World’s largest search engine, Google, is powered by over 2 billion lines of code, written by some of the brightest minds on the planet. Over the years, these minds have ensured that search engines become increasingly smart and are able to present the most relevant information to the users. From keywords to backlinks, everything that is important for a website to rank on a search engine is actually a feature aimed at improving the user’s experience.
While keywords have existed for a long time, their application and usage in the search engines have evolved in recent years. This intentional evolution was done to better understand the meaning behind a user’s search query.
As Led Zeppelin said decades ago, “you know sometimes words have two meanings”, so do search queries. Keeping this in mind, search engines started developing technology that could gauge the intent behind a user’s search query and provide them with relevant results.
So what exactly is user intent? How are search engines delivering content for user intent? Let us find out.
What Is User Intent In SEO?
User intent, to put it simply, is the underlying reason behind a search query.
For instance, when a user searches for the term “Amazon”, the probability is that they’re searching for the eCommerce website and not for information about the rainforest. Similarly, when a user searches for a business name, Google doesn’t just display links to its website. It also displays the business’ location, operation timings, contact details, and reviews, helping the user with all the relevant information around their search query.
In recent years, search engines have become increasingly competent at understanding user intent and serving relevant results. In fact, there have been many instances when the SERP page does not even show a single page containing the exact search terms but only pages that satisfy the user’s intent. Naturally, if you want your website to rank well on Google (or any other mainstream search engine), you must optimize your website to serve user intent. The best way to do this is to produce content that serves the user’s intent. However, before you can do that, you must first understand user intent. To begin with, user intent on search engines can be categorized into three broad categories – Informational, navigational, and transactional intent.
As the name suggests, informational intent is behind the search queries where the user is simply looking for information. This can be about a product, a service, or simply generic information like “When is David Bowie’s birthday?” When we consider informational search intent from a business perspective, most users conducting these searches are far from being ready to purchase your product or service.
In terms of the buyer’s journey, they are at the ‘awareness’ stage where they are just realizing that they have a need. At this stage, a user may search for a query like “how to make a website”. The top search results for such a query will tell users about the process of creating a website, instead of showing them results for platforms like WordPress and Wix.
So you know that the user with informational search intent is not going to purchase from you anytime soon. Why would you optimize your website for them?
Well, for starters, informational intent search queries make up for 80% of all search queries. That number is simply too huge to be ignored. Moreover, anyone that knows anything about optimizing for search engines will definitely tell you about the importance of content marketing for lead generation. This approach dictates that businesses must create content for every stage of the user’s buying journey.
Creating content for this stage of the buyer’s journey will enable you to position your brand as a trustworthy and credible entity for users that eventually move ahead in their purchase journey. This way, when it is time to make a purchase decision, they will think of the (your) brand that helped them when they were seeking information.
A user that conducts a search for a specific product/service/content usually has a navigational intent in their mind. Those searching with navigational intent are usually considered to be in the ‘consideration’ stage of the buyer’s journey. At this stage, the user may search with a query like “best platform for website development”. The search engine will present them with links to articles that are comparing platforms like Pixpa, Shopify, and SquareSpace, something like this:
As you can see, these websites are still not selling anything to the user. Sure, when you do click on a result, the comparison article may have purchase links, but none of these websites is directly selling a product. Instead, they are all trying to HELP the user choose the best platform according to their needs.
Finally, transactional intent is when a user is conducting a search with the objective of getting a solution to a problem that they are aware about. In the previous two sections, the user first learned how to make a website and then about the various platforms they can use to create a website. Now, the search query will be transactional, something on the lines of “build an eCommerce website” and the search results will be something like:
Now, there are results featuring Shopify and Wix, both well-known platforms for building websites. However, you may have noticed that there are also results for more guides about building websites.
So, what’s up with that? Let’s find out.
Search Queries That Have Multiple Meanings
There may be times when a user searches with a term that can have multiple meanings, like our previously mentioned example about searching the term “Amazon”.
In the case of such search queries, Google does one of the following two things:
- Display the popular results: In the case of the “Amazon” search query, most first page results will contain links to the eCommerce website as most search queries with that term are looking for the website
- Display all possible results: In other cases, the search engine will display results for all possible intents behind a search term. An example of this was seen in the screenshot displaying the results of the query “build an eCommerce website”. Similarly, when you search for the terms “photo apps” the search results will contain links to photo app editing app tools like Photoshop, along with links to articles about top photo apps and how to choose the best photo editing app.
Now that we know what search intent is and what the various types of search intents are, it is time to learn how to optimize your website and content for search intent performance.
Optimizing For Informational Search Intent
As discussed earlier, informational intent lies behind search queries initiated by users that are simply looking for information.
In most cases, search queries with informational intent contain the following terms:
- How to
- How can I
- What is
- How does
A general guideline to create content for informational search intent is to think about the various questions your audience may have about/related to your product/industry.
So, most of your titles for informational queries should include two elements:
- Niche-specific term
For instance, for an Internet marketing company, a good target of keywords would be “How To Create A WordPress Website” or “Why Your Business Needs A Website”.
The content types that work best for informational queries are:
- How-to articles
- Explainer videos
- Articles that talk about the benefits of products/services/processes
When creating content for informational queries, make sure that you don’t limit yourself to your own blog or website. Reach out to other top blogs and websites in your niche and share your knowledge there.
This way, you will get more backlinks, more visibility, and will also be able to position yourself as an authority (since you will be featured on top industry blogs).
Optimizing For Navigational Search Intent
Users searching with navigational intent have already realized that they have a need and are looking for the best solution to satisfy their needs.
Most navigational search queries contain the following terms:
- Brand names
- Product name
- Service name
- Brand/Product/Service “Reviews”
- Directions to
- Product/Service Near me
Optimizing for navigational queries can be a little more complex than optimizing for informational queries, especially if the navigational query contains a brand name. This is because the search engine will first display the results for the website of the brand mentioned in the search query. With that said, you must optimize for search queries that may contain the name of your brand.
The following content types work best for navigational search queries:
- Product demos
- Conversion-focused landing pages
- Comparison articles
Optimizing For Transactional Intent
Transactional intent is when a user is searching for a product or service that they are ready to purchase. These queries are most likely to drive ROI and should be taken very seriously. Chances are, that your website already has the pages that satisfy transactional search intent.
These pages include:
- Product pages
- Pricing pages
- Appointment setup pages
- Sales pages
It is important to pay careful attention to the user experience of these pages to ensure they are optimized to convert interested prospects into paying customers or at least into sales qualified leads.
Understanding the intent behind a search query, and optimizing your website to serve this intent is perhaps one of the easiest ways to improve your website’s search engine performance. We hope that this article has helped you understand search engines to an extent that you can start optimizing for it.
If not, feel free to drop your questions in the comment section and we will definitely get back to you.