What Is Search Intent? Here’s Why It’s So Important

What is search intent? The term refers to the reason why a user searches for a query.

For example, let’s say you Google “how to brew coffee.” You’re not looking to buy a coffeemaker, and you’re not trying to find the local Starbucks. If either of those results shows up in Google, you won’t click them.

Instead, you’re after a how-to article with tips and steps for brewing coffee.

On the other hand, if you search for “order coffee beans online” and an article with tips for brewing coffee shows up, you wouldn’t click on that. You’re looking for a website that lets you order coffee beans for home delivery.

Knowing what the searcher wants means you can create content to match the intent. This gives you a better chance of getting clicks, and once the user is at the bottom of the funnel, it can also increase conversions.

Also, Google knows what the intent of a query is. If you were to write an article about how to brew coffee but optimized it for the keyword “Starbucks near me,” Google is smart enough to not show that in the search results.

So, not only will matching intent make your content more appealing to humans, but search engines require your intent to be on point if you want your pages ranked highly.

What Is Search Intent? The 4 Different Types

There are four main types of search intent: navigational, informational, commercial and transactional. Let’s go over them.

Navigational

With navigational search intent, the user wants to find a specific page online. The page may be an online service (“Gmail”) or a physical location (“Target near me”).

Either way, they’re trying to get somewhere specific; they don’t need a long, informational article.

For example, if a user types “Twitter” into Google Search, they’re probably looking for the Twitter homepage, not an article with a list of Twitter tips.

Usually, navigational queries are branded because the user knows exactly what they want.

Informational

With informational search intent, the user wants to learn something. Most importantly, they’re not at the stage when they’re ready to buy.

This is important when it comes to the type of information you present and the tone in which you present it. You don’t want to push your brand or product too much at this stage.

Informational search queries often include the Five Ws: who, what, where, when and why (plus “how”). Keyword research tools like Answer the Public are great for researching informational queries.

Blog posts are the most common type of informational content because you can fit a lot of information in. We have an article about how to create top-of-the-funnel content that goes over appealing to informational intent.

Commercial

With commercial search intent, the user knows they’ll be making a purchase in the near future but they’re not quite ready to hand over their credit card information. Right now, they’re researching their options before buying.

This type of intent is midway between informational and transactional. They’re still researching, like in the informational stage, but they’re closer to the transactional stage than they were before.

Often, users are looking for comparisons, reviews and roundups at this stage. They’re gathering their options and narrowing them down until they figure out what they want to buy.

Our article about middle-of-the-funnel content has ideas for matching commercial intent.

Transactional

With transactional search intent, the user is ready to take the next step — and they’re specifically searching for it online.

This may be making a purchase (“MacBook Air price”) or it may be some other type of conversion (“HBO free trial”).

Whatever the query, though, transactional searches mean the user is ready to convert.

Here are the best content types to create at this stage.

How Can You Determine Search Intent?

Search intent typically lines up with the marketing funnel, which has three stages:

  • Awareness: Informational intent
  • Consideration: Commercial intent
  • Conversion: Navigational or transactional intent

Sometimes, you can figure out the intent by looking at the words used. For example, a question query probably has an informational intent; a request for a review has a commercial intent; and a search with the word “buy” is transactional.

Other times, it’s not that easy.

Your keyword research tool may have search intent functionality built in.

I searched for “coffee beans” in Surfer, and the results included keyword clusters with different intents: informational, customer investigation (commercial) and shopping (transactional).

The informational results had keywords like this:

An example of what is search intent for an informational query.

The customer investigation cluster for “coffee blends” looked like this:

An example of what is search intent for an comercial query.

And here’s a transactional cluster:

An example of what is search intent for an transactional query.

You could also search for the query and analyze the top Google results. This can give you an idea of how other content creators are responding to the query.

From there, you can decide if they’re getting the intent right or if they’re off-base. Then design your content based on your analysis.

What Is Search Intent? Final Thoughts

Search intent is a major part of SEO. If you don’t know why a person is searching for something, then how can you know what type of content to create for them?

Any time you create a new piece of content that’s optimized for keywords, make sure you’re syncing up with the right intent. It’ll also pay to audit your existing content to make sure you don’t have any keywords that are off-base for the content you created.

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