MENU

Search Intent: Optimize Your Content to Rank Higher In SERPs

To rank high in search engine results pages, you have to satisfy search intent with your content. Read on to find out what search intent is and how to optimize your content for it.
Estimated Read Time:  17 minutes
Array

When writing content that ranks on search engines, SEOs and marketers focus on things like keyword research, backlinks, and on-page SEO. While these factors do contribute to how well your content ranks on search engine results pages (SERPs), they’re not the most important things to look out for.

The most important factor that determines how well your content performs on the SERPs is search intent.

In this article, we’ll explore:

  • what search intent is
  • why search intent is important in SEO
  • the different types of search intent
  • how to optimize your content for search intent
Table of Contents

What is search intent?

Search intent, or user intent, refers to the goal a person has when they type a query into search engines, such as Google or Bing. It is the ‘why’ behind each search query.

Does the user want to learn more about something? Do they want to buy something? Are they trying to compare two products? Or are they looking for a specific website?

For example, the intent behind searching for “what is roofing” is different from searching for “the best roofing materials”, “most affordable roofing contractors”, and “Premium City Roofing”.

Although all these queries revolve around roofing, they don’t have the same end goal.

The first query denotes that the user doesn’t know much about roofing and wants to learn more about it. The “best roofing materials” query shows that the user knows what roofing is and is looking for the best materials for it. The third query implies that the user is in need of roofing services and is looking for affordable contractors to hire. And the last query shows that the user is looking for information about the company, Premium City Roofing, specifically.

Why is search intent important in SEO?

The major goal for Google is to show users relevant results. Over the past two decades, the engineers at Google have improved their algorithms and machine learning models to rank pages that best answer a user’s search query. In fact, the most recent edition of Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines has a whole section on how much it prioritizes user search intent.

Google Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

No matter how great your keywords are or how many SEO best practices you use on your website, if your content does not satisfy search intent, it won’t rank. So if the search intent behind a keyword is to learn more about a subject, but your article is a page that only talks about your product and how great it is, your piece won’t rank.

Apart from ranking higher in search results, creating content that matches search intent can also generate viable leads for your business. Anton Konopliov, the founder of Redline Digital knows this all too well. “You can design targeted content pieces that address your customers’ specific pain points, allowing you to strategically position yourself front and center,” Konopliov says. “Because you’ve done a stellar job of meeting users where they are, you’ll draw in high-quality traffic and leads who are very likely to click on your CTAs or make a purchase.”

The four types of search intent

1. Informational intent

Informational, or “Know” intent, means that the searcher wants to learn more about something. They’re looking to expand their knowledge on a specific topic or they want an answer to a question they have.

Some examples of informational search queries are:

  • “what is landscaping”
  • “how to install outdoor lighting”
  • “summer lawn care tips”
  • “how to install floor tiles”
  • “window blinds”
Say, you wanted to learn more about window treatments. So you googled “window treatments”. Here’s what you’ll find:
Window Treatments

Notice how Google pulled up articles that featured different kinds of window treatments you can choose from. The algorithm deduced from your query that you didn’t know much about window treatments, so it brought up results that explained it.

Interestingly, Google’s algorithms are so advanced that they can deduce exactly what kind of information a person is looking for even when they don’t include it explicitly in their query. For example, when someone types in “nursery designs”, Google’s algorithm pulls up different designs of a baby’s nursery. This is because it has determined that most people who search for “nursery designs” are looking for a baby’s nursery, not a classroom for preschoolers.

Nursery Designs

Informational content, or top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content, is an integral part of a business’s content marketing strategy. “Although informational content does not always generate conversions, they’re a great way to increase brand awareness and position yourself as a subject matter expert,” says Simon Tokic, the co-founder and Managing Director at Mindmethods. “When your TOFU content later leads your target audience to your business, the likelihood for conversion naturally increases.”

Navigational, or “Go” intent, means that a user is trying to visit a specific website or webpage. The user already knows what they’re looking for, but instead of typing the URL in the search address bar, they just use the normal Google search function to find it. For example, someone can search for “plumbing navigators” on Google, instead of visiting plumbnav.com. Sometimes, searchers are not sure of the exact URL of the site or it might just be easier to google it.

Some examples of navigation search queries are:

  • “ernest construction consultation”
  • “premium city roofing”
  • “bechtel”
  • “driving directions to fluor corporations”
  • “contractor gorilla blog”

As you may have noticed, most navigational search queries are branded keywords or company names. So you want to ensure that your website can be found when someone searches for your company’s name on Google.

Here’s how a navigational search query works. Say, you want to hire an interior design company for the new house you just bought. A friend recommended Kelly Behun Studio since you’re not sure of the exact URL, you type in “kelly behun studio” into Google.

Here’s what pops up:

Kelly Behun Studio

Notice how the first result is the link to Kelly Behun’s website itself. Underneath it, Google put links to other social media platforms and publications that Behun’s work has been featured in.

3. Commercial intent

Commercial, or “Do” search intent, shows that a user has the intention of buying something in the near future. They have gathered adequate information about what they want to buy, so now they want to weigh their options and find the right product for their needs.

Here are some examples of commercial search queries:

  • “plaster ceiling vs gypsum ceiling”
  • “best led light strips for bedroom”
  • “bechtel”
  • “ispring whole house water filtration review”

Although many commercial search queries have branded keywords, some have localized (or non-branded) terms, such as “best contractor companies in Texas”, “plumbers in Los Angeles”, and “roofers near me”.

Here’s what commercial intent looks like in action. Say, you want to paint your house and you’re having trouble choosing between paintbrushes and rollers. So you google, “paint brushes vs rollers which is better”.

Paint Brushes vs Roller

Notice how the search results feature independent reviews from people who’ve used both brushes and rollers. Google knows that you’re having trouble picking one, so it shows you these reviews to help you make the right decision.

Note: If you’re a brand, it can be difficult to rank for commercial keywords related to your business because Google favors reviews published on third-party pages.

4. Transactional intent

Transactional, or “Buy” intent shows that a user wants to take an action that you want them to take as a business owner. Although the word “transactional” implies purchases, queries with transactional intent aren’t restricted to only purchases. For instance, a user who searches specifically for your free tool with the intention to download it has transactional search intent.

In cases like this, the user knows exactly what they want to buy or sign up for. They’ve done their research on it and are now looking for the best prices and places to get it.

Examples of transactional search queries are:

  • “buy pex pipes”
  • “heil air conditioning discount codes”
  • “price of fronius solar inverter”
  • “bathroom remodeling price”

Say you wanted to sign up for the newsletter of a window treatment company called “Budget Blinds”. All you have to do is search for “budget blinds newsletter”.

Here’s what’ll pop up:

Budget Blinds Newsletter

Because your search is so specific, Google pulls up the link to sign up for the newsletter right away. It doesn’t pull up the link to Budget Blinds’ blog or contact form.

How to determine search intent

The most common way to determine a keyword’s intent is through the keyword itself. Some search queries carry modifiers that instantly tell you which of the four intent types that query belongs to.

For example, many information search queries take the form of questions, with modifiers like what is, why is, why will, where is, who is, and how does. Others have different modifiers, such as how to, guide to, X tutorial, etc. Navigational search queries usually have modifiers like login, contact, faq, training, directions, course, chrome extension, demo, academy, webinar, etc. before or after the branded name.

Because commercial search queries show that the user is trying to make a buying decision, they have modifiers like best, review, X vs Y, alternatives, comparison, SaaS, etc. And transactional search queries use modifiers like buy, get, rent, order, coupon, discount code, cheap, pricing, free trial, cost, and estimate.

While it’s easy to determine search intent this way, it’s not always reliable because not all search queries have modifiers.

For example, if you look up “bar” on Google, you’ll see that the SERP is a mix of articles about a place where drinks are sold, a long piece of wood, and the law profession.

Bar

You can only choose which one you’ll write about depending on your niche. Even then, that search query alone can’t tell you what kind of information you should include in the article. Or what people want to know exactly. Or what format you should craft your content in.

In cases like this, you’ll need to do a proper SERP analysis to determine the search intent of your keyword. If you’re handling a large number of keywords or running a marketing team, you can use an SEO tool like SEMRush or Ahrefs to do this. But if you choose to do the analysis manually, here’s how you’d go about it.

1. Search for your keyword on Google and study the SERPs

The first step to doing a SERP analysis is to search for the keyword and see how the SERP is set up. Google tends to show certain features depending on search intent, so you can use the presence (or lack) of these features to infer the intent of a query.

For example, featured snippets (like the one below), videos, and maps are most likely to appear when the query is informational.

How to Draw Building Plans

When Google pulls up a company’s URLs, blog posts, ads, tweets, or YouTube videos, the query likely has navigational intent.

Gensler

Google usually brings up ads, shopping results, booking tools, and carousels for queries that have transactional intent.

Armored Cable

2. Visit the top results on the SERPs

While SERP features can tell you a thing or two about search intent, nothing beats actually visiting the top-ranking pages and seeing exactly why they’re ranking so high. Studying the articles themselves will let you know just how deeply they cover the subject matter, the angle they use, and how you can create even better content.

Take this article from Livspace on designing an exquisite foyer. It’s on Google’s featured snippets for the search query: how to design a foyer. The search query itself clearly shows informational intent.

Livspace

The writer opens up with a short intro that tells the reader what the piece is all about. Then they cover the types of foyer designs there are.

The writer then moves on to the meat of the article — beautiful foyer designs. They included 19 pictures of expertly designed foyers and explained why each one is appealing to the eyes and style of the client.

But they didn’t stop there. They went on to give a couple of tips on how to design a good foyer, before rounding up the piece with an outro that encouraged readers to get in touch with the business for their design needs.

What does studying this article tell you?

For one, you now know that for your article to rank for that keyword, you’ll need to include a lot of foyer pictures and explain why they’re part of your list. Second, you may need to cover more than just foyer design ideas, just like the Livspace writer that covered the types of foyer designs and tips for designing a great foyer.

Now that you know what it took for Livspace’s article to rank, you’ll know how to craft an article that is more practical and valuable to your readers.

3. Check the People Also Ask box

In Martin’s lead generation article, you noticed that she covered more than just lead gen tactics. Whenever you need more ideas as to what people might be looking for in an article, Google’s People Also Ask feature can help you.

Design Home Bar

This section contains questions that searchers are asking related to the keyword you’re trying to rank your content for. When you click on the caret next to a question, more related questions pop up.

Ashley Cummings, freelance writer and CMO of Reading With RIK, uses the PAA feature during research. “One of the best ways to optimize for search intent is to engage in research before writing an article. I like to look at the commonly asked questions on Google. This helps spark ideas on how I should format my outline and what topics I need to cover.”

In the SERP image above, the search query is “how to design a home bar”, which denotes informational intent. In the PAA box, you can see that people are asking about the elements of a bar layout, the recommended size of a home bar, and what you can put in a home bar. These are questions you could answer in your content.

4. Look through social media

This is a step that many people ignore, but social media can be a great way to determine search intent and mine ideas. Anthony Martin, the founder and CEO of Choice Mutual, perfectly explains how social media can help with search intent identification.

“Platforms like Facebook and Reddit can be incredibly valuable ways to discover what people are looking for and why they are looking for it,” Martin espouses. “These sites offer users a place to speak frankly about what’s bothering them and what problems they are looking to solve. Take note of the questions people are asking, and create content that answers these questions concisely.”

Martin’s right. Facebook groups, Quora, Twitter threads, and subreddits are great places to find questions people ask and why they ask them. This can inform your content ideation and creation process invaluably.

How to optimize your content for search intent

Once you’ve identified search intent, optimizing your content for it won’t be difficult. All you have to do is ensure that your article aligns with the 3 Cs of user search intent — content type, content format, and content angle.

1. Content type

Whenever you search for something on Google, the results that pop up can be divided into categories like blog posts, product pages, landing pages, and category pages, to name a few.

For instance, the top search results for “hvac marketing” are all blog posts.

HVAC Marketing

But the search results for “buy floating chandeliers” are eCommerce category pages.

Buy Floating Chandeliers
The search results for “buy ½ inch glass clamps” are mostly product pages because we’re searching for a specific product.
Buy Glass Clamps
Before crafting your content, look up the keyword in Google first and identify the most common content type in the search results. Then create content that aligns with that.

2. Content format

Next, look at the format of the top-ranking pages for your keyword,

Some common content formats include:

  • How-to guides
  • List posts (or ‘listicles’)
  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • Product comparisons
  • Product reviews
  • Opinion pieces

Your job is to create content that aligns with the formats of top-ranking pages. So if step-by-step tutorials pop up when you look for your keyword, write a step-by-step tutorial. If Google brings up list posts for your query, create a list post. And if you find how-to guides, write a how-to guide.

Since these pages are already ranking, it’s wise to create content that can easily fit in and potentially outrank them.

For example when you search for construction website design the top results show listicles so we created a listicle style blog post to match the intent.

Note: The content format factor mostly applies when the search queries/keywords carry informational or commercial intent. That’s because blog posts tend to rank for these pages. For navigational and transactional queries, focus on optimizing your website landing pages, category pages, and product pages respectively.

3. Content angle

Content angle refers to the unique selling point of a webpage that shows what people value when they search for a specific query. For example, if you search for “how to automate your house”, you can see the different, but similar angles other people took when writing their posts.

Home Automation

You’ll see “DIY home automation guide for beginners”, “room-by-room guide to home automation”, and “78 home automation ideas” on the SERPs. You can choose any angle, but ensure that it aligns with the larger need of the searcher.

If you search for a transactional query like “buy plumbing pipes online”, you’ll see that many retailers included phrases like “pipe fittings” and “PVC” in their “Plumbing Pipes” category page. This infers that many people who want to buy plumbing pipes online want to do fittings too. So if you sell those pipes, you might as well include similar phrases in your page’s SEO title.

Buy Plumbing Pipes

Just like content type and content format, the key to optimizing for content angle is to follow the crowd. You don’t have to copy exactly what they do, but if most of them pitch certain items in their title tags, content, and meta descriptions, try it too.

Increase your rankings by fulfilling search intent

Search intent is, hands down, the most important SEO ranking factors. If your content doesn’t answer your audience’s questions, your chances of ranking high in the SERPs are slim to none.

With the recent update to their search evaluator guidelines, it’s near impossible to “trick” Google with low-quality content. And even if you do manage to rank with bad content, Google algorithms will figure it out soon enough and your rankings will tank.

If you want your site to rank for a long time, you have to fulfill your audience’s search intent. That’s the best way to stay in Google’s good books.

Rob R

Rob R. - Writer

Rob is a seasoned digital marketing expert with a passion for writing. With over a decade of experience in the industry, Rob has successfully implemented digital marketing strategies for numerous high-profile clients across various construction trades.

Rob's commitment to innovation and his relentless pursuit of excellence have earned him a reputation as one of the most respected and sought-after digital marketing experts in the construction industry.

Do you have a question or are you interested in working with our team?
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.