Understanding Search Intent and How to Make it Work for You


Published: April 26, 2021 Author: Jason Holicky - Hometown Design Studio Inc.
search intent optimization

Search intent, sometimes called user intent, refers to the goals a person has when using a search engine. It is the why behind the search and shows whether the user is trying to learn, make a purchase, find a recipe, or fix something. Understanding search intent is critical for SEO as Google works to refine search results and match the right content with the right users.

Three Main Types of Search Intent

Breaking Down Search Intent

Most digital marketing professionals agree on these main types of search intent:

  • Navigational.

    These searches are used to find a specific page or website. Usually, these searches are used simply because it’s easier than typing the entire URL into the address bar. People will also use them to find specific content on a website, such as a particular YouTube video or item listed on Amazon.
  • Transactional.

    Transactional searches are used by someone who is ready to make a purchase, but they’re not sure where they want to buy it from. The search terms usually include the name of the item and sometimes contain words such as buy, price, cheap, or coupon.
  • Informational.

    These searches answer questions and solve problems. They typically include words such as who, what, when, where, why, or how, but may also contain only the subject the user is interested in.

Commercial intent is often included as a distinct type of search intent; other times, it’s rolled into the transactional type. Commercial searches usually include those where the user is ready to make a purchase but hasn’t made a final decision on a specific product yet. They are searching for things like reviews, comparisons, and other helpful tools to reach a decision before committing to a purchase.

Targeting Navigational Search Intent

Users With Commercial Intent are Usually Looking to Reach a Purchase Decision.

Users with navigational intent are using Google as a shortcut to reach a known page or specific website. If they intend to reach your website, they will. For your products and services, make sure you have landing pages for all of your offers or categories. Then, optimize them using product and brand names in the tags, meta descriptions, and HTML headers.

You won’t be able to influence user behavior here, but you can ensure that a page exists for every direct line they may want.

Targeting Informational Intent

From simple curiosities to fact-checking and product research, users with informational intent are triggered by a variety of events. The result of these searches is either satisfied curiosity or another search query.

When planning content for informational searchers, it’s critical that you stay away from the hard sell at this point. If you try for the sale at this phase, you’re more likely to be treated like an annoying commercial that’s interrupting the search. You’re also likely to be ignored.

Instead, you want your content to be informational so you can answer the questions while opening the door to building a relationship with that searcher. You also want to be sure that the content is rich with keywords that people will type while searching.

Here are some content ideas to focus on:

When Targeting Informational Search Intent, You Should Avoid the Hard Sell.
  • Blogs & Articles.

    Blog posts and articles are indexable web pages that are loaded with problem-solving power. They also provide you with ample room to include a variety of target keywords and their variations in a natural way.
  • E-Books & Whitepapers.

    While informational searchers aren’t usually interested in reading an entire long-form piece of content. Still, if you can answer their initial question right away, then point to a longer piece with more details that can be read later, you’ll be drawing your reader into your funnel.
  • Videos & Animations.

    If you’re considering a video or animation for informational intent, the priority is short, fast, direct answers. If you can deliver your solution better with a 30-second video, then go for it!

Google will often provide the answer to a user’s question right in the SERPs in a featured snippet. However, like all things Google, there is no exact formula for having your pages and facts featured in these listings. Instead, make sure to follow SEO best practices for all your pages and build up your site’s overall usefulness, and you may be rewarded.

Remember, your main objective here is to help people achieve their goals. When you do this, you’ll establish your brand or company as friendly, supportive, useful, and valuable in the eyes of the customer.

Transactional & Commercial Intent

Capturing the attention of these searchers is arguably the most important as they’re the ones who are ready to spend money. Content for this group should include well-optimized landing and product pages that make it simple for people to complete transactions. Here are a few points to keep in mind to get these pages right:

How to Optimize Landing and Product Pages for Transactional Search Intent
  • Make sure your page load times are fast; don’t keep customers waiting, or they’re likely to move on. Page load times can be checked with PageSpeed Insights.
  • Keep forms simple and eliminate unnecessary fields and reduce the number of steps necessary to complete the transaction.
  • Make it simple for first-time customers to complete a transaction without creating an account (save that for after the purchase).
  • Provide plenty of payment options, including PayPal, Google Pay, and Apple Pay. It’s also a good idea to let promotions and coupons resurface during checkout. For example, if you have a field on your payment screen for a coupon code, provide an offer such as free shipping to satisfy the need for a deal. That way, you’re not sending shoppers hunting on other websites for coupon codes.

Because transactional intent is rich with purchase power, including paid placements is likely to provide the payout to make it worth it. Another reason to consider paid placements is the ability to highly customize your ads by day, time, and location. If you’re a local pizza and beer favorite, you won’t get much return on your investment from ads placed on a Tuesday morning. However, Saturday nights and Sundays during football season will pay off.

Local Intent

Your website and web pages should also contain plenty of locally-oriented information and use Local SEO best practices to capture readers who are not looking for a specific destination. If your business does not get impulse customers (think: plumbers, painters, landscapers, etc.), local intent is usually very important. These searches usually include the words “near me” or a city, area, or neighborhood name. For example, “plumbers near me,” or “best pizza on the South Side” would both be used by people searching for an immediate, local product or service.

Use Local SEO Best Practices to Capture Readers.

Some examples of locally-oriented content include maps, directions, local inventories, and pages that use local keywords. Local keywords include city names, neighborhood names, streets, and other words that signal to search engines that you’re ready to receive local customers.

Directories like Yelp are crucial to local shopping decisions as customers are more likely to choose a company that’s already been vetted by their neighbors. Make sure you have established pages for Yelp, Google My Business, Yahoo, and any other local directories that apply to your company. Provide photos if the directory allows, and once your pages are established, start encouraging customers to leave ratings and reviews.

Capitalizing on Opportunity

Transactional searches may seem like the most important as those are the ones tied to spending. However, each of these categories is an opportunity for you to build relationships, establish trust, and familiarize new customers with your brand, products, and services. By optimizing for search intent, you’ll be making each of them happier as they arrive more quickly at the content they’re after. And happy users lead to happy customers, which leads to happy bottom lines for you.

About the Author

Creative Director Jason co-founded Hometown Design Studio of New Lenox, IL in 2013. He spends his days guiding and consulting industrial clients and small businesses owners on their marketing strategy and projects. Jason enables everyone to be successful and grow their business by sharing his knowledge and experience.
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