What’s the search intent? • search engine optimisation for Rookies • Yoast

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Marieke van de Rakt

Marieke van de Rakt is the CEO of Yoast. Her main focus is on growing the company. She attaches great importance to maintaining an open and friendly corporate culture. Marieke is also heavily involved in the marketing of Yoast and with the Yoast SEO Academy, the online course platform.

SEO is one way of driving more traffic to your website. Ranking high on Google will attract more people to your website, which leads to more sales and returning visitors. In order to get people to your website, you need to optimize your content for the right words. However, to increase your chances of ranking, convince people to buy your products, subscribe to your newsletter, or even come back to your website, consider search intent. In this post we explain what search intention is and how you can optimize your content for search intention.

What is the search intent?

Search Intent (or User Intent, Audience Intent) is the term used to describe the purpose of an online search. This is why someone does a certain search. After all, anyone who researches online hopes to find something. But is someone looking for an answer to a question they have? Do you want to visit a specific website? Or are you looking online because you want to buy something? Many of these search types are part of the user journey on the Internet, but they often represent different phases.

Over the years, Google has worked hard to improve its algorithm to be able to determine people’s search intent. Google wants to rank pages that best match the search term someone is using and the search intent behind the search query. Because of this, you need to make sure that your post or page matches the search intent of your target audience.

4 types of search intent

There are several types of search intent. We’ll cover the four most commonly used:

1. Information intent

Let’s start with the information intent. Much research on the internet is done by people looking for information. That could be information about the weather, information about raising children, information about SEO, whatever. Information-seeking people have a specific question or want to learn more about a specific topic.

Information search intent example: Screenshot of Google results for the search term tomato sauceGoogle search results for the term “tomato sauce”

You should be aware that Google’s understanding of intent goes much further than just showing results that shed light on a specific term. It knows, for example, that people are looking for [tomato sauce] are most likely looking for recipes, not the sauce’s culinary history. It understands that most people type [Mercury] seek the planet, not the element. Google even understands this with some search terms, such as [how to build a bird feeder], it is useful to include videos and pictures.

2. Navigation intent

The second type of search intent is known as navigation intent. People with this intention want to visit a specific website. For example people who are looking for [Facebook] online are usually on their way to the Facebook website. So you want to make sure your website is found when someone searches for your company name online.

Navigational search intent example: Screenshot of the Google results for the search term YoastGoogle search results for the term “Yoast”

Remember, ranking high for a navigational term is especially beneficial if your website is the website people are looking for. A couple of years ago we had a Google Analytics plugin and we ranked pretty well for the term [Google Analytics]. But that didn’t bring any traffic to our site. People who are looking for [Google Analytics] were specifically looking for the Google Analytics website and were often not interested in our plugin.

3. Transaction Intent

The third type of search intent is transactional. Many people buy things online and search the internet to find the best buy. People search with transactional intent if their purpose is to buy something right now. This often means that they already know exactly what they want to buy and just want to get to the product page.

Example of transactional search intent: Screenshot of the Google search results for the IKEA PS 2014 lampGoogle’s search results for the term “IKEA ps 2014 lamp”

4. Commercial investigation

Some people intend to buy in the (near) future and use the internet for their research. Which washing machine would be best? Which SEO plugin is the most helpful? These people also have transactional intent but need a little more time and persuasion. These types of search intent are usually referred to as commercial investigative intent.

Example of commercial research intent: screenshot of the Google results for the search term best washing machines 2021Google’s search results for the term “Best Washing Machines 2021”

Keyword intent

The words people use in their searches give us some insight into what users intend to do. This also works the other way round. By formulating keywords with intent-specific words, you increase your chances of being seen by people with matching search intent.

What do we mean by intentional words? Well, transactional intent keywords often contain words like:

  • Buy
  • hand out
  • Discount
  • Product names

To give another example, informational searches may (but need not) contain words such as:

  • information
  • how one
  • the best way to
  • why

How to optimize your content for search intent

Why are we telling you all this? Because you want to make sure that a landing page matches the search intent of your target audience. When people are looking for information, you don’t want to show them a product page. At least not right away. You will likely scare them off. But if someone wants to buy your product and lands on one of your lengthy blog posts, you can lose them. In that case, you want to lead them to your shop and the correct product page.

It’s a good idea to optimize your product pages for commercially-oriented keywords. For example, if you sell dog vitamins, you can optimize a product page (category) for the search term [buy dog vitamins]. You may also have an article on vitamin administration. You could optimize this article for the search term [how to give vitamins to my dog] and target it to people with informational intent.

Research your target audience’s search intent

Sometimes it can be quite difficult to determine the intent of a query to search. And maybe different users using the same search term have (slightly) different user intent. Fortunately, if you want to know which intent best fits your keywords, there is a direct source: the search results pages. Find out how to use the results pages to create great intent-based content.

If you want to learn more about your target audience’s search intent, you can ask them too. You could take a short survey that includes questions about what people are looking for and display that survey when people visit your website. This will likely give you some valuable insight into your audience and their intentions. Make sure that you are not too intrusive with such pop-ups as it can affect the user experience on your website.

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It’s important to make sure that the content you write fits both the terms people are searching for and the search intent of your target audience. Make sure your post or page is informative when people are looking for information. Be the first to find out when someone searches for your company name. Provide content that will help people make an informed decision while they are still evaluating their options. However, direct people to your sales pages when they want to buy any of your products.

Read more: Keyword Research: The Ultimate Guide »

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