What is Search Intent?

• updated on
September 15, 2023
Disclaimer: A few of the links you'll stumble upon here are my affiliate buddies. Meaning, if you decide to join their premium crew, I might get a little thank-you bonus – without any extra penny from your pocket! Just know, I only give shout-outs to tools and products I truly believe in and have used.

Search intent refers to the underlying goal and motivation a user has when entering a particular query into a search engine. It seeks to answer: why is someone searching this specific keyword or phrase? Recognizing the intent behind search queries is crucial for delivering pages that satisfy searcher needs.

Google and other search engines have advanced algorithms to discern patterns in language and results that indicate distinct search intents. By determining the context and objectives for a given query, search engines can better match pages that directly fulfill the user's intent.

Structuring your content strategy around core search intent types improves search visibility as Google will perceive your pages as better answering user queries. Optimization should align page content, topics, and format to user motivations.

In this guide, we will cover:

  • The key categories of search intent to optimize for
  • How to research and analyze search intent for keywords
  • Aligning website content to identified search motives
  • Using intent as the foundation of SEO and content strategies
  • Tools to gather insight into searcher intent

Understanding why a user searches a phrase and targeting content accordingly provides the foundation for succeeding in organic search. By learning to identify and cater to search intent, you gain insight that fuels strategic SEO growth.

1. The Main Types of Search Intent

There are three core categories of search intent that content strategies should optimize for:

Informational Intent

Informational keywords indicate the searcher's intent is to research, learn about, or find information regarding a topic. Typical informational queries include:

  • Broad general phrases like "what is blockchain"
  • Questions such as "how to bake cookies"
  • Research terms like "examples of impressionist painting"

Informational intent shows the user goal is to consume knowledge, deepen understanding, or satisfy curiosity on a subject.

Optimizing for informational intent involves providing comprehensive guides, overviews, explainers, and resources covering various aspects of a topic. The content's purpose is educating rather than directly promoting or selling.

Navigational Intent

Navigational keywords imply the searcher's intent is to find a specific website or named entity. Some signals of navigational intent:

  • Branded keywords like "Facebook" or "Wikipedia"
  • Domain names such as "serpbook.com"
  • Named entities like "Empire State Building"

The user goal is to directly reach a certain site or landing page.

Optimizing for navigational intent requires ensuring your site architecture makes accessing key pages simple from search. This means quality site linking, ideal URL phrasing, and optimizing page content for branded keywords.

Transactional Intent

Transactional or commercial intent indicates the searcher aims to complete some form of transaction, usually a purchase. Typical transactional queries:

  • "buy office chair online"
  • "cheapest airline tickets"
  • "download photoshop cc"

Here the user seeks to find a product, service, or information to finalize a purchase.

Optimizing for transactional intent requires focusing page content on supporting the conversion funnel and making key purchase information readily accessible. This includes pricing, calls-to-action, customer support resources, and prominent transaction elements.

Understanding the core categories of search intent helps align content format, topics, and structure with searcher motivations for better optimization. Matching pages to intent drives higher engagement, conversions, and rankings.

2. How to Determine Search Intent

Once you identify potential keywords to target, the next step is determining the likely underlying search intent for each term. Some tips:

Analyze the keyword itself

  • Does it contain transactional cues like "buy", "shop", "order"?
  • Or informational cues like "what is", "how to", "benefits of"?
  • Does it seek navigation to a brand, site, or entity?

Study the live search results

  • What types of results does Google currently surface - ecommerce products, blogs, tutorials, official brand sites?
  • Click through results to understand if they satisfy an informational, navigational or transactional need.
  • Leverage tools like MozBar to view keyword difficulty and metrics for the ranking pages.

Search Google autocomplete and related queries

  • Autocomplete results help gauge common formats and variations.
  • Look at the questions and related searches shown for additional context.

Evaluate Google Ad headlines/landing pages

  • Merchant ads with ecommerce landing pages signal commercial intent strongly.
  • Display or brand ads can indicate informational or navigational needs.

Use keyword research tools

  • Platforms like SEMrush and Ahrefs provide search volume estimates and suggested keywords that provide insight into intent.
  • Look at tools categorizing keywords by informational, transactional and navigational buckets.

Getting a sense of the dominant intent behind keywords you are targeting ensures you can provide aligned optimized content.

3. Optimizing Content for Search Intent

Once you determine the likely intent behind your target keywords, align your content accordingly:

Informational intent

  • Create tutorials, explainers, guides, and overviews on various subtopics related to the subject.
  • Focus on extensively covering details, context, insights, data, and research to educate readers.
  • Target keywords focused on learning about aspects of the topic like "how to", "what is", etc.
  • Include graphics, stats, videos, and other multimedia to demonstrate expertise.

Transactional intent

  • Ensure product/service pages prominently highlight pricing, calls-to-action, availability, key details (shipping, return policy).
  • Use keyword-focused page titles, product descriptions, alt text.
  • Target commercial keywords around buying, researching pricing, or comparing options.
  • Structure site navigation and architecture to channel visitors towards transaction endpoints.

Navigational intent

  • Optimize homepage content for branded keywords including variations like location.
  • Create obvious site-wide linking paths to home/key pages.
  • Build out branded keywords in titles, headers, URLs, and meta data.
  • Register branded keyword domains if available and consolidate to one preferred version.

Matching page content format, topics, and presentation to the searcher's underlying motive for queries demonstrates your ability to fulfill their needs.

4. Using Intent as the Foundation of SEO Strategy

Making search intent the cornerstone of your SEO and content strategies powers significant organic growth and performance lift:

Intent-based keyword targeting

Build your keyword research process around discovering target keywords by highest-potential search intent buckets rather than just volume or difficulty scores alone.

Intent-driven content mapping

Plot your overarching content strategy by mapping clusters of informational, transactional, and navigational keywords to relevant new pages, guides, and resources.

Intent-focused page optimization

Consider searcher intent as the lens for structuring and optimizing each piece of content - how you frame topics, present information, and format pages.

Intent-tailored diversification

Seek to provide a breadth of content suited for varied searcher intents - how-to's for informational, product reviews for commercial, branded content for navigational.

Intent-revealing analytics

Leverage search analytics to segment by keyword intents to uncover technological or content gaps allowing for rapid iteration and realignment.

Intent-driven personalization

For sites with user accounts and personalization, incorporate search intent filters and recommendations into site experience.

An intent-centric approach recognizes that all SEO and content decisions should ultimately map back to thoroughly fulfilling searcher motivations. Put their "why" at the core.

5. Tools to Gather Insight into Search Intent

Google Ads Keyword Planner

Google's free keyword research tool provides suggested keywords and their categorization across commercial, informational, and navigational intent buckets. This data quickly validates dominant intent for seed keywords.


Ubersuggest provides an easy-to-use keyword research tool that also classifies suggestions by informational, transactional, and navigational intent based on analysis.

SEMrush Keyword Magic Tool

Beyond extensive keyword data, SEMrush's Keyword Magic tool leverages Google's algorithm to automatically determine the search intent classification for all suggestions and targets.

Ahrefs Keywords Explorer

Alongside search volume and difficulty data, Ahrefs also provides the likely user intent - whether informational, transactional, or navigational - for all suggested keywords.

Moz Keyword Explorer

Moz's database categorizes keywords by either commercial or informational search intent to guide keyword selection and content mapping decisions.

Search Console

Google Search Console provides impression and click-through-rate data for your important head keywords that can indicate how well pages align with predominant search intent.

Leveraging these tools providing intent insights, classification, and opportunity identification can significantly streamline the research process to determine which intents offer the most potential value.

From The Author

Terry Williams

With over 10 years optimizing sites, I've boosted search visibility for brands through customized strategies. Currently, I develop effective SEO solutions for a top agency, immersed in the latest trends and innovations. Read my full bio.

Comments are closed.

Reviews of the Top SEO Tools by Industry Professionals
© 2024 SERP Focus
115 W 30th St #92802, New York, NY 10001, USA