Search Intent And SEO: Complete Guide For Beginners

Startups SEO

Iina Knuutinen

15 min read

Been there, done that. We all know about keywords; how they are important and how you should be doing keyword research before doing… well, much of anything on the web. But having a robust knowledge of search intent can make it or break it when it comes to search engine optimization.

Search engine optimization and search intent go hand in hand. Mastering the art of reading minds- I mean, finding out the search intent will not only affect your rankings positively but also give more consistency to your daily, weekly and monthly SEO work. So, quite important stuff indeed!

In this article about the search intent in SEO, you will learn :

I often like to say that SEO is practically the UX for the search engine. Do you agree with me or not? Let’s find out!

So, what is a search query? Search query, also known as search intent or user intent, refers to the initial thought or idea the user has in mind when they type a certain keyword to the search engine. A lot of it comes to addressing, managing and exceeding the expectations of the user. What would the user want to see when they type a keyword or phrase related to your organization to the search engine? I mean, imagine writing a text on how to do a backflip and not including a proper video tutorial to the copy.

It really wouldn’t work. Why? Because people expect to see the videos - a content type with the right search intent included in it. So, while your content may rank for it, the highest positions will probably always be taken by video tutorials.

Just think about it, your goal is to make Google (or other search engine) understand that your answer to the search query is the best one. And while we’ve luckily come very far from the ages of keyword spamming, we still have to address both the search engines as well as the users.

The top results for search intent usually manage to please all parties as well as possible. And while we are currently living in the times of change in light of SEO, the necessity to reply to someone’s intent is absolutely crucial.

Why is search intent important?

The main reason why understanding search intent is important is basically the same reason as why to even bother with search engine optimization; the aim is to provide a satisfying search intent for Google (or, in fact, any search engine out there). The better you are able to provide relevant content for users, the more valuable Google’s algorithm will perceive your content to be. After all, it is not beneficial for Google to showcase results that do not match the right intent.

However, there are other reasons as to why search intent is vital for SEO professionals to comprehend. You may also consider the improvement of ranking positions meaningful for your website. It is a known fact that pages with a higher keyword ranking are more likely to be clicked organically and organic traffic is known for its high conversion rate compared to advertisements .

Therefore, having the correct information and format or type of answer for a relevant search query is not only going to increase the possibility of being shown by search engines, but also improve their positions among other content competitors.

Aligning your content with relevant keywords and search intent helps increase leads and conversions by making it more visible to potential customers.

One last reason is rarely listed in any articles about search intent and it comes purely from my own experience as a SEO content writer. Being able to analyze and recognize the user intent has made my content planning and writing processes considerably easier . The search intent narrows down the angle and target audience for your content and you always know that you are likely to write content people are happy to engage with.

4 types of search intent

Now that we know what search intent is and why it is important to understand it, the next step is to study the four common types of search intent:

  1. Informational
  2. Commercial
  3. Transactional
  4. Navigational

Having a coherent comprehension on what each term type means is essential in determining the search intent and thus, knowing how to optimize the SEO content accordingly. One way to comprehend the four types of search intent is to evaluate them based on the purchase intention:

4 types of search intent

Naturally, it is important to emphasize that keywords could fit into several types of search intents and thus, placing them into one category is not always straightforward. However, differentiating the following common types will help you greatly in terms of SEO content optimization and overall SEO work in the future.

Informational intent

If you have ever searched anything that starts with How to… ,you have searched something with an informational intent.

Out of the 4 types of search intent, the informational intent is the most common type of search intent we all are familiar with. Informational intent is relatively straightforward; it refers to the words and phrases people use when searching for information about, well, anything.

Some examples of keywords and phrases with informational intent include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • How to (do something, not do something etc)
  • Guide to (something)
  • Tutorial / Video tutorial / Step by step tutorial
  • Ideas
  • Tips
  • FAQs

As Google aims for satisfying the needs of the user intent, it has established several types of rich snippets that highlight the best answers for questions and topics given. Providing insightful answers to questions in a clear format while also making sure that rich snippets are executed properly on the tech side maximizes the possibility to gain visibility on featured snippets, such as FAQs, recipes and other types of snippets to serve the user as best as possible.

People with an informational search intent are not directly looking for purchase anything. Instead, they want to have more information about a certain topic. However, it is no secret that as customers have become more conscious of their purchases, there is a necessity to provide high quality informational content that will satisfy the informational needs - and, in the best case scenario, attract the users enough to look into their products or services. And that is the power of content marketing through the means of SEO.

Commercial intent

Unlike people with an informational intent, those with commercial search intent are more inclined to actually convert i.e., purchase the product or get the membership, for instance. Commercial intent is also often called investigative intent. People in this stage have already enough information on the basics of various brands, prices, features and other factors that may have an effect on their purchase decision. Most common types of search intents include:

Commercial intent

  • Best (product or service)
  • Most affordable / most efficient (product or service)
  • (brand) reviews
  • (brand) vs (brand)
  • (brand’s product variant 1) vs (brand’s product variant 2) comparisons

Creating content that is perceived as authentic may be rather challenging for commercial intent keywords (after all, how many of us believe the brand’s blog post about the best products within the category that they also compete in?). Yet incorporating keywords with such search intent is a necessary part of the overall work with SEO and keyword research.

Transactional intent

Transactional intent is a step up from the commercial intent. It refers to the type of search intent where the person has committed to the purchase of a certain product or service. In other words, keywords with a transactional intent are often called the money-making keywords and phrases. Some examples of keywords with a transactional search intent are:

Transactional intent

  • Buy (product or service)
  • (product or service) on sale
  • (Simply product / service name)
  • Shop (product / service)
  • Order (product / service)

Finding the difference between a commercial and transactional intent is not always as simple as it may look. But, I’m sure you’ll get far just by remembering that the transactional has more to do with the actual purchase whereas those consuming content with commercial intent still contemplate among a few options.

Navigational intent refers to a particular website’s navigation. In other words, the user intent is in to find a specific page on a certain website. The user should know which site they want to look for but for some reason or another decides to type it into Google Search instead of typing it directly into the search bar (I mean, we all do this). Common types of searches include:

Navigational intent

  • (brand) cancel subscription
  • (brand) login
  • (brand) pricing
  • (brand) blog

Out of the four, this type of search intent is the least meaningful to put your efforts on. While it may be a good idea to turn into this when updating your navigational menu, these queries are the least likely to bring major organic traffic to your site. Furthermore, these search queries include the brand - which we will discuss next.

How about branded queries?

As SEO professionals, we tend to divide the search intent types into four different ones introduced above. However, the question of whether branded keywords should be included in this has been addressed by clients several times.

In fact, branded keywords also have a search intent. They often convey the prerequisite that the person is either familiar with the brand or has at least been provided with some initial information (for instance, by advertisement) about it beforehand, thus they may present a heightened interest in the brand initiated by something.

But why aren’t they included in the types of search intents? There are two reasons:

  1. Branded keywords can be a part of any type of search intent . Most often the brand can be seen in keywords and phrases with either transactional or navigational intent.
  2. The optimization process for branded keywords differs slightly from other keywords . Furthermore, the options for what you can do with them are more limited.

So, once you start the process of determining search intents, you’ll know how to handle branded queries.

How to determine search intent?

Before we jump into how the actual optimization process happens, we are to address how search intent is determined in practice. It basically consists of three basic steps:

How to determine search intent?

  1. Looking into keyword modifiers
  2. Read and review the SERPs
  3. Compare collected data

Having said that, it is quite common to be able to determine the search intent of the query without all these steps especially when a) the market or the volume of given language is relatively narrow or b) the keyword is self-explanatory in its search intent, thus you are easily able to determine which type of search it belongs to.

Look into keyword modifiers

First off, it is time to look into how to specify your keyword and find more narrow yet possibly highly engaged users. This can be done by keyword modifiers. Keyword modifiers are defined as words or phrases consisting of a group of certain words that narrow down the search intent to a more specific query.

Keyword modifiers are oftentimes either adverbs and adjectives or words that describe (geo)location. If you are familiar with paid advertising, the term keyword modifiers also occurs there in the form of board match and exact match. Advertisers are keen on finding the ones having a specific purchase intent in mind, thus they utilize long tail keywords. This also matters when optimizing content organically.

The benefit of looking into the keyword modifiers as a part of visualizing the search intent of a certain keyword cluster is that people utilizing the given search terms are likelier to have heightened interest towards a certain product or service, making it less complicated to turn a lead into a prospect and eventually, converting customers. Additionally, keyword modifiers allow you to find keywords that have less competition. In other words, keywords that have less users that search for that specific intent.

Utilize a well-known keyword tool to find keyword modifiers easily.

Read and review the SERPs

Checking keyword modifiers with a tool is a good way to determine the search intent. Simply type the word to Google you want to find the search intent for and see the results. This is a foolproof way to see what is seen as the most important in the eyes of Google - and what you should aim for.

Next, we will have a look at SERP examples for four types of search intents.

Informational intent SERP result examples

We all have looked for and seen these. Informational SERP results aim for providing the answer for the informational query as quickly and easily as possible. In other words, Google and other search engines present information that answers to the search query in a snippet of some sort. Common ones include FAQs, lists (ordered and unordered), definition boxes, and tables. Due to their non-commercial nature, these SERPs are commonly from various blogs and other sites deemed as less biased (although not necessarily objective).

A very basic SERP example of an informational intent looks like this:

SERP result examples

While for this informational search query, Google introduces two different types of SERPs; info box and a carousel consisting of various recipes. But why do you think that is?

SERPs; info box and a carousel

Simply put, someone searching for ‘Finland’ is probably content with getting an answer to the basic search query, whereas someone looking for tomato soup recipes is likely to look for a few alternatives to compare and contrast before choosing the one that suits their taste buds.

Navigational intent SERP result examples

Got a free trial that is soon expiring and you really need to get it canceled? It’s likely that the search intent is navigational. Since the user is usually aware of the brand or company, they are likely to place the name of it as a part of the search query. The most common navigational intent SERP types are sitelinks, but others, such as podcasts and FAQs, may occur.

Here’s one example of a query of our own agency with sitelinks and podcasts included:

SERP sitelinks and podcasts

While here, you may see a screenshot of SERPs of Ahrefs , one of the most popular SEO tools available.

SERPs of Ahrefs

Navigational search intent SERPs usually help you to skip a few steps in navigating on the website and finding to the right page you are looking for.

Commercial intent SERP result examples

Commercial intent (sometimes also called preferential intent) showcases a mix of organic and paid results. Depending on the search query, they may also include information about local options, such as our example where we have a list of Italian restaurants to dine in, filters and reviews as well as a map feature:

Commercial intent SERP result examples

But why is this considered a commercial intent instead of an informational one - after all, you are still searching for information, right? You are right. However, commercial intent SERPs tend to consist of various listings and comparisons. They often expect you to know the basics about the topic and perhaps even name a few by their brand. In case of our Italian restaurant example, it is ‘expected’ that:

  1. You are likely to live in NYC or travel to it sooner or later
  2. You may already be familiar with a few Italian restaurants in NYC by their name
  3. You are looking to actually visiting one of the restaurants compared (unless your plans change, naturally)

Another example of a SERP with commercial search intent:

SERP with commercial search intent

If this query was turned into the three other types of queries, they could be:

  • How do coffee machines work? (informational)
  • (Coffee machine brand name) customer service (navigational)
  • Buy (coffee machine brand name) (transactional)

And lastly, let’s check a few examples of SERPs with transactional intent.

Transactional intent SERP result examples

You certainly have your credit card ready, if you are using transactional search queries. And where there’s chances to convert, you are also highly likely to see ads. Expect to see paid ads, shopping feeds and literally anything that takes you directly to the item or service you are about to purchase. SERPs for transactional intent may, however, also include reviews and feedback as these are perceived as highly valuable and (somewhat) objective information in the eyes of a search engine.

Here, you may see an example SERP for ‘buy coffee machine’.

Transactional intent SERP result examples

And here, we may see a transactional search query with the brand included:

search query with the brand included

Compare collected data

Keep in mind that terms often have more than one search intent, so looking only at keywords or the SERP is rarely enough to truly define it. That said, taking this holistic approach will bring you closer to the most prominent intent.

Like with any research, comparison and analysis of collected data is required. Search intent research is no exception. While keywords and SERPs may give you a solid overview of what the search intent is, it is always a good idea to step outside of the box and consider what other factors come into play and is there something that people are missing out on these results in order to have a comprehensive review on the search intent.

If possible, I always suggest seeing whether there is an expert or authority who could provide more insight into the search intent. In other words, find someone who is wiser than you within that field to truly understand the concerns, pinpoints or questions that a user with a certain search intent may have. This also allows you to stand out from competitors and also improve your EAT factors.

How to optimize your content for search intent?

Okay, great. So now we know how to determine the search intent by looking at SERPs and comparing and contrasting the data collected.

But what about the actual content writing process ? How do you make sure that you speak the same language with Google? That’s… well, if I had the answer, I’d probably be the next Neil Patel. But this is what we really know.

Match metadata and content type to the intent

This might be a no-brainer for most of us, but it has to be said; optimizing your metadata and titles to match the search intent. In detail, this refers to:

metadata and content type

  • Meta title
  • Meta description
  • Headings (h1-h6) - beware of becoming too repetitive in terms of utilizing search query!
  • Bullet points and lists
  • FAQs
  • CTAs

I’ll use my own example to explain further .
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to write about Reddit Advertising - something that we feel quite enthusiastic about here at Daniliants Ventures. We wanted to create an all-rounder; a beginner-friendly guide to Reddit Ads. Thus, the query and search intent would be informational. Our team had already executed the keyword analysis and defined ‘Reddit Ads’, ‘guide’ and ‘beginners’ as one of the core keywords to use.

Needless to say, I knew that these search queries with this keyword, along with similar keywords and phrases, should be the base of my content writing.

The tentative meta title and description ended up looking something like this:

  • Meta title: Reddit Ads for Beginners - 5 tips
  • Meta description: Not sure how to start advertising on Reddit? Read our practical tips and guide on how to start with Reddit Ads and for whom they are suitable for .

To be fair, you really need to come back to your metas during the next step to match the search intent. More on that later.

Examine the competition

Content that has the top ranking has it probably for a reason. While we never suggest copying what competitors do, it certainly does no harm to see what your content competitors are doing.

It is recommended to focus on the metadata (what words and phrases do your content competitors use?), heading structure (what points do they cover), content formats (what formats are they using?) and most importantly, what hasn't been said yet .

Depending on the query and the content type that matches well with the search intent, I make sure to:

  • Review and edit my tentative metadata
  • Go through and tweak the heading structure
  • Write down the core points competitors address in their content
  • Focus on finding the aspects that they have missed

In my example about Reddit Ads , I tweaked my meta title a bit:

  • Meta title: Reddit Ads - The ultimate guide for beginners
  • Meta description: Are you looking for a new platform to generate sales in? Check out our guide for beginners with tips and tricks for paid and free advertising on Reddit

…while also focusing on making sure that all aspects of the topic are covered within the heading structure.

While some creative writers may struggle with snooping out what others are doing (I’ve been there, too), I highly recommend looking at it from another perspective. Your content competitors’ piece of content is something that also your audience is attracted to. Why not make sure then that people find your content that matches their search intent and your message? There’s no point in writing content that Google (and people) find lacking.

Format content for relevant SERP features

Finally, it is time to note the relevant SERP features. As presented previously, this can be done by reviewing SERP example results. Again, if the results emphasize certain types of content in the featured snippet (let’s say, Q&A structure), it is a good idea to make sure you visit the site, see how the snippet is structured and aim for creating a similar way.

It is always a good idea to give some structure (i.e. bullet points, numbered points, Q&As, lists…) to your content anyway to make the reader's life easier. And note, this is not a foolproof way to get yourself up there, but it certainly does not hurt to aim for those snippets!

Conclusion

Now you know why search intent matters, the four search intent types and most importantly, how to optimize your content to the search query so that both Google and users see your content as attractive and valuable. If this inspired you to look further into the processes of content creation with SEO in mind, we highly suggest you read the following article on content analysis and drop us a message .

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