April 5, 2022 (Updated: May 4, 2023)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a technique you can use to bring more organic traffic to your website or other online content. Many SEO strategies target how bots and crawlers find, index, and share your pages and content. But you also have to account for the human factor: search intent. To help you learn more about how search intent affects and guides your SEO strategies, we’re covering topics like:
Search intent, also called user intent, is the purpose or reason someone conducts an online search. Everyone that uses search engines is looking for something, but why? Search intent can answer that question.
Like in many other areas of search, Google is the frontrunner in prioritizing, understanding, and even shaping search intent best practices and content. This is because Google works hard to improve its algorithm to not just look for specific keywords mentioned so many times within a piece of content. The program also understands why people look for content with those keywords and how marketing teams can structure content naturally to provide answers.
When you’re developing a content strategy with search intent in mind, you’re diving into the purpose the visitor has for coming to your article, landing page, or homepage of your website. What do they hope to find? How can you make the visit a valuable and relevant one for them? To employ search intent in your content marketing means you’re creating content that answers questions, speakers to the knowledge base of the visitor, and generally provides the experience they’re looking for.
There are four primary types of search intent or reasons people conduct a search online. There are also a few additional categories that may affect how you create content. They include:
When people conduct a search with commercial investigation intent, they’re looking for information on products or services they intend to buy. These types of searchers are often looking for information, reviews, and comparisons to guide their purchasing decisions. Commercial investigation is a bit of a hybrid of two other types of intent: informational and transactional.
With this type, people research something they plan to buy later but aren’t quite ready to make that conversion yet. This means their intent isn’t fully transactional. But they’re also searching for information to influence a future action, so it’s not purely informational either. This allows you to be more promotional with your commercial investigation content than you would with informational content. Talk up your own products and services and set your brand as an excellent solution that people want to purchase from.
When users search with informational intent, they’re looking for facts or knowledge on the internet. You can conduct this type of search on any topic. These queries help people answer questions, like “what is search intent?” for example. The answers searchers hope to get from these queries can be highly specific, like “on what date did Google launch?” They can also be broader, like simply searching the term “infographics.”
Content marketers spend a lot of time targeting informational searches. It helps with brand visibility and provides valuable information to a target audience. Optimizing for informational intent can help your brand serve as a thought leader in your industry and target new leads to nurture them into future customers.
Searchers use navigational intent when they want to visit a specific website or piece of content. For example, someone who wants to visit CopyPress’s website but doesn’t know the exact URL can conduct a navigational search for our company name to find it. It may be easy to rank your content for navigational intent searches unless you have a very common brand or company name. For example, if your company is Target Media, but people know you as Target, you may have a hard time competing with the Target retail store for navigational intent content.
Navigational keywords help ensure searchers can always find you online when they need you. As a business, this type of search intent can tell you what elements of your brand are most popular with your audience. For example, if you find you get many navigational hits for your blog or your eCommerce store, those could be the primary reasons people interact with your brand.
Searchers who conduct queries with transactional intent want to make a purchase or complete an action online. They already know the item they want to buy or the thing they want to do and are looking for the right conversion page. Though this may sound similar to navigational intent, they differ. The focus of navigational intent is to find a specific location on the internet, while transactional is to complete an action.
Both B2B and B2C companies engage with transactional intent when they’re trying to make conversions. The types of conversions can be different things for different businesses. Whether you’re selling a product or asking for webinar registrations, you can target those actions with transactional content.
Woorank lists two other types of search intent that aren’t widely listed in the conversation by the SEO community. But, they can influence how and why people conduct searches online and may affect your content creation efforts. They include:
People with local search intent look for specific information, businesses, or items in their geographic area. This type may sometimes fall into navigational searches, such as looking for a store address. But it could also be informational, such as researching hours of operation, or transactional, such as making an online reservation at a restaurant.
Those who conduct freebie search intent are looking to get something for free. This could include downloads, a consultation, or a tangible product. This type could fit within transactional intent, as people know what they want or what action to complete. They just want it for free. B2B companies may target these searchers with content like lead magnets.
Search engines made everyone’s lives easier. Rather than conducting long manual research from books and archives to find anything we want, we can type words into a search bar and a machine does it for us. But this process only saves time and frustration for searchers if the program shows curated and helpful results that meet their needs.
As marketers, our job is to provide relevant information to a target audience that positions our brands as the number one solution to problems. Knowing why people search and what they need makes this process easier. The better you can target search intent, the higher you can rank on search engine results pages (SERPs) for your related content and keywords. The better you rank, the more traffic, leads, conversions, and sales you can get. Other benefits of optimizing your content for search intent include:
One of the best ways Google targets search intent is through its rich snippets, rich results, and SERP features. These features pull the most relevant information from indexed, structured data, and place it in strategic places within a Google SERP.
These features appear along the top, side, and within SERPs in special panels or widgets that make them stand out among traditional text search results. This means that if you target search intent correctly, and get featured in any of the dynamic results sections, you can bypass traditional SERP rankings for page one and increase your organic traffic and visibility. Some types of rich content and SERP features you can target include:
Sometimes, marketers use the terms keyword intent and search intent interchangeably to describe why people conduct a search. But really, they’re two parallel processes you can use together to better understand what people search for, why they do it, and how to optimize your content to rank for that information.
Keyword intent can give you clues about search intent. The words people use in queries give hints at the information they’re trying to find. This also works in reverse. If you know what type of search intent category to target, you can use the right keywords to get your content to appear for each one. See how both strategies are a partnership? Common keywords and modifiers that show search intent include:
Use these tips to help you uncover search intent during your content research:
The type of search intent may trigger some of Google’s rich content and snippets more or less frequently than others. If certain rich features appear when you’re combing SERPs for intent, these can give you clues about how Google views the intent for that keyword or topic. It’s likely that Google has identified that this information on the topic has been the most helpful for visitors.
One type of search intent can be more prevalent for certain keywords or phrases than others. Beyond understanding search intent itself, Google also tries to predict the level of search intent to determine the right information to pull for rich content and snippets. Understanding the three levels of search intent can help you decide how easy or hard it may be to rank for certain keywords. They include:
Search terms with one dominant intent only have one interpretation and target one type of search intent. For example, a search term like “symptoms of asthma” is always informational, and surely never something like transactional. These are often the easiest intent levels and related keywords for which to rank, especially if the keyword competition is low.
The several entities level means that people use the same search terms or keywords with two or three intents. For example, people using the term “keyword research” may look for information on what the term means or try to find keyword research tools for purchase. These topics relate to each other and without additional keywords, Google may not know exactly which subcategory the searcher wants to target. This may be the most common type of search intent level.
Search terms without dominant intent are the hardest for Google to understand and the trickiest for which to rank. They’re often common words, phrases, or brand names. For example, someone searching for the term “black cat” may have many purposes. A variety of businesses use those words in their names. We also associate the term with informational topics, or people may look for places to adopt an animal. It’s hard to rank for searches without dominant intent because the keywords and phrases aren’t specific enough.
Image via Monday.com
You can also determine search intent based on where people are in the sales funnel. Each stage of the funnel typically corresponds with one or two types of search intent. These include:
The further down the funnel someone goes, the more intent they have on making a conversion. If you know where specific segments of your audience live, you can create intent content accordingly.
Customer, buyer, or client personas serve as fictionalized representations of your ideal customers. We talk about them often when discussing how to choose topic keywords or target what makes content valuable for a user. You can also use them to figure out your target audience’s primary search intent on any topic or keyword.
Your personas typically include information about client pain points or challenges, their intended use for products and services, or goals and tasks they intend to accomplish. Use that information to find out where they are in the sales funnel and determine which type of search intent content works best.
SERPs aren’t static. They can change by the day or sometimes even by the hour. Google and other search engines update their algorithms based on new information and advances in machine learning technology, which leads to fluctuations. Also, human behavior is tricky. For keywords and phrases with several entity and without dominant intent search levels, the content can change based on how searchers interact with the information presented.
If you did keyword or SERP research months before creating your actual content, the results you looked at may have changed. Then, the direction of search intent for certain keywords or content may have changed too. Remember to do regular check-ins on the SERPs you’re using for research and reference. Note any changes or fluctuations that may affect your content. SEO, keyword, and other marketing tools can help you look at this data and prepare for these types of changes.
Use these steps to optimize new and existing content for search intent:
Choose the right keywords for which you want to rank based on the intent of your searchers and the content you plan to create. For example, rather than trying to rank for the word “SEO,” which may have several entities intent level, you could target a more specific phrase like “SEO best practices” or “SEO updates 2022” to focus on one dominant intent, informational.
Keyword research tools can help you find the keywords for which you’re most likely to rank. So can CopyPress’s content analysis tool. This report lets you see how your content compares to your top three industry competitors. It shows gaps in your strategy with keywords related to intent. You can use these to better optimize your content for topics and reasons for which your audience searches.
“CopyPress gives us the ability to work with more dealership groups. We are able to provide unique and fresh content for an ever growing customer base. We know that when we need an influx of content to keep our clients ahead of the game in the automotive landscape, CopyPress can handle these requests with ease.”
Director of SEO at Auto Revo
Use the keywords from your research and plug them into Google or another search engine. Review the content that ranks on page one of SERPs. What kind of rich content appears? What kind of questions does the content answer? Can you determine the intent level from the results? Using a private browser window can help you strip certain targeting features from your searches, such as location or previous search settings, to give you a more universal results page for your research.
Review the outline for content you intend to publish. If you’re engaging in a content refresh, you can also look at previous pieces for updating and optimizing. Look for areas where you can see if your content matches the top-ranking results. Does your piece answer the same questions? Does it include images, video, or other features to pull for the snippet? Can you answer additional questions from the people also ask snippets to better target those areas of search intent?
If your content matches most of the information provided in the search results and Google snippet curation, it’s ready. You’ve likely optimized for search intent on a broader scale. If you find it doesn’t match, then proceed with the following optimization steps to figure out how to tweak your content for better search intent. Either way, it’s important to write for search intent beyond the action of including keywords disbursed evenly throughout your content. Really hone in on the information the visitor is looking for and provide that in an easily digestible way.
Different content pieces are better suited for different search intents. If you find your content isn’t a match, it could be because it’s in the wrong format. Something as simple as changing the layout or organization of the piece could help improve it to match a visitor’s search intent. The following content types match with the four primary types of search intent:
URLs can be extremely important for navigational search intent. Think about brand-name websites like walmart.com or copypress.com. These tell you exactly what website you’re visiting when you get there. These companies picked their URLs to reflect their business name and continue to pay for that webspace because it makes it easier for people to find them online. For example, if you were starting a company called SEO Media, you wouldn’t pick the URL mediaandstuff.com. People would never find you online. This principle applies to other content you share, too.
Consider this principle when you choose the subdomain and subdirectory of your URL. These provide more information about the content people find when they click. Keep the subdirectory short, using your focus keywords to be descriptive, but shareable. Within search, this can help people decide if your links are trustworthy to click, while also providing additional intent information for users, bots, and crawlers.
Is the written or visual content on your pages really matching what searchers want to see? Is it valuable to them? This sounds like an obvious thing, but the content itself, the sections you choose, and the way you organize a piece have to focus on what people want to find. For example, people searching for “how-to” anything are often looking for a list of steps, images, or tutorials to walk them through a process.
Content formatting can get tricky, especially when you’re deciding among written, visual, or auditory content pieces. But the general thought behind the organization is the same, no matter the medium. Common organization or elements to include for each type of search intent are:
Notice that there is some crossover in the organization content and types. This is where other areas of search intent come into play as you optimize the basic outline to meet your searcher’s needs.
You can determine the format you should use by looking at the top ranking articles for the same or similar keywords. If you’re hoping your content will rank for “office wallpaper,” look at what the top-ranking articles look like. Are they articles describing steps for applying wallpaper in your office? Inspiration photos of wallpaper in an office setting? A list of wallpaper considerations and professionals who can apply it for you? The articles in the SERPs are likely there because they cover the sort of content searchers are looking for related to this keyword search term. Because of this, it’s important to create content that mimics the same formatting to stay competitive and give visitors what they are looking for.
Especially when targeting transactional intent, make your conversion process as smooth as possible. That means including multiple CTAs and conversion points throughout. It also means making the written or visual content easy to understand and simple to do on all devices. If someone’s intent is to buy right now or complete a certain action, don’t get in your own way by complicating the process. Avoid unnecessary information. Instead, give the visitor what you know they want to see more toward the top of your landing page or article.
Sometimes the issue with intent optimization isn’t the content itself, but that the search engine can’t understand it. Remember, with search intent, and SEO in general, you’re trying to please both the human searcher and the machine bots and crawlers. If you focus on one but not the other, you’re setting your strategy up to fail.
Headings, title tags, meta descriptions, image alt text, and other technical SEO features help the bots and crawlers understand what your content is about. Structure it so they understand. In written content, for example, use H2, H3, and H4 headers to help bots and crawlers understand primary, secondary, and tertiary topics. For example, a blog post about the content writing process may include an H2 for “How Does a Blog Post Get Published?” Underneath, the H3 may read “1. Create a List of Blog Topics.” If you needed to add sub-steps, you could use H4s.
Sometimes, even if your search intent is decent, there are other features of the content that prevent it from ranking high. If you think you’ve done everything else right and you’re still not getting the results you expect, consider updating your user experience features, like:
Part of search intent is understanding the knowledge level of the reader and providing information to match it. If you publish content that’s too far below the reader’s knowledge level, you can turn them off from wanting to engage with your content. Publish content that’s too advanced and they may become overwhelmed and click out of your page. It’s important to find a balance so your readers feel you understand them and are creating content specifically for their needs.
Let’s say your company sells an analytics tool and you’re creating content for marketing directors. You may publish an article on popular marketing KPIs to consider. While doing so, purposefully think about your target audience of directors. The likelihood is that they understand the importance of analytics, so there’s not a big need to describe why analytics should be a primary concern. Sure, driving that point home as more of a reminder may be fine later on in your article. But it’s best to start off by giving them what they are looking for, which is a list of KPIs.
To get the best chance at grabbing organic traffic in SERPs, search intent should dictate your content creation. Your goal is to engage and excite your target audience, not frustrate them. Optimizing for search intent can help you do just that. To create content that helps you rank high and provide value for your audience, choose CopyPress. We provide solutions for agencies and marketing teams in a variety of industries and verticals to get the right pieces in front of the right people, every time.
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