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What Is Search Intent & Why Is It Vital for Your SEO?

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Every business owner will understand the importance of SEO and how it can funnel traffic to your site. It helps you close more sales and boost profit margins. But while SEO is an all-too-familiar term, SEO intent has comparatively flown under the radar.

That is an issue that needs addressing, since Google’s stated mission is to “organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. That doesn’t just mean arbitrarily ticking keyword boxes and shoehorning your site into web searches you think may be advantageous. Instead, it’s about ensuring you provide content and pages that actually satisfy a client’s initial desire, question or concern.

This, in essence, is search intent – and if you want your website to perform well in search engine results pages (SERPs) compared to your competitors, you better make sure you prioritise it just as highly (if not more) than any other SEO metric.

What is search intent?

Plainly put, search intent is the underlying reason why an internet user has performed their online search in Google (or any other search engine, for that matter). It explains exactly why they wrote those search terms and what they were looking for.

Broadly speaking, search intent can be separated into four basic categories:

  • Informational, which refers to when a user wants to answer a specific question or learn more about a given subject.
  • Navigational, which refers to when a user already has the domain they wish to visit in mind, but is using Google as a shortcut or aid to arrive there.
  • Commercial investigation, which refers to when a user is thinking of making a purchase but wants more information about the options available to them before doing so.
  • Transactional, which refers to when a user is ready to make a purchase and is simply looking for an appropriate place to do so.

Of course, there are search terms which will fall into more than one of these categories, so figuring out search intent based on keywords alone is not an exact science. It will, however, give you a good place to work from when planning your content and optimising your site for SEO purposes. It may even help with web design ideas for further pages.

Mobile Search

Why is search intent important?

Have you ever heard of the commercial methodology which prioritises problems over products? Instead of promoting this or that item, salespeople will work to identify the problem that the consumer is facing, then market the ideal solution to them.

Although very basic, this technique has proven to be very effective in traditional retail – and the same can be true in the cybersphere as well. After all, an internet user is performing an online search with a specific goal in mind, so it will only benefit your company to identify that goal as early as possible, then position yourself to provide whatever it is that the user may be looking for.

In order to better understand the importance of SEO intent, it might be useful to look at an example where a site doesn’t fulfil the user’s goal. If they search for “best mid-range computer”, for instance, it may be tempting to try and position your company (which happens to make mid-range computers) near the top of the SERPs.

As logical as that may seem, it’s an ineffective strategy and indeed could provide to be a counterproductive one. That’s because the user isn’t looking for a sales pitch, but rather a comparison of the options available.

Instead, you should work to provide the solution to the user’s initial question or issue. In this instance, it would probably make sense to do so via a third-party, so that you can assuage any suspicions of bias. That way, you’ll guarantee that any traffic you do generate from SEO placement is going to be valuable on your site.

How can I understand search intent?

While search intent is a slippery customer that can vary from user to user, one of the most direct ways of trying to understand it is by analysing the search terms used.

For example, informational intent searches will often use interrogative words such as “who”, “what”, “when”, “where” and “why”, as well contextual terms such as “guide”, “explanation”, “tutorial”, “tips”, “learn” and “resource”. Navigational intent searches, on the other hand, are likely to use specific brand names, product names or service names.

Commercial investigation intent searches will often use terms such as “best”, “top-rated”, “advantages”, “benefits”, “comparison” and “review”. Finally, transactional intent searches generally use words like “buy”, “purchase”, “order”, “discount”, “sale”, “coupon”, “offer”, “promotion”, “cheap” and “price”.

Again, these aren’t hard-and-fast rules when it comes to analysing search terms to gain an insight into search intent, but they can inform your understanding of your target audience and position you to answer their query more capably.

What should I do with this information?

Once you’ve determined the probable intent of a user’s online search, you can begin to optimise your content, pages and general site layout based upon the terms they have used. This should guide them to pages that are more relevant to their intentions, thus resulting in a more positive outcome for everyone.

Sifting through these search terms can be achieved via the use of online tools, which are available abundantly today and can often be acquired without even a charge. However, they still require a significant investment of time and effort to understand and leverage to their utmost potential. For many busy business owners – especially those looking to establish themselves in their chosen sector – that’s a luxury they simply cannot afford.

Picture of Rob Truslove | Wrise

Rob Truslove | Wrise

Rob is the founder of Wrise – an SEO content writing agency based in Manchester, UK. Wrise creates content that people and search engines love, helping small businesses attract more organic traffic and increase conversions.