Understanding Search Intent

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When people use search engines, they have needs and wants that drive that behavior. Find out what search intent is and why it should always be thought of.

Understanding search intent is a skill that all SEO practitioners should master. In this day and age, Google and other search engines have grown from something that was easily manipulated, to a complex system that now tries to understand and provide valuable search results.

Succeeding in SEO these days takes more than keywords and bloated content.

Being able to pick apart the different queries that people will search to find your business and being able to execute it flawlessly drives results.

So what exactly is search intent and how can you work it into your strategy to improve your overall search presence? In this guide, we’ll touch on the core concepts of search intent and how to use it in your SEO strategy.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is the concept of discovering what exactly a user is looking for when they use a search engine to answer their queries. It encompasses the needs and wants of people who use search engines.

Types of Search Intent

There are four categories of search intent that bucket a large amount of the different reasons that users search the web. These are a great start towards understanding search behavior.

Informational Intent

Informational intent is when a searcher is looking for information.

This could be a search about a historic figure, place, or concept.

This type of search intent focuses on answering questions and providing additional knowledge about specific topics.

More specific informational results may come up depending on the type of informational search. Like searching for recipes, how to guides, videos, etc. will pull up certain results.

Informational Search Examples:

  • LeBron James
  • Oregon
  • What is a comet

Navigational Intent

Navigational intent is when a searcher is looking for a specific website or webpage.

This is where brand identity and recognition come into play. If you have a brand that is recognizable, people can just type your business name into Google and navigate there.

Navigational Search Examples:

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Myspace

Transactional Intent

Transactional intent is when a searcher is looking to make a purchase.

Buying driven words like coupon, shop, buy, are keywords that indicate that the user knows what they want and are ready to purchase.

Transactional Search Examples:

  • Laptops
  • Shop Google Pixel 5
  • Buy Instant Pot

Commercial Investigation

Commercial investigation is when a searcher is trying to make a purchase decision and turn to the web to research their options.

This search intent will pull up review and comparison content types.

Maybe someone is having trouble choosing the right coffee maker for their kitchen. Or they have two specific products in mind to purchase, but aren’t sure which one to choose.

Commercial Investigation Search Examples:

  • Best coffee maker
  • Samsung Galaxy vs iPhone
  • Alarm clock reviews

Six Need States by Google

Another way to look at search intent is through Google’s six need states that they published in 2019. These six behaviors drive search intent, and just like the core four categories above, will give you insight into how to target potential customers effectively.

Educate Me

“Search is about competence and control. It is thorough: reviews, ratings, comparisons, etc.”

Educate me is when users go to search engines to get information. Popular searches that fulfill this need are thorough, and include things like reviews, ratings, comparisons, etc. The need state being that a user is looking to be educated on a product, so they can make an educated purchase decision.

Help Me

“Search is about connecting and practicality. It is to-the-point, and more likely to mention family or location.”

Help me is when users go to search engines to be helped. An example for this need state is “family friendly vacations”. The searcher for that query wants to be helped to provide a relaxing time for their family and to connect.

Impress Me

“Search is about influencing and winning. It is laser focused, using specific phrases.”

The impress me need state is tied into status, luxury, and a sense of importance. These things are driven by the need to be impressed and are normally specific search phrases. An example would be, “What kind of watches do celebrities wear?”

Reassure Me

“Search is about simplicity, comfort, and trust. It is uncomplicated and more likely to include questions.”

Reassure me is an uncomplicated need state that fulfills a searchers need to make the right decision. This could be something like a review video that confirms that the action camera you’ve had your eyes on is the right choice.

Surprise Me

“Search is fun and entertaining. It is extensive with many unique iterations.”

Surprise me is the need to have fun and be entertained. A search like “diy home crafts” may fall into this need state. The inclusion of “diy” can be used in different iterations and is driven by a persons need to be surprised by the things they can create, like coming across a macrame design.

Thrill Me

“Search is a quick adventure to find new things. It is brief, with just a few words and minimal back-button use.”

Thrill me is when searchers are looking for something new. An example of a thrill me fueled search could be “activities near me”. Searchers would be looking for activities in their area to satisfy their need to be thrilled.

There is definitely overlap between need states. Deducing them down to their core based on your offered services/products will lead to concise marketing.

Why is Search Intent Important?

You have a general background of the four search intent categories and Google’s six need states.

But why is this important?

Remember this: A search engine’s main objective is (or should be) to provide the best search results possible to the user asking a specific query.

If you understand what searchers are looking for and why, you can improve rankings and better market your product/service on the SERPs.

Leveraging Search Intent for SEO Strategy

Knowing about search intent is great, but putting it into action is what generates results.

Optimize Existing Pages

Look at the core pages of your website and the different keywords that you are ranking for (and want to rank for).

From there, generate a brief of what exactly the search intent is for that specific query.

Ask questions like:

  • What category does the search fall into?
  • What kind of content type or format is successful for that search?
  • What are searchers looking for?
  • What is fueling their search?
  • How can we fulfill intent as best as possible?

Asking questions like these will give you insight into what kind of changes to make to your existing content. Maybe it’s adding new sections of content, adjusting the headings and title tag, or even removing content.

By putting yourself into the shoes of the searcher, you can provide content that is direct and serves searchers well.

Use Search Intent to Influence New Content

If your existing content is performing well, the analysis of search intent doesn’t stop there. Continue to consider intent through the creation of new content.

Never forget that search engines want to provide the best results possible, and you probably do as well.

Break down targeted keywords to recognize the search intent to fulfill. Then from there, go even further to understand the searcher or your prospective customer and the content that will influence them.

If you want to really understand search intent to its roots, interview/question people that fit your target market and pick their brains on what their search journey looks like.

Key Takeaways

A successful SEO campaign isn’t easy without a deep understanding of search intent. Never forget to consider search intent when writing or optimizing content.

  • Search intent is the “why” behind people searching the web.
  • There are four buckets for search intent: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial investigation.
  • Google has six need states that help visualize search intent: educate me, help me, impress me, reassure me, surprise me, and thrill me.
  • Search engines aim to fulfill a searchers query as best as possible and so should you.
  • Optimizing existing pages and creating new content are benefited with the understanding of search intent.
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