User search intent is the purpose or the drive behind a user’s query. With Google Hummingbird, Google RankBrain, and other algorithm tweaks, Google automatically identifies search intent and serves up results that best match it. People’s queries reflect where they are in the conversion funnel, so understanding search intent can help you develop effective content that targets potential customers at the right time and in the right way.
Why is User Search Intent Important to SEO?
Your ability to understand search intent impacts your ability to rank and whether your readers will find your content satisfying. Google even goes so far as to outline what qualifies as quality content in their Quality Evaluator Guidelines.
How frustrating would it be if you wanted to learn about how motorcycles work, but all of your search results only tried to sell you one? That experience is what you’re aiming to prevent by incorporating user search intent into your SEO strategy.
A well-developed sense of search intent will allow you to:
- Conduct more effective keyword research by targeting terms that match your business’s and audience’s needs
- Develop content that answers user questions and structure pages in a way that’s friendly to both users and search engines
- Rank higher by creating content that search engines understand is more valuable and relevant to users
The Four Types of User Search Intent
There is a lot of overlap between the four types of user search intent. However, you can break search intent down into four primary categories:
- Navigational Intent: When users are trying to find something
- Informational Intent: When users are trying to learn more about something
- Transactional Intent: When users are trying to complete a specific action
- Commercial Intent: When users are trying to learn more before making a purchase
Notice how each of the four stages roughly aligns with the buyer’s journey?
Users will likely use informational keywords when they first discover your brand. As they warm up to you and consider the idea of purchasing from you, they might start using commercial keywords. Finally, when they’re ready to convert, they’ll start to use transactional keywords.
Next, we’ll cover each type of user search intent in detail, how they’re relevant, and how to target those keywords with effective content.
Navigational Search Intent
Navigational intent is when users want to find a specific page, domain, or physical address. It typically coincides with Google’s “visit” and “website” user intents and includes local search.
The essential part of understanding navigational intent is that users already know what they’re trying to find. That being said, if you’re targeting these keywords, you likely don’t need to sell them on anything new.
Google’s mission here is to deliver content in the most effective way possible. In order to make this happen, Google uses SERP features such as knowledge panels or local packs.
In the example above, I’ve searched the address for Little Caesar’s Arena where the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons play. The enlarged snipet in the upper lefthand corner and how it provides the address without requiring users to leave the page. The Knowledge Panel on the right provides a map/street view image link and then further down on the right-hand side is the address and general phone number for the arena.
You want to ensure that your local listing information is correct and current for a search phrase like this. Furthermore, you also want to ensure that your exact location/address and contact information are front and center on your website.
Here’s another example where the navigational intent is less than crystal clear.
The user searched for “Lowes Customer Service.” However, it’s not exactly clear whether they wanted to find that section of the website, the phone number, or other related information. Nevertheless, the SERPs served up the phone number in the snippet. The search results also linked to Lowe’s customer service page on their website and provided the phone number again in the knowledge box on the right.
Why It’s Important for Your Business
The primary purpose of navigational keywords is to ensure that your current and future customers can find you when they need you. Navigational keywords are often branded. In most cases, they’re branded. Navigational keywords can also provide insight into how users interact with or think about your brand.
For instance, if the majority of queries are for a certain product page, it’s likely popular among your audience. On the flip side, if you see a sudden spike in customer service searches, it wouldn’t hurt to figure out the root cause.
How to Optimize Your Content for Navigational Intent
First, you’ll want to make sure that your site structure is clean and easy to navigate. You especially want it to be easy for users to target navigational keywords. You should clearly label each section of your site with page titles, tags, headers, and descriptions. Make sure that your descriptions tell users the type of information they’ll find there.
Next, you’ll want to make sure that each product/service you offer has a dedicated landing page containing the most relevant information. You want to make sure that you optimize each page with the appropriate brand and product names. Furthermore, you’ll want to add any and all applicable terms (e.g. the type of product or the problem it can solve).
Lastly, make sure you optimize your URLs so that they are descriptive and easy to read.
Informational Search Intent
Informational search intent signals that the user wants to learn something. Many times, users phrase these searches as questions and used words like who, what, where, why, and how. The questions that users ask can range from very specific (“how old is Wayne Gretzky?) to broad or complex (“character development analysis of The Oddysey”). For more pointed queries with concrete answers, Google typically uses SERP features to answer the question so users don’t need to leave the SERP.
Note how Google answers the question – “what year did the patriots win the super bowl” at the top of the page. Google then serves up a knowledge box to the bottom right.
Why It’s Important for Your Business
Informational searches make up the majority of searches that users perform via Google. So, if you want visibility, you simply cannot ignore them. That being said, informational queries are without question a valuable opportunity to grow your business.
Providing your readers with informational or educational content is a phenomenal way to build trust and showcase your expertise. In addition to improving your visibility, you can use this content to target new leads, which you can then convert into customers later.
How to Optimize for Informational Intent
When you want to target keywords with informational intent, you need to pay close attention to the information for which users are searching. Doing so allows you to identify the type of information they seek. Once you know the type of information users desire, you can then write clear and concise content that meets their expectations.
Take your typical “how-to” query for example. Google will likely serve up a structured process when users enter this type of query. Below is the SERP feature that Google serves for “how to start writing a blog post.”
Notice how the featured content shows as an ordered list, with clearly defined steps. If you click through to the source, you’ll notice that each numbered step is a subheading with detailed information to follow. Google uses these subheadings to form the rich snippet.
Whatever the topic or question, you need to ensure that you structure it correctly when dealing with informational content. Wherever possible, include essential information, such as steps or answers to questions in your page title, description, and headers. You can then use additional text elements such as lists, charts, and graphics to present your information in a more reader-friendly format.
Transactional Search Intent
Transactional search intent is when users want to do something specific, either in-person or via their device. While the name implies that this type of search is limited to purchases, this is not the case. A user conducting a transactional search may also want to complete email signup, form submission, store visit, or make a phone call.
Some transactional searches are direct, which makes what the user wants to do rather obvious. For instance, a user in Detroit, MI, who wants to see a movie might search “movies near Detroit MI.”
Here, Google provides the user with a carousel of movies showing in local theaters and websites where users can find additional information or purchase tickets. If a user clicks on a movie that piques their interest, they can browse individual showtimes, check reviews from the top critics, and even purchase tickets via their preferred site.
Sometimes, it’s less than clear whether a user’s intent was transactional, commercial, or informational. This typically happens when the search term is the name of a specific product. When this occurs, Google shows SERP features that allow the user to research the product and complete their purchase.
In the example above, the knowledge panel shows both transactional content (pricing at different stores) and commercial content (basic product information, user reviews, and ratings).
Why It’s Important for Your Business
In short, transactional keywords are your money makers. These are the keywords that potential customers search for when they’re ready to convert. You can seize these opportunities by targeting transactional keywords with an optimized product landing page and an easy purchasing process.
How to Target Transactional Keywords
Targeting transactional keywords means:
- Knowing what it means to convert – do you want users to register for a webinar? Buy something? Complete a lead form?
- Providing all of the relevant information in the most user-centric way possible
- Making the conversion process as straightforward as you can
This process needs to be seamless, whether they’re starting on your site or on a Google SERP. To do this, make sure all relevant pages are easy to find and contain all the necessary information for users to complete the desired action.
First, ensure that you’re directing users to a page designed for the primary purpose, whether it’s a product or a landing page. This page should include:
- Page Title, Description, and Headers that include your keywords and indicate the purpose of your page
- A crystal clear CTA that’s easy for users to spot and understand
- A clean design that helps users find the information they need quickly and easily complete their conversion
- Conversion-optimized text that simplifies the decision process by providing the most critical information in an engaging way
Finally, you want to use structured data to provide Google with a better idea of what’s on the page. Doing so allows it to deliver it to users when they’re ready to convert.
Commercial search intent is a mix of informational and transactional search intent. In the most simple sense, these are the keywords your audience will use when they’re doing their research before making a purchase decision.
For example, let’s say you’ve decided to purchase a new phone. You’re not sure if you want to shell out the cash for the iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, so you search for “iPhone 13 vs Samsung s21:”
For searches such as this one, the SERP feature provides a side-by-side comparison of both products so that users can easily make their final decision. If you click the “Detailed Comparison” button at the bottom, you’ll find even more details:
Naturally, product comparisons aren’t the only type of commercial search. Users might also search:
- Reviews from users or other authoritative sources
- Technical specifications or other details
- Brand agnostic reviews (e.g. “best phones 2022)
- Free trials or product demos
- Other pages that help them learn about a product or service
Why Commercial Search Intent Matters
Commercial keywords are all about showing your audience what you offer and providing them with the information they need to convert. The faster your audience can find and use this information, the more likely they are to move forward.
With these keywords, you’re connecting with your users during one of the most critical legs of their buyer journey.
How to Optimize for Commercial Intent
Similar to informational keywords, you want to focus on commercial keywords. This requires you to know what the user is asking. Then, you need to structure your page so that users can quickly find the answer.
Take the example below from Apple where they compare the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 Pro, and iPhone 13 Pro Max:
Since the objective of this page is to compare three similar products, Apple formats it as a table, with equal information across the grid. This allows the user to quickly find the differences or details they care about the most.
The commercial intent is structured, highly organized, and user-friendly. Users can quickly educate themselves and make a smooth purchase decision.
Use a similar philosophy for commercial content on your site. First, ask yourself, “what is my audience trying to find on this page?” Then build a well-structured page with that task in mind.
Next, you want to optimize it with highly descriptive page titles, headers, meta descriptions, and URLs.
Finally, you want to make it as easy as possible for the user to convert and purchase. You can do so by adding links to more information, lead generation forms, and purchase pages.
How to Determine Search Intent from Keywords
Identifying search intent is a critical step in any content strategy because, as previously stated, search intent typically aligns with where users are in the marketing funnel.
Here’s how it typically flows:
- Awareness: informational keywords like “how to do keyword research.”
- Consideration: commercial keywords such as “best keyword research products”
- Conversion: transactional or navigational keywords that are typically branded like “Ubersuggest subscription”
In most cases, you can identify a keyword’s intent based on the keyword itself and the associated search results.
For instance, an informational keyword will typically use question words or indicate what the user is hoping to learn. The results often include a snippet answering the user’s query. On the same note, a commercial transactional keyword will likely reference a specific product or type of product. These queries often generate a carousel of products, reviews, or links to retailers.
SEO Benefits of Intent Targeting
Search intent is a massive part of how semantic SEO delivers on-point results to users. Better intent optimization usually drives more relevant and qualified inbound traffic to your site.
This could mean improved conversion rates for your landing pages and an assortment of other benefits to all content types, including:
- Reduced Bounce Rates: People get what they want, so they stay on your site
- More Page Views: Matching with a user’s intent often leads to more engagement with the rest of your site
- More Featured Snippets: Having your content selected for Google’s rich snippets can prove very beneficial. It allows your pages to rank in position zero above the search result.
- Wider Audience Reach: Google is smart enough to decipher multiple queries with the same topic and intent. This means it will show your optimized page for a lot more questions.
These benefits are what make intent optimization so robust. Do it right and you’ll see larger audiences, more qualified traffic, and better engagement metrics for your content.
When all is said and done, an effective website provides users with the info they need right when they need it most. Informational content helps users educate themselves. Commercial content helps them make more informed purchases. And by targeting transactional and navigational keywords, you can help users find you quickly when they’re ready to convert.