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May 26, 2023
Search intent is the reason someone conducts a search online. Some reasons for searches are pretty straightforward, like trying to find a specific website or link, or contact information for a business. But what about when the intent isn’t this straightforward? How are you supposed to determine what people are looking for, so you create the right content to target their intent? It could be as easy as looking at your marketing funnel and deciding where certain segments of your audience fall. In fact, targeting search intent in the marketing funnel can bring you more leads and contribute to more conversions and sales, and this guide shows you how.
There are four primary types of search intent you can use to target leads in your marketing funnel. We’re not discussing navigational search intent because that’s the most direct option. People know the platform they want to visit or are aware of something specific they want to find. If there’s ambiguity in the results of a navigational search, it’s not because of the intent. It’s because of the naming and branding of the business. The types of intent that can create this crossover and confusion include:
Informational intent occurs when people are looking for facts and knowledge online. They can do this at any point in their buying journey, but it typically happens before they even know they have a problem to solve. Content developed for informational intent helps answer people’s questions. It’s a popular intent target for content marketers because it helps with brand visibility and provides valuable information to the target audience. It also helps establish companies as thought leaders in their industries.
Transactional intent happens when the searcher is looking to make a purchase or complete an action online. They already know what they want to buy or do, and they’re looking for the right way to make that conversion. This intent happens near the end of the buyer’s journey. Though it may sound similar to navigational intent, it’s not. The goal isn’t just to find a location online but to complete an action, like a sale or a sign up.
Commercial intent occurs when a searcher is looking for information on products or services they intend to buy. This happens in the middle of the buyer’s journey. They’ve identified their problem and are looking for applicable, affordable solutions. Content marketers use reviews, comparison pieces, and buying guides to target those with commercial search intent.
This option is a bit of a hybrid between informational and transactional intent. People know they want to buy something, but don’t know which brand or exact product is right for them, so they need more information to decide. They’re researching something they plan to buy later, but they’re not at the conversion stage just yet. And this hybrid factor is what makes identifying commercial keywords and creating content for this intent so challenging.
While informational, transactional, and commercial intent are three of the four primary search intent types, there are also five kinds of emotional intent that influence search habits. This takes intent a step further and doesn’t just consider why people are searching online, but also what emotions or behaviors influence their queries. These include:
After reading through the search intent types, you may wonder why it’s hard for Google and marketers to tell what people want to see when they type words or phrases into the search bar. The intent types seem different enough that it shouldn’t be confusing, but there’s another factor at play: search intent level.
One type of search intent may be more prevalent for certain keywords, phrases, or funnel segments than others, but that’s not always the case. Google tries to predict intent level to pull the right information for position zero in featured snippets and give the searchers exactly what they want. The three levels of search intent include:
With one dominant intent, there’s only one way to interpret the search intent target. Searching the term “buy laptop” in the screenshot above is an example of one dominant intent. When you type this phrase into Google, the search engine understands you want to buy a laptop and provides the right resources through shop ads and pay-per-click (PPC) ads for laptop retailers at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). This particular query is always transactional and wouldn’t be confused for another intent type.
Several entities intent level is where it starts to get harder to pin down a searcher’s intent in the marketing funnel. There is some crossover among funnel segments with intent, and that means people in different segments may use the same or similar keywords to look for information, but they have different intents.
Look at the above image as an example. If you search “content marketing agency” in Google, the search engine thinks you might be trying to find a specific location in your area, which is navigational intent. But if you look at the People also ask questions, you’ll notice some informational queries like “What is a content marketing agency?” or “How much does a content marketing agency cost?” Since Google can’t tell exactly which one the searcher wants, it provides information for both options.
Searches without dominant intent are the hardest for Google, content marketers, and SEO experts to understand. They’re also the trickiest to rank for with content. They use common words and phrases without additional context. Without any additional specificity, Google, and marketers, can’t figure out exactly what the searcher wants to see when they get to the SERP.
Take a look at the example above for the term “plumber wrench.” Google thinks a searcher who uses this key phrase may want to buy a wrench, so the service recommends options from Home Depot. So, this is a transactional intent.
But look at the questions below the images. The question “What is the cheapest option available within Plumbing Wrenches” indicates commercial intent. Someone is running a comparison to see which option is best. Look at the People Also Ask section. Questions like “What is a plumber’s wrench called?” or “What is a plumber’s wrench used for?” are informational questions.
Related reading: How To Create a Marketing Funnel With Examples
If there are times when Google can’t even figure out a searcher’s intent, with all its data and fancy tools, how’s a marketing team supposed to do it? Google may use machine learning to figure out what people want to see, but you have the advantage of a human brain.
You can pin down the subtle differences in search intent by turning to what you know about your audience and their placement within the sales funnel to figure out exactly what they want to see with every query. Follow these steps to start identifying your audience’s search intent using your marketing funnel as a guide:
If you’re going to use the marketing funnel to uncover search intent, you first have to know the funnel segments and what people do or expect in each one. Most marketing and sales funnels have between three and six segments. However, the following stages are some of the most common you’ll see within your own marketing funnel:
Next, you have to figure out which type of search intent pairs with each funnel segment. There are several phases that each have one dominant intent:
That means the discovery and intent phases are where things start to get confusing. Those segments are the ones where you end up with a several entities search level. Someone in the discovery phase may look for informational or commercial content. Someone in the intent phase may look for commercial or transactional content.
But you can’t ignore these areas when creating content for the marketing funnel. Even if hitting the search intent here takes more thought and work to meet the right target. A more simplified sales funnel doesn’t include these areas. But without them, you’re ignoring segments of customers in a very real step in their journey. It’s up to you as the marketing department to put in the work and figure out exactly what your audience wants to see for each phase and plan content accordingly.
Keyword intent and search intent work together to help you better understand what someone is looking for when they run a search online. The words people use in queries are like crime scene evidence. If someone drops the word “buy” in their query, they’ve got transactional intent in mind. If they add “tips” or “tutorials,” they’re likely looking for information.
These keywords can also help you figure out which segment of the marketing funnel someone is in, just by the language they use when searching or conversing with your company representatives. Here’s a cheat sheet of keywords that show specific types of search intent:
Are you looking for a quicker way to uncover what your audience is searching for online? Use our free content marketing analysis tool.
When you access the dashboard, you can dig into your content gaps and your competitors’ keyword gaps. You’ll also get insights into your best-performing keywords, along with a report that details potential syndication opportunities. With this in-depth data, your brand will have a clear picture of the best approaches to take to target search intent, improve current strategies, and drive results.
Even though Google sometimes has a difficult time uncovering search intent too, it may be your best bet for figuring out what your audience wants to see. Reviewing the SERPs for tricky terms and seeing what kind of content appears in the organic results and featured snippets may give you an idea if people in the discovery and intent phases are leaning more toward informational, commercial, or transactional content.
Take a look at the SERP for “online reputation management software,” for example. Someone might search this term during the discovery phase to learn more about what ORM software is, or to start comparing products for purchase. While two of the People Also Ask questions point toward informational intent, more of the organic results and other position zero questions point toward commercial intent.
Let’s look at another example, a SERP for the term “SEO content service.” Someone could search this term in the intent phase, either trying to compare SEO content companies or to sign on with one as a client. The first thing you see on the SERP are ads. Paid content typically indicates transactional content.
The second organic result is a list of the best SEO content writing services to try. The SERP for this key phrase is actually pretty split. The featured snippets, organic results, and paid content feature information for both types of intent. In this situation, determining the right intent comes back to you, the marketing department, to decide which intent each piece of content targets.
You may decide to create different content for both intents to get traffic, no matter which one the audience really wants to see. In the screenshot below, for example, you can see how Apple targets both informational and commercial intent by creating top-of-the-funnel and middle-of-the-funnel content.
Targeting both intents within these funnel stages helps the brand provide content for people who want to buy the iPhone 14 and those who are only looking to compare the features between the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. Both types appear in the SERP under the same listing because they’re on the same website.
Google and other search engines look for specific features on your content pages to find out which types of search intent they match. For example, adding product descriptions to a page is one clear way to tell Google you’re trying to reach people in the purchase phase of the funnel, with transactional intent. Having optimized product descriptions can be a game-changer if that’s where you expect to bring in most of your traffic and revenue.
Content structure is also important, not just the words and images that go on the page. Adding information like sizes, reviews, ratings, and other information commonly found on a product page also tells search engines you’re targeting commercial or transactional search intent. Service pages can do the same thing by listing what you do, pricing, and ways to contact your organization. These features and information are common in content targeting each type of search intent:
It may sound overwhelming to try to create new content and optimize old content for search intent in the marketing funnel. This is especially true if you have an extensive library or an eCommerce store with thousands of SKUs. But you don’t have to tackle this optimization in one day. Let’s return to the purchase phase of the marketing funnel, where the goal is transactional intent. Your best-selling items, biggest conversions, and most expensive items are the best places to start your optimization.
For example, if you’re selling toilet paper, your product descriptions probably aren’t your more critical optimization area. People might do some research when picking a toilet paper brand, but they’re likely more concerned with meeting a need. It’s not worth it to waste your time optimizing the product descriptions for this item. But for more expensive purchases like trucks, boats, or noise-canceling headphones, the value of the product adds more weight to the decision-making process for your audience. These are the items and product descriptions you want to optimize first.
Consider the 80/20 rule. It states that 80% of your outcomes, conversions, and sales, come from the top 20% of your inputs, in this case, your content. Take the top 20% of your top-performing content and work to optimize that first. Do your research and figure out what area of search intent each piece should target. Then optimize it for the corresponding area or areas of the sales funnel.
Wondering how you can use search intent for better SEO? Tune into our webinar replay and discover just how essential search intent is to plan a successful content marketing strategy.
We’ve talked a lot about the transactional area of intent in this article, and for a good reason. In the end, all your content marketing efforts have the goal of increasing sales and conversions. But your leads don’t go in the marketing box, where there’s only one option, goal, or path to success. They go in the marketing funnel because there’s a process and a gravitational pull to move them from top to bottom.
The majority of your qualified leads aren’t going to just pop into the funnel ready to make a purchase. It takes more than one attempt to make a conversion and guide qualified leads to a purchase. When companies only focus on the purchase phase and transactional intent, they miss out on other opportunities. Think about it. By targeting each area of your funnel, you’ll be more likely to move leads into a rotating purchase-nurture cycle instead of leading to a dead end.
By paying more attention to informational and commercial search intent and the corresponding funnel segments, you capture people earlier in the buyer journey. And doing this gives you more time to nurture visitors into qualified leads and, later, loyal customers.
But you don’t have to do it alone. CopyPress creates content for all types of search intent and any part of the marketing funnel. Through in-depth analysis and collaboration with your team, we help you uncover your audience’s search intent through each stage of your funnel content. These clues help us identify your best opportunities to give your audience exactly what they want and need. Ready to dive in? Schedule your introductory strategy call with our team and tell us about your goals.
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