Search intent defines the main goal of a search and is one of the most important ranking factors for the search results page.
It aims to answer why a user is searching for a query and what exactly they want to know.
For example, when people search for money, do they want to know how to make money or understand the concept of money?
Google’s algorithm updates, like the Hummingbird and Rankbrain are designed to understand and cater to the search intent behind such queries.
Typically, the search results page shows the content that most people prefer, considering it as meeting their intent beyond that query.
Imagine you want to visit Costa Rica, and you are booking flight tickets for its capital city, San José.
Here comes the twist,
There are two San Jose, one is in California in the US, and another is the capital of Costa Rica.
Google is most likely to display San José in California and not Costa Rica.
Because that’s what most users who search for San Jose want to see, they want to go to California, not Costa Rica.
What is Search Intent?
Search intent, also known as user intent or audience intent, is the ‘why’ behind a keyword. It determines the purpose of a search.
Searchers are not keen on asking direct questions; sometimes, they might enter minimal keywords and expect Google to show them the exact information.
For example, when someone searches for Lucifer, it’s confusing to decide whether people are here to watch the TV series or know about the devil going by the name of Lucifer.
Turns out most people want to watch the TV series, so all the top rankings on Google show the TV series rather than a Wikipedia page on the devil Lucifer.
Around six million people search for a query every minute on Google, and one billion people use Google search regularly.
With millions of pages on the web, the only way to show instant, accurate results to users is to identify their search intent.
The search intent is the goal of a search query.
Why Does Search Intent Matter For SEO?
Google’s foremost goal is to satisfy a user’s search intent.
The search engine details the importance of search intent in its quality evaluator guidelines.
Google wants users to see the most relevant content for their query that quickly fulfills their research demands.
This encourages users to look at Google for every query, increasing the number of daily users and thus generating more revenue for Google through Google Ads.
The first goal of a keyword is to identify search intent because, even if you have numerous backlinks and high-ranking keywords and miss out on search intent, Google won’t rank your website.
In a nutshell, adhering to SEO guidelines will help you boost traffic as long as you serve the audience’s search intent.
Types of Search Intent
99% of all search queries fall into four intent categories. They are:
Users with an informational intent have a specific question or want to know more about a particular topic.
They might type a search query about a person, place, weather, or something that requires in-depth study, like ‘how do search engines work”.
However, Google’s understanding of search intent goes beyond comprehending questions.
Google’s ranking algorithms know that if a web user searches for tomato sauce on Google. They are most likely to look for a recipe and not its history.
When someone searches for football matches on Google, they want to look for the scores of the latest football league matches and not learn how to play a football match.
Similarly, searches related to how-to queries like ‘how to ride a bicycle or ‘how to build a garden’ require images and videos for better understanding.
Hence, it also shows content with images on videos on the top.
People with navigational intent want to visit a particular website or place.
They already know which website to visit but might not be sure about the URL, and it’s probably easier to search on Google.
When they search for Amazon, Google will likely direct them toward Amazon’s website rather than show articles about the Amazon Forest.
Navigational intent is beneficial for ranking a company’s websites.
When people surf the internet to make an online purchase, it’s called transactional intent.
Most likely, the user is aware and knows what to buy, but they are looking for several websites to compare the prices and make a purchase.
For instance, searches like ‘iPhone 14’ or ‘writing course’ direct users to websites where they can purchase those products.
Users with commercial intent want to buy something in the future and use the web to research a product.
They have transactional intent but need more time to convince themselves.
For instance, searches like ‘best washing machine’ or ‘best SEO services’.
We also know these types of searches as commercial investigating intent.
5 Things to do to Optimize For Search Intent
Content relevancy is the foundation of SEO. Your content or website can satisfy search intent only if it’s relevant to the user’s query.
Google observes how people interact with SERP (Search Engine Results Page) and which websites get more traffic for a particular query.
When a search result is not fit for a keyword, Google penalizes those websites by dropping their rankings on SERP.
Here are five best practices to optimize for search intent:
1. Find The Search Intent Behind Keywords
There is a purpose behind every search query on Google.
People want to find something, buy something or go somewhere. Understand what your audience wants.
Before writing content for your users, uncover their search intent.
For example, suppose someone is trying to rank for the keyword ‘writing email’ and they wrote a compelling listicle on how to write an email, added external links, and received backlinks from high-ranking websites.
Will Google rank the article on the first page of SERP?
Maybe not because most users are searching for a formal email writing process and not really a step-by-step guide to writing an email.
People write emails for formal interaction in the workplace or for job applications.
They know how to write an email but might not know how to write an effective email to convince clients or the format of a formal email.
Sometimes search intent is not straightforward, especially for short-tail keywords.
If you search for mercury, you can see results displaying the planet Mercury and not the element Mercury because that’s what maximum users want to see.
Therefore, always research the SERP for what content existing competitors are creating before publishing content for your audience.
Look at what top-ranking pages on Google are writing to know what your audience wants and publish even better content than your competitors.
Add images, infographics, and videos to stand out on the SERP for a keyword.
Tip: Provide definite answers to frequently asked questions in your niche.
2. Improve User Experience (UX)
User experience determines how long people stay on your webpage.
Even if content satisfies the search intent, but the UX of a website is slow and troublesome, users will quickly leave your website, indicating that your content does not fit the audience’s intent.
In that case, the bounce rate shoots up, and Google might penalize your webpage by downranking your website.
Google does not want its users pogo-sticking around the search results page. Instead, they want users to find their answers quickly.
Here are a few tips to improve your UX:
1. Avoid Pop-ups
Neither Google nor users want to see pop-up ads on a page. They spoil the reading experience.
Even if you are using pop-ups, limit them or place them strategically where it does not disturb website visitors.
2. Use Subheadings
Your audience does not necessarily want to read the entire article when looking for something specific.
Bold your subheadings and make it easy for them to skim through your content.
3. Check Your Website Speed
Speed is a ranking factor and also improves UX. You can use Google’s page speed insights to analyze your website speed.
4. Use Google Analytics
Check your website performance on Google analytics and focus on bounce rate and average time duration metrics to examine how much time users spend on your page.
Evaluate performance issues and improve them.
3. Update Your Existing Content
Search intent around a query changes as new information comes up.
For example, if there are new rules in football, content about football rules requires updates.
Updating your existing content makes it look like new information, and Google crawlers index it as updated information on the web, which improves your SERP ranking.
Suppose you have a page on your website that should rank, but it’s not generating traffic. The page might be unsatisfying for the search intent.
To optimize your existing content for search intent:
Observe the top 10 results on SERP and update your information regularly. If your keywords relate to a beginner audience, optimize it for them.
Figure out your primary audience for particular keywords and rewrite your content accordingly.
Notice the ‘people also ask’ section on the SERP when you search for a topic. The users directly ask these questions, which can clear the confusion about the search intent behind a topic.
For example, this is the ‘people also ask” section for the keyword ‘Email writing’. You can see that people are also asking for four steps to write an email and ‘types of email writing’.
You can include these questions directly in your existing content to match the search intent and rank on SERP.
4. Optimize For Commercial And Navigational Intent
People are not always looking for information. Sometimes they want to buy something or go somewhere.
If you enter a search query like ‘credit card’, most of the top pages on SERP belong to banks or financial institutions where people can apply for a credit card online.
They don’t want to know how a credit card works or how to obtain a credit card but how to apply for one.
In fact, if you enter a keyword related to a place such as Bali or Maldives, Google shows the top results about Bali tourism or a travel guide, which indicates that when someone enters Bali in their search bar, they are most likely to go to Bali.
Further, product-specific searches like noise-canceling headphones or Wi-Fi routers have a strong commercial intent behind them.
It’s not really beneficial to rank for navigational queries because when someone searches Spotify or American Airlines, they want to visit those websites. These keywords might get your page impressions, but most times, it’s futile to rank for them.
If you are a commercial website selling products or a travel website providing tickets, optimize your websites for such keywords where people have commercial or navigational intent.
5. Advance Your Search Intent Strategy
Search intent is not just about figuring out what people want but also about knowing how they prefer to consume content.
Whether they want to see content as a listicle or guide or they want to learn an easy 10-minute recipe rather than a 30-minute recipe.
Sometimes search intent goes beyond finding the purpose of a query.
Focus on three things to advance your search intent:
It refers to the type of content people prefer for a search query.
For example, the search results for the keyword ‘dress’ show the category page of an e-commerce website, and when you search for a pink dress, you can find product pages of several websites.
Find the content type your audience wants, which can be one of the following:
- Blog post
- Product page
- Landing page
- Category page
2. Content Format
The format means how top-ranking pages on Google are presenting their information. It can be in the form of:
- Step-by-step guide
A proper format allows your audience to understand information faster and better.
For instance, if we look at the search results for ‘the best smartphones, most of them are list posts.
If you look at the results for ‘how to make coffee, you may notice most results give a step-by-step guide for coffee making.
Following a content format benefits informational and commercial intent, but they might not be relevant for navigational or transactional queries.
3. Content Angle
Content angle is the Unique Selling Point (USP) that an article or post offers.
Let’s understand this with an example:
When you search for ‘how to make pancakes,’ the search results show the process of making pancakes.
Have you noticed how top results show fluffy pancakes, old-fashioned pancakes, or 10-minute pancakes? This is the content angle or the USP of the page.
Hence, find a USP keyword for your web page. You can include words such as ‘best xyz in 2022’ or ‘top expert choices for xyz’ in your content to make it desirable for the targeted search intent.
Search intent is the present and future of SERP ranking.
Sometimes Google even disregards content length and backlinks to show the most relevant search to users.
Thus, focus on Search Intent and then align all other SEO factors and boost your SERP ranking.