What Is Search Intent and Why Does It Matter?

Search intent is an important part of search queries that your business should factor for in your SEO strategy. In this article, we explain what is search intent and how understanding it can benefit your business. We also answer how to optimize your content and website based on search intent. Let’s get started!

What Is Search Intent?

Let’s define just what is search intent. Also known as searcher intent or keyword intent, search intent is the reason or motivation behind why a user types in a particular search term or keyword. 

Understanding search intent might be easier with an example. Say, for example, someone searches for the keyword or keyphrase “best cat food” on Google. What can we learn from the words that they typed in their search bar? We can take away a few things:

  1. They are not looking for a specific brand, otherwise they might have searched something like “Purina” or “Friskies” or “Meow Mix”.
  2. They are not even looking for a specific product. If they were, they may have typed “best dry indoor adult cat fod” or “cheapest canned food for kittens” or “what do I feed my cat to help her lose weight”.
  3. The user wants to do more research before making a purchase. 

Based on these inferences, we can conclude that the search has commercial intent, where users do research before making a purchase. There are four types of search intent: navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional. We’ll dive deeper into these categories later on in this article.

Business owners can really benefit from understanding and optimizing for search intent. For example, if you run a pet supply store, you can create content that answers the questions of people searching for “best cat food”. That way, they do their research on your website and when they are ready to make a purchase, they are more likely to come back to your business.

Why Is Search Intent Important in SEO?

As you may already know, SEO is a digital marketing strategy that businesses use to appear, or rank, higher on search engines like Google. The higher a website ranks on a search engine results page, or SERP, the more traffic it will win. The more traffic a business website gets, the more leads and revenue it is likely to garner.

Let’s examine how understanding search intent can help your business to win that extra visibility and attention.

For search engines like Google, the goal is to provide relevant, useful results to users. Google has put a lot of effort into interpreting search intent: the better they understand a question, the easier it will be to provide the right answer. So, by understanding search intent and making sure that your pages answer the actual questions of the users, your site is more likely to rank higher. 

If you know what users are actually looking for, you can:

  • Craft a more coherent and comprehensive content strategy. If you know what users want, need, and are looking for, you will know how to create an even better user experience.
  • Create more relevant and optimized content. Knowing what questions users want to ask will help you while writing blog posts, creating landing pages, or targeting keywords that users are searching.
  • Rank higher on SERPs. By showing search engines that your content is valuable and relevant to users, you are more likely to rank in the top ten results.

The Four Types of Search Intent

The words that people include in their search queries give insight into the user’s search intent. Certain words might show how far along the marketing funnel the user is. Words like the following help us understand our users:

  • Buy
  • Deal
  • Discount
  • Promo code
  • Information
  • How to
  • Best options
  • Price comparison
  • Or specific product names

As we mentioned, there are four main categories to search intent. They are navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional. 

  • Navigational intent, where users want to find a specific page. Example: facebook login, google calendar, or Heinz Ketchup careers page
  • Informational intent, where users want to learn more about something. Example: what is search intent, or history of ketchup.
  • Commercial intent, where users want to do more research before making a purchase. Example: Heinz vs Hunt’s ketchup comparison, best espresso machine or most cost-effective SEO option.
  • Transactional intent, where users want to complete an action or conversion, usually a purchase. Example: ketchup near me, buy Ford Mustang, or wool sweaters amazon.

Let’s examine these in even more detail:

1) Navigational

Navigational intent includes instances where users know exactly what page they want to arrive at. They already know what they are trying to find. For example:

  • Target refund policy
  • Gmail login
  • Starbucks rewards
  • Big Mac product page 

Navigational searches are often branded, or at very least include part of the page’s URL. Optimizing for these navigational keywords ensures target audiences can easily find the specific pages on your website they need to access.

2) Informational

Many searches done online are purely informational. These could be about the weather, lists of former US presidents, or even information about SEO and digital marketing. Informational intent might also be considered plain old curiosity.

Informational searches are often phrased as questions, and will often start with informational keywords like who, what, where, when, why, and how. Some examples of keywords with informational intent include:

  • Zendaya movies list
  • What is digital marketing
  • When did the Alamo happen
  • Tokyo time now
  • How to clean an oven

Many times, Google will highlight an answer directly, through what are called SERP features. SERP features include aspects like “people also ask” options or featured snippets that directly answer questions.

Businesses can optimize for informational queries by focusing on writing relevant blog content. For example, if you own a bike repair shop, you might write informational articles about bike care and maintenance or the differences between different types of bike. There are many benefits of targeting infroamtional keywords:

  • Visibility. Informational queries make up a huge portion of all searches on Google. Users are more likely to see your brand and business if you create the kind of content they are looking for.
  • Trust. Educating your target audience and providing them with useful information builds trust. If they know you know your stuff, they’ll come back when they are ready to make a purchase. 
  • Leads. SEO content that targets informational keywords can bring you high potential leads.

3) Commercial

As we mentioned, commercial intent implies that the user is doing more research in order to make a purchase. As such, it lies somewhere inbetwen informational and transactional intent. Some examples include:

  • Netflix vs Max
  • Apple watch ultra reviews
  • Best cat food for senior cats
  • Are SEO services worth it?
  • Semrush alternatives

Generally speaking, the search results for commercial queries will often include third-party, independent reviews of products or services. It can be difficult for your business to rank for commercial keywords that are directly relevant to your brand.

4) Transactional

Transactional search intent implies that users want to take a specific action, though not necessarily make a purchase. For example, a user might want to sign up for a newsletter or download a software. 

Some examples of transactional keywords include:

  • Purina Cat Chow Naturals Original with Added Vitamins, Minerals, and Nutrients Dry Cat Food price
  • Myers briggs test online
  • Where to watch The Sopranos

What Is Search Intent’s Biggest Benefit?

As you can tell, there’s a lot that goes into understanding user intent. However, when you understand the search terms that your target audience uses, and why, you can turn those search terms into keywords. You can build content around the needs, interests, queries, and questions of users. By focusing on what users are truly looking for, you can encourage them to look for you.

Ansley Merrill

Ansley is the Content Marketing Manager at Summit Scout. Since graduating from Utah State University with two degrees in Communication Studies and Journalism: Public Relations, Ansley specializes in creating engaging and informative SEO content for readers, customers, and partners through different marketing channels. Along with creating new content, Ansley works to keep content organized and creates and executes new content strategies. When she’s not writing, she loves to travel, visit National Parks, and loves all things Disney.