in the top 10 across multiple countries. If you notice a trend, you can adjust your site accordingly to better meet the needs of your audience.

How do I choose good keywords

Choosing good keywords is not actually that hard, but it takes time. There are a few things to consider:

  • What are your business goals?
  • What topics are relevant for your business?
  • What problems does your product or service solve?
  • What does your target audience search for?
  • What is the user intent behind those search terms?


If you research those questions you will get some really useful keyword ideas for your business.

Where do I find buyer intent keywords

Buyer intent keywords are search queries that indicate a commercial intent. 

The best place to look is Google's Keyword Planner or other free keyword tools.

Through your research you will be able to develop keyword clusters that you can use for content ideas.


SEO keyword clusters are groups of keywords that are related to each other and are used together to target a specific audience. The use of keyword clusters can be beneficial for a number of reasons. 


If a website is more relevant to a user's search query, it should improve the visibility of that website in the search engine results pages (SERPs). 


By targeting a group of keywords that are related to each other, you can increase your chances of ranking for one or more of those keywords.


Keyword clusters can help to improve the click-through rate (CTR) of a website. 

For example, let's say that you own a website that sells shoes. In order to improve your website's visibility in SERPs, you could create a keyword cluster that contains the following closely related keywords: "shoes", "sneakers", "running shoes", "athletic shoes", "tennis shoes".

Learn more about keyword clusters.

What are long tail keywords in SEO

Long tail keywords are phrases that have a relatively high search volume and there's less competition. These keywords are used to target a specific audience or niche of people who might be interested in your product/service.

For example, if you sell shoes online, then you can use long tail keywords like “best men’s dress shoe for work”.

What are low competition keywords

Keywords with low competition are keywords that you can easily rank for without much effort. This means your competitors are not using these terms which gives you a better chance of ranking for them and driving traffic to your site.


You don't usually need to build many links or be highly authoritative to rank for them and drive organic traffic to your site.


To find low competition keywords, you can use a number of different methods. Keyword research tools can help you to identify terms that are not being heavily targeted by your competition. Competitor analysis can give you insights into which keywords your competition is targeting, and looking at SERPs can give you an idea of which keywords are being ranked.


Once you have identified a selection of low competition keywords, you can then start to target them in your SEO strategy. Learn how to do your own keyword research.


Tips for creating content optimised for search intent

Creating SEO optimised content for specific searches is simple, but it takes practice. Here are some tips to help you optimise your content for search engines.

1. Know your audience. 

Who is searching for what? 

What do they want to find? 

How often do they look for information like yours?

2. Think about how people enter queries into the search box. 

How do they phrase their query?

3. Make sure there is a clear call-to-action in every piece of content. 

This could mean including a button on your homepage or blog post that leads readers to one of your products or services.

4. Don't forget to add relevant images to your posts. 

Search engines love visual content because it helps them understand what your content is about. Include high-resolution photos that show off the best features of your product or service.

5. Write unique, engaging content that provides value to your visitors. 

People don't want to read long blocks of text; they prefer short paragraphs, lists, infographics, and videos.

Key takeaways

Search intent matters, and it's something that you can control. 

Search intent refers to the reason someone performs a specific action online. It's also the reason Google gives priority to certain pages over others. This means that if you want your page to rank higher than another, you need to focus on creating content that answers questions that people are asking.

By focusing on writing high quality content that answers questions and solves problems, you'll help Google determine exactly what users want to know and what they're searching for. You should aim to provide quality content that meets the needs of your target market. You'll do better if you write about topics that interest them, rather than trying to force your brand into every niche. If you don't know what keywords to use, start researching your industry and competitors' sites. 

Do you need help attracting more traffic to your website?

Are you struggling to attract traffic to your website? Do you need help creating better content for all your marketing needs?

Highly.Digital specialise in creating high-quality, engaging content that will attract more visitors to your site. We can help you with all your content marketing needs, from developing SEO-friendly articles to creating social media posts and more.


With our help, you can take your content marketing to the next level and start seeing real results. We'll work with you to understand your goals and create a customised content strategy that will help you achieve them.


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