What is Search Intent and Why is it Critical to Get It Right in 2024?

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By Tomislav

Key Takeaways

Essence of Search Intent: Understanding why people search (search intent) is vital for content relevance, aligning with Google’s goal to deliver accurate search results.
Impact of Accurate Search Intent: Matching user expectations with search intent is crucial for ranking well on Google, as it prioritizes content that accurately addresses user queries.
Search Intent Types and Analysis:
Traditional (Navigational, Informational, Transactional, Commercial) and Evolved (Problem Aware to Ready to Purchase) types reflect users’ diverse searching needs.
Use Google’s first-page results to guide content creation, ensuring alignment with the prevalent search intent for specific queries.
Combining Search Intent and Keyword Research: Both are essential for a comprehensive SEO strategy, with search engines increasingly focusing on understanding intent behind searches.
Advantages of Intent Targeting: Leads to better user engagement (reduced bounce rate, longer sessions), improved SEO (higher rankings, broader keyword indexing), and establishes authority in your field.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent, also known as user intent or keyword intent, is crucial in understanding the reasons behind search queries.

Without grasping why people search, providing the most relevant answers is impossible.

That’s why Google, whose primary job is delivering relevant query results, emphasizes search intent heavily.

Google’s article on “How intent is redefining the marketing funnel” highlights that marketing to the average is ineffective. The one-size-fits-all approach is outdated.

Today’s consumers expect relevance. As a content marketer, aligning with Google’s goals means accurately identifying search intent and providing relevant content that solves your audience’s specific problems.

Why is Getting Search Intent Right Critical?

Getting the search intent right is crucial because Google ignores content that misses the mark.

It’s Google’s role to match searchers with what they’re seeking.

Any content that deviates won’t reach the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Take “keto diet meal plan” as an example.

The search results predominantly feature articles with keto-friendly foods and meal plans because that’s what users are looking for.

Google’s algorithm has determined these articles perform the best.

If you write an article titled “keto diet meal plan” but discuss what makes a meal plan keto instead of providing an actual meal plan, you’ll entirely miss the search intent, keeping your article far from the top of the SERPs.

Failing to nail the search intent means potentially having to create a new piece of content from scratch for the same keyword.

This is not only costly but also time-consuming.

Traditional Breakdown of Search Intent

In 2002, Andrei Broder developed the first taxonomy of web intent.

His paper identified these three primary search intents:

Navigational – the goal is to locate a specific site.

Informational – the aim is to gather information.

Transactional – the purpose is to buy a product or service.

Later, Commercial search intent was recognized.

Commercial search is about planning a future purchase, bridging Informational and Transactional intents.

Let’s explore these search intents more!

Navigational Search Intent

Definition: Navigational intent focuses on finding a specific site.

Keyword examples: “Pinterest” or “Google Analytics”

Not every visited site is bookmarked, even if frequently visited.

Typing full domain names can feel tedious.

It’s often easier to enter “Pinterest” rather than “,” and Google gets this.

Google’s results for “Pinterest” mainly include direct navigational links like:

  • The Pinterest website
  • Pinterest’s Twitter
  • Pinterest’s Facebook
  • Pinterest’s YouTube channel

Google avoids showing guides or informational content for such searches, understanding the user’s direct intent.

Optimizing for Navigational Intent:

If your website is commonly searched for directly, ensure it appears first on Google.

Occasionally, a business isn’t the top result for its name on Google.

For more on optimizing for navigational intent, check my detailed article on the subject.

Informational Search Intent

Definition: Informational search intent is about seeking information.

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

It’s no surprise that people are actively seeking informational content online.

Indeed, informational search intent is the most prevalent among the three types of search intents.

A study reveals that 80% of search queries are driven by informational search intent.

How to Optimize for Informational Search Intent?

To optimize for informational search intent, focus on creating content that is relevant, comprehensive, useful, centered around the consumer, and adds value.

Yes, that’s quite a bit to consider.

Yet, in most niches, the competition for informational keywords is intense, and only high-quality content stands out.

Effective content types for informational search intent include:

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

Commercial Search Intent

Definition: Commercial search intent is about researching products or services for future purchase.

Keyword examples: “Best elliptical machines” or “elliptical machine vs treadmill”

This intent shows a user’s near-future purchase plans.

Users with commercial search intent typically know what product they want and are finalizing their decision.

How to Optimize for Commercial Search Intent?

Optimizing for commercial search intent involves providing relevant product information and a straightforward way to make a purchase.

For instance, users searching for “best elliptical machines” want options, a definitive choice, and links to purchase.

Essentially, these users are on the verge of buying and just need a final nudge.

Transactional Search Intent

Definition: Transactional search intent revolves around the desire to purchase a product or service.

Examples: “Buy NordicTrack C 7.5 Elliptical” or “AWeber coupon.”

Keywords like these are specific, indicating a higher purchase probability.

Notice the use of words such as “buy” and “coupon” in these examples, explicitly indicating a purchasing intent.

Additional transactional search intent keywords include:

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

How to Optimize for Transactional Search Intent?

Recognizing that users with high transactional intent are ready to buy, your content should facilitate this.

At this point, your content isn’t for a broad audience but should be tailored to specific transactional keywords.

For example, if your content is titled “cheapest elliptical machine online,” it must deliver exactly that: the cheapest options, detailed product information, and a purchase link.

Anything less fails to fulfill the promise of your title.

In transactional search intent, relevance is paramount.

Advanced Breakdown of Search Intent: Problems and Solutions

It’s evident that online behaviors and search intents are evolving.

As people become more adept at online searching, the nature of search intent shifts.

This evolution necessitates a similar advancement in content marketing strategies.

An alternative breakdown of search intent, focusing on the user’s journey from problem to solution, aligns more closely with current search behaviors.

Brendan Hufford discusses this concept in his video:

This approach centers on the user’s problem-solving journey:

  1. Problem Aware – Recognize the user’s problem and highlight available solutions.
  2. Solution Aware – Showcase how your solution can address their needs.
  3. Product Aware – Demonstrate why your solution is superior.
  4. Ready to Purchase – Provide the necessary purchasing information for users convinced by your solution.

This method is not only more intuitive but also ensures that your content guides users through every stage of their purchasing journey.

Search Intent Research vs. Keyword Research

Some experts claim that keyword research is fading, while search intent research is rising.

I see it differently.

Keyword research is not diminishing.

Even Google’s John Mueller, when asked about this topic, 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 view search intent research and keyword research as complementary, not conflicting.

Combining search intent with keyword research enriches your insights, leading to better-informed decisions.

True, search engines are getting better at interpreting the intent behind language.

Voice search is accelerating this trend, as users often speak in full sentences rather than focusing on keywords.

With AI assistants like Google Smart Home or Amazon Echo, people converse naturally, using complete sentences and even politeness markers.

Search engines must improve at identifying intent in searches that aren’t keyword-centric.

So, while keywords may gradually become less crucial, keyword research won’t become obsolete overnight.

Verdict: Utilize both keyword research and search intent research.

How to Analyze Search Intent by Looking at the First Page of Google

Understanding the search intent behind keywords isn’t always straightforward.

Some keywords are ambiguous, potentially leading to diverse search intentions.

To demonstrate search intent research using Google’s first-page results, let’s explore some examples.

Example Keyword #1: “Weight Loss”

Ranking for such a broad keyword is challenging without high authority.

Focus on the principle, not the specific keyword.

Searchers typing “weight loss” might have various needs, leading to a diverse range of Google results:

  1. Step-by-step weight loss guides
  2. Latest weight loss news
  3. Weight loss tips
  4. Weight loss videos
  5. Diet plan articles
  6. High authority site articles (CDC, NHS)
  7. Basics of weight loss

Google aims to provide multiple paths to relevant content for different user needs.

You can discern the relevance of content types by their ranking.

For example, a step-by-step guide at rank #1 is deemed more relevant than a diet plan at rank #3.

To aim for the top rank, surpass the current top guide in quality, backlinks, and domain strength.

Keyword Example #2: “Box Spring Beds”

If you’re in the market for a new bed and search “box spring beds,” you’ll find Images dominate rank #1.

What does this signify?

It indicates that a significant portion of users, likely around 20%, prefer images for this query.

So, what’s the strategy for high-ranking image keywords?

Adhere to image SEO best practices:

  • Ensure images are relevant to your content
  • Name image files descriptively, avoiding generic labels like image-1, image-2
  • Where possible, use original product photos
  • Utilize meaningful alt text, e.g., “blue low profile box spring bed” instead of generic terms
  • Optimize images for mobile with tools like EWWW Image Optimizer for improved loading speed and responsiveness
  • Include your images in the sitemap if they’re not already listed

Implementing these practices enhances your images’ ranking potential.

Adopting image SEO best practices is beneficial, regardless of your search intent research.

Keyword Example #3: “Box Spring Bed Assembly Instructions”

This keyword is predominantly occupied by instructional videos for box spring bed assembly.

The rationale for video dominance is similar to that of images.

Users typically favor video content for this query, leading Google to prioritize videos.

What’s the approach here?

Your best chance for attracting traffic with this keyword is to create instructional videos on YouTube.

This isn’t to discount the effectiveness of a well-executed picture guide.

It certainly has potential.

However, for the very top of the SERPs, videos reign supreme.

To optimize your videos, follow YouTube SEO best practices:

  • Craft relevant, keyword-optimized Titles, Descriptions, and Tags
  • Design engaging Thumbnails
  • Include Closed Captions and Transcripts
  • Utilize Cards and End Screens

Remember, video is a powerful tool in content marketing, so consider embracing it if it aligns with your interests.

How to Analyze Your Current Content Based on the Search Intent Breakdown

Regardless of which search intent breakdown resonates with you, it’s crucial to analyze your existing content accordingly.

Evaluate your content to see where it fits within the purchase funnel.

Imagine a scenario where each dot is a content piece. A lack of coverage in a particular purchase journey phase means missing out on potential customers.

These potential customers, looking for “Solution Aware” content, might end up engaging with your competitors instead.

Recognizing such a gap is incredibly valuable.

Take it a step further by comparing your content rankings with the search intent funnel.

Identifying funnel gaps, where your content is absent in search engine results, pinpoints what needs enhancement or rewriting.

Content buried on Page 8 of Google is ineffective.

Using these insights, you can refine your content marketing strategy, guiding your efforts more effectively.

7 Benefits of Intent Targeting

Targeting search intent and providing relevant content across the search intent funnel offers significant advantages:

  1. Reduced Bounce Rate – By suggesting content that’s the next logical step for users, you keep them engaged.
  2. Increased Average Session Duration – Users engaged with relevant content contribute to longer session times.
  3. More Page Views – Offering pertinent content encourages users to explore more pages on your site.
  4. Higher Rankings – Improved SEO metrics positively affect your site’s rankings.
  5. More Keywords Indexed – Content spanning the search intent funnel helps you rank for a broader array of keywords.
  6. Wider Audience Reach – More keywords indexed translates to increased discoverability.
  7. Proven Expertise – Comprehensive content demonstrates your authority on the subject.

For a detailed exploration of these benefits, consider reading this article on optimizing content around search intent.