How to Determine and Optimize Search Intent

by Kamilla Sterling-Parker

There’s a strong possibility you’re wasting your time if you’re not optimising your articles and pages for search intent.

That’s a serious statement, I know! However, it occurs much too frequently, particularly among people who are new to digital marketing and SEO.

You choose a topic and utilise an SEO tool to find powerful keywords that aren’t too competitive for you to rank for, but not too obscure that no one is searching for them.
You write a fantastic post that is well-written, has original photos, is well-styled, and is properly optimised.
Nobody comes to your page, or the individuals who do come don’t engage.
It’s possible that you’ve chosen the wrong search purpose. But it’s not all doom and gloom; by understanding how search intent works, you can save that content and give it the traffic and interaction it deserves.

This article will explain search intent in layman’s terms, including what it is and how to determine which intents correspond to different types of website content. Plus, I’ll show you how to reverse engineer your way to amazing, intent-based subjects using our SEO expert’s sneaky-fun methods. Enjoy!

What is the meaning of search intent?
A person’s search intent is what motivates them to do an internet search.

That’s all there is to it.

The query is the words people put into the search field. You’ve most likely checked your website’s keyword rankings, as well as those of your rivals.

Using Google Search Console or SEO tools, you can view the terms that bring users to your site. Don’t get me wrong: that’s great stuff.

But it’s the meaning behind the words, the reason the individual is looking for that information, that’s your golden ticket. Creating excellent content that fulfils the searcher’s goal will delight the searcher and, as a result, the search engines.

Consider this: your company’s goal is to provide a pleasant product or service with excellent customer service. At their core, search engines are exactly like any other company. Their goal is to provide a set of results that are very likely to fulfil the searcher’s needs.

What is the significance of search intent?
The sorts of results a search engine displays — and how all of the sites, articles, and videos are sorted – are directly influenced by search intent.

Optimizing your content for intent rather than merely juicy keywords with high search traffic may have a huge payoff:

Improved engagement: if your material precisely fulfils the person’s search criteria, they will stay on your site longer and do desired (and profitable) activities.
Higher ranking: good interactions inform search engines that your material answers the query and should be ranked higher.
Getting a highlighted result: If you search for specific sorts of informational content, you may find yourself in the ‘answer box,’ which appears above all other search results.
Increased reach: Because search engines rate the same piece of content for a variety of related searches, not just the one you targeted, getting it correctly might result in a good ranking for numerous queries.
On the other side, optimising for the improper purpose will result in a low ranking and unfavourable engagement signals such as a high bounce rate, high exit rates, and poor conversion rates.

There’s no need to be concerned; there’s excellent news! It’s actually rather simple to take use of the advantages of search intent optimisation while avoiding the drawbacks. The vast majority of searches in the globe fit into one of four categories.

There are four different types of search intent.
Navigational: the individual wants to find a certain website or product by name.
Informational: the individual wants to learn something or obtain knowledge; strangely enough, searching up instructions to go to a destination is not navigational search intent (more on that later).
Transactional: the person wishes to purchase or register for anything right now!
Commercial: the individual is looking at purchasing a product or service, but they aren’t ready yet.
Let’s take a closer look at each of those search intents to see what kind of queries fit into each category. Then we’ll go through how to figure out what search intent is and how to optimise for it.

Searches by Navigation
A navigational search is usually always branded, which means that the terms are the name of a company or product. The individual is looking for a certain website and already knows which one it is.

Here are some more examples:

‘Instagram’
‘Services provided by NerdyCatDesign’
‘Login to Slack’
‘Hootsuite’s social media picture sizing guide’
The concept of navigational purpose is simple to grasp. Of course, you want people to look up your company name since that means they’ve heard of it. And you’d like to come up first.

Informational Lookups
This sort of search intent accounts for a significant part of online activity. It’s someone seeking for additional information, which might include a wide range of queries:

Who is this person?
What exactly is it?
When something occurs or occurs, such as an event or a public holiday
Transactional searches are those that are used to find out where something is situated, such as identifying a city’s province or finding driving instructions to a building – but not a business.
What makes things the way it is?
Finally, there’s how to do it, which includes anything from instructions to recipes to computations.
Search engines can tell the difference between someone who wants to learn about the nutritional worth of a meal and someone who wants to learn how to cook with it. They can also deduce if a person wants to learn more about a dog breed, get advice for dog owners, acquire a dog of that breed, or spend their lunch hour looking at attractive dog pictures.

It all boils down to how you phrase things.

Informational purpose frequently begins with the words “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.” This can include variants that don’t include those specific phrases but are obviously inquiries.

These three queries contain informative intent in the case of NerdyCatDesign. The first is self-evident, given that the searcher has inquired as to why digital marketing is so essential. For that enquiry, our blog post on why you should invest in a digital marketing plan ranks top!

Although the other two searches do not contain the phrases “how to” or “what is,” Google recognises that the user wants to learn more about those topics – and that two of our other blog entries meet that demand, so they should rank well.

Transactional Lookups
The term of this sort of search intent is the key to understanding it: transACTIONal. The guy is eager to get started right away. These might include B2C items, B2B services and resources, and charity contributions.

A product’s brand name, such as “Nike women’s running shoes,” might be included in transactional searches.
They can also include terms like “how” or “where,” as in “where to purchase cowboy boots near me” or “how much does a Samsung Galaxy S20 cost.”
Non-profit transactional searches may contain phrases such as “where can I give clothing near me” or “contribute to a local charity.”
It’s all about context when it comes to determining if a search is transactional, navigational, or informative – someone searching for “purchase cowboy boots” or “cowboy boots near me” is plainly purchasing, not researching the history of Western footwear.
Although someone may be Googling the route for their first day of work, the majority of searchers intend to visit the business to buy something, therefore directions to a store are also considered transactional purpose.
The key terms in a transactional search are simple to detect, such as ‘buy,’ ‘deal,’ ‘discount,’ ‘purchase,’ ‘order,’ ‘cheap,’ ‘price,’ ‘book,’ ‘download,’ ‘sign up,’ and ‘register.’

Commercial Lookups
This form of search intent appears to be the most difficult to define, as all of the articles on search intent on page one explain it differently.

I don’t believe it’s that difficult. Commercial purpose refers to a person conducting research on a product, service, or company before engaging in a transaction. It’s especially important for B2B companies because our clients take longer to study before making a decision.

A substantial part of the NerdyCatDesign keywords have a commercial aim. We score highly for a number of useful inquiries when a person is obviously looking for web design businesses in Vancouver but isn’t sure which one to employ.

Here are some more commercial search intent examples:

Brand comparisons, such as ‘Buffer vs. Hootsuite,’ are common.
Non-brand searches for a list, such as “best women’s running shoes” or “top SEO tools for small businesses.”
People looking for information about a certain product or firm.
People looking for information about a company’s beliefs or culture – this is why your About page is so crucial for B2B conversions!
Words like “best,” “top,” “review,” “vs.,” “compare,” and “expense” are frequently used in commercial searches.

That final question is a bit tough. You may believe that searching for ‘cost’ is a transactional search, and you’d be right. I might Google ‘IKEA bookshelf cost,’ expecting to drive to IKEA and purchase a shelf. However, if I Google “website cost,” I’m more likely to come up with prices for website platforms.

When we do an open-ended search, search engines must make the final decision.

Searches that are ambiguous
When a person understands what they want, but what they put into a search box doesn’t match up, it may be frustrating. Although it’s rare that you’ll utilise ambiguous searches as part of your SEO strategy, it’s still helpful to know what occurs in these situations.

For example, we utilise the Slack app to communicate between NerdyCatDesign. I’m interested in the extras that come with our package. But I’m doing a lot of things at once, and all I enter into Google is “slack.”

Based on what it knows about me, Google thinks I want to go to the Slack website, but it has no idea what I’m looking for.

Almost all of the top search results are navigational:

Sign in, get started, what is Slack, features, and their descriptions can all be found at the Slack homepage URL. About this page
The Slack knowledge panel with corporate information
A box labelled “people also ask” containing questions about how Slack is utilised.
Tweet cards on Slack
Slack may be downloaded through the App Store.
Slack was featured in four articles: one on remote education, one on a tech integration, one on Slack discussions between California health officials regarding COVID, and one on Slack being named business of the year by Inc.com.
Slack’s entry on Wikipedia
When I alter my search to ‘Slack pricing,’ the results improve marginally, but remain vague enough to yield a mix of informational and commercial results.

The top result is Google’s Slack stock market overview, which was not my intention.
The second result is a collection of pricing-related pages from the Slack website.
Questions about Slack plan price may be found under the ‘people also ask’ box.
Then there’s a slew of stories concerning Slack plan pricing and Slack stock.
When I change my search to ‘Slack price,’ Google knows I’m looking for commercial information about Slack.

The top result is now a collection of pricing-related pages from the Slack website.
Slack price is now the second result in the ‘people also enquire’ box.
All of the articles are Slack plan price reviews.
As a result, a number of chat services that compete with Slack have emerged.

That was an example of a search intent that was originally unclear, and Google’s attempt to offer something that fulfils the query. A search engine is built to make this conclusion based on a variety of criteria, including data on what others who have conducted that search have chosen from the results presented to them, as well as my own search history.

If I typed in the word “Pluto” into Google to learn more about Mickey’s favourite dog, it would most certainly bring up information about the dwarf planet Pluto. That’s because the vast majority of people who Google “Pluto” want to see the planet, and Pluto the dog plainly doesn’t get enough love.

Even if what a person enters into the search field is clear, the nature of the search will provide a mixed bag of results. This is a common occurrence in commercial searches.

Commercial searches, such as when a person examines a firm before employing or purchasing from them, might skew informative.
Commercial searches can become transactional, such as when a person compares price plans with the intention of selecting one after reading them.
It’s also easy to look for product evaluations or top 10 lists without purchasing anything; you could use this knowledge to produce your own post!
Listicles and reviews are also available for a variety of topics and hobbies that have nothing to do with making a purchase.
We just went over a lot of information regarding different sorts of search intent, and you might be wondering how you’re supposed to use it all.

Whether you’re brainstorming a blog subject or checking to see whether your website’s major pages are properly optimised, you’ll need to determine what the goal is that leads to those pages.

How can you tell if someone is looking for anything specific?
Using the search results itself is the simplest approach to establish search intent.

Perform a comparable search to the one you want to rank for, either on a topic or for a similar product or service.

If the initial search results include a company’s URLs, a company’s knowledge panel, a company’s tweets, and/or a company’s own Google Ads, Google has determined that the query is navigational.

Google has recognised a transactional intent if the results begin with Google Ads, shopping results with product evaluations, a booking tool, or a map showing the location of a business.

This is an informational search if the search results contain the response box, a table, a list of URLs, event listings, the ‘people also ask’ box, the knowledge panel, recipes, a map, and/or videos.

Google Ads, response boxes, and URL results are common in commercial searches.

SEO tools are a wonderful method to find out how to rank for keywords you want to target with your content. However, now that you know it’s not only about the words, you can utilise those techniques to figure out search intent as well! They’re very handy for finding information.

Long-tail keywords that appear beneath the term “questions” are usually informative.

You can see that virtually every keyword in each column presented above has an informational intent now that you’re practically an expert on the different forms of search intent.

I wouldn’t try to optimise one of NerdyCatDesign’s primary landing pages for “search intent” knowing that individuals putting these phrases into search bars are seeking for educational material.

Even though we have in-house expertise on the subject, and we obviously want potential customers to know that we can help them optimise their sites for search intent, it would be a waste of time to try to rank our SEO services page for that term.
People that search for it aren’t searching for an SEO partner – at least not yet.
Those who did click would most likely return to the search results, providing Google unfavourable signals.
Instead, I should make a long, detailed blog entry about it! It’s relevant to our target audience (small company owners who want to improve their website’s success) and ideal for someone at the top of the funnel (who knows their website isn’t functioning but isn’t sure how to fix it).

Now it’s time to put everything we’ve learned into practise. You want to understand search intent so you can utilise it to improve the ranking of your content.

What is the best way to optimise for search intent?
To begin, conduct a short content check to ensure that you’re on the correct road.

Examine the search results to see what kind of purpose is driving your keywords.
Examine the sorts of material that appear on the first page of results to see what media a person anticipates when searching for that phrase.
Look through the relevant results under ‘people also ask’ if applicable, and make a note of any queries you may address in your article.
Examine all of the top results and see what they have in common — That unifying thread has certainly been judged the most satisfactory outcome for search engines.
Look for flaws so you can improve what you’re doing!
Remember that, aside from search intent, there are also other ranking variables to consider. That implies that capturing the proper search intent is just as essential as nailing page load speeds, site security, user experience, and linking. Make your meta descriptions clickable, of course.

Navigational Intent Optimization
Navigational purpose involves searching for key pages on your website, such as Home, Contact, or a login.

If no one is looking for your name, you need to focus on your digital marketing to raise visibility. It’s primarily about upkeep after word gets out and you have referrals Googling you, or you’ve produced a unique product that people search for by name.

Make sure your NAP (name, address, phone) is correct across the board, including your website bottom, Contact page, Google My Business profile, maps listings, directories, and social media accounts.
You may list an entity (person, place, or object) in Google’s Knowledge Graph to obtain it its own knowledge panel.
If you have an older firm, your website and other online listings such as tweets, LinkedIn company pages, Glassdoor reviews, or business affiliations are likely to already dominate the top results for your name.

It might be aggravating if your website does not up when you Google your own name when you’re starting a new business. This is something we hear a lot.

Older firms with the same name, as well as enterprises from different towns or even countries, frequently occupy the top places because search engines see their websites as more reliable.
Other times, you have a new business with a funny name, and the top results are things like word definitions.
On our Anvil website, I’ve published a full essay about how to get a new website recognised by search engines!
You could see such firm names among your own keywords if you’re a B2B company with pages on your site discussing partners or clients, such as projects.

Because we have case studies for our clients’ websites, NerdyCatDesign rankings for their names. We aren’t on page one or competing with our clients, but the business name is in the page title, so it’s inevitable.

Unless you offer that company’s items on your own site, ranking for another company’s name is usually pointless, and you wouldn’t optimise for it on purpose.

It’s pointless for NerdyCatDesign to try to rank a blog article for the term “Google Analytics.”

We’re specialists at Analytics reporting, but when people search for “Google Analytics,” they’re either looking for their account and logging in, or they’re looking for information on how to utilise it.
More pogo-sticking and bad rating signals are on the way.
We’d be better served optimising an article for particular Google Analytics-related queries.
Depending on your business, targeting and ranking for a company or product name combined with terms like ‘review,’ ‘comparison,’ ‘tips,’ or ‘guide’ may be a profitable commercial search. If customers come to you for expert guidance, such as if you’re a consultant or a professional services firm, this is likely right up your alley.

Optimizing for the Purpose of Providing Information
As previously said, informative searches are an excellent method to raise awareness and get visitors to the top of your funnel. The most frequent purpose for a company to provide instructional material, which is usually found on internal website pages such as blog posts, resources, or FAQs, is for this reason.

Producing highly relevant material that directly answers a query is the greatest approach to score well for an informative search.

Include the following informational words in the title: “who,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “why,” and “how.”
Put the questions in a header and the answers below it.
Make sure your pages and articles are mobile-friendly and scannable.
To respond to the question, use the proper format, such as a list, table, or pictures.
Get the keyword or a portion of it up front in the opening section of a lengthier piece to convince readers that they’ve arrived at the correct spot — A table of contents is a great method to let people go at their own speed while reading.
Transactional Intent Optimization
In most cases, transactional searches should lead to a product or registration page. You don’t want to make a mistake with transactional intent since you’ll be losing a person who was ready to commit at the bottom of the funnel!

A great user experience and a clear route to conversion are the greatest ways to optimise for transactional searches.

In your content, use unambiguous transactional terminology such as “buy,” “deal,” “discount,” “purchase,” “order,” “cheap,” “price,” “book,” “download,” “sign up,” and “register” (among others)
Make sure the product name and description (including picture titles and ALT text) are clearly expressed in the title and elsewhere on the page (brand name, size, colour, fit, and so on).
Using language and visuals, create a powerful emotional appeal.
Make heavier information, like as product specifications, a download or accordion-style material to keep the page uncluttered and CTAs visible.
Make sure your CTA text and locations are well-thought-out.
Optimizing a blog article for a transactional search keyword would be a huge mistake.

Commercial Intent Optimization
Because this individual is in the middle of the decision-making process, you must provide them with just the correct facts to sway their decision in your favour. Pages with a business aim are generally projects, case studies, testimonials, and reviews.

Product category pages can be transactional or commercial – someone who hasn’t settled on a specific product but is closer to taking action than someone looking for a “best” or “top” list.

If applicable, use commercial search phrases in the page title and/or headings: ‘best,’ ‘top,’ ‘review,’ ‘vs.,’ ‘comparison,’ ‘list,’ ‘cost,’ and so on.
To guarantee that the page fulfils their research about you, learn how to balance logic and emotion in your content and visuals.
Provide comparisons in eye-catching graphics wherever feasible, such as a breakdown of your service plans or a comparison of your product to a rival.
Incorporate next steps into the funnel at all times – Offer a smaller transaction that requires less commitment, such as a newsletter registration or a free download.
The aim of optimising for commercial intent, like any other search, isn’t merely to attract a lot of visitors to the website. It’s to achieve the person’s objective in conducting the search. Simultaneously, you’re preparing them to send Google favourable ranking signals, such as staying on your site for a long period and seeing many pages.

An SEO experts bonus search intent advice!
If you like what you’ve just read and want to take your intent-based optimisation to the next level, we’ve got something special for you! Braeden Matson-Jones, our Sr. Digital Strategist, is ready to offer two sophisticated optimisation methodologies that he utilises to give suggestions to our clients.

Analyzing Ranking Keywords by Reverse Engineering Search Intent
Begin with a specific page on a competitor’s website that is close to or identical to the one you want to replicate.

It’s important to keep in mind that the URL you’re employing must include enough information (ie. have had enough traffic). Because the SEO tool doesn’t have enough data to work with, pages on new or small websites, such as product pages from a small eCommerce site, may not perform effectively. Move up one subdirectory on the site to the product category page in these situations, or select a similar product on a more popular site.

Obtain and export a list of the top keywords for which this page ranks:

Complete an analysis by importing the keywords into a spreadsheet. There are a few options for doing so:
– Scrutinize the list for intent-based keywords that you learnt about in this article’s SEO suggestions.
– Use an online word cloud generator like TagCrowd or Word Cloud Generator to create a word cloud from your list. From here, you may deduce purpose from the most often used (largest) terms. This is the product page for the espresso machine. There are a lot of terms with transactional and commercial purpose here: ‘buy,’ ‘best,’ ‘price,’ ‘review,’ ‘Canada,’ and ‘Breville.’

– Use the same list in Google’s Natural Language API demonstration. This application uses Google’s Natural Language API to analyse and categorise text, allowing you to see how Google’s own algorithms are reading and comprehending your material.

Entities will be the most telling category in the results. For example, the term “consumer good” will frequently appear in commercial and transactional material. Check out the analysis of this product page to see all of the ‘consumer good’ entities! The best approach to optimise a page like this one is to use transactional intent.

The existence of the term salience should be noted. On a scale of 0-1, salience in Google’s Natural Language API refers to how important a certain entity is to the content being examined.

In this case, the salience levels appear to be rather low, but that’s Google for you. To get close to a 1, a document must be totally saturated with a specific word. So don’t be bothered with the low end of these numbers; the difference between the salience values, rather than each value separately, is more essential for determining search intent.

This is when things start to get interesting. We followed the identical steps as before, but this time with a piece of instructional content from our own site.

There are a lot of informational inquiries here: ‘difference,’ ‘definition,’ ‘design,’ ‘meaning,’ ‘vs,’ and so on. These searches match the search intent and the information that satisfies it precisely.

Finally, we receive things like person, piece of art, and organisation from Google’s NLP analysis.

Analyzing Content to Reverse Engineer the Search Intent Process
Examining the material itself is another excellent approach to reverse engineer this procedure. This method has the advantage of allowing you to be more selective in your research; you may choose a list of URLs or crawl a whole area of a website.

The procedure is similar to that of keyword analysis:

Begin by looking for a specific page or subfolder on a competitor’s website that is comparable to the one you plan to build or have already produced.
Take the URL and paste it into a word cloud generator, or use Screaming Frog to crawl a page, subfolder, or entire site, then click Visualizations > Body Text Word Cloud when the crawl is complete.
Note that under Configuration > Spider > Extraction, you must choose the ‘store HTML’ option.

We utilised the Screaming Frog technique with two more examples to demonstrate this. The first is a blog crawl of HubSpot. Their major goal is to attract individuals who could profit from their platform by creating informative, top-of-funnel content.

We observe a lot of informational phrases like ‘marketing,’ ‘sales,’ ‘blog,’ ‘read,’ and ‘software,’ as well as a couple of transactional terms like ‘subscribe,’ and ‘contact.’

Then we repeated the process using a selection of product pages from the Vessi website. Vessi provides men’s and women’s waterproof shoes that are both comfortable and stylish.

The commercial and transactional keywords dominate here, as expected: ‘reviews,’ ‘size,’ ‘shipping,’ ‘sneaker,’ ‘free,’ ‘waterproof,’ ‘product,’ and ‘rated.’

I hope you now feel like a master of all things search intent – or at the very least confident enough to improve your content optimisation!

When in doubt, look at the actual search results. On page one, you’ll see what a search engine thinks your query is about. The narrative comes to a close.

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