What is search intent?

SEO is a way to get more traffic to your website. By ranking high in Google, you attract more people to your site. Eventually, your goal probably is to sell your stuff or to attract more regular visitors. To get more traffic to your site, you optimize your content for words people use. However, to increase your chances to rank and to really convince people to buy your stuff, subscribe to your newsletter or to come back to your website another time, you should take search intent into account. Here, I will tell you what search intent is and how to optimize your articles for search intent.

What is search intent?

Search intent (or user intent, audience intent) is the term used to describe the purpose of an online search. It’s the reason why someone conducts a specific search. After all, everyone who does an online search is hoping to find something. Is someone searching because they have a question and want an answer to that question? Are they looking to visit a specific website? Or, are they searching because they want to buy something? Many of these different types of searches form parts of the user journey.

Over the years, Google has worked hard to improve its algorithm to be able to determine people’s search intent. And, Google wants to rank pages that best fit the search term, as well as the search intent behind a specific search query. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your post or page fits the search intent of your audience.

4 types of search intent

There are a few distinct types of search intent, these four are most commonly used:

1. Informational intent

First, there is informational intent. Lots of searches on the internet are done by people looking for information. That could be information about the weather, information about educating children, information about SEO, you name it. People with informational intent have a specific question or want to know more about a certain topic.

You should be aware that Google’s understanding of intent goes much further than simply showing results that give information about a specific term. It knows, for instance, that people looking for [tomato sauce] are looking for recipes, not for the sauce’s culinary history. It understands that most people typing in [Mercury] are looking for the planet, not the element. Google even understands that for some terms, like [how to build a bird feeder], it’s handy to include videos and images.

2. Navigational intent

The second type of search intent is called navigational intent. People with this intent want to visit a specific website. For example, people who search for [Facebook] are usually on their way to the Facebook website.

Keep in mind that ranking high for a navigational term is only beneficial for your organic traffic if your site is the site people are looking for. For example, a few years ago, Yoast had a Google Analytics plugin, and we ranked pretty well for the term [Google Analytics]. But that didn’t drive any traffic to our site. People searching for [Google Analytics] were looking for the Google Analytics website and were hardly ever interested in our plugin.

3. Transactional intent

The third type of search intent is transactional intent. Lots of people buy stuff on the internet and browse the web to find the best purchase. People are searching with transactional intent when their purpose is to buy something.

4. Commercial investigation

Some people have the intention to buy in the (near) future and use the web to do their research. What washing machine would be best? Which SEO plugin is the most helpful? These people also have transactional intent but need some more time and convincing. These types of search intents are usually called commercial investigating intents.

Keyword intent

The words people use in their search queries will give insight into user intent. This works the other way around, too, when you formulate keywords with intent-specific words.

Keywords with transactional intent will often contain words like:

  • buy
  • deal
  • discount
  • product names

Informational searches can (but don’t necessarily have to) contain words like:

  • information
  • how to
  • best way to
  • why

How to optimize your content for search intent

You want to make sure that a landing page fits the search intent of your audience. If people search for information, you don’t want to show them a product page. At least, not immediately. You’d probably scare them away. If people want to buy your product, do not bore them with long articles. Lead them to your shop.

Optimizing your product pages for more commercial driven keywords is a good idea. If you sell dog vitamins, you could, for instance, optimize a product (category) page for [buy dog vitamins]. Perhaps you also have an article about administering vitamins. You could, for example, optimize that article for the search term [how to give vitamins to my dog].

It can be quite hard to determine the search intent of a query. And, perhaps different users will have a (slightly) different user intent, but still land on the same page. Luckily, there is a direct source to look at if you want to know which intent fits your keywords: the search results pages. Find out how you can use the results pages to create intent-based content.

If you want to know more about the search intent of your audience, another way is to ask them. You could make a small survey, containing questions about what people were searching for and make that survey pop up if people enter your website. That’ll probably give you many valuable insights into your audience.

Conclusion

It’s crucial to ensure that the content you’re writing fits both the terms people are searching for, as well as the search intent of your audience. Make sure your post or page is informational, when people are searching for information. But lead people to your sales pages if they are looking to buy one of your products.

Read more: Keyword research: the ultimate guide »


7 Responses to What is search intent?

  1. maddoxrncs
    maddoxrncs  • 6 months ago

    Awesome article it helps me to understand more on the SEO concept & execution. Please keep it up !!

  2. Matt Calik
    Matt Calik  • 6 months ago

    Great work Yoast with remembering about the SEO basic instead of going straight for complex matters :) I see many SEO related pages with really sophisticated content while people still tend to struggle with understanding the basics, so good job! :)

  3. Romel Adhikary
    Romel Adhikary  • 6 months ago

    Nice article. hank you for sharing.

  4. Marlon Francis
    Marlon Francis  • 6 months ago

    Hi, thanks so much for the valuable article. I fell in love with the blog recently, and it really helps me to understand more on the SEO concept & execution. Please keep up with the good work!!!

    • camillecunningham
      camillecunningham  • 6 months ago

      Hi Marlon, thank you for your kind words! And great to hear that our blog helps you understand SEO even better!

  5. Warrior Eco
    Warrior Eco  • 6 months ago

    Great insight and well written article. I always use Yoast for content writing, either from the plugin in WordPress or if its for someone else I use the online content analysis – https://yoast.com/research/real-time-content-analysis/. But I do sometime feel I am writing a load of rubbish just to satisfy SEO and hammer another article out. Still if we follow your guidance even the rubbish can help with the SEO :)

    • Willemien Hallebeek
      Willemien Hallebeek  • 6 months ago

      Hi! Thanks for your comment! Yes, it can be difficult to be unique and add something new & valuable to the vast sea of content out there. But it sounds like you’re doing your best ;-) In any case, I’m glad to hear Yoast is of help in your efforts!