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What is Search Intent and How to Optimize Content for it in 2022?

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A good search engine has to match users’ queries to the best results possible. That is basically the primary goal of every search engine. Matching queries to the best relevant results brings up the concept of search intent (a.k.a. searcher’s intent).

At Google, the number one search engine for every SEO campaign, various algorithms are at play to achieve this goal, tailoring search engine results pages based on the searcher’s intent.

In this article, we’ll see what search intent is and why it is a cornerstone for SEO and content marketing.

What is Search Intent?

The definition of search intent is easy and simple. The purpose or the intention behind a user’s search is called search intent or searcher’s intent. To put it in simpler words, it is the answer to “why” someone searched for something!

There are also other names like audience intent, user intent, or keyword intent, but we’re going with search intent since it’s more popular.

A person is searching on the Google search engine

Users turn to Google for a reason. They conduct a search for a purpose. It could be finding the answer to some question, finding specific information, looking to buy something, etc.

Understanding the intention behind users’ search queries helps us understand what our general audience is looking for, thus providing targeted content that meets their needs and converts them into customers.

The Importance of Search Intent to SE

Google’s algorithms are designed in a way to match users’ search queries to the best results, those that are more likely to answer users’ needs. For this, Google tweaks the algorithm to constantly learn more about every content that is indexed on Google by scanning titles, texts, images, links, etc.

Google digs into the reason why the user submits a query (search intent) and tries to show the best results that are the ultimate answer to the query in question. Since the search engine algorithms are now capable of understanding the underlying meaning within the content, the matching process is much more refined and optimized.

The content that is written to answer a specific question is more likely to rank higher on search queries and key phrases related to the question rather than a simple keyword. For example, if the content is about “What is the best car under $10,000?”, it might rank better on queries like “Best affordable car” or “What car to buy for under $15,000”. It might still rank for queries like “Best car in 2022” or “Car Brand A vs. Car Brand B” but it might be deep within the pages of Google search results.

The reason is that Google knows what queries are more likely to convert and receives more clicks with specific search results. Therefore, the algorithm will place those results higher on the SERP and berries the unrelated content on other pages for users to have better options to click on the first page.

Types of Search Intent

The concept of search intent is commonly divided into four different types based. I defined them one by one, provided their main query identifiers, and mentioned some example queries.

1. Informational

Informational intent is search queries for the purpose of finding more information and learning more about something. Users with this intent are looking for information. For example, finding what the weather is like in a few hours, what a certain actor or actress did at the Oscars yesterday, or what is the direction to the nearest Starbucks.

Informational search intent

Some of the query identifiers for informational search intent are:

  • What (What is the best food to try in Turkey)
  • Who (Who is the first US president)
  • Why (Why check engine light is one)
  • Where (Where is the nearest Starbucks)
  • How (How to cook tomato soup)
  • Guides (SEO guide for 2022)
  • Template (Awesome Instagram post templates)
  • Ideas (Bedroom decoration ideas)
  • Examples (Celtic architecture photos)
  • Learn (Business tax laws in Delaware)
  • Tutorial (Adobe Photoshop tutorials)

As you can see in the examples, there are instances where the identifier is implicit in the search query, like Examples or Learn. You can, for example, search “Examples of Celtic architecture” but the natural form most users submit to the search engine is just “Celtic architecture photos” or just “Celtic architecture”.

2. Commercial Investigation

Commercial investigation is a type of search intent in which the user is trying to make a decision regarding the purchase of a product or service. Users who are looking to buy something, whether online or IRL, are looking for the best brand or type of product to purchase. They do it by searching for specific things about them, like reviews, alternatives, comparisons, and generally more information about that specific product.

It also similar to when users search for a list of businesses or places to choose from. Like choosing the cheapest restaurants near me or the best GP doctor in New York. It seems that commercial investigation is a type of search intent that helped local businesses everywhere as well.

Some of the commercial investigation search queries are:

  • Best (Best restaurants near me)
  • Top (Top gaming accessory brands)
  • Review (iPhone 13 Pro Max review)
  • Comparison (Kia Sportage vs. BMW X3)
  • Size (LG washing machine dimensions)

Like informational intent, we have some query identifiers that are not necessarily present in the query itself. Like Size or Comparison. For comparison specifically, the A vs. B structure is really popular among users who are at the last stages of making a purchase decision.

3. Navigational

Have you ever tried to find a company or brand website by googling its name? This is a search query associated with navigational search intent. It is a type of search intent that users are trying to find a website or a page within a website. It has a lot of uses. One I already told you. Finding a company website. Another is finding the correct & official URL of a website, especially financial service websites like banks, brokers, etc.

Navigational Search Intent

Also, searching for a website or company name followed by a keyword is a way to find a specific page or URL within a website. For example, if you search Nissan APR Finance, you’ll find the page you are looking for on the Nissan official website.

Search query identifiers for navigational intent aren’t anything specific. They are mostly brand names, company names, product names, or website names, either alone or followed by another keyword.

4. Transactional

When people are searching for something to purchase, their intent is called transactional intent. This is the goal of users who are down at the bottom of the sales funnel and have made their decision to buy something.

At this stage, the user knows what to buy and is just looking for the price, places to buy, deals, coupons, and other related information. Usually, the user submits a quarry that has the exact brand name and product name in it to narrow down the search to the information related to that specific item.

Transactional search intent

For example, a search query like buy Canon 80D or Canon 80D Price indicates that the user’s intent is to purchase a Canon brand camera 80D model. Also, transactional intent can be for finding discount coupons and codes for a specific marketplace or businesses where the user wants to make the purchase. It could be an online marketplace, a restaurant, a hotel, or a movie ticket.

The identifiers for transactional intent are, therefore, easy to spot. Some of the are:

  • Price (Razer BlackSharp V2 Price)
  • Buy (Buy Volkswagen Scirocco)
  • Coupon (eBay Coupons)
  • Pricing (Netflix pricing)
  • Discount (Amazon Discount codes)
  • Cheap (Cheap car)
  • Second-hand (Second-hand laptops)

There are other instances of transactional intent keywords, but these are the common ones that people often use. In addition, keywords like Cheap or Second-hand identifiers, are usually followed by a product of a broad category (like car or laptop). These are also considered transactional intent. The difference is that the user is looking for a product in a specific price range rather than a particular brand or model.

How to Optimize Content for Search Intent [5-Step]

The optimization of the website and its content to match users’ intent has proved to be a powerful contextual marketing strategy. If your content is aligned with users’ search intent, they’ll land on content that will meet their needs, providing a positive user experience.

If correctly optimized and considered the buyer’s journey on your website structure and pages, users will convert into leads and customers, no matter where they are on the sales funnel. This process is also a signal for Google that your content is relevant to the user’s search intent. So, the algorithm will rank your content higher on SERP and more traffic will drive to your website.

The process of optimizing website content and landing pages is not something new. It is similar to a general on-page SEO Optimization. The difference is that extra steps should be taken, especially during keyword research, competitor research, and users’ search intent research.

5 Step Strategy Plan to optimize website content for search intent in 2022

There are 5 steps to truly and deeply analyze and optimize content or search intent. It is a strategy that I’ve been using for the past few years and I always got the result I wanted.

Step 1: Purpose of Content

First of all, and the most important step, is to clarify the purpose of the content you have based on the 4 types of search intent.

Well, this could be either for a piece of content or the entire website. Determining the goal for writing content is usually limited to one type of search intent, but for the entire website, you have to see how deep down the sales funnel your users can go on your website.

If you selling products or services, you are dealing with the entire sales funnel, but for affiliate websites and blogs, the user stays on your website up until they made the decision to purchase something or found the information they were looking for.

It’s easy to determine the purpose of content and find out which type of search intent it serves to. You know the goal of your business and the marketing plan to drive traffic to the website. They are all operating on a purpose that could be what you want to provide content for. If in doubt, just ask your current users to complete a short survey to get more insight into what intent your content can serve well.

either way, if you know the exact purpose of your content or website, the rest of the path is going to be easy. Remember that the purpose of content should be determined before writing the actual content. Why? Because you want to start writing with the right structure from the beginning instead of going back and editing everything!

Step 2: Search Intent Research

When you clarified the goal of the content in terms of search intent, then you have to do some reason for the topic of your content and the user’s intent that leads them to such content.

This is just another version of keyword research that we are familiar with. Look for the queries and see how they lead up to content similar to yours. Look for Google search suggestions or the “People also asked” box on the results page.

In this step, you have to provide a list of keywords that are perfect for the topic and the targeted search intent. The list, then, will be useful in step 4 where you start writing the content and optimize its structure.

Step 3: Competitor Research

Another familiar thing to do, like keyword research, is to assess your competitors’ content for the keywords and search intent you are targeting.

Remember the list you created in Step 2? Good! Now go and see what the top 3 to top 5 results are. Analyze how they wrote their content. Look at their content type, tone, visual elements, CTAs, etc. See how difficult the competition is for each keyword and add the acquired information to the keyword list.

See which queries show a forum post, Reddit post, Quora post, or any user-generated content (UGC). They are valuable keywords that have very low competition that you can easily rank for, usually in a short time. Also, see which results are targeting users in regions other than the one you are targeting. They will be easy to compete with as well.

Step 4: Create the Content

With all the information gathered in the past 3 steps, you are now ready to start writing content that targets a specific search intent. The process here is straightforward. You consider all you’ve researched, analyzed, and learned, and start writing the content.

Writing content for your website involves making it simple, useful, and to the point. This requires choosing the right content type, content format, content tone & voice, text styles, visual elements, and content end-goal (or content angle).

Content type refers to the form of the content. Choosing the content type depends on the targeted search intent. Is the content a page, blog post, category page, product listing, or landing page? For example, if the user is searching for the price of a product you are selling, a price page is the content you want to write. If it is a review between X & Y products, a blog post reviewing them is the answer.

Content format is mostly for blog post content type but it also has its uses for other types as well. There are various formats to write content. The most popular ones are List Posts, How-to Guides, Reviews, Comparisons, and Tutorials. They each have their uses, especially for affiliate websites that guide users in making their decisions

Content tone & voice is the overall structure of written content. Content tone reflects your website attitude toward the topic you’ve written and what your users are reading. Depending on your targeted search intent and audience, you must choose between a formal, casual, relationship-building, or informal tone.

On the other hand, content voice reflects your website and business persona. It could be fun, entertaining, authoritative, creative, instructive, or non-biased (straightforward). This is also important since it is what engages your audience and keeps them on your website for a longer time.

Both tone and voice are crucial for your website. You have to be consistent with them because your users tend to familiarize themselves with the selected tone and voice. They like your website and content because of the tone and voice. A change in that can confuse the audience and they may leave the site without converting.

Text style refers to how your website title, text, links, and buttons. look. This is the font choice, size, color, style, etc. and they all should be suitable and easy to the eyes. Contradicting colors, high contrast colors, small or big size texts, and unrecognizable links can severely impact the user experience.

It's all about content appeal to the user

In addition, the website should be responsive since most internet users are using their smartphones to search the internet and access your website. In fact, your website design should be mobile-first. This is one of the factors that Google considers when it is ranking your website on SERP.

If you use a CMS like WordPress, customization is really easy at these levels. Even if WP doesn’t offer them by default, you can install some WordPress Plugins to get more customization options without any coding knowledge.

Visual elements are the website logo, images, graphs, infographics, videos, or anything that is not text. It is important to choose relevant images and graphics for your content. The quality and size are also important. A relevant image but in low resolution means you don’t care about your users, which leads to a lower conversion rate.

Content angle is the reason behind the uniqueness of your content. It is the selling point of the content. For example, if you are selling a product at a 50% discount, you want to tell this to the audience right away. There are two ways to show your content angle. First, in the title (or SEO title) where it will appear on the Google search results page, and second, at the beginning of the blog post, preferably with an attractive banner.

The content angle also helps with the conversion rate, turning your users into leads and customers. In the next step, we’ll talk about the conversion aspects of content.

Step 5: Convert

What is the purpose of all these search intent targetings and optimization then? It’s to make money by converting traffic to leads and customers (for business websites) or driving traffic through a referral link to make a commission off purchases (for affiliate websites).

To achieve traffic conversion and make more sales, you have to include some features and navigational items, buttons, and CTAs (Call to Action) to guide the user through the sales journey (that I like to call path to conversion. In simpler words, you have to lead the user step by step all the way to the purchase page, so the user will confidently buy whatever you are selling on your website.

For example, the journey normally begins with product general information, then leads to the content that answers Why you should buy this question (like features & reviews), and ends up at the purchase page where the user places an order and completes the purchasing process.

It’s crucial to lead the user through the path, especially if the user is in the first steps of making a decision. If done incorrectly, the user will leave, sometimes scared off by seeing that you offered to buy something immediately while the user just wanted some information!

A girl in the dark using her laptop

For CTAs, in particular, you have to go creative and stylish. CTA or Call to Action is anything that asks the user to go to the next step of making a purchase. They can be buttons, banners, links, and interactive visual elements. Make sure all the CTAs are designed in line with the website’s overall text style and theme.

Conclusion

In this article, we dive deep into the concept of search intent or searcher’s intent. It is the reason why a user searched for a particular thing on the internet. This is one of the important factors that content writers should consider before they start writing. Its impact on SEO is huge, as we talk about it here in this post.

We learned that it has four main types:

  • Informational (Finding more Information)
  • Commercial Investigation (Researching to make a purchase decision)
  • Navigational (Finding a particular website or link)
  • Transactional (Want to buy something or find good deals for it)

We also gave an example for each type followed by their search query identifiers (keywords for search intent).

Furthermore, learning about search intent is not finished unless we learn how to target search intent by optimizing the website and its content. I proposed a simple 5-step strategy to fully and deeply optimize the website content for search intent no matter whether the website is a business, online marketplace, or an affiliate site.

That’s all we learned in this article, and to be honest, that’s all there is with search intent. The rest is just experiments, research, planning strategies, and doing lots of A/B testings. If you want to truly harness the power of search intent for your website and content, then you can’t stop at learning the basics. You have to move to test and experimentation stage. This is the hardest part and I’m afraid there is no way around it.

That’s it for search intent and how to utilize it in content. If you find this article helpful and useful for your next SEO and marketing planning project, make sure to bookmark this page so you can refer to it later without the need to run a search.