What is Search Intent?

A Complete Guide to Search Intent and what it Means to You.

Search intent is a speculated assignment of a given user intention behind their search query, different types of search and what this might mean. Intent is the often the decision behind making a search online. A searcher decides to buy, then buying is their intent. We think in part this is established through machine learning.

First of all, what does that answer mean? Well it’s actually fairly difficult to explain because there has been a lot of analytics and research put into this, and it requires approaching a document from a pre-conceived idea or assignment, but read our guide and hopefully all will become clear and you might rise in the search results. Once you understand, you can make up your mind on how to use this for the SERPS or ads in general – but more so – you can use it to create content the correct way for a blog post etc. so that searchers can find you more effectively. You can measure this in the Google search console by looking at the landing pages statistics of a specific website.

Imagine people searching for a phrase, let’s say “search intent” is the very phrase they’re about to key into the search box, it’s widely agreed that there seems to have been assigned an additional meaning (one of a few search intents) to that phrase using the resources and data collected from years of web searches.

This additional meaning is what search engines might believe the underlying keyword intent to usually be – in other words, sure, you are looking for the words “search intent” – but the meaning is more a case of WHY you’re looking – what is your intention?

As usual in the I.T. industry – all the SEO gurus (many of whom can’t even program a computer – let alone try and understand a search algorithm created over decades by thousands of PHD computer scientists) are on the bandwagon and spouting tools and nonsense – in many cases completely and totally missing the point behind what search intent is, and how it is applied, in particular to those phrases with a higher keyword difficulty.

Broadly speaking though – a lot of the more reputable SEO types have broken down the concept of user search intent into three or four main or different types of categories of keyword intent for intent search queries – i’m going to address four – and you will learn why later on, but start with the basics. It’s worth pointing out that this has nothing to do with search volume or what google analytics has on offer.

Learn about search intent

1. Navigational Intent.

Take a look at how search terms assigned as being of a navigational intent type would typically be structured around a domain address or well known brand name. For example, the following target searches made by people or user types who are likely to be attributed to the “Navigational Search Intent” category. To understand this, imagine yourself typing in any of the following text :-


Immediately you get the picture and it really is simple, if any of those above are searched for, search engines implementing intent prior to returning a SERP will score the business or website which “owns” those brands pretty much off the scale – and rightly so.

It is important at this stage to gain an understanding of what has, in theory, happened – the engine has been able to determine the text entered is a navigational request and because of this, websites with high scoring navigational related content based around that phrase with rise to the top. By definition – we can say the brand owner possesses the pinnacle of navigational (and thus high scoring) content in these cases.

Once a search term or target keyword derived often from seed keywords as above has been pre-assigned a navigational search intent, we could imagine it would be extremely difficult using SEO to push it from a number 1 spot for its own name in the search result page – if not impossible. This makes sense and gives brand owners confidence that they’re unlikely to be outranked by imitators using standard passing off techniques.

2. Informational Search Intent.

For informational searches, again – it’s best to first focus on and fully grasp that search terms have been assigned an “intent category”. So lets take a look at a few examples which might have been placed in the informational intent grouping, often used for answering questions. This is sometimes seen as investigation intent.

how do I use a computer
what is a domain
what is search intent
what is a web page

These are classified as being of informational queries which may be a question – the intent of the user entering these terms is clearly that they’re “looking for information” a good article perhaps, reviews, answers to questions or a short comparison. To differentiate from a Navigational query I have used extremely simple examples to show my readers the stark contrast. It is clear that returning web pages which are trying to help you navigate somewhere brand related directly would not be of much help, instead a search engine may be deemed more accurate if the results page (SERP) contained links to information related to the search. We can consider marketing terminology, these individuals are seen as most likely entering the very top of a sales funnel – they are trying to find out about something – but probably not yet ready to purchase but may be getting close. In some cases they have already purchased……. there is a high probability of the latter with the “how do I use” phrase.

The logic seems clear enough, there is little point in a search engine algorithm returning sales pages alone for informational queries where a customer is looking for a review or a site where people share information.

3. Transactional Search Intent.

Please note again that the examples I give below whilst explaining what search intent is, are intended to help differentiate between intent categories or groups. So whilst they might appear as oversimplified – they serve a deliberate purpose.

Lets take a look at some search terms which are highly likely to be attributed to the transactional intent group where website visitors may be in the process of searching for products and services when making their purchase decisions.

buy web hosting service
decking wood free shipping
garden statue deals

We can very easily identify a level of transaction oriented topic intent here – what people want is shown by searching the above terms, they have done their research, made their notes and are ready to buy, they (generally) no longer need information, and if they do, it will be found on the specific merchant website. They don’t necessarily know the brand required or even what popular brand names might be, so they haven’t identified a source yet because they were shown to be unable to key one in (IE perform a navigational search).

In funnel speak – it would be right to say that these searches are being performed by visitors residing towards the lower end, they don’t (no longer) want to be presented with page after page of detailed product information, so these are ideal for putting straight to the top of the conversion funnel.

4. Commercial.

It turns out that commercial intent is a category which sits somewhere between informational and transactional, but still overall related to buying. You can imagine yourself as a user learning about a product but also pretty much ready to buy. Specifically, these types of searches tend to be as follows, and to me at least, represent an overlap – which could be described as weak transaction based intent :-

hp deskjet 4500
microsoft 2100 mouse
hover 1200

Notice that these are direct product searches – the are branded, but they are physical products and so may be being sold via digital marketing on websites in a distribution network – rather than by the brand themselves, in this case navigational is less relevant than transactional where people want to buy something, but by virtue of the omission of the strong intent behind “buy” or “deals” – they aren’t quite hitting the mark to enter into a transaction yet – although some would argue otherwise when taking into account the specificity of the item where for example the searcher has entered a definite feature to further narrow the search.

Semantics and intent.
Search Intent Can Reveal Itself Through Careful Document Analysis of a List of Words Used.

Search Intent Can Actually Help You Convert and Sell, and May Help Get More Traffic Through SEO.

When you think about it, adding words which are semantically related to selling on a webpage which is actually trying to sell something, is perfectly logical. By definition, you will be providing the searcher with exactly what they are looking for – knowing that the grouping is correct in the first place, which is highly likely. This will improve conversion through targeting the person more accurately. Keep in mind though, backlinks are still strong, so use a backlink checker to examine what else might be going on with high ranking pages.

In its most simple form, the buy now button is indeed a requirement you’ll want to provide on a commercial web page and you won’t need any SEO training for that – but more subtly, potentially useful for SEO and ranking and certainly great news for the customer, is the presence of the the word discount (if applicable of course).

It is worth addressing these concepts on offer landing pages at the very least, if not for SEO to do the job of attempting to help make pages rise for relevant keywords. You can bet that some of your competitors are already optimize for search intent using this information to match their content with intent association as a strategy to increase their position in the serps.

In summary, you are naturally building a more engaging user experience by optimizing if your content contains the relevant intent identifiers alongside the topical information available in keyword research tools. This could also be helpful with a bounce rate score.

How Can We Optimize Web Page Content Using User Search Intent?

Well, once we understand that search phrases have been categorised, we now first have to establish exactly what category we would like our own page to rank within – referring to intent of course. Once we know this, we can analyze the state of play and begin creating optimized, competitor beating content to add value by using the right modifiers for our audience. The success of what we produce will be measured by a boost in the serp and an increase in people shopping on the company website.

This is important – you see the thing is, web pages now have to contain content which matches the required / expected content for the pre-evaluated and assigned intent category. No longer is it enough to write a page which is simply “about” the red widget you’re trying to sell, if you want to rank for “buy red widget” or “red widget” (transactional or commercial) phrases – your long winded highly detailed descriptions are of no use unless your page also tries to rate relatively heavy on the intent related content and features aswell.

Take for example, the seller of a new product knows in advance that the next web page being created is aimed purely at actually selling their new item. A naturally common scenario without doubt.

It’s obvious that there will be an enticing product title and powerful description along with photographs to help your users – but this alone will not be enough to rank for “buy” keyword type searches. There is a lot of definite speculation over research about exactly which words and facilities are needed to place a page into a chosen category – but as usual – the SERP guides us to the clues. As an example, you could want to optimize the word “buy” on the page – you might even want to intentionally enhance it by placing it into a weighted html tags and modifers such as a h2 or even a h1. But there’s more, if you’re selling to customers, then how about terms like “guarantee” and “refund policy” – which are more subtle than the glaringly obvious “buy now” call to action but contribute to an engaging and relevant document from which people will want to buy. Without these indicators, your page may fall into ranking for information queries and in the main will be seen by only those people who are perusing the item to learn things in detail about it.

As your own knowledge about search intent grows from reading not just this but also other material, you’ll realise that the intent specific requirements are likely to be different across a range of products and services. Have a think about this – e.g. is your intent data for a search of “buy hair dryer” going to be the same as your intent data for “book holiday”? I will leave that to your imagination!

In the coming weeks I intend to publish some user intent audit and case study results with material including keywords and optimization aimed directly towards google SEO, making digital content marketing improvements and a clearer understanding of how best to design this new format of media – and how it may impact your use of insights and its relationship to any PPC campaigns you may be running. This may become available in our newsletter.

So why did I address four categories above….. because the more I delve into the world of intent powered search, the more I see that the number of categories is potentially much much higher than the four. So going for three seemed decidedly underkill. Indeed at the point of writing this, I sense realistically that there is far more calculated granularity going on beneath the bonnet than is typically written about online, which inevitably leads me onto the next paragraph!

Disclaimer : Here at Photon Flux we realise that what is written above is only as deep as the speculative information available to us – search engines closely guard their ranking secrets to prevent manipulation by SEO companies, so relying on this document in any capacity whatsoever for page performance is ill advised, because search algorithms change all the time and implementing the above could be damaging to your existing rankings and therefore your income – you’ve been warned. No warranty is provided by us, and you use this information at your own risk entirely.

Having said this, if you would like to know more about search intent, and what we do to try and take advantage of it’s perceived potential, contact us using the form below and we’ll be more than happy to answer any questions and may consider training if appropriate or an seo audit on your existing web site.

Contact us about Informational, Transactional, Commercial and Navigational Search Intent.

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