Search intent and SEO: How it works

Following Google’s latest helpful content update, search intent is one of the ways SEOs can make their content more attractive to users. It’s no longer enough to just keyword stuff your web pages, apply technical changes, and hope the whole thing ranks – we’ve now got to consider what users need.

You might be asking, ‘But how do I know what my audience is actually looking for? And what’s more – how can I tailor my SEO activity to meet those expectations?’

The answer is search intent. To boost your chances of ranking, convincing people to buy your stuff, subscribing to your newsletter – or even coming back to your website, intent should be your first consideration.

In this guide, we’ll tell you exactly what it is, how you can apply it to your SEO strategy, and even how your audience can give you a little inspiration.

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What is search intent?

Search intent (also known as user intent or audience intent) is what SEOs use to describe why a person might conduct an online search.

While the clue is in the name – a search is a search, after all – intent helps us determine what someone might be looking for. Maybe someone is hunting for an answer to a specific question. Perhaps they need a specific website, or they might be looking for something they really want to buy.

In many cases, these types of searches are part of the user journey online, but they can represent different stages.

To meet this need, Google has worked hard to improve its algorithm to be able to determine people’s search intent. Its helpful content upgrade now focuses on ranking pages that best fit the search term someone is using – as well as the thinking behind search intent that makes someone want to surf the internet in the first place.

That’s why ensuring that your content fits the search intent of your audience.

We’ll explore these different types in the next section.

What are the different types of search intent?

Informational

This is the most common type of intent. Here, users are often looking for answers to questions or general knowledge on a specific topic. As such, they’re in the “learning” stage and want to understand a topic comprehensively.

Examples of searches:

  • “How to make a souffle?”
  • “Best cafes in Manchester”
  • “What is the O-Zone Layer?”

If you’re looking to net people actively searching for informational content, focus on producing pages that are well-researched, informative, and address the user’s specific curiosity. Videos, articles, blog posts, or even listicles can all be used for this purpose.

Navigational

With this intent, users are often searching with a specific website in mind – but might not remember the exact URL. Even though they vaguely  know what they want, they are still keen on getting to that exact destination fast.

Examples of searches:

  • X login
  • Paris Hilton Youtube Channel
  • Puma official website

To target navigational intent, ensure your website structure and any internal linking are fully optimised and designed for seamless navigation. Adding a clear and concise CTA on your page can also guide users toward their ultimate destination.

Commercial

Commercial intent is the cornerstone of the online shopping market, signalling that users are actively researching products before making a purchase decision. Traversing something called The Messy Middle, they’re currently in the research section of the sales funnel, where they evaluate options, weigh up price and gather information to make an informed choice.

Examples of searches:

  • Best running headphones
  • Iphone 15 reviews
  • Features of new Samsung Galaxy

If you’re hoping to capture commercial intent, you need to be as useful as possible to your audience. You can do this by creating informative product reviews, visual assets and useful blog posts that address common user pain points.

Transactional

Finally, transactional intent is when your user is ready to close the sales funnel and are on the lookout for purchasing options. As they’re in the final decision-making stage, they prioritise convenience, security and speed above all.

Examples of searches:

  • Buy football online
  • Discount codes for summer dresses
  • Campus Adidas on sale near me

To target transactional intent and interest, make sure your website has a smooth and seamless buying process. You can create this with clear calls to actions, highlight sales or ‘buy-one-free’ offers to cater to behavioural biases and heuristics, and a secure and speedy checkout experience.

Meet the intent, see the results

It’s crucial to ensure that the content you’re writing fits the terms people are searching for – as well as the search intent of your audience. When your content strikes the balance between the two, then Google will quickly pick up those signals and start pushing it in front of users.

Essentially, when you write human-led content, search engines want more humans to see it.

If you’d like us to create an intent-led strategy for your business, why not get in touch with our experts today?

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