What is Search Intent and Why is it Critical to Get It Right in 2022?

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Competition for the coveted first page spots on Google is getting insane these days.

There's an arms race going on between content creators.

The first step in arming your content and giving it a fighting chance is getting the search intent right.

Failing at this step will stop your content dead in its tracks without a fight.

In this article, you will learn everything there's to know about search intent and how to use it to guide your content marketing strategy.

Let's begin!

What is search intent?

Six white doors and one yellow door

Search intent is also known as user intent or keyword intent.

Search intent entails figuring out the reasons behind search queries.

Without knowing why people are searching for something, you can't really give them the most relevant answers.

That's why Google pays a lot of attention to search intent.

Google's only job is to provide users with relevant results to their queries.

Is the searcher looking to lose weight on a keto diet? Are they searching for a nearby gym? Are they searching for the best elliptical machines article? Or have they decided to buy the NordicTrack C 7.5 Elliptical and are searching for the place where they can purchase one?

The search intents behind these questions are vastly different.

In their "How intent is redefining the marketing funnel" article, Google says that it's a bad idea to market to the average.

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work as well as it used to anymore.

Consumers are expecting relevance.

Luckily, as a content marketer, your goals line up with Google's goals when it comes to nailing the search intent and serving relevant content to people.

In other words, it's a priority for both.

When you pinpoint the search intent, you can provide the most value to your audience by connecting them with the solutions to their specific problems.

Why is it critical to get the search intent right?

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It's crucial to get the search intent right because Google will practically ignore your content otherwise.

Remember, it's Google's job to provide what searchers are looking for.

Anything else doesn't stand a chance of getting to the top of the SERPs.

Let's consider a blatant example.

If you type in "keto diet meal plan," virtually all of the results will be articles suggesting keto-friendly foods and meal plans.

Keto diet meal plan search results

Even the one result that's not explicitly a meal plan has a sample meal plan in it.

The search results for this keyword are the way they are because that's what users are looking for.

Google isn't playing a guessing game.

The algorithm tested everything out and these are the articles that performed the best.

If you were to write an article on "keto diet meal plan" and instead of providing a meal plan, you wrote about what makes a meal plan keto, you would completely miss the search intent.

Needless to say, your article would go nowhere near the top of the SERPs.

This is why it is crucial to nail the search intent.

Otherwise, you have to create an entirely new piece of content from scratch if you wanted to target the same keyword.

It's a very expensive and time-consuming mistake.

Traditional breakdown of search intent

Back in 2002, Andrei Broder came up with the first taxonomy of web intent.

In his paper, he listed these three types of search intent:

Later on, a Commercial search intent was added to this list.

The search intent of Commercial search is to make a purchase in the near future.

It's somewhere in between Informational and Transactional searches.

Let's dive deeper into search intent types!

Navigational search intent

google-analytics-navigational-search-intent

Definition: Navigational search intent is to reach a particular site.

Keyword examples: "Pinterest" or "Google Analytics"

People don't bookmark every website they visit even when they visit them frequently.

We're also lazy when it comes to typing in full domain names.

For some reason, it feels quicker and easier to just type in "Pinterest" than "Pinterest.com" so people do that.

Google knows people are most likely only trying to reach Pinterest so it lists all the relevant navigational results like:

  • Pinterest website itself
  • Pinterest's Twitter profile
  • Pinterest's Facebook profile
  • Pinterest's Youtube profile, etc.

Google doesn't show any guides or any other informational content on the first page because the algorithm knows that's not what most people are looking for when they type in "Pinterest."

How to optimize for navigational search intent?

If you own a website that people are searching for in this manner, you need to make sure that your result is the first one on Google.

This happens rarely, but sometimes the business itself isn't in the rank#1 spot on Google when someone types in their name.

Check out my article on the topic of navigational search intent if you want to know more.

Informational search intent

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Definition: Informational search intent is to acquire some information.

Keyword examples: "How to use Pinterest for business" or "Google Analytics Guide"

It'll come to no surprise that people are looking for informational content online.

In fact, out of the three search intent types, the informational search intent is the most common.

According to this study, informational search intent accounts for 80% of the total search queries.

How to optimize for informational search intent?

Optimizing for informational search intent basically means creating relevant, comprehensive, useful, consumer-centric and value-driven content.

I know… that's a mouthful.

But the competition for informational keywords in most niches is fierce and it takes high-quality content to compete.

Some of the content types that do well when it comes to informational search intent are:

  • How-to articles and videos
  • Lists
  • Guides and Tutorials
  • Case studies
  • Whitepapers
  • Infographics
  • Success Stories and Cautionary Tales
  • Templates and Checklists

Commercial search intent

man-in-brown-coat-standing-beside-woman-in-black-coat

Definition: Commercial search intent is to research products or services to buy in the near future.

Keyword examples: "Best elliptical machines" or "elliptical machine vs treadmill"

Commercial search intent clearly demonstrates user's intent to make a purchase in the not-so-distant future.

Users showing the commercial search intent usually already know the type of product they want.

They're only doing a bit more research to pinpoint the exact one they want to buy.

How to optimize for commercial search intent?

Commercial search intent means users are almost ready to make a purchase so you have to provide relevant product information and a clear way for users to actually make the purchase.

Users searching for "best elliptical machines" are looking for a few options, a clear-cut winner, and links to pages where they can buy the product they want.

Basically, these users are on the cusp of buying the product and they only need a bit of convincing.

Transactional search intent

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Definition: Transactional search intent is to purchase a product or service.

Examples: "Buy NordicTrack C 7.5 Elliptical" or "AWeber coupon"

Those two keywords are very specific which translates to a higher likelihood of users going through with the purchase.

Notice the words "buy" and "coupon" in the example keywords.

They clearly show the purchasing intent.

Here are some more transactional search intent keyword examples:

  • Schedule appointment
  • Reserve
  • For sale
  • Order & Order online
  • Purchase
  • Pricing
  • Deals
  • Download
  • Discount
  • Best price
  • Cheapest

How to optimize for transactional search intent?

Knowing that the users with high transactional search intent are ready to buy, you need to facilitate this action in your content.

At this stage of the purchasing journey, you're not writing content for the masses.

Your content has to be laser-focused on the most relevant transactional keywords possible.

If you title your content "cheapest elliptical machine online" you really need come through and provide the user with the cheapest elliptical machine, relevant product information, and a link to buy it online.

Anything else short of that is not fulfilling the promise set by the title of your article.

When it comes to transactional search intent, relevance is king.

Advanced breakdown of search intent focused on problems and solutions

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One thing is clear, people's actions and interactions online are constantly evolving.

And so does the search intent.

People are getting more sophisticated at finding exactly what they need online.

The way they search the internet is changing.

Content marketing and ideas around it have to evolve too in order to keep up.

That's why I believe this alternative way of breaking down search intent comes closer to accurately describing why people are searching for what they are searching.

Here's a fantastic video by Brendan Hufford that describes this idea if you want to check it out.

Basically, the whole idea revolves around the user's journey of finding a solution to their problem.

And that's exactly why I think this breakdown of search intent better matches with content marketing than the traditional navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional search intent breakdown.

Content marketing is all about connecting people with solutions to their problems through the value-driven consumer-centric approach.

The alternative search intent breakdown classifies search intent into 4 categories:

  • Problem Aware – User recognizes that they have a problem. Your job is to empathize and to let them know solutions exist.
  • Solution Aware – User is aware of the solution. Your job is to show them how 'your' solution can help them.
  • Product Aware – User is aware of your solution. Your job is to prove why your solution is better than any other for them.
  • Ready to Purchase – User is convinced your solution is the best for them and they are searching for the purchasing information. Your job is to provide purchasing information to them.

In my opinion, this is a much more intuitive way of breaking down search intent.

Not only that but mapping out content to cover every category mentioned here means you will have content to guide users through all the stages of their purchasing journey.

Search intent research vs keyword research

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There are experts out there who are saying keyword research is dying and search intent research is taking over.

I disagree.

I don't think keyword research is going anywhere anytime soon.

And neither does Google's John Mueller who was asked about this topic and said "…I think, in general, that there’s probably always gonna be a little bit of room for keyword research because you’re kind of providing those words to users. And even if search engines are trying to understand more than just those words, showing specific words to users can make it a little bit easier for them to understand what your pages are about and can sometimes drive a little bit of that conversion process."

I don't even think search intent research and keyword research are opposing ideas.

In fact, I think they complement each other splendidly well.

Doing search intent research on top of your keyword research enriches your data and helps you make more educated decisions.

It is, however, true that search engines are becoming more sophisticated at figuring out the intent behind language.

Voice search will only accelerate this because people are far less focused on keywords when they're browsing the internet by voice search.

Interestingly, when people are using the AI assistants of their Google Smart Home or Amazon Echo devices, they're conversing with them like they would with friends.

They use full sentences and even say words like "please" and "thank you."

To be able to serve voice searchers well, search engines will have to get even better at recognizing intent in searches that don't necessarily provide the most relevant keywords.

So, keywords will slowly lose in importance, but that doesn't mean keyword research will become useless overnight.

Far from it.

So, keyword research or search intent research?

Verdict: both.

How to analyze search intent by looking at the first page of Google

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First, it's important to understand that the search intent behind keywords isn't always black and white.

Sometimes, keywords are just too vague.

Five searchers could be typing in the same keyword and wanting significantly different types of results.

So to shed some light on how to perform search intent research by looking at the results on the first page of Google, I'm going to use a few examples.

Example keyword #1: "weight loss"

Of course, trying to rank for such a broad keyword would be a waste of time unless you're one of the most authoritative websites on the internet on the subject.

So please disregard the specific keyword and concentrate on the principles.

Users who type in "weight loss" could have many potential needs.

So Google provides a variety of results.

Weight loss keyword example

Here's what Google thinks users might need when they type in "weight loss:"

1. Step-by-step guide on how to lose weight

2. Top news stories on weight loss

3. Tips for weight loss

4. Videos on weight loss

5. Diet plans article

6. Articles from high authority sites like CDC (6a), NHS (6b), and NHS (6c)

7. Article on weight loss basics

In cases like this, Google tries to provide users with as many avenues to get to more relevant content for them as possible.

Even though the results are all over the place, you can still draw conclusions by looking at the ranking of each of the content types.

For example, a step-by-step guide (rank#1) is more relevant than a diet plan (rank#3), and a diet plan is more relevant than weight loss basics (rank#8).

If you wanted to rank#1 for this keyword, your best bet would be to write a better step-by-step guide than the one already present, have more backlinks pointing to it, and have a stronger domain.

Keyword example #2: "box spring beds"

If you're looking for a new bed to buy and you type in "box spring beds," you will notice that Images occupy rank#1.

Box spring bed keyword example

What does this mean?

It means that many people are going straight to images when they type in this keyword.

Probably somewhere in the ballpark of 20%.

What should you do when you see images ranking high for the keyword you're targeting?

Simply follow the image SEO best practices:

  • Use images relevant to the rest of the content
  • Customize image file names – don't simply name them image-1, image-2, image-3, etc.
  • Take original photos of the product – if at all possible
  • Customize image alt text – for example, instead of alt text being image-1, make it something relevant like "blue low profile box spring bed"
  • Make your images mobile-friendly – use an image compression plugin like EWWW Image Optimizer that will compress your images and allow for better page loading speed and responsiveness
  • Add your images to the sitemap if they're not there already

Image SEO best practices will give your images the best chances of ranking higher.

It's a good idea to get in the habit of following the image SEO best practices regardless of search intent research anyway.

Keyword example #3: "box spring bed assembly instructions"

This keyword is dominated by the helpful box spring bed assembly instructional videos.

Box-spring-assembly-instructions

The same logic applies as in the image-dominated searches.

Users that type in this keyword are most likely to click on a video result so Google naturally pushes videos on top.

What should you do?

Well, your best bet for getting a significant amount of traffic from this keyword is to make instructional videos on Youtube.

That's not to say a well-crafted picture guide couldn't work.

I'm sure it could.

But if we're talking very top of the SERPs, that spot is reserved for videos.

You can optimize your videos by following the Youtube SEO best practices like:

  • Create relevant and keyword-optimized Titles, Descriptions, and Tags
  • Create interesting Thumbnails
  • Create Closed Captions and Transcripts
  • Create Cards and End Screens

Video is fantastic for content marketing and you shouldn't shy away from creating them if this form of content seems interesting to you.

If you're looking for a Youtube video SEO crash course, check out this video by Brian Dean of Backlinko.

Keyword example #4: "children's room interior images"

childrens-room-interior-images-SERPs

Naturally, images are ranked #1.

The keyword itself even has the word "images" in it.

But that's not why I chose this example keyword.

More importantly, notice that Pinterest posts rank #2 and #3 for this keyword.

What this tells us is that Pinterest is HIGHLY relevant for this keyword and it would be a good idea to start posting content related to this keyword on Pinterest.

Pinterest itself is not only a social media platform but a search engine as well.

Content creators in many industries heavily rely on Pinterest to drive traffic to their websites.

Check out this Pinterest beginner's guide if you're unfamiliar with the platform. 

There's a big caveat related to this keyword example that I can't leave unmentioned.

Seeing non-blog post results like forum posts, Quora answers, Yahoo answers, etc. in the search results usually means that the competition for that keyword is weak.

The reason why Pinterest posts don't mean a lack of competition for our particular keyword example lies in the fact that Pinterest is a visual platform that's very relevant for many image-centric keywords and topics.

Just like Youtube is very relevant to video-centric keywords and topics.

Always be prepared to make these mini-judgment calls when interpreting the SERPs.

How to analyze your current content based on the search intent breakdown

No matter which search intent breakdown mentioned in this article feels more accurate to you, it's a good idea to analyze your current content against one.

Simply go through your content and map it out based on what part of the funnel it belongs to.

You could end up with something like this:

Current-content-analyzed-against-search-intent-breakdown

If every dot represents one piece of content, this would mean that an entire section of the purchasing journey is not covered.

You would potentially lose many of the people searching for keywords that fall into the "Solution Aware" search intent.

Instead of finding your content, they would find your competitors' content.

Being aware of a vulnerability like this is invaluable.

You could go even further and analyze your content rankings against the search intent breakdown funnel.

And if you have funnel gaps where your content is nowhere to be found in the SERPs, you would know which pieces of content you need to improve or rewrite.

Because having content that's ranked on Page 8 of Google doesn't do you any good.

Insights like this can help you adjust your content marketing strategy and point your efforts in the right direction.

7 Benefits of intent targeting

benefits-of-intent-targeting

Intent targeting and providing relevant content in every segment of the search intent breakdown funnel carries huge benefits.

Some of them are:

  • Reduced Bounce Rate – recommend your other content that represents the next logical step on the users' journey
  • Increased Average Session Duration – users clicking on closely related relevant content creates events that trigger the average session duration metric to increase
  • More Page Views – users will open more pages on your website if you provide content relevant to their needs
  • Higher Rankings – all the SEO metrics going up will positively impact your rankings
  • More Keywords Indexed – creating content spread across the search intent breakdown funnel means you'll cover and rank for more keywords
  • Wider Audience Reach – ranking for more keywords automatically means a bigger chance of being discovered
  • Proven Expertise – by providing everything your audience might need, you demonstrate your expertise on the topic

Check out this article for an in-depth look at the benefits of optimizing content around search intent.

Conclusion

Missing search intent is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

It puts the first, the final and every nail in between in the coffin of your hopes of ranking on Google.

Not because Google is cruel, but because your content simply wouldn't match the needs of users.

I hope you found value in this article and if I saved one piece of content from missing search intent and fading into oblivion of page 2 of Google, I'm a happy man.

Do you have a missed search intent horror story?

Let me know!

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