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Making Sense Of The Intricacies Of Search Intent

Search intent is one of the most overlooked ranking factors that marketers actually should be focusing on in 2019.

If you have been trying to rank high in the search engine results pages with little luck, then read on to find out everything you need to know about search intent and how it can help you climb to the top of the SERPs.

I cannot stress enough just how crucial this concept is to search engine optimization. For anyone who wants to rank in this and the coming years, it’s vital to focus on search intent when creating content.

If you already have a lot of content online, but you’re not seeing results from it, then it’s time you learned how to make small changes to your pages so that you bring them in line with search intent and then the results you want will follow.

But first, the basics:

What Is Search Intent?

This simply refers to the ‘why’ behind each search query:
  • Why is the person making the search?
  • Are they hoping to learn something?
  • Do they want to buy something?
  • Are they searching for a specific website?
  • And so on…
To help explain this concept in a bit more detail, here are some search query examples for you to try and glean what the intent was behind each search:
  • Example query #1: ‘catch cricket’
  • Example query #2: ‘dream pet’
  • Example query #3: ‘protein powder’
Let’s take a look at the first one: ‘catch cricket’

This query could actually have multiple meanings since the verb catch, as well as the noun cricket, can both be read in various ways.

For instance, ‘Catch a cricket ball’. ‘Catch cricket on TV’ – with catch here meaning ‘watch’. ‘Catch a cricket’ – with cricket here referring to the insect.

Taking a look at the second example: ‘dream pet’

This could be a search performed by someone looking for the pet of their dreams… Or maybe it could be someone who wants to know what their pet dreams about.

It could even be someone searching to find out more about a dream they had about their pet!

Now for the third example, ‘protein powder’

A simple search for protein powder could mean that either the person wants to know what protein powder is, they want to know more about protein powder, or they want to actually buy protein powder.

Why Does Search Intent Matter?

Search intent matters because Google has one major goal:

To provide end-users with results for their search queries that are the most relevant. Google’s success as a business is dependent on them being able to do this successfully.

How do I know this?

For starters, just take a look at Bing if you want a better understanding of what happens when any search engine offers results that are either irrelevant or low-quality. Compared to Google, almost no one uses Bing anymore and that means a lot less revenue from ads.

Also, according to Google’s own statement, its mission is to ‘Organize the world’s information to make it universally accessible’ – So yeah, that’s kind of a giveaway.

If you’re wondering why any of this matters to us SEO’s, the answer is simple:

For you to rank high in Google, you need to be the most relevant results for that particular search query. What this means is that your content has to be in alignment with search intent.

So, for instance, if you are trying to rank for the keyword ‘best earphones’, it’s never a good idea to try shoehorning your landing page into Google SERPs. That just isn’t going to happen.

The search engine giant knows exactly what its users want to be presented with when they conduct a search for that query, and it isn’t your landing page – it’s information.

That’s why Google will show them high-quality, useful blog posts, comparison charts, and so on. This basically means that the foundation of successful SEO is relevance.

Types of Search Intent

When it comes to search intent, there are 4 primary types:
1. Informational

This means that the user is searching for information.

This could be anything such as the answer to simple questions like ‘Who is the president of Uganda?’ or it could be questions that require longer, more in-depth answers, such as ‘How does Forex trading work?’

However, it’s important for you to note that not all searches of this kind are conducted in question form.

Here are some other examples of informational search queries:
  • ‘Who is Jeff Ross?’
  • ‘Heathrow Airport directions’
  • ‘Melania Trump’
  • ‘Football scores’
  • ‘WordPress upgrade’
2. Navigational

This type of searcher seeks a specific website.

Since they already know exactly where they’re going, for them it’s probably a lot quicker and easier to simply Google it, rather than to type the whole URL in the address bar.

Also, they might be unsure what the exact URL is.

Here are some examples of navigational search queries:
  • ‘Yahoo’
  • ‘SiteGround web hosting’
  • ‘Digital Marketing Course PlanetBizOp’
  • Facebook login”Yahoo’
3. Transactional

Here the searcher is in buying mode. They want to purchase a product and they already have a pretty good idea what they want – they are just looking for the right place to purchase it from.

Some examples of transactional search queries include:
  • ‘AVG coupon’
  • ‘Buy Samsung Galaxy S10’
  • ‘MacBook Pro cheap’
  • ‘Jaaxy Premium price’
4. Commercial Investigation

This searcher wants a specific product/service, but they haven’t yet made their final decision as to which one is the right solution for them.

At this point in their search, they are looking at reviews, comparisons, and so on in order to weigh up their options.

Some commercial investigation search query examples include:
  • ‘GetResponse vs Aweber’
  • ‘Best protein powder ‘
  • ‘Website Auditor review’
  • ‘Top hair salon in New York’

As you can see from the last example, a lot of local searches actually have commercial investigation search intent. This includes examples like ‘roofer near me’, ‘cheap hotels in Canada’, ‘cosmetic dentist in Fayetteville’, etc.

How to Identify Intent From the Search Query

Inferring intent is often easy just by looking at the wording of the search query itself.

For instance, if you take a keyword like ‘buy MacBook Pro’, it’s very clear that the person is in the market for a laptop (transactional).

However, if someone is searching for ‘How to trade Forex online’ then they are looking for answers (informational).

Listed below are some words that are used as keyword modifiers which usually indicate specific types of search intent:
  • Informational:

How, what, who, where, why, guide, tutorial, resource, ideas, tips, learn, examples, etc.

  • Navigational:

Brand names, names of products, names of services, etc.

  • Commercial Investigation:

Best, top, review, comparison, an attribute of a product (such as size, color, etc.) and so on.

  • Transactional:

Buy, coupon, order, purchase, cheap, price, pricing, + (local), etc.

When using keyword research tools, you can easily use such modifiers to help you filter for those keywords that have specific intent if you want to enhance your keyword research.

So, for instance, say you are searching for relevant informational keywords to include in your blog posts. The first thing you do is enter some seed keywords into your keyword research tool.

I recommend Jaaxy, but there many other tools you can use including Google’s free tool and Ahrefs Keyword Explorer.

Once you’ve entered the seed keywords, hit search and you will be presented with additional keyword ideas.

Next, plug the modifier words to include them in the search and then you will see all the keywords that contain one or more modifiers.

Do the same for transactional keywords, investigation keywords, and navigational keywords.

Simply copy and paste your list of modifiers into the box or tab labeled ‘Include’. From there, you’re able to start adding more filters to help you hone in on those keywords that really matter to you.

For instance, if you are searching for high volume, low competition topics you can use the ‘Keyword Difficulty’ and ‘Volume’ filters.

But, there is a problem:

Not all keywords or phrases contain modifiers which means that modifiers are not foolproof. That’s why you should not rely only on modifier words when trying to infer search intent. Doing that will result in you missing out on lots of great keyword ideas.

So what’s the answer?

The SERPs!Navigational: brand names, names of products, names of services, etc.

These days we see more and more featured snippets when we search for things in Google.

There are many results page features shown by Google, including video results, related questions, Google Ads, knowledge card, and shopping results.

These features matter a lot because Google tends to display some SERPs features on a frequent basis depending on what the search intent is.

What this means for you as a marketer is that you can use the presence (or lack thereof) of such SERPs features to assist you in inferring each queries search intent.

Featured snippets, for example, tend to be shown mostly for queries with informational intent, while shopping results will usually show up for transactional search queries.

Here’s a breakdown of the different search engine results page features to help you understand this a bit more:
  • Informational
    • Featured Snippet
    • Knowledge Card
    • Videos
    • People Also Ask
  • Navigational
    • Site Links
    • Tweet Box
    • Knowledge Panel
  • Commercial Investigation
    • Google Ads
    • Featured Snippet
  • Transactional
    • Google Ads
    • Shopping Results

Of course, as with everything else in keyword research, looking at whether or not SERPs features are available is not 100% foolproof either.

Search Intent Isn’t Always Binary

It’s important for you to note that search intent on a lot of SERPs is mixed.

For instance, a search for a specific product might reveal not only results that cater to people in buying mode (such as product pages), but also some reviews and comparisons and even blog posts that are packed full of relevant information.

Such a query is said to have mixed intent.

What this means, in other words, is that although most searchers are in the market to buy, others are just looking to find out more information about the product before parting with their money.

Optimizing for Search Intent

As I mentioned before, the type of content that you create should always be dictated by search intent.

So if the keyword(s) have informational intent, then you can write a blog post. For transactional intent, you can create a product/service page, and so on.

You get the idea, right?

Focus on the individual elements such as nouns and verbs, their meaning, relationship, and so on (as in our ‘catch cricket’ example).

Ask yourself if the words have synonyms or double meanings. There’s more to think about if the words have dual meaning, but it’s a lot easier with those with a single meaning.

Also, look out for pre-and suffixes that give more precise meanings to certain words. Affixes can significantly change the relationships between words.

For instance, in our ‘pet dream’ example, someone typing ‘pet dreaming’ makes the search a whole lot clearer just by adding the suffix ‘-ing’. Affixes can also infer time (eg. pre- or post-), and they also give broader context to searches (eg. re- or un-).

The last thing to keep in mind is the syntax of that particular search.

How a search is arranged can completely change its meaning. This applies even to concise queries. But the good news for all marketers is that as search is becoming more and more conversational (thanks mostly to voice search), search queries are becoming much longer, which gives them a lot more clarity.

So use the tips outlined here to dissect each search query so that you gain a very good idea of the intent behind the queries your prospects and customers make online.

Feel free to post your comment below.  An email address is required but it will not be shared with anyone, put on any list, or used for any kind of marketing, just to alert you if there are any replies. Thanks and happy hunting!


Updated: Originally published June 20th 2019

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