Search Intent: What Is It & How Can You Use It For Your Business?

October 2, 2019
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The keywords consumers type into search engines can tell you a lot about what they're looking for—but they can also be misleading.

Let's say, for example, that you have a dog grooming business, so you choose "dog grooming" as a keyword.

Here's the problem:

Some of the people who enter that keyword have zero interest in buying your company's products and services; they may instead be looking for instructions on how to groom their dogs themselves. Others might be thinking about a career as a dog groomer and are looking for facts about the profession. Still others might simply be curious about what dog grooming entails.

The point is, what someone types into Google doesn't always tell you the purpose of their search. That purpose is called "search intent" (or "user intent"), and understanding how it works is critical to enhancing your SEO and content strategy.

Search Intent: Definition

To get a better grasp on what search intent is—and why it's important to your digital marketing strategy and your business—check out this useful definition from SEMrush:

Search intent, sometimes also known as keyword intent, is the ultimate goal of the person using a search engine... Since people look for, process, and use search results differently based on their ultimate goal, understanding and optimizing for search intent is hugely important for SEO (and digital marketing in general).

Simply put, incorporating search intent into your SEO strategy can take your digital marketing to the next level. Specifically, understanding your users’ search intent will help you:

  • Refine your keyword selection, e.g., what keywords to target and create content for
  • Better allocate your writing resources
  • Create more personalized content that aligns with your target audience’s interests and needs

The 4 Types of Search Intent

People enter keywords into Google and Bing with a purpose in mind. Although those purposes are many, they generally fall into one of four categories:

  1. Navigational intent: Searchers with this type of user intent are looking for a specific website or webpage. For instance, this could be a user typing “gmail” or “facebook” into Google rather than entering the URL directly into their browser. Searches with a navigational intent are among the most common.
  2. Informational intent: These users are looking for information. Queries of this nature may be framed as questions (e.g., “how to write a check”) or as broader phrases (e.g., “biggest hot air balloon festival”). Users do not plan to make a purchase with these searches.
  3. Transactional intent: A search with transactional intent indicates the user’s desire to complete a transaction; that includes searches like “buy used car,” “bowling groupon,” and “cheap iphone repairs near me.” This category also encompasses flight, hotel, restaurant, and ecommerce searches.
  4. Commercial investigation intent: You can think of this type of search intent as a hybrid between informational and transactional intent. Searches of this nature reflect the likelihood that someone will eventually make a purchase—in the meantime, users are simply looking for more information about a product, e.g., “best travel rewards credit cards.”

What are the main benefits of leveraging search intent?

Simply put, understanding search intent means understanding what users are looking for. And by incorporating this insight into your content strategy, you can ultimately draw more qualified leads.

Remember that it’s the quality of your traffic that matters—not the quantity. Hundreds of visitors with misaligned intent are less meaningful than a small handful looking for exactly what your website offers. Producing content that your target audience wants means more relevance—and users will be more likely to click on your page as a result.

Leveraging search intent is also advantageous from an SEO standpoint, as it can improve the following four metrics:

  1. Bounce rate: Bounce rate refers to visitors to your website that exit after viewing only a single page. A high bounce rate reflects poorly on your website, and can indicate several things: users aren’t engaged by your site, whether because its content does not align with their needs or it is of low quality; or your web design does not invite users to further explore it.
  2. Page views: In general, the longer someone stays on your site—and the more pages they visit—the more engaged they are with your site. A higher number of page views may also be indicative of an intent to convert. For example, this could be a user who came across your ecommerce store on Google and is now looking at several of your products.
  3. Conversions: Conversions refers to prospects and leads taking the action you want them to take, like subscribing to your newsletter or buying one of your products. If your content aligns with users’ search intent, they're more likely to take these desired actions.
  4. Search ranking: Search engines aim to deliver the most useful and relevant results for users based on their search queries. Optimizing your content with search intent in mind means making your content more relevant to specific queries. In other words, your rankings for your target keywords may improve.

5 Ways to Incorporate Search Intent into Your Optimization Strategy

Understanding the different types of search intent will improve your content marketing efforts so that you can score more visitors and leads.

Follow the tips below to improve your content’s search intent optimization.

1. See what currently ranks at the top of search results

Some search phrases are ambiguous. For instance, the phrase “best wine coolers” could refer to:

  • Popular homemade wine cooler recipes, the drink generally made from wine and juice
  • Highly rated appliances made for storing wine bottles in lower temperatures

When this is the case, how do you identify the intent behind a particular search phrase?

Easy—check out what content currently ranks highest for these ambiguous phrases. The top-ranking pages will provide a sense of what Google finds most relevant for a given search term, and you can then create content that aligns.

In the case of “best wine coolers,” Google interprets this to mean the best refrigerators for storing wine.

best wine coolers Google screenshot

Of course, you’ll have to remember that search results regularly fluctuate. What ranks #1 on Google for a certain phrase may fall to the third or fourth page of search results half a year from now. Use a tool like Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to investigate whether search results have changed drastically or remained static over time.

2. Consider what your target audience is looking for

When generating new blog ideas, be sure to consider your target user’s needs and interests.

At first glance, keywords like “DIY shelves” and “decorating on a budget” may seem perfect for a blog about home decor. But if such a blog focuses on more upscale interior design, then these terms may be a big miss, as the intent behind “DIY shelves” and “decorating on a budget” suggests the user’s desire for thriftiness.

Try to get into the mind of your audience—or if it’s easier, into the shoes of a single user persona. Whether they’re looking for information on a particular subject or intend to carry out a specific action, what are the queries they’d enter into Google?

3. Incorporate search phrases into your page title, headers, and meta description

Say you run an ecommerce store specializing in natural and organic beauty products. Through keyword research, you’ve identified the search phrase “best natural makeup brands” and want to create corresponding content that informs readers of your own products.

During the content creation and optimization process, you should include the search phrase verbatim in your page. For instance, title it, “The 5 Best Natural Makeup Brands” as opposed to “The Top Organic Makeup Brands.”

While Google can recognize synonymous terms, you should optimize major page elements like your headings and meta data for your target search phrase. Include synonyms and related secondary search phrases in the body.

4. Position key information at the top or close to the top of your content

Provide what users are looking for asap in your content.

Drawing out the answer to their question or placing the products they’re looking for at the bottom of your page isn’t helpful—and it makes for a poor user experience. Exasperated users just might bounce from your page and negatively impact your site’s engagement metrics.

5. Make your CTAs clear and visible on transaction pages

Just as you should place key information at the top of your content, you should also position your CTAs prominently.

If you’re trying to get users to act on something, make your CTA text or buttons clear and readily visible. Use a contrasting color or bolding to catch the reader’s eye, and choose actionable wording like, “Learn More” or “Subscribe Now.”

Check out the ecommerce store Bliss for an example of how this might look.

Bliss homepage screenshot

Though Bliss’s website uses a uniformly bright color palette, its “Shop Now” button stands out with its contrasting yellow. And in the bottom left-hand corner, you can easily spot another button—one for signing up.


Effectively leveraging search intent is one of the best ways to enhance your digital marketing strategy, but it's not the only one. The most successful digital campaigns bring together a variety of strategies—everything from delivering relevant and valuable content to smart email and social media marketing, influencer partnerships, and pay-per-click (PPC) ads.

In this way, the importance of search intent is not that it in isolation will take your digital marketing to the next level. Rather, search intent, when effectively executed, will substantially reinforce all of your other digital strategies.

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