Guest Experts ·

How to Analyze Search Intent in 2023: What You Need to Know

Brandon Leuangpaseuth
Table of Contents

    Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from Brandon Leuangpaseuth. Interested in contributing content to the Clearscope blog? Email hello(at)clearscope[dot]io.

    When it comes to ranking factors to optimize for, you can’t ignore search intent. Search engine optimization (SEO)  has evolved past just putting relevant keywords on a webpage to rank.

    You could have the most stellar piece of content, but if it does not answer the problem or query a user is searching for, Google won't care to rank you.

    So, the best SEO strategy to get more organic traffic is to produce high-quality content that answers the user intent of search queries. After reading this article, discovering and satisfying search intent will be simple to do.

    First, let's clearly define search intent.

    What is search intent?

    Search queries are the different words and phrases that users type into a search box to pull up a list of results.

    Search intent or user intent is why a user searches a query on a search engine. Often, a user is trying to find an answer or educational resource.

    For example, if someone is typing in the query, "best hot chocolate recipes", they are searching for a combination of ingredients or recipes to make a great cup of hot chocolate.

    If you are trying to rank for the keyword: "best hot chocolate recipes", you won't have much success by producing content around "What is hot chocolate" or "The history of hot chocolate"

    It simply wouldn't satisfy the user intent. Although they revolve around the same topic, the users have different search intents.

    Google's algorithm is designed to deliver the best search engine results page (SERP) to satisfy a user's query. A search engine considers several factors and data to determine the best results for a user's search query. For example, Google will show different results for an individual user based on their location, search history, device, time of day they are searching, and language.

    Before we dive into determining the search intent behind a keyword, we'll need to understand the different categories of user search intent.

    The different types of search intent

    There are four main categories of search intent for queries.

    The four different intents are:

    1. Informational Intent

    2. Navigational intent

    3. Transactional Intent

    4. Commercial Intent

    Informational intent

    The keyword intent behind informational search queries is, well, information. The user wants to get more knowledge, guidance, facts, data, or background details about a subject.

    Informational queries could be solved with a how-to guide, definition, or recipe. Specific long-tail keyword questions are typically informative.

    Keep in mind that Google understands the keyword intent for a specific term as reflected in the search results. For example, if a user types in the keyword, “Apple”. Electronics from the brand would appear on the search results rather than apples, the fruit.

    Some examples of informational intent keywords are:

    • How to lose weight

    • What is Garcinia Cambogia

    • Recipe for beef stew

    • How many Super Bowls did Tom Brady win

    • Benefits of fish oil

    SERP results for informational intent

    Let’s take a look at some of the results produced by Google for informational search queries.

    Google search for "who is Michael B Jordan".

    For more specific queries with quick answers, Google will often use a SERP feature. Users won't leave the page or continue their search journey.

    Here’s an example with the question, “Who is Michael B Jordan dating?”

    Google search for "who is Michael B Jordan dating".

    Some informational queries will also have videos in the search result to help users.

    Google search for "how to cook pasta in a microwave".

    Navigational intent

    A navigational query is when a user makes a search request to navigate to a specific website. A navigational search suggests that the user already knows the brand name or product. For one reason or another, they don't type the URL.

    Examples of navigational keywords could include:

    • eBay

    • aHrefs blog

    • Adidas running shoes

    • Google search console

    Navigational keywords can be a mix of informational and commercial investigation search intent. Your click-through rate won't be great if you optimize for navigational intent keywords. A user would not look beyond the first result of the company website.

    SERP results for navigational intent

    Here are some examples of results for navigational queries.

    Google search for "Apple".

    Google typically serves a knowledge panel or card that appears on the right-hand side of a SERP. The panel would display a short description and other relevant information about the topic.

    Transactional intent

    Transactional intent keywords are searches performed by a user to buy something. These keywords are the most valuable for any content strategy.

    For pages targeting these transactional keywords, include call-to-actions. Make it as clear as possible to take action towards buying on those landing pages.

    When it comes to SEO strategy, doing keyword research and optimizing for transactional intent keywords is more important than going after search volume.

    For instance, I've had a client who brought me on board only to increase search volume. I optimized solely for informational keywords and increased the traffic by ~20,000 users in a few months. However, the conversions from their website stayed the same.

    The reason was that almost all of my traffic came from purely informational queries and keywords. Visitors coming from informational searches are difficult to convert into paying customers.

    I've also had a previous client where I optimized the existing content and created new content for transactional searches. Within 3.5 months, I was able to increase their conversions by 700% from organic search. That shows you the power of transactional search intent keywords.

    Examples of transactional intent keywords:

    Here are some examples of transactional queries.

    • Buy scooter

    • Discount beds

    • Deals for cars

    • Free shipping for tables

    • Coupon for SEO course

    As you can see, the user has it in their mind to shop and make a purchase. They are looking around to learn more about products or to find the best deals.

    SERP results for transactional intent

    Here are some of the search results for a transactional search intent keyword.

    Google search for "mountain bike".

    Google will include SERP features that show nearby stores and eCommerce sites.

    Google search for "bicycle stores".

    Commercial intent

    Commercial Intent keywords are investigative search queries. A user is looking to learn more about brands or services.

    Although commercial intent keywords are bottom of the funnel in nature, they are not necessarily transactional intent. Transactional intent queries are where the searcher intends to buy or perform another bottom of the funnel action.

    Keywords that fall under the commercial intent category would be specific product keywords.

    Product keywords

    • Branded name searches i.e. Apple computers

    • Product reviews i.e. Macbook 2021 reviews

    • Product name

    • Product categories i.e. smartphone accessories or background lights for photography

    • Comparison i.e. iPhone vs Samsung Galaxy

    SERP results for commercial intent

    Here’s an example of a SERP generated from a commercial intent keyword.

    Google search of "Macbook 2022 reviews".

    Google will often include online buying guides and video reviews to help the user learn more about specific brands or products.

    Understanding search intent behind a keyword

    Uncover the search intent behind a target keyword before you create content. Here are some steps you can take to do so.

    There are no specific SEO tools that can tell you what a searcher is looking for. However, we can show you some tips to optimize for search intent.

    Analyze the SERP in 5 easy steps

    The SERP will give you the best idea of what the search engine understands as the search intent behind a query.

    Here's a step-by-step walk-through to use the SERP to discover the search intent.

    Step 1: Google the keyword and analyze the SERP

    The first step is to type the target keyword onto the search bar of Google.

    The SERP will inculcate the search intent.

    Let’s look at an example together with the keyword: "intermittent fasting".

    Google search for "intermittent fasting".

    Take a look at the type of intent categories below.

    Google search for "intermittent fasting".

    People wonder:

    • What intermittent fasting is

    • How it works

    • Their experiences with fasting.

    Step 2: Make a note of the types of search intent categories on the first page

    Scan each top-ranking page and note the user intent category the result falls under. Examine the top results to determine the search intent for the keyword at a specific moment in time.

    Google search for "paleo diet".

    Scan the SERP to get a good clue of what type of intent the search query is. For example, in this search query, you can tell by the results that the user is looking for.

    They are searching for:

    • More information about the Paleo Diet

    • How it works

    • Reviews for trying the diet out.

    Keyword modifiers in the content can help you infer search intent.

    Here’s a list of modifiers to indicate a certain type of search intent:


    • how

    • what

    • who

    • what

    • why

    • guide

    • tutorial

    • tips

    • examples

    • resource

    • benefits

    • Instructions


    • Specific brand names

    • Brand product pages

    • Service names

    • Locations

    • Go


    • best

    • top

    • review

    • comparison or versus

    • an attribute of a product (color or size)


    • Buy

    • Discount

    • Free shipping

    • Coupon

    • Purchase

    • Order

    • Cheap

    • Price

    • Order

    Step 3: Analyze the SERP features & featured snippets

    Scan the SERP features to infer search intent. For example, suppose Google is showing recipes or how-to video tutorials. You'd understand what the user is trying to achieve when they search for a specific keyword.

    The "People also ask" section is a handy tool to discover search intent data. First, we'll explain why this section is valuable to understand the type of search intent behind a query.

    How Google generates the "People Also Ask" section

    This section is auto-generated by Google. Google suggests queries based on its user's search history database.

    Based on the information in Google’s database, it would suggest other phrases or questions that users would subsequently type into the search engine to finish their search journey.

    Google search for "Elon Musk".

    For example, users who search Elon Musk at the time of this writing would afterward type these queries into Google to conclude their search journey.

    Step 4: Check Google's auto-suggest feature

    Like the "People also ask" section, Google's auto-suggest feature is auto-generated. It's created based on what users later search after the initial query to end their search journey.

    The auto-suggest feature can provide valuable insights into what content to build.

    Google search for "Garcinia Cambogia".

    In this example, users would finish their search journey after discovering content about:

    • The side effects of Garcinia Cambogia

    • If they could lose weight from it

    • If it is safe to consume

    • The benefits of eating it

    Again, this information is made from Google’s extensive user database. Leverage this date to curate content that satisfies search intent.

    Step 5: Develop a game plan to satisfy the search intent

    Once you determine the search intent, develop a game plan to rank.

    Ask yourself, "how could I help the user solve this problem in the most helpful way possible?"

    After you scan the top results, locate holes or areas of improvement.

    For instance, let's say you are writing an article on “find a freight forwarder". The content will target individuals who import materials or products from abroad. You may notice all the top results are rehashing generic advice i.e. “search up best freight forwarder on google” or “use freight forwarding directories”.

    Instead, you could interview an expert in freight forwarding or imports. Expert insights could give actionable advice on how to find a freight forwarder.

    Clearscope’s Keyword Discovery feature can help

    Clearscope's software has a Keyword Discovery feature that is not your standard keyword research tool. The Keyword Discovery tool includes keyword difficulty and estimated traffic. Clearscope considers Google's auto-suggest features and generates phrase suggestions that match a keyword's search intent.

    Clearscope's Keyword Discovery tool.

    When performing keyword research, you'd be able to:

    • Analyze the keyword results

    • Map intent to keywords (watch our webinar)

    • Determine the best relevant content to create based on traffic estimates.

    Let's run "freight forwarder" through Clearscope’s Keyword Discovery tool.

    Clearscope Keyword Discovery report for "freight forwarder".

    Targeting the intent behind “freight forwarding services” looks like a solid option because:

    • There is a nice trending average monthly search volume (8,100 monthly searches)

    • You’d be able to group the keyword with other ones which have similar intent (freight forwarder companies, international freight forwarder)

    By performing keyword research and aligning the search intent, you’ll give your content the best chance to rank well on Google.

    Note: Try Clearscope’s Keyword Discovery tool to create content that satisfies a keyword’s search intent.

    Search intent optimization

    Ranking well on Google for a keyword long-term is not set in stone. Even if your content is great. When you analyze the SERP, you are judging search intent based on a single moment in time.

    The search intent behind a keyword can change.

    The appearance of a search result for search terms can drastically be different with their meaning over time.

    If you typed in a keyword today and checked the search results a few months later, Google's understanding of the search intent could change.

    For instance, take the keyword, "bulletproof coffee".

    When bulletproof coffee was first introduced, many people didn't know what it was. They would search on Google to better understand bulletproof coffee. As more people became familiar with bulletproof coffee, the search results changed to match the new search intent.

    Users were now wondering if bulletproof coffee was dangerous, how to make it, the pros and cons of bulletproof coffee, and weight loss case studies by using it. So naturally, the search results began to reflect the new search intent data. Pages that used to rank on the first page of Google with information about bulletproof coffee no longer ranked as high as the search intent changed.

    A page about "what is bulletproof coffee" no longer satisfied the search intent for the keyword.

    When optimizing for search intent, always check the results on Google to see the new intent direction or trends for the keyword. Staying up to date and matching search intent behind keywords is crucial to staying at the top of the rankings.

    Optimize for user experience

    Bounce rate is defined as when a percentage of visitors leave a webpage without taking action.

    Google doesn’t want to see users “pogo-sticking” around the search results to find the best results to search queries. This means that users should not land on a page and then continue their search journey by making additional online search queries related to the subject. This reveals the page did not satisfy the user’s intent to Google.

    Scan the search results for the types of content Google likes

    You can optimize for search intent by seeing the type of content Google likes to serve up for keywords.

    For example, if you run a Google search for the keyword, "best expense tracker" you'd be able to see the type of content Google likes to solve the query.

    Google search for "best expense tracker".

    Google favors the listicle type of content for this particular search query.

    After reviewing the SERP, create a blog post on the top XX expense trackers on the market to maximize tax deductions.

    Google understands that some search terms, like "how to make Thanksgiving stuffing" may be more beneficial to include images and videos. Observe the types of format and multimedia Google likes to serve along with a particular search query so you can include them in your content.

    Query Deserves Freshness

    Google rolled out an algorithm update called Query Deserves Freshness (QDF) and it has become a significant ranking factor today.

    Google is always trying to change the SERPs for the better. QDF makes sure the algorithm always delivers up-to-date results.

    Google rearranges the search results for content freshness. Placing an emphasis on content recentness helps Google show the most relevant search results for users.

    The algorithm is constantly testing the user experience for a SERP. Older, outdated, pages drop lower in the rankings to make way for pages with fewer views but fresher content.

    To do so, Google monitors three sources: search requests, blogs or magazines, and news portals. If search requests are higher than average for a specific topic, the algorithm may consider a freshness update. The algorithm tests for relevancy and ranks new content for this topic higher on the search results.

    The model figures out if this current content is what the users more likely want. If the content satisfies the search intent, Google will keep the content high on the SERP.

    The algorithm update focuses on providing the user with fresher, more recent search results.

    If you have a page that ranked well for a particular keyword but its rankings start to decline, you may have a search intent problem. Go back and improve on existing content.

    The best way to optimize for searcher intent is to search that query and look a the top 10-20 results.

    Analyze what is spoken about, the media on the page, and ways you could update your content for freshness. Monitor your page performance and update your content when you see its ranking starts to decline.

    Publishing and updating new content on your site can help you rank higher in the search engines.

    It's time to optimize for search intent

    It's necessary to ensure that the content aligns with the keywords people are looking for and their search intent. Make sure your page has the right information when people are looking for it.

    When it comes to optimizing for search engines, the best way to rank well on Google is by satisfying search intent. This should be the backbone of any content marketing or SEO strategy.

    Written by
    Brandon Leuangpaseuth
    Brandon Leuangpaseuth is an SEO growth marketer from San Diego, CA. He helps clients scale their businesses organically via Google.

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