People use the internet for different reasons. Whether they need quick, accurate information or want to purchase a specific product, there’s always an intent behind it. User intent in SEO is among the fundamental principles that every aspiring digital marketer and SEO specialist must master.

User intent is a critical factor in the forces that drive the behavior we exhibit. It’s a phenomenon present in any human interaction. The same concept rings true for SEO and our online interactions.

This article will explain user intent in SEO, why it matters to every digital marketing effort, and how to identify user intent.

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Photo by Diggity Marketing on Unsplash

What Is User Intent?

User intent, or search intent, is the primary goal behind a user’s search query. Users initiate a search query with the intent to achieve a particular purpose or access a specific resource.

To put things into perspective:

Users input keywords to help search engines identify the topics they are searching for. Focus keywords help narrow the scope of relevant topics and, therefore, also narrow the list of content that match a query’s parameters. 

User intent goes beyond this and tries to further narrow relevant search results by identifying the intent behind the search. Search engines use search intent as context for which type of results are most relevant to a user’s specific query.

In essence, focus keywords represent a query’s “what,” while user intent represents the “why.”

For example:

When a user searches for “pizza,” we already understand that the user is interested in pizza. We know that the user expects a SERP full of pizza-related results.

However, we don’t know whether the user is looking for pizza recipes or restaurants nearby or wants to order pizza. It’s why individual keywords have taken a back seat in Google’s UX in exchange for long-tail keywords.

A search for “pizza parlors near me” will yield different results from a search for “pizza history.” It all boils down to contextual data.

Understanding user intent in SEO is essential for three key reasons:

  • It allows you to determine the type of intent behind a keyword.
  • It enables you to create content satisfying a targeted keyword’s intent.
  • A thorough mastery over user intent allows you to optimize your content such that your content consistently ranks high on SERPs.

Below are the four categories of search intent:

Informational Queries

An informational search focuses on finding information on a particular topic. It means users want to learn about something. It’s one of the most common search intents. This is because the internet is a repository of the near-entirety of humanity’s collective knowledge.

To fulfill informational intent, the SERP displays answers. They come in the form of tutorials, how-to guides, definitions, and wikis. Sometimes, users don’t even need to click on a result to get their answer. The SERP displays the correct answer (as long as it’s a specific answer for a specific question) as the first result.

Since an informational search intends to gather information, the SERP points users to relevant blog posts, guides, news articles, and videos.

Example Search Terms:

  • What is user intent in SEO?
  • What is a recidivist?
  • How many episodes of Star Wars are there?
  • How to drive a car with a manual transmission.

Navigational Queries

A navigational search focuses on directing a user to a specific website. Users are more likely to initiate a search for a website rather than to type an exact URL. Many of these searches tend to be brand names or website names. Users also include additional details to find a precise page.

To satisfy navigational searches, the SERP displays website links closely matching the query’s parameters.

Example Search Terms:

  • Gmail login
  • Goodreads
  • Nike.com
  • INKforAll

Commercial Queries

A commercial search is a user’s attempt to narrow prospective products for purchase. This means users are in the market for a product but aren’t sure of which specific product they want to buy. These searchers are usually past the initial research phase and simply want to list and compare the options most suitable for their needs.

The SERP displays product reviews, comparisons, and rankings. A commercial search often includes a modifier like “top or best.” Since users want to learn more about a product, SERPs also include landing pages among results.

Example Search Terms:

  • Best running shoes for middle-aged men
  • Top gyms near me
  • Galaxy Fold 4 vs. Galaxy Flip 4
  •  ShamWow reviews

Transactional Queries

Transactional searches focus on facilitating a purchase. Users initiate these searches with the intent of buying a product. This means that a user commits to purchase and is willing to buy a product then and there.

These search terms usually include brands and specific products. Unlike commercial/preferential searches, users with transactional intent aren’t looking for additional information. Instead, they’re looking for a source from which to buy a product.

The SERP will usually send users to a product page, store catalog, or landing page.

Example Search Terms:

  • Buy Adidas Ultraboost 22 online
  • Shop Samsung Galaxy Fold 4
  • Xbox Series X for sale
  • Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992 sale

Relevance of User Intent in SEO

It Improves Google’s User Experience

Understanding and fulfilling user intent are crucial to a successful content marketing campaign because it creates a good user experience. The rationale behind creating a good user experience is to encourage users to continue using your platform.

Google wants to satisfy user intent because it means that its tools and services are useful to people. The Google algorithm rewards helpful content by ranking them higher on results pages. For content owners, this translates to a spike in organic traffic, enabling them to reach their target audience and prospective customers. It also translates to better leads and higher conversion rates.

It Extends Your Reach Across Funnel Stages

Search volume isn’t everything. Not all visitors become customers, and not all searchers are ready to commit to a sale. Different people have different objectives depending on the sales funnel stage they’re in.

Just as each funnel stage caters to a different prospect persona, so should your content be optimized for different search intents.

For example:

A prospect in the Awareness Stage is more likely to exhibit informational intent. They want to analyze a process or familiarize themselves with a product. 

To match informational intent, marketers must use the correct content format: guides, how-to’s, or in this instance, an information-rich blog post.

On the other hand, a prospect in the Evaluation Stage is likely to have commercial intent. They want to gauge and compare different options before they decide to buy something.

Marketers can optimize ranked list articles, product reviews, and comparison guides to match commercial intent. 

Take note that this applies to both written and video content. By providing your prospects with useful content, you also help them advance through the stages of their sales journey.

It Improves Your Overall Rankings

Google’s primary ranking factors are:

  • Relevance
  • Authority
  • User Satisfaction

Mirroring search intent in your keyword targeting allows you to write content that meets Google’s three primary ranking factors.

Matching your content to search intent means that you give users the relevant information they need. This translates to higher click-through and lower bounce rates, thus signaling the algorithm that you can provide something helpful to users.

When you have internal links that cover all possible angles of a topic, it gives visitors a complete overview of what they’re looking for. This means that you’re essentially a one-stop location for everything users need on a particular query. This signals to Google that you provide valuable content and have authority on the subject matter.

Fulfilling search intent means that your content is relevant and valuable to the user. Simply put, your visitors were happy with the experience you provided. Remember that Google needs to maintain user satisfaction for people to keep using their tools and services. Naturally, they want users to find good content before everything else and, thus, rank quality content higher on SERPs.

Identifying User Intent

It’s one thing to understand user intent in SEO and another to leverage it. Before you can optimize your content to work with user intent, you first need to learn to identify them.

Consider Keyword Modifiers

Keyword modifiers help identify search intent by providing additional context on top of a keyword. Some modifiers appear exclusively for certain types of search intent.

For example, the modifiers “best” and “top” suggest commercial intent because they hint at comparisons, evaluations, and rankings.

Words like “way” and “guide” often carry informational intent.

There are many keyword research tools you can use to list keywords. You can filter terms that include specific modifiers or phrases.

Additionally, you can filter keywords by the SERP feature.

For example:

For informational intent, you can filter for keywords that rank for featured snippets, knowledge grabs, forums, and key phrases rather than exact matches.

On the other hand, if you want to identify commercial intent, you can filter for keywords that rank for product offers and advertising.

Read the SERPs

An easy way to quickly find search intent is to perform a search and take note of the results. Type the keyword you’re targeting into the search bar and look at the results. Google determines the most relevant results by considering the intent that satisfies the most number of queries.

You’ll likely find knowledge grabs, featured snippets, and forum sites for informational intent.

You will likely find a list of websites and pages associated with the brand or business you used as your keyword for navigational intent.

Commercial intent searches yield reviews, comparisons, and rankings. 

Transactional intent searches will yield product listings with information such as store location, product price, etc.

In Summary

The relevance of user intent in SEO is immutable. It has a direct impact on a marketing campaign’s success, as well as Google’s own success. It is the idea and purpose behind a search. Leveraging user intent in SEO allows businesses to increase traffic and extend their reach by improving their SERP rankings.

Most importantly, it helps them frame their content in a helpful and relevant manner to an audience. It allows marketers to craft content that follows a clear tone and style that is more likely to lead to conversions.

The four types of search intent are:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Commercial
  • Transactional

The best part about reading this article is that it’s never too late to start using this knowledge for your benefit.

Take the time to update your content. Make sure your content is designed with user intent in mind. You’ll fare much better when you give your audience the content format they want.

Understanding User Intent: a Quick Guide

Co-Founder of INK, Alexander crafts magical tools for web marketing. SEO and AI expert. He is a smart creative, a builder of amazing things. He loves to study “how” and “why” humans and AI make decisions.

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