Understanding what search intent is and how to work with it is crucial if you want to dominate the first page of Google, now more than ever...

Helping users find the exact information they’re looking for is precisely why search engines exist in the first place.

So, it makes sense that Google would pay close attention to search intent to ensure they can always deliver the most accurate, relevant results.

In turn, brands need to understand search intent so that Google can serve their content to the right audience.

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent is the goal of a user when they enter a query in a search engine.

Usually, when you type something into Google, you’ve got a pretty solid idea of the type of results you’re after. Thankfully, for the most part, Google does too, and that’s due to search intent.

Google wants to rank the most suitable pages for a user’s goal, so it uses search intent to help categorise queries and offer the most useful results.

Understanding search intent requires a little more depth than simply knowing what your audience is searching for, it requires understanding exactly why they’re searching for it.

There are four primary search intent types that Google looks out for, which we’ll outline further below.

Why is Search Intent so Important?

Search intent is important because Google prioritises relevance, authority and user satisfaction as its primary ranking factors.

Of course, you want your content to be seen, but Google can only ensure your content gets to the right eyes if it can understand what search intent you’re targeting, and you can only do that by saying the right things.

When you target a specific search intent in your content, you’re ensuring that it’s relevant to the user. Precisely how relevant - and, therefore, how valuable - it is will be clear as you analyse your KPIs.

For example, valuable content that answers intent will result in a higher click-through rate (CTR) and a lower bounce rate.

In targeting search intent types across your content with plenty of relevant internal links, you’ll also boost your authority as you give Google all the clues it needs to recognise that you’re a trusted source.

How Does Google Understand Search Intent?

There are four core ‘types’ of search intent that Google looks out for:

Core 1: Informational Searches

Informational searches refer to any search where the user wants to learn something. It can be as simple as searching for a person (e.g. “John Cena”), or it may be a specific question (e.g. “how old is John Cena?”).

Whether it’s someone looking for directions, for a recipe, for a history lesson or for a guide to understanding search intent, any search where the desired result is a piece of information, typically unrelated to a potential purchase, would be considered informational.

Core 2: Navigational Searches

Navigational searches are when a user already has a specific destination in mind. They tend to be simply brand or website names, (e.g. “Facebook”, “YouTube”, etc.).

A search like “Apple” would be deemed navigational over informational – the top-ranking pages will be official Apple Store pages before you see any informational pages about the brand or the fruit. If a user were to search “about Apple”, “Apple history”, or “apple fruit”, it’d be considered informational.

The query might also be a brand or name followed by a specific destination. “Rihanna insta”, for example, indicates that the user wants to head to Rihanna’s Instagram page, or “Facebook login” indicates that the user wants to go directly to Facebook’s login page.

Core 3: Transactional Searches

A transactional search is where a user has already decided they want to buy something, so now they’re looking for the best place to buy it. Results for transactional searches tend to be shop pages, rather than product reviews or comparisons. These searches often include keywords like “buy”, “deal”, “discount”, “voucher”, etc.

Core 4: Commercial Investigation Searches

If the user intent is commercial investigation, this means the searcher might have some idea of what they’re looking for, but they need some extra info before making a decision.

They may have the intention of making a purchase eventually, but right now they’re looking to narrow down their options and figure out what’s best for them.

This could include keywords like “best smartphone under £400”, it could be location-based, like “top vegan restaurants London”, or it might be a direct comparison, like “Apple vs. Samsung”.

Of course, search queries rarely fit into just one type of intent, but understanding at least the primary intent of any given keyword will be hugely beneficial towards your performance.

Example: Identifying Different Intent Types for a Chosen Topic

Let’s imagine you’re creating content around the topic of home workouts. After doing a bit of keyword research, you’ll find that there are many different goals someone might have when searching around this topic.

They might be looking for a complete home workout plan. Maybe there’s a certain piece of equipment they want to buy, or perhaps they haven’t yet figured out how to work a certain piece of equipment, and they need a couple of pointers.

How a search is phrased helps Google find the best results for exactly what a user is looking for. “Home workout plan” would be an informational search, “best home workout gear” would be commercial investigation, “spin bike deals” is transactional, and “Sports Direct home gym equipment” is navigational.

Without considering search intent, you may try and weave all four of these keywords into a single piece of content, which would be detrimental to its relevance.

Google can determine which results are best for each intent type, so it’s up to you to examine your keywords for relevancy and help make it easier for Google to categorise your content.

It’s not just about targeting keywords with high search volumes, keywords are only beneficial if you use them correctly to guide your content with search intent in mind.

How BERT Helps Google Understand Search Intent

BERT is a Natural Language Processing (NLP) framework built by Google that is designed to train machines to better understand the nuances of human language, and it is now being used as part of the company’s search algorithm.

BERT can recognise the different ways that words in a query may interact and derive accurate meaning, sentiment and context from a piece of text like no machine has been able to do before.

When it comes to Google’s search algorithm, BERT is used to understand the true intent of a query.

It’s so important to stay focused on search intent as Google’s algorithm continues to bolster its capabilities with NLP models like BERT. We have to understand our audience and what they’re looking for as much as Google does; being on the same page with Google is the only way to get on the front page of Google results.

Simply put, Google is getting smarter and smarter, and we need to keep up.

Leveraging Search Intent in Our Content

So, you’ve got a list of keywords around a particular topic, and now you need to determine which search intent type each keyword targets.

The first thing you should do is see what competitors are doing, and see how Google interprets your keywords. Enter your targeted keywords on Google and analyse the types of results they deliver.

You’ll be able to get a pretty good idea of what search intent Google aligns with a keyword by not only checking what pages rank for it, but also by monitoring what featured snippets are pulled up.

Identifying Intent Through Featured Snippets

  • Keywords with informational intent tend to show featured snippets like knowledge grabs, related questions, or how-to videos. You’ll likely see sites like Wikipedia ranking high for informational keywords.
  • Transactional searches are likely to return shopping carousels, product pages and paid results.
  • Commercial investigation searches will also yield paid results, and might also offer featured snippets like comparison tables or ranking lists.
  • Navigational keywords are easy to spot; if the keyword is a brand name, and that brand’s website appears at the top of the rankings, Google understands that the search intent is navigational. Navigational keywords may also return features like top stories, knowledge cards or social feeds.

Once you’ve got a better idea of what search intent your keywords match with, you can begin to refine your content and metadata accordingly.

Using Modifiers in Keyword Research to Target a Specific Intent

You may want to conduct additional keyword research that includes specific modifiers for the intent you’re targeting.

For instance, if you’re focused on informational content, you may want to include phrases like “what is” or “how to” in your keyword research.

Tailor Your Content for a Specific Intent

As you create your content, keep those snippets and features in mind, and format your content based on the snippets you’re targeting, whether that means creating more list articles, more instructional video content, more comparison tables or otherwise.

If the SERP for a particular keyword offers related questions, aim to answer those questions somewhere in your post. When you’re aiming to answer an informational query, make sure the answer is clear, succinct, and placed towards the top of the page.

By shaping your content to attract users with any intent, you’re widening your reach, improving your site authority, and bettering your chances at conversion.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re trying to raise awareness around a brand, trying to gain the trust of an audience, or you’re trying to make a sale, make sure to consider your customer’s intention. Crafting content for a specific purpose will help you connect with your audience in a more meaningful, productive way.

Always keep search intent in mind, from the early stages of keyword research and strategy to the final stages of content optimisation and delivery.