What is Search Intent? Your Complete Guide to Search Intent

Learn the facts on search intent, SEO, and your search engine results

Search intent is the problem, question, or query a person wants solved. This drives the terms they enter in a search engine.

Knowing search intent or user intent is essential to optimizing your content for your users. When you know what your users are looking for, you can create content that resonates and helps them. 

Ultimately, Google’s goal is to provide your searchers with the best content that answers their questions. And you want this to be your content that Google displays at the top of the search engine results.

And this is why search intent is critical to optimizing your content for SEO and your audience. What search intent tells you is that not all keyword terms and phrases are equal.

For example, how a searcher uses the word cat in a search query determines the intent or problem and how you should be optimizing for this keyword.

If you operate a veterinarian clinic specializing in cats, you want content that meets search queries like “how do I know if my cat is sick?”, “how often should my cat be vaccinated?”, or “common cat healthy issues”. But if you sell cat toys, you want content optimized around these search queries, “why do cats like catnip?”, “best cat toys for senior cats”, or “where to buy cat toys”.

Ultimately, Google cares about search intent. If Google cares – we care – and you need to care as well.

Keep reading to learn:

  • More about why search intent is important
  • About the 4 different types of search intent
  • How to determine search intent
  • 4 search intent optimization steps

At the end of this blog, we’ve created a short 4-step search intent checklist for you. Use this whenever you’re researching keywords, writing or refreshing new content, or doing an audit of your content.

Remember, your content and website exist for your audience. Knowing and addressing search intent is essential to giving your audience (and Google) what they want.

Read this blog or skip ahead and contact us to talk about search intent. We’re here to help you. Ask us your questions and we’ll help you out. This is what we do.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is the problem, question, or query a person wants solved. This drives the terms they enter in a search engine.

There are four common search intent types: informational, commercial, transactional, and navigational.

Your job is to know the search intent type for your target keywords and to write content that delivers on this search intent.

Content optimized for search intent keeps two very important audiences happy: your users and Google.

Google’s goal is to give its users what they want. This can only happen if you create the content Google wants. It’s kind of like a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” relationship.

  1. Determine search intent.
  2. Create content that meets search intent.
  3. Tell Google about this content.
  4. This makes it easy for Google to help its customers.
  5. Google thanks you by displaying your content at the top of the search engine results.
  6. Your audience sees, clicks, and reads this content.
  7. You are now a trusted expert for Google and your audience.

Why is Search Intent Important?

Search intent is important because satisfying search intent is Google’s number one priority.

To rank well in Google search engine results, you need to optimize for search intent. Your SEO success hinges on search intent.

In fact, in Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines, there are 357 instances of the phrase user intent. Section 12.7 of the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines is devoted to user intent (search intent) and its importance when evaluating content.

In How Intent is Redefining the Marketing Funnel, Google states:

Forget everything you know about the marketing funnel. Today, people are no longer following a linear path from awareness to consideration to purchase. They are narrowing and broadening their consideration set in unique and unpredictable moments. People turn to their devices to get immediate answers. And every time they do, they are expressing intent and reshaping the traditional marketing funnel along the way.

To sum up: search intent is important because Google says it is.

The Four Types of Search Intent

There are four types of search intent you need to know about:

1. Informational: the person wants information. The type of information can range from factual, such as why do cats like catnip to the more detailed such as what is manufacturing 4.0. An informational search may or may not be phrased in a question.

Examples of informational search intent:

  • Climate change
  • Best coffee shop in San Francisco
  • Michael Jordan

2. Commercial: the person knows what they want to buy but requires extra information. This person is very close to making a purchase decision and is now looking for product reviews, comparison charts, and details about the best or most popular options.

Examples of commercial search intent:

  • Hardwood or laminate
  • Best interior house paint color
  • Popular sushi restaurants in Vancouver

3. Transactional: the person is ready to buy. This person is looking for the best product/service and the place to buy it.

Examples of transaction search intent:

  • Deals on hardwood
  • Buy new iPad
  • Uniqlo coupon

4. Navigational: the person is looking for a specific website. Instead of typing and guessing at the website URL, they type the company name, brand, product, or service in the search box.

Examples of navigational search intent:

  • Know Agency
  • Netflix login
  • Udemy

How to Determine Search Intent

To determine search intent, you need to know how people are searching for and using your target keywords.

Use these tools and approaches to determine search intent:

  • Study the search engine results page (SERP). Type your keyword phrase into Google. Review the search results.
    What kind of content is returned? What are the People Also Ask questions? Is there a featured snippet? What does the autocomplete show you for additional search terms, phrases, queries? What are the queries and questions displayed in Related Searches?
    Remember, Google shows you the content it believes it best answers search intent. This is the type of content you need to create and optimize.
  • Use a keyword research tool like Semrush. Research your keywords and look at keyword variations, questions, related keywords, and search volume.
    It’s important you dig deeper than knowing your keywords – you need to know how these keywords are used, who is using them, how this content ranks in Google, and the search history for your keywords.
  • Learn how people are searching for your keywords. Answer the Public shows you the questions, prepositions, and comparisons for your keywords that people are asking/using in Google.

Do not rush this process. Determining search intent is critical to creating and optimizing your content for search intent.

To create the right content, you need to know what people want and need from Google.

How to Optimize for Search Intent

To optimize for search intent, do these 4 steps:

  1. Decide what type of content addresses search intent best. Look at the content returned in search results for your keywords. This is the type of content you want to create. Decide if you’re creating a blog post, product page, landing page, or category page.
  2. Decide the best content format for the search intent. Look at the top-ranking pages returned for your keywords. What is the content format of these pages?
    1. How-to or guides
    2. Tutorials
    3. Lists
    4. Comparisons
    5. Reviews
    6. Thought leadership
    7. Content hubs
  3. Decide on your messaging for the search intent. What is your angle or perspective on the topic and search intent? This is how you communicate your expertise, authority, and trustworthiness to Google and your audience. Remember to research related keywords associated with your specific content angle.
  4. Remember the user experience. Google wants to give users content that meets search intent and provides a positive user experience. You cannot have one without the other. 
    Make sure your content is:
    1. Easy to read
    2. Uses plain familiar language
    3. Mobile-friendly
    4. Easy to navigate with internal links to relevant content
    5. Secured with HTTPS
    6. Fast – no one likes a slow website
    7. Not cluttered with intrusive pop ups

Your Search Intent Next Steps

This is our third blog post about search intent… Yes, three blogs about search intent. This is how important search intent is to your SEO and search ranking success.

Search intent is a big topic. And you cannot ignore it. Read our other blog posts about search intent:

We don’t want you to be overwhelmed by search intent. Use our 4-step search intent checklist to determine and optimize for search intent:

  1. Look at the SERPs. What are people searching for?
  2. Read the top-ranking content. What is the content format and angle?
  3. Know your angle and perspective. What do you want to tell readers?
  4. Put the reader first. How can you deliver a positive user experience?

Know your users. Know what they want. Know the best way to give your users what they want.

Know we’re here to help you give your users what they want.

Contact us – we want you to keep your users happy. This makes us happy.

About the author

Jane Phelps is the CEO/Partner at Know Agency. Jane leads client SEO strategy and handles all aspects of in-house SEO demands. This includes providing SEO training, competitive analysis, keyword research, algorithm analysis, and the review of all new content to ensure SEO best-practices are followed. Jane holds a Master’s Certificate in Online Marketing from the University of San Francisco, is BrightEdge Certified.