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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Strempel

What is search intent when it comes to SEO

Updated: May 6, 2021

It’s not unknown that investing in SEO is the best way to get more traffic to your website. By increasing your ranking on Google, you can drive more views and grow your pool of customers.

But while keyword research and onsite optimization might increase traffic, these steps don’t automatically lead to more sales or regular visitors.

Most of us want to sell more, grow our subscribers, or reach a specific audience. And to make sure you target the right people with the right terms, you must also consider search intent.

Read on to find out how to optimize your website for search intent.

Search intent (sometimes referred to as user intent or audience intent) is the purpose of a user’s online search. It’s the reason behind their visit to Google, Yahoo, or a similar search engine.

Consider this...

Are they looking to research, or are they looking to purchase?

Are they looking to compare pricing or do they just want a question answered?

Are they looking for a service or are they looking for a product?

As you can tell, there are more than a handful of different search intents. And your customers won’t all have the same objective.

Google is constantly updating its algorithm to show the most relevant results to its users. We know this because it's what makes Google successful.

As a result, if you want to rank highly on the world’s most used search engine, you have to align your content with relevant terms.

To put it simply, when it comes to SEO, relevancy is everything.

Informational intent

In this case, the user is typically looking for an answer. This could be a definition, a guide, or a recipe. This doesn’t however mean all informational search terms are questions.

Examples of informational keywords:

  • “what is search intent?”

  • “George Clooney”

  • “Grand Central Station directions”

  • “lasagne”


The searcher knows their destination and is often looking for a brand name or website. This might be because they don’t know the URL or it’s quicker to search than type it in.

Examples of navigational keywords:

  • “Twitter”

  • “HSBC login”

  • “LA tourism board”

  • “Disney World website”


The user has the intent to purchase. They likely know what they want to buy, but aren’t sure of or haven’t decided upon the seller.

Examples of transactional keywords:

  • “buy iPhone 8”

  • “cheap microsoft surface”

  • “coupon for shark vacuum”

Commercial (investigation)

The research stage before a purchase. Here the user hasn’t yet made a final decision on the product or service they want to invest in. Instead, they are looking for reviews, comparisons, or more information.

This category often involves local searches such as best restaurants or nearest game stores.

Examples of commercial keywords:

  • “best gadgets under $50”

  • “top skate shops san diego”

  • “monzo vs transferwise”

  • “semrush reviews”

You might think transactional search intent is the primary type to consider. However many customers will shop around before committing to a purchase. Others may not yet know they want to buy a product and in fact, be convinced by informative content e.g. fashion blogs. And some will visit your website more than once before buying, meaning their search intent will change.

Keyword research still remains the first point of call for SEO optimization. This involves two steps:

  1. Looking at the competition - how many brands are optimizing for your keyword and how easy is it to rank

  2. Keyword search volume - how many people are searching for a particular keyword on a monthly basis

This information is easy to source and gives us an excellent base for ensuring our content is targeted.

However, there is a third part that is often overlooked. You guessed it! Many of us either forget or don’t know how to optimize for search intent, even though it’s perhaps the most important step.

Let’s explore some examples…

‘Arizona Photography’ vs ‘Arizona Photography Services’ vs ‘Arizona Photographer’

These keywords will have different intent i.e. to looking for pictures of the Grand Canyon and landscapes vs local city-based services. A photographer in Arizona will therefore want to stay away from targeting ‘Arizona Photography’ terms.

‘Electric Scooters’

There are dozens of different products that fall under electric scooters. Rental scooters, mobility scooters, and golf scooters are just some examples.


Do searchers want to know how to draw a square or are they looking for the credit card processing software?

Keywords and search volume can be found using a number of free SEO platforms such as UberSuggest. However, to determine user intent, you’ll need to analyze search results manually.

  1. Type the keyword into the search engine

  2. Look for similarities between the top results

Yes, this is a time-consuming task - but it could be the difference between attracting visitors that come to your site and immediately leave - and paying customers.

When it comes to deciding where to place different intent keywords, consider the layout of your website.

Product pages will typically target commercial and transactional intent such as ‘buy chopsticks’. Blogs will be more informative e.g. ‘how to use chopsticks’.

Download my FREE SEO CHECKLIST for more tips on how increase your rankings.

As you can see, it’s super important to research user intent when it comes to creating content and optimizing your website for SEO.

You might be able to get to the top of results for a certain keyword. But if it doesn’t fulfill the correct search intent, Google will realize and will kick you back off of the first page.

By spending time on this final step, you can avoid wasting efforts and ensure your content provides the best information for your target audience.

Find out more about how to source good SEO keywords.

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