Search Intent 101

23 February 2022 6 min read

By Blank Theory

Are you having difficulties ranking on Google and other SERPs? You’ve optimised keywords and backlinks, as well as produced unique content, so why is your page not ranking? Most of the time, the reason is as simple as a mismatch between your keywords and search intent.

Marketing connects people to the products and services they need. To be effective at this, you need to have a good understanding of your customers’ needs. This is where search intent comes in.

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent, or user intent, involves not only understanding what your customers are searching for but, mainly, it’s about asking “Why?” To put it simply, search intent is the main goal behind a user’s online search. It could be informational, commercial, navigational or transactional.

Let’s use an example: suppose you’re hungry and want dinner. So you look up “spaghetti”. Most likely, a number of spaghetti recipes will appear with this Google search. But then you don’t really feel like cooking, and you’d much rather eat at a restaurant. So, you change your search to “spaghetti near me.” But once you step outside, you realise how bad the weather is — it’s definitely a night for takeaway. So, you change your search to “spaghetti delivery.”

Each search, even though they were all about spaghetti, was asking for different results. Google interpreted your first search as wanting to learn how to cook spaghetti. However, the second search focused on restaurants that serve spaghetti. Your third search only brought up results relevant for having spaghetti delivered to your home. This is search intent in action.

3 Key Benefits of Understanding Search Intent

Google’s (and other search engines’) goal is to provide users with the most relevant and valuable information, according to their search intent. Therefore, optimising content according to users’ search intents can help you achieve the following.

1. Find Effective Keywords

Users signpost their intent with descriptive or active words. So, instead of searching for “spaghetti,” you search for “spaghetti delivery near me”. This is called a long-tail search. Some SEO strategies suggest avoiding long-tail keywords because the search volume is usually low. However, this also means less competition. More importantly, long-tail search users are more likely to be qualified leads, leading to higher conversions.

2. Broaden Your Reach Across Funnel Stages

The more precise your content is for particular search intents, the more users you can reach. What’s more, you can get them at different stages of the funnel, from those researching a product or a solution to those already looking to convert. You can increase your chances of reaching them all by focusing your efforts on matching their search intent.

3. Improve Your Rankings

Since Google’s primary goal is to connect people with the information they seek, the pages that rank highest are those that Google believes match the user’s intent. Once you satisfy the user’s intent, they’re more likely to stay on your website and explore your content and offerings, increasing your click-through rate and reducing your bounce rate

Also, Google can identify multiple queries and searches with the same topic and intent. So even with reworded queries, your intent-optimised page will be visible, as long as it meets the search intent.

3 Tips for Identifying & Optimising User Search Intent

There’s no doubt then that narrowing down your users’ search intentions is highly beneficial. But how exactly do you go about it? And how do you make sure you nail it?

1. Build On Your Existing Keywords

Your current SEO work doesn’t need to go out the window when you decide to refine for user search intent. In fact, already having keywords in mind gives you a great jumping-off point. All you need to do is see how users are searching with these keywords.

The best way to do this is to try searching for yourself! Type your keywords into Google or another search engine and look at the top results (make sure you go incognito mode to avoid false data as a result of cached searches). Compare SERPs with organic results: are the intents the same or different? Chances are, there’ll be consistency between all these results. For instance, they may all have a commercial intent — the user is looking to buy a product. You can then tweak your keywords and content to better meet the needs of this intent.

2. Avoid Trying for 2 Intents at Once

Sometimes, you’ll come across keywords that can actually have 2 user intents. For instance, a user may search for “best TV 2022”. They may be looking to purchase a new TV (commercial) or to learn about the most-anticipated shows of the year (informational). While you could aim to satisfy both user intents, it’s highly unlikely to work. This is because the 2 intents are so disparate — if you were looking to buy a TV, you’re unlikely to want to know about the upcoming “Lord of the Rings” TV series, and vice versa. 

Focus on the intent that is most appropriate for your site and brand, and tailor your content accordingly. You can then also explore related long-tail keywords, as well as enhance the depth of your content, to best cater to users with that search intent.

3. Present Content to Match Search Intent

Speaking of tailoring content, you can determine the best method for presenting that content based on your user’s search intent, particularly if you’re chasing informational search intents. Again, you’ll need to do some Google sleuthing, paying particular attention to SERPs and high-ranking results. 

Look for similarities in content structure, style or format. As these are top-ranking results for the keyword, you can safely assume that this is how users are wanting to satisfy their search intent. For instance, you may find that users searching for “how to replace a light bulb” prefer a video over a written step-by-step list. On the other hand, users searching “how to make potato bake” are looking for a written recipe to follow at their leisure. 

Once you have your consensus, it’s time to rework, reformat and rejig your content. Depending on your time and budget, you may be able to extensively re-develop your content to suit the preferred content style. Alternatively, you may be able to tweak the keywords to keep the same search intent but shift the required content style. For example, you could change “how to replace a light bulb” to “why replace a light bulb”, and the user intent would remain informational, but the preferred content style would move from a video to a list. Be careful, though, as you still need to ensure the content is relevant for your site and keywords.

What’s Old Is New Again & Just as Important

‘Search intent’ may be a new term coined for digital marketing practices, but it’s based on an old-aged marketing concept: “What does your consumer need?” Knowing your target market and their needs can help you identify the keywords to meet their intent, and create SEO content that reaches and serves them effectively. You can then reap the benefits of your hard work.