Exploring Search Intent for SEO

Search intent is a significant influence for SEO, especially since Google shifted from answering questions to focusing on users’ search journeys in its search results.

Search journeys are based on user intent and context; so, in the case of Google, it considers whether or not the user has previously searched for this information in order to deliver results matching their position in the buyer journey.

Not only does Google show the most accurate search results this way, but it also helps lead the user down the path to conversion.

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It’s helpful for the user, for Google, and businesses using search intent for SEO. But what exactly is search intent, and how does it connect businesses with the right users in search?

Let’s explore.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent focuses on the current needs, wants, behaviors, and feelings of the user as they use search engines. Businesses can anticipate the user’s search intent based on search queries, which indicate their position in the buyer journey. For example, the search query “how do you create a spreadsheet” reveals the user is looking for information; whereas the search query “buy [brand] spreadsheet software” shows the user is ready to make a purchase.

Search intent is organized into three categories:

  • Informational, such as “how-to” searches
  • Transactional, such as “buy [product]”
  • Navigational, such as “[brand]”

Why Does Search Intent Matter for SEO Purposes?

Businesses leveraging SEO want their web pages to show up first for specific search terms in search results. Optimizing website pages is important, but unless your target audience is searching for that content, then all your hard work goes unnoticed.

However, by understanding which search terms, your audience is using and how this aligns with search intent, you can create content that puts you in front of consumers at all stages of the purchasing cycle.

No matter where users are at in their journey, your content shows up in search results because it most accurately answers their search queries.

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Exploring Search Intent Categories

Now that you know why search intent is critical for SEO let’s look at each of the three categories to get a better understanding of how they fit in with your search strategy.

Informational

Searchers in this group are at the beginning stages of their search journey. They may be researching topics, looking for inspiration, or trying to get instructions.

Search terms are more generic, non-branded, and geared toward discovery.

Remember, users may not even be aware of your brand at this point, or that your business offers a solution for them.

When you write content for informational searches, consider how you can best answer the searcher’s question or need. Conversions at this stage are minimal, so you won’t need to use strong language.

The critical step here is to get ranked in search engines for these generic search terms so that you can stay in front of searchers at this early stage.

By providing helpful information, you can even earn a top spot in search results with a Featured Snippet, as HubSpot did with “how to write a blog post”:

searchresult

Source: Google Search Results

Transactional

Once a searcher is in the transactional stage of the buyer journey, he or she is ready to make a purchase. They have finished their research, looked at reviews and recommendations, and now it’s just a matter of the final transaction.

Whether that means placing an order or signing up for the free trial depends on your business goals, but your keyword research will reveal which search terms you should be targeting.

Examples could be “hubspot subscription” or “buy hubspot membership.” Search terms are often branded, but not always, and are much more specific than terms used in the informational stage.

As you write content for users in the transactional stage of the journey, keep in mind the ultimate goal is conversions. Page content may be shorter and more concise with strong calls-to-action (CTAs). You may want to include testimonials or reviews to remind consumers why they chose your brand.

HubSpot is ready for consumers who are ready to sign up:

hubspot

Source: Google Search Results

Navigational

Searchers in the navigational stage of the buyer journey are aware of your brand and have a destination in mind: your website.

Their search terms show it, too, because they are direct, branded, and highly specific.

For example (and maintaining our examples), “hubspot” helps Google serve up the most accurate search results:

hubspot2

Source: Google Search Results

With navigational search intent, we don’t have to worry about brand awareness. It’s all about occupying as much real estate as possible in search results – including paid ads, organic search, knowledge graphs, and social media profiles – so that consumers have no trouble finding you when they’re looking for you.

Do you have the right knowledge that helps your website top the search engine ranks? Well take up answering this SEO Online Test and assess yourself.

Next Steps

Now that you are familiar with search intent and how it affects SEO, your next task is keyword research. In this phase, you’ll want to consider how many people are searching for specific keywords, what the competition is like, and how these align with the intent of users.

Once you have chosen keywords, you can “bucket” them into the three search intent categories, and start writing your optimized content, so you show up at every single stage of that valuable journey to conversion. 

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About the Author

Rob SandersRob Sanders

Rob Sanders is a digital marketing veteran with over 20 years of experience. During that time, Rob has helped a wide range of companies utilize new and emerging technologies to increase sales and profitability. As founder of RSO Consulting, Rob helps clients maximize their digital marketing efforts via SEO, SEM, SMO, and Web Analytics. He is responsible for many facets of the web analytics value chain, from identifying business goals and objectives to developing strategies and translating those into Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Rob also teaches digital marketing and analytics classes throughout the U.S. and abroad. As a contributor for Simplilearn, Rob creates expert thought leadership content on a variety of digital marketing and analytics topics.

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