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What Is Search Intent?

Written by James Tudge on .
Person searching on laptop

Are you often left frustrated with your website's bounce rate, wondering why you just can’t seem to make the right audience stick? One key factor that might be affecting user engagement is the failure to align your content with the search intent of your desired audience.

In the world of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), the ultimate goal is for your website to feature at the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) in order to generate more online visibility. Google has 8.5 billion searches per day, 99,000 searches per second, so how do you get seen for those searches relevant to you? Understanding your target audience’s intent behind their search is a strong way to start, and this is where search intent comes into play.

What Are the Main Components of Search Intent?

Search intent refers to the user's underlying purpose or goal when conducting their online search. It is the reason behind a person's use of a search engine to look for information, products, or services; after all, everyone has an intention when using the web. There are four identified types of search intent, which will be explained in more detail further down this article. They are;

  • Informational Intent
  • Navigational Intent
  • Commercial Intent
  • Transactional Intent

One of the most important terms relating to search intent is “keywords”, a crucial phrase for SEO. Keywords define the ideas and topics related to the content on your website. Search engines match someone’s search term to that content and the keywords that are the focus of that page; they determine the relevance, quality and authority of that content before deciding where in the search results that piece of content should appear. The search intent of that person searching is perceived by the search engines and the most relevant result for that intent is then shown. To understand a little more about keywords, visit our dedicated article.

Two other important terms to familiarise yourself with are “crawling” and “indexing”. The former is the process where search engines visit web pages to browse and interpret content, with the latter being the process of storing and organising the information collected during crawling. Indexed pages are then used to generate search results. Ensuring that search engines understand your content’s purpose is essential for the crawling, categorising and indexing process. The more effectively a search engine can crawl and index content, the better it can match user search intent with relevant results.

What Does Each Type of Intent Mean?

Informational Intent

Informational intent refers to someone intending to learn something via a web search, such as “What was the Crystal Palace vs Chelsea score?”. The search purpose is to provide a specific answer, so web pages providing that answer will rank higher. Informational intent accounts for a large proportion of searches with research in January 2023 by showing that 57.8% of users browsed the web to find out information. Keywords in these types of searches are “who, what, where, when and why”, hence the need for a specific answer.

Navigational Intent

The second type of search intent, navigational intent, is where a user is looking for something very precise where they already know exactly what they’re looking for, such as “YouTube login” or “eBay”. This is perhaps the most straightforward search intent to grasp since users already have their target destination in mind; the use of brand names is very common for navigational-intent searches. It’s unlikely that people will reach your site through a third-party website if they’re already familiar with your name since they’ll travel there directly; you wouldn’t Google “Where can I find the Facebook login”, you would simply search “Facebook login” and Facebook would be the first result on the SERPs.

Commercial Intent

This type of search intent is often confused with transactional intent, but there’s a clear difference. Commercial intent’s goal is to help people do their research on something that’s often paid for, such as a product, but not to specifically send them to the place in which they’d buy the product. Popular examples are websites that have product reviews, allowing users to compare locations that sell the same product. People often visit these websites when they are in the consideration stages of making a purchase; they have the intention of buying the product at some point, just not quite yet. Therefore, commercial intent is there to help a user investigate the options in order to gain confidence in getting the best deal for the product.

Transactional Intent

As mentioned earlier, transactional intent can fall hand-in-hand with commercial intent; if someone likes the product that they’ve researched through the aid of commercial intent (they reached a website comparing two Dyson hoovers, and decided to purchase from Argos, for example), they’ll then navigate to the seller’s website to make the transaction. Transactional intent isn’t just about making purchases- it could be about obtaining a service or downloading new software. Transactional intent is key for making money for your business- your keywords need to be specific to the things you sell so that customers are led to your site with ease.

How Does This Apply to My Business Website?

Helps Tailor Content to Meet the User’s Needs

When businesses provide content (or products) that align with what users are looking for, it enhances user satisfaction. You want users to find you when searching for a service or product that you provide, so make sure your content is relevant to what you offer or answers specific questions being posed by your target audience.

Increased Relevance in Search Results

Search engines aim to deliver the most relevant results based on user intent. By optimising content for specific search intents, businesses can improve their visibility in search engine results pages.

Better SEO Performance

Optimising content for search intent is a key aspect of effective SEO. By aligning content with user expectations, businesses can improve their website's ranking in the search results, attracting more organic traffic (click-throughs not from paid ads). You want your website to rank at the top of the search engine results for a relevant search; the first three organic positions for non-branded searches earn more than 50% of the total click-through.

Effective Content Marketing

Tailoring content to match user intent supports a more strategic and effective content marketing strategy. By shaping content to answer common questions to suit a targeted audience, it builds trust and authority. For example, if you’re a website selling shoes, including related articles such as “How to look after your shoes'' gives your website a wider relevance to your target audience.

Optimising Paid Ads

For businesses using paid advertising, understanding search intent is crucial for creating targeted and effective ad campaigns. Ads that align with user intent are more likely to generate quality clicks, making the most of the money you’ve spent on ad creation.

The Importance of Knowing Your Intent

Now that we’ve covered what each intent means, and how they apply to your website, it's crucial to reiterate the importance of knowing your intentions. In a congested world of websites, you want to be the most relevant for your audience, not just another site that finds itself low down on the search results page. By aligning your content with your users’ needs and intentions, you not only enhance their online experience but also position your website or platform as a valuable resource. Regularly monitor your content's performance through analytics tools, and be proactive in refining your approach based on user feedback and evolving search trends. The internet is constantly changing as technology and society progress, so your website needs to evolve alongside those changes.

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