Understanding User Intent: a Quick Guide

Every second, someone uses the internet to obtain information, entertain themselves, learn, or purchase something. The keyword the user enters into the search bar describes what they’re looking for. The keywords or phrases the user enters to search for specific information describe the user’s intent. Understanding user intent is essential in sales, marketing, content creation, copywriting, and any business. 

There are many ways to analyze a user’s behavior and interaction with a product or service, and understanding user intent is one such way. In this article, we’ll look at user intent in detail, relating it to Search Engine Optimization and Conversion Rate Optimization. 

What Is User Intent?

Behind every search query is the intent of users. User intent, also search intent or keyword intent, refers to the goal or reason behind a user’s query on a search engine. For instance, a person might search for a keyword to find a place, buy a product, or learn more about a topic. 

Understanding user intent is key to successful marketing. It is the first step to creating a better user experience. When a user decides to search for something online, they enter a keyword into the search engine. These keywords describe “what” the user is looking for. On the other hand, user intent tells “why” the user is searching using that keyword. 

Understanding User Intent: Why Is It Important?

User intent plays a significant role in marketers’ SEO and Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) efforts. Search engines rank content based on how well it can solve a searcher’s problem. Behind every search, Google and other search engines seek to satisfy an intention. Every content, website, and marketing campaign must focus on the user’s intent to succeed. 

Understanding user intent allows you to identify the purpose behind a particular keyword. Thorough knowledge of user intent aids in appropriate keyword selection and targeting. It also enables you to craft better content to fulfill the goal of a specific keyword and deliver value to the user. 

Understanding user intent helps you serve your readers well, increasing conversion chances. More importantly, a sense of user intent enables you to optimize your content to win the top spot on search engines. 

A business must have a thorough understanding of the user’s intent to be successful. With this understanding, the right product or service can be made available to a targeted user, resulting in a better customer lifetime value. Marketers can also target campaigns at customers who need their products or services. 

Types of User Intent

The user intent types include: local, informational, commercial, transactional, and navigational.

1. Local Intent

Local intent keywords include a physical location in the search term to restrict the search results to a specific geographic area.

Search engine results pages typically display three listings of local businesses related to the query at the top of the search result. Below these are results containing other locations within the specific city or region.

2. Informational Intent

Informational intent keywords focus on looking for information about a particular topic. The searcher intends to look for an answer to a question or learn more about a subject. For example, if a user searches for baking tips, we can say the intent is informational. 

Informational intent is the most common search intent. How-tos, definitions, tutorials, buying advice, and product reviews are examples of informational intent queries. Most informational intent keywords ask “how” and “what” questions.

3. Commercial Intent

A commercial intent keyword focuses on obtaining information about different products for comparison, which leads to purchase. The searcher is typically looking for information about a product, so they can choose the specific one to purchase. The user wants to buy a product but is looking for a list of options to compare, and make a suitable choice.

For instance, if a user searches for which phone to buy, the user’s search intent is commercial. Commercial intent keywords mostly use qualifiers like “best, top, least expensive.” Such searches display comparisons, product reviews, user ratings, and popular products available in the market. 

4. Transactional Intent

Transactional search terms focus on making a purchase. The user intent is to find products and services and then buy them. Searchers of such terms have the end goal of making a purchase. They know what exactly to buy; they’re just looking for where to buy them.

The search engine result page for transactional search terms displays stores (online and physical), product pages, sponsored listings, and ads. Transactional search terms include the words “Buy and Shop.”

5. Navigational Intent

Navigational search terms direct the user to a specific site or page. The user intent is to find a particular website or webpage. Typically, users enter a brand name or website and include other specific information to find the desired site. For instance, a user might enter the keyword “YouTube” into the search bar to find the YouTube site. 

The States of Search Engine Result Page Intent

It’s challenging to determine user intent from the keyword or phrases searched for alone. What do you do then? The states of SERP intent can help you understand the goal behind a search query. Let’s look at the states of SERP intent and how they relate to user intent.

1. Topic Ambiguity

Human language is complex and ambiguous, so it can be difficult to understand a user’s intent for a particular keyword. Topic ambiguity means a search term is too broad or there are too many topics within the search term. 

For instance, the word “bat” could refer to a baseball bat, a bird species, or a cigarette company (British American Tobacco). 

The SERP will show several different results for this keyword. Hence, ranking for such a keyword will be a challenge. If the term on your page doesn’t correspond to what the user is searching for, click-through rate and traffic could be negatively impacted. 

2. Fractured Intent

Unlike topic ambiguity, where the search phrase could mean a couple of things, fractured intent suggests that the phrase used means one thing. But there are several reasons a person could be searching for that term. 

For example, there are several motives behind the term “SEO software.” A searcher might want to know more about SEO software. Another searcher’s intent might be finding the best SEO software. In this case, the SERPs display content with varying information. A searcher may have a different intent than that of your page’s, even though you’re ranking for the keyword searched. Again click-through rates and traffic to your page will be impacted. 

3. Explicit Intent

Explicit intent involves a search where the user’s intent is clear and does not leave room for ambiguity. The Search Engine Result pages (SERPs) display results that include a clear answer to the question that was posed. Search phrases with explicit intent are typically long-tail queries, including salient, specific terms/phrases that are more likely to be found. For example, a keyword like “restaurants near me” is straightforward. 

Searchers of this keyword have a transactional intention. Keywords like “best marketing channel” suggest that the user’s intent is informational. If you’re ranking for explicit intent, your click-through rates and traffic will be high. It’s also easier to create content for such queries. 

Interpreting User Intent Via SERP Features

One might be tempted to conclude about a user’s intent from the search term alone. But this isn’t an accurate indication of the user’s intent. The SERPs give a better insight into the user’s intent. As a searcher types in query terms, they’re confronted with certain features of the search engine result pages. 

Terms/keywords in the user’s query may lead the user to different results. Search engines rank results by focusing on the intent that satisfies the highest number of searches. To understand the user intent, enter a keyword into Google’s search bar and see the results.

The high-ranking results have the highest search volume. You can tailor your content based on the information. The right strategy and SEO tools can help you better understand the user intent.

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Photo by path digital on Unsplash


User intent is the ultimate driving force for search engine strategies. It is a must-understand concept for successful search engine marketing campaigns and a vital component for building a robust, effective digital marketing strategy. Understanding intent is the key to improving your digital marketing strategy and hitting the top spots of search engines. 

A grasp of user intent allows you to identify and focus on targeting appropriate keywords. It also helps you craft content that fulfills the goal of a targeted keyword. User intent can be challenging to discern from the keywords searched for. But the features of SERP are valuable in determining the goal of a user. Tailor your content with the user in mind, and your SEO and CRO strategies will be on the right track. 

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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