Search intent – sometimes called ‘user intent’ – is about understanding not only what your audience is searching for when they find your website, but also why they are conducting that search.

It’s a powerful way to learn more about how people find your website and to identify reasons why your SEO content might not be ranking as highly as you would expect.

The keyword intent of search users has become a significant ranking factor – Google doesn’t want people ‘bouncing back’ to a SERP after clicking through to a top result – so by curating your content to match audience intent, you can improve your pages’ performance.

What is search intent?

You can think of search intent as the ‘type’ of content your audience hopes to find when they conduct a search.

For example, they may be looking for a specific website, brand or company, to research a product or make a purchase, or just to find out more information about a subject – we’ll look in more detail at each of those below.

Optimising for search intent can mean completely changing the type or category of content on a page, but the results can be significant, rocketing a poorly performing page to the top five positions in the SERPs for an exact-match keyword phrase.

Are there different types of search intent?

User intent can take several different forms, and knowing which type of search intent your audience is deploying can play a big part in helping you to decide how to optimise your content.

Under Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines, search is split between 4 types: Know query, Do query, Website query, and Visit-in-person query. You may be able to recognise these through SERP analysis for your own terms or through your competitors’ pages where they may be performing better or worse than your pages in the SERPs.

Navigational Intent – Site query

At its most basic, navigational intent means using a search engine to find a specific website or webpage, rather than typing a known URL directly into the address bar of the browser.

These results are likely to consist of just a brand or company name, or the name of a public institution (e.g. a university), and so on.

It’s worth remembering that most browsers allow users to search directly from the address bar, so for many users conducting a search with navigational intent is identical to typing in a URL.

Informational Intent – Know query

Informational intent is arguably the broadest category and includes searches that are interrogative in nature, i.e. queries that contain question words like how, who, what, why, where, and when, and may end with a question mark.

The user intent behind such searches is to learn from a page like a ‘how to’ guide, a recipe, or in some cases a video tutorial or other multimedia result.

Not all searches with informational intent contain question words. In fact, Google is very clever at spotting when a user wants information about a subject, rather than trying to navigate to a specific website or find a commercial product.

Locational intent – Visit query

The visit query is directly linked to real-world locations — with the aim to visit the locations, contact them, or, more broadly, engage with the locations.

These are usually transactional in nature. For example, finding the nearest hotel on Google will then try to direct the user to book a room. This can be found with all sorts of locational intent queries.

As Google serves different results for these queries, it’s important to have pages with good quality content tailored towards local intent.

Transactional Intent – Do query

Finally, the mode of user intent that arguably matters most for eCommerce sites (including physical goods, digital goods and services) is transactional intent.

In this category are the final searches conducted by customers who are ready to buy and are looking for somewhere to make their purchase e.g. buy, download, find, etc.

Examples include specific product names and codes, and may also include contextual information such as a retailer name or an associated service like free shipping, same-day delivery, or click-and-collect.

How does keyword intent work?

Keyword intent should be a core element in any SEO strategy as you audit your content and website analytics data to see what words and phrases users are searching for when they find your site – and which of your target phrases are not performing well in your data.

There are two ways to approach optimising for keyword intent:

  1. Optimise existing content to perform better for SEO keywords with relevant intent.
  2. Create content that targets specific intents that are underrepresented across your website

In the first method, you may have a page that is not performing well for its target keywords, only to discover during your SEO audit that the highest-ranked results for those keywords typically correspond to different user intent.

By updating the page with new content written for that audience intent, you increase the page’s topical relevancy, which should help it to rank higher and also attract more relevant traffic – a win-win scenario.

In the second method, you might feel that your website is attracting too many informational or commercial investigative searches which are not converting into any sales or profit.

By producing new content from scratch with transactional intent in mind, you can start to fill in those ‘content gaps’ with sales-focused marketing pages that help to drive higher-value traffic.

Search intent best practices

Remember SEO is not solely about ranking higher or generating more traffic to your website – that traffic has to have value.

Because of this, search intent best practices should always have a commercial focus. Don’t just aim for a top five (or top three, or top one) search ranking, but bear in mind how that will help you to achieve your business goals.

Understand intent

Put yourself in your audience’s shoes: what would you be hoping to find on your website? And does this align with what you are hoping to achieve as for your customers?

If there’s a gap between the two, your website has some work to do. By publishing content that matches your audience’s intent, you can rank higher and bring more traffic to your site.

Once on your site, you can then create funnels that guide visitors towards making a purchase or completing some other defined goal that has value for your business.

Choosing keywords

User intent has huge implications for the SEO keywords you choose, which in turn should help to shape and craft the content you create (or outsource to a content marketing specialist).

Read our Beginner’s Guide on Selecting Perfect Keywords for Your Site for an in-depth look at how keyword intent influences on-page organic SEO.

Always remember that website content can be updated; so if a page is not as relevant to its audience intent as expected, it can always be revisited and revised until it’s a good match.

Avoid keyword cannibalisaiton

Keyword cannibalisation occurs when you publish too many pages containing the same primary keywords and they begin to compete against each other in the SERPs.

This internal conflict can harm your SEO and should be avoided – so it’s important to keep it in mind when publishing multiple new pages to cater to different user intents.

For more on this topic, read our blog post Getting Rid of Keyword Cannibalisation or get in touch to book an audit of keyword density across your website.

How to use search intent for your business

Search intent is not something to be afraid of, but it is something to be aware of. By auditing user intent you can unleash valuable data that directs you towards the SEO keywords, phrases and content types that will help increase ROI across your website.

This can be undertaken as part of a deep-dive content analysis strategy, with new pages published on a schedule that also factors in seasonal changes and landmark events on your industry’s calendar.

By combining in-depth knowledge of online marketing and real-world factors in this way, you can make sure to publish content that:

  • appears extremely valuable to the search engine robots
  • engages and converts your human online audience
  • corresponds to seasonal trends and time/location-specific opportunities

All of this stems naturally from user intent analysis and an appreciation that while website analytics often answer the question “how many?” quite easily, the question you really need to ask and answer is “why?”

Get in touch

At we understand that search engine optimisation means deploying multiple methods at once to produce the best possible outcomes.

From optimising your site for different devices, using the latest web standards, to creating a content schedule that caters for your audience intent, the best online marketing campaigns do it all.

To find out more about how’s technical SEO services can help you perform better on user intent, while delivering lightning-fast loading speeds on desktop and mobile alike, get in touch today.