Google’s fundamental goal, and their business model for that matter, is to satisfy search intent. In other words, Google’s job is to display web pages that satisfy what people want when they search for something. Search intent is the key to understanding and optimizing your website for organic search traffic in a very competitive field of online businesses.
What’s Search Intent for those who Don’t Know?
Quite simply, search intent is what someone wants when they type in a keyword phrase. Google’s goal is to display the most relevant web pages so that the searcher gets satisfied with their results.
The Difference Between Optimizing Your Site for Keywords and Optimizing it for Search Intent
Keyword research is the process of finding out which keywords are getting the most searches. It is important because you want to get as much traffic as possible from search engines to your site, but that’s only part of the pie in terms of organic search engine optimization (SEO).
Optimizing for keyword research means optimizing your pages so that they appear high in the keyword rankings. However, to be relevant enough to keep people on your site and get repeat visitors, you need to optimize them for search intent.
So, what’s the difference?
While optimizing for keywords only focuses on getting your site to rank high in the search engine result pages (SERPs), optimizing for search intent focuses on getting users to click on your site’s listing. That is done by writing content around the user’s actual words to create interesting, well-written versions of their search phrase or question.
There are Five types of Search Intent
Knowledge-Based Intent – People with knowledge-based intent want to know something. If you’re a plumbing company and someone searches “How do I unclog my drain,” they want the answer and will be satisfied with any website that can provide it, regardless of where it ranks on Google.
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Navigational Intent – People with navigational intent know what site they want and often know the URL by heart. If you’re a plumbing company and someone searches for “ABC Plumbing,” your website should be on page one because you already know that person wants to visit your website, not a competitor.
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Entertainment-based Intent – People with entertainment-based intent go to websites strictly for fun. They don’t intend to buy anything or even think about their search anymore after the session ends.
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- Funny videos
- Hollywood gossip
Transactional Intent – People with transactional intent want to buy something or sign up for something. They’re concerned about their privacy and safety online and don’t trust most websites they encounter.
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Commercial Investigation Intent – People with commercial investigation intent usually want to buy something but have yet to decide. They might type into Google “where to buy yarn cheap,” then click on the first couple of websites before finally buying from one of them. Stores that offer free shipping for all orders or have a sale are likely to win this traffic.
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Keyword Intent Correlations
By now, you may be saying to yourself, “I thought Google was an unbiased search engine and didn’t care if I optimized my website for a certain keyword phrase?” Well, you’re right and wrong.
Google doesn’t care which phrases you optimize your site for as long as people find your content useful and relevant to their search query. They’ll be much more inclined to click on your website if you’re the highest-ranking website for something close to what they want (like “plumbing company” or “commercial plumbing services”) versus someone further away like “drain clog solutions.”
Over time it’s been discovered that the intent of the search phrase you optimize for correlates to your ability to rank well. For example, if someone is searching for something “commercial,” then it’s likely they’ll click on a site that ranks number one for “[COMMERCIAL] plumbing company.”
Search intent matters because Google uses it as a factor in their ranking algorithm.
That said, knowledge-based (informational searches) tend to contain keywords such as:
- How to
- Best way to
And these searches usually contain modifiers like:
- Best (e.g., “Best SEO companies”)
- Top 10 (e.g., “top 10 plumbing companies”)
- Reviews (e.g., “plumbing company reviews”)
On the other hand, navigational (the person already knows what site they want) keywords include:
- Company name
- Product / service name(s)
- Domain name (e.g., “abcplumbing.com”)
For Transactional Intent, people use terms like best, buy, shop, price compare, cheapest, top-rated, etc. (e.g., “best laundry detergent”)
In other words, your prospects will be looking for a specific solution, but they expect to see all the available options or gather more information before making a buying decision.
If someone has commercial investigation intent for your services, they might use keywords like:
- Product or service names + “reviews” (e.g., “lawnmower reviews”)
- Your business name + “reviews” (e.g., “ABC Plumbing reviews”)
- Product or service names + “comparison” (e.g., “wheelbarrow comparison”)
On average, people use keywords that are closer to navigational intent slightly more than they do knowledge-based keywords. But if your primary keywords and phrases are closer to transactional intent, your site will be highly relevant for someone looking to make a purchase.
So back to the original question: “How do I know which keywords I should optimize my site for?” The good news is it doesn’t matter (from an SEO perspective), but it helps to make sure they’re relatively closer to the commercial intent of your site.
Why Should You Analyse Search Intent?
People search the internet differently, depending on what they want. The last thing you want is ranking number one for the wrong keywords because you’re not targeting what the searcher hopes to find.
Once you know which keywords or phrases your site should target, it will be much easier to optimize your site so it ranks.
5 Reasons to Start Analysing Search Intent
1. It Helps You Verify That Your Site Is Optimized for the Right Keywords
First, it’s helpful to see what search phrases you rank number one for (and where you might be ranking in Google). That can give you an idea of how well your website is optimized for the correct keywords. For example, if you rank number one for plumbing FAQs (a knowledge-based search), then perhaps it would be best to put your efforts into other keywords that are more transactional (e.g., “plumbing prices”).
2. It Can Help You Optimize Your Site
If you rank number one for navigational keywords (e.g., “plumbing supplies”), then it could be beneficial to shift your focus more towards commercial intent, like “commercial plumbing company rates,” etc.
3. It Will Help You Determine What Content You Need to Create
If you rank for commercial intent keywords (e.g., “price comparison plumbing company”), it might make sense to create content that helps people understand why they should buy from your business instead of a competitor. On the other hand, if you rank for navigational intent (e.g., “plumbing supplies”), you might benefit from creating content that helps people decide what product to buy (like price comparison, safety measures, or reviews).
4. It Gives You a Better Idea of What Content People in Your Industry Are Looking For
You can even use it to figure out what content is driving people to your competitors’ sites. For example, if you notice that “price comparison for plumbers” is something your competition ranks number one for, then a good idea would be to create similar content as soon as possible (if you haven’t already).
5. It Might Give You a Sneak Peek of What Google’s Algorithm Is Looking for in Your Industry
Analyzing what keywords or phrases your competitors rank for (and where they rank on page one) can indicate how well their site is optimized and, perhaps more importantly, what Google is favoring.
How to Determine Search Intent
So, how do you analyze your site to determine search intent?
Wear the Mind of Your Potential Customers
Try to reason like a potential customer. What would you type into the search engine if you were online searching for a similar service or product?
Also, keep in mind that, when people are searching for something to purchase, they might use different terms than if they were looking for information (e.g., “plumbing prices” versus “how much does it cost to install copper pipes?”).
Look at Keyword Modifiers
Keyword modifiers are words and phrases that let you know the intent of your search (e.g., “best,” “new,” “cheap,” etc.). For example, if you type the word “boat” into Google, then some of the autofill suggestions will be “boat for sale,” “used boat dealer near me,” and “boats.” That should tell you something about the intent behind the keyword.
Alternatively, there are tools that you can use to help you analyze what search phrases people are using, including Google’s Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, and Keywordtool.io. You can use these tools to filter your search results based on queried keywords to understand the intent behind some of the phrases and terms people use in your industry or niche.
Analyze SERP Results
Another good way to determine the intent behind a particular keyword is to look up the top 10 results on Google and analyze how they are optimized.
For example, if you type “plumbing services” into Google and scroll down past the ads, you will see that most of the top-ranking sites have several locations (e.g., “Atlanta plumbing service”) and sometimes include the phone number. That tells me that Google favors sites that help people find plumbers in their area (i.e., navigational intent).
Let’s take a closer look at SERP results:
SERP Results for Knowledge-Based (Informational) Intent
Informational keywords tend to own search results with condensed information (e.g., featured snippets, knowledge grabs, and questions people ask). They primarily serve organic results, consisting of a dictionary, Wikipedia, or informative blogs.
SERP Results for Navigational Intent
Navigational searches are looking for specific websites, which usually get displayed in the organic search results. If a user searches “Wikipedia,” for example, the first search result to appear will be the official Wikipedia page. Right underneath it will be other important Wikipedia pages.
The same goes for any other site you look up.
SERP Results for Transactional Intention
Transactional SERPs are the easiest to identify. They are dominated by ads with some displays of organic listings. In these SERPs, users are looking for a particular product or service, and the goal is to acquire it from a certain seller. Transactional SERP results often consist of product pages from e-commerce websites.
SERP Results for Commercial Investigation Intent
Commercial Investigation SERPs are the most complex of the four. These SERPs consist of search results that searchers use to compare prices, establish availability or read reviews for a product or service. Commercial Investigation SERP results can also consist of affiliate websites (e.g., CompareTheMarket ) where users are redirected to another website to finalize their purchase.
SERP Results for Entertainment Intent
These SERPs consist of a display of YouTube, news websites, industry-specific forums, and community sites where users search for additional content relevant to their search topic.
Look at the Big Picture
Now that you have analyzed individual search results, it’s time to look at the big picture. You should study how well each site or business ranks in comparison with one another.
For example, if you search “dentists near me” in Google and scroll past Google ads, you should be able to see the number of results and their order of ranking. That should tell you who’s winning and who still got room for improvement (especially those ranked number #1, #2, and #3).
Organic rankings tell you which sites are dominating the SERPs based on click-through rates (CTR). Your aim should be to beat out your competitors by improving organic rankings for keywords with high customer intent.
In the example above, you can see that a search for “SEO Singapore” shows a mix of informational and commercial intent SERP results. There are several features relating to local businesses with navigational or transactional keywords mixed in there as well.
The title tags, meta descriptions, and headings on these sites are fairly good because they are informative. They have all of their NAPs in order, properly optimized URLs, and off-page SEO is well-optimized too.
The only thing I would recommend is to try to tone down on some keywords because there are so many stuffed into each title tag and meta description (e.g., Singapore SEO, Singapore internet marketing, best SEO company in Singapore, etc.).
How to Optimize Your Site for Search Intent
Now that you know how to determine search intent, it’s time to optimize your site with that in mind.
The most important thing is to establish what the user wants and give them the way they want.
Your content should be laser-focused on one topic with a clear call to action at the end, such as “contact us for a quote.”
Here are a few more pointers to help you optimize your site for search intent:
Match Your Content type and Metadata to the Intent
After researching keywords, you should determine which content types are best for each intent.
For example, if you search “website development company,” the odds are good your SERP results will be filled with informational pages and a few e-commerce sites (i.e., commerce). That should tell you readers are looking for value-driven content rather than a transaction.
An even better approach would be to try and combine them both (i.e., quality and transactional keywords). You can easily do this by creating an informative blog post with a call to action at the end, such as “contact us for a free consultation.”
You’re not just matching content type to intent here – you’re also matching metadata!
The title tag, meta description, and heading for this blog post must all point to something informational with a clear call to action for the reader at the end.
Organic Searches Love Websites that are Easy to Navigate.
For example, you won’t rank for “website development company” if your site is filled with pages of products or services that don’t give any value (i.e., no reason for them to click).
Instead, it would be best if you considered creating a web page with several sub-pages surrounding the specific topic above. For example, if you have separate pages for “website development company,” “web design services,” and “internet marketing company,” then you are telling Google that these are all related topics.
That will not only help you rank for each of those keywords, but it will also provide your users with a consistent experience that is both simple and easy to follow.
So, if your users want website development services, all they have to do is click on “website development” in the menu bar or links section. That would be an efficient way to keep users exploring your site without getting lost.
Consistency With Your Writing Style
To optimize a website for search intent, you need a clear understanding of the keywords you’re targeting.
The easiest way to do that is with Google Keyword Planner, which provides detailed information on keyword search volumes and how specific your content needs to be.
Although you can’t please everyone, it’s best to avoid slang and multiple variations of words.
For example, “custom website design services” is a better title than “custom website development company” since the latter could be referring to different things.
One more thing – make sure your post contains all the right keywords!
These keywords should also be found in the article’s title, URL, headings, and meta description.
You should also make sure that your keywords are found on the page itself. That can easily be done by inserting your keyword into certain key phrases throughout each post.
For example: “We are a custom web development company based out of California.”
Examine Your Competition
Before creating any page, you should try to analyze the top 10 results for that specific keyword.
Do they contain ads? If so, then that means Google is charging advertisers for each click. It’s, therefore, going to be almost impossible to rank within these SERPs.
Are there any informational websites in particular that Google likes and ranks well? These will also be harder to beat.
After researching, you should find many informational results (or transactional) for your specific keyword.
If this is the case, you need to ensure that your website contains valuable content that’s useful to the reader and specific keywords that Google likes!
Be sure to answer the following list of questions while at it:
- How are the top-ranking posts formatted?
- Do they have an established author (i.e., a website that has been around longer than yours)?
- Do they contain many images?
- Do they link to any other websites?
- Or, do their post titles and headings match the keyword intent perfectly?
You can answer these questions by simply looking at the SERPs and using common sense!
Once you’ve done this, create just as good or better content than what’s already out there.
If the top 10 results are all “active” websites (i.e., they have recently created new content), then it should be easier for your website to surpass them in search engine rankings just by publishing high-quality content. Remember to also work on your site’s authority by getting other sites to link to it.
The point is to make sure that your post provides VALUE to the reader. It doesn’t matter how many keywords you include; if the content isn’t helpful, then it won’t help you rank at all!
Format Your Content for Relevant SERP Features
We used SERP features to get clues on search intent, the same way we also want to use search intent to determine what type of content works best with each SERP feature.
For example, many people use Google Image Search to look up “how-to articles” on doing certain things.
Every time you search for an image, there is a section underneath the images containing related searches and other types of content.
The same can be said about featured snippets.
Google is using these items to “suggest” to the reader what they should be looking for.
Using your keyword within the title of a featured snippet will allow you to take advantage of this SERP feature!
Again, don’t stress too much about targeting one keyword with every post.
Instead, create content that’s useful, educational, and entertaining to the reader, and watch as the rest of the chips fall in place.
In the same token, if the search results return “related questions,” then answer them in your content!
Creating this type of high-quality content is what will ultimately help you get more traffic!
How to Optimize for Each Type of Search Intent
As we said, there are five types of search intents: informational, navigational, transactional, commercial, and entertainment.
To optimize a webpage for a specific type of search intent:
How to Optimize Content for Informational Search Intent
I have heard this a couple of times, “informational content is hard to monetize.”
While this may be true for some people, we’d like to show you how to use informational intent to your advantage and make money from it.
Bear in mind that Google has special treatment for informational SERPs.
Informational searches are typically looking for a straightforward answer to their question, so there’s no way you can convince them to do anything else.
But that’s not to say that you can’t monetize this traffic.
For example, if someone is searching for “how old are dogs when they become adults,” then the answer to that question is not something that will bring them back time after time.
However, if they are searching for dog food-related information, then there’s a good chance they’re looking to buy food for their dog.
So, in this case, all you need to do is provide them with the answer they need and then follow it up with a clear CTA on how to buy your dog food product.
If they like your content (and hopefully they do!), then there’s a good chance they’ll trust the information you are sharing with them and act accordingly.
What Type of Content Should You Create for Informational Intent?
When it comes to informational content, you can write about anything, so long as it’s helpful to the reader.
For example, if someone is looking for “how old are dogs when they become adults,” then you could simply answer their question and dive into the topic a little deeper.
It doesn’t have to be a super in-depth post, but it should make some valid point.
Alternatively, if someone is searching for “how to get rid of fleas on dogs,” then you can provide them with helpful tips and tricks.
If they’re simply looking for coupons or discounts, then creating a blog post that answers the question “where can I find dog food coupons” is a great way to take advantage of this traffic!
Effective Content Types for Informative Search Intent
- A blog post with tips, lists, step-by-step instructions, videos, or images are all great ways to take advantage of informational search intent
- How-to videos
- research-based posts
- Any other types of content that fall into the “how-to” category.
How to Create Content for Informational Search Intent
Begin by Doing a Quick SERP Analysis
Before you write any informative post, you need to run a quick search on Google and analyze the SERPs.
Find out what type of content appears in the top positions.
Is it long-form blog posts?
Are they short, simple answers that are backed by research?
Do videos appear in the SERPs? If yes, then what type of content appears on YouTube?
After identifying what your competitors are doing, you can create something along the same lines, but better. Remember to keep your content ten times better than anything else available on the web.
Use Content Optimizer Tool to Analyse the Keywords Used by Your Target Audience
This simple yet effective tool helps you analyze the most common keywords used by people who visit your website.
All you need to do is enter your target keyword, and the tool will find the most commonly used keywords, the number of backlinks you need to rank for that keyword, and so many other details.
You can also use this tool to find keyword suggestions, related terms, and other relevant information that you can use to optimize your content for informational search intent.
Check the People Also Ask Section on Google
Believe it or not, there’s a good chance that people are looking for answers to questions you didn’t even know existed.
When I was writing this post, I did a quick search on the keywords related to the content of this post.
I discovered a few new questions and used them to my advantage when optimizing this article.
How to Optimize Your Content for Navigational Search Intent
The truth is that when people are searching for something, they already have a fairly good idea about what it is.
They know the site they want and are sure of the format they expect to find this information.
For example, if someone wanted to search Google for “Acme Pet Store,” they are not looking to do much research before making their purchase.
They’re simply trying to find your website without any fuss or hassle.
That is why when it comes to navigational search intent, you need to make sure that you provide links directing to your product page, categories, and other relevant pages on your website.
What Type of Content Should You Create for Navigational Queries?
The formula for optimizing your website content for navigational search queries is to target your brand name or product.
Take the navigation search query and add your brand name to it.
Navigational search + your brand name = ideal content.
For example, if someone searches for “Acme Pet Store,” all they’re implying is that they are looking to find the company’s website to purchase pet supplies.
So, in this case, you would want to use keywords like “Acme Pet Products” and “Where to buy Acme products.”
Here’s a list of content that works well with navigational search intent:
- Your company’s website content
- Category pages
- Presentation pages
- Product and services pages
You can also create blog posts that list the top products or the best category pages.
The key here is to provide links directly to these internal pages on your site.
Using MediaOne as an example, when a user enters this search query, there’s no doubt they want to access our site.
While we rank at position one, a few other pages also appear to be doing well for this particular keyword. A closer look at these pages will tell you why. But the main point here is that you should always aim to dominate your brand’s navigational query.