Your Guide to Analyzing User Intent for Better SEO Results
If you’ve been anywhere near the search engine optimization (SEO) or content marketing world, you’ve probably heard the words "user intent" and "search intent" thrown around. A lot.
While the terms aren’t new, they can feel like ambiguous concepts. That said, it’s important to understand what people mean when they say “search intent” and how to use it as part of your SEO strategy.
Let’s take a closer look at what search intent is, how to identify it, and how to optimize your content for it.
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What is search intent?
Search intent (also known as audience intent or user intent) refers to the specific end goal someone has when they perform an online search. In other words, it’s the reason why they went to a search engine.
For example, someone can do a Google search to learn more about a topic (informational intent). Or they might do a search to compare products before making a purchase (commercial intent).
Each search has a different end goal, which will affect the type of content that’s most relevant to that user.
Why intent matters for SEO
Top-ranking links on search engine results pages (SERPs) must be relevant and helpful. In SEO, search algorithms define relevance in relation to user intent.
Understanding the intent behind each keyword helps SEO strategists, marketers, and writers create posts and landing pages that will bring the most relevant content for their audience.
This is what’s known as optimizing your content for intent.
Pages optimized for intent have a higher chance of ranking for the target keyword and do a better job of converting qualified search prospects.
You can create the best sales landing page, but a user with informational intent isn’t ready to buy. They’re unlikely to convert and will probably bounce off a product page.
Satisfying the intent helps you improve click-through rate and decrease bounce rate. That way, you optimize for better engagement and user experience.
Types of search intent
Low intent vs. high intent
There are four basic types of search intent: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial. Search terms that fall into these main categories can also be classified as local, low-intent, or high-intent.
Let’s take a closer look at each type.
When a user goes to a search engine to learn about a given topic, they have informational intent. It’s a broad category that shows up all the time online.
People can search for information in the form of quick answers (such as “what year was basketball invented?”) or more in-depth guides (such as “history of basketball” or “how to shoot a layup”).
Other examples of informational queries include:
How to braid hair
What is turmeric?
Benefits of reading
Why should people stretch?
Recipe for chocolate chip cookies
You can use several types of content to satisfy informational search keywords, such as how-to guides, videos, recipes, and long-form articles.
People use navigational queries on search engines to get to specific web pages.
Examples of navigational searches include:
Google keyword planner
These search queries are navigational because the searcher has a particular destination in mind.
When a user goes to a search engine to complete an action, such as buying something, this is transactional search intent.
These are among the most valuable keywords to target in SEO since they often lead to a conversion of some kind (subscription or purchase).
Examples of transactional queries include:
HBO free trial
Meal prep kit coupon
Laptop student discount
Exercise bike free shipping
Commercial intent keywords also have to do with purchase decisions, but shoppers use them to research before buying. Specifically, a user may want to learn more about brands, products, or services.
Examples of commercial search terms include:
Nikon vs. Canon
Best slow cookers
Affordable running shoes
You can optimize content for commercial investigation by creating posts that help potential consumers discover the best deal for them. Examples include detailed product pages, competitor comparisons, and case studies.
Local intent keywords refer to the terms people use when looking for geographically relevant information, such as places of business or nearby events.
Queries can be under this finer type of intent with informational, transactional, or commercial purposes.
Examples of local search queries include:
Gyms open now
Urgent care near me
Oil change service nearby
Gluten-free bakery in Charlottesville
These keywords are especially relevant for businesses that have physical stores or locations.
Low intent vs. high intent
People may describe keywords as having low intent or high intent. These terms refer to the relative level of purchase intent behind the keyword.
Low-intent keywords probably won’t lead to an immediate conversion but tend to have higher search volume. Informational and navigational keywords often fall into this category.
Ranking for low-intent keywords can help increase your brand awareness and build relationships with potential customers.
In contrast, people use high-intent keywords when they’re more ready to make a purchase. High-intent keywords typically have commercial or transactional intent.
Optimizing for keywords with more purchase intent helps convert your audience into customers and drive more revenue.
How to analyze search intent
Now that you’re familiar with the various types of intent, let’s take a look at how to incorporate it into your keyword research. While analyzing search intent may feel more like an art than a science, there are several steps you can use each time.
Examine the keyword
Some keywords have explicit user intent. The phrasing of the keyword points to a specific goal, such as “best tablets for students” or “lemonade recipe.”
Here are some examples of phrases that tend to be clues for each type of intent:
Informational: How to, step by step, guide, recipe, tutorial, and what is
Navigational: Often a brand or brand + product, such as Facebook or Ikea lamps
Transactional: Discount, buy, purchase, coupon, delivery, and shipping
Commercial: Review, comparison, and vs
Keep in mind that these phrasing clues can have exceptions. The keyword itself can point you in the right direction. But it’s always best to search your target term and use the SERPs to confirm or learn more about the search intent.
Look at intent for top results
Searching for your target keyword and looking at the first page of results is an excellent way to analyze user intent. Specifically, you want to look at titles and meta descriptions to figure out the intent targeted by top-ranked pages.
For instance, brand names, specific product names, and pricing information in the metadata suggest a keyword with more commercial or transactional intent.
Take a tally of the results on the first page to see which intent pops up the most. If every page one result has the same intent, that’s a good indicator for you.
However, if multiple types show up, your keyword has mixed intent. Counting the results can help you determine if one type of intent is dominant.
Analyze rich results
Google’s rich results features are also helpful for determining user intent. Rich results are visually enhanced and sometimes interactive search results that go beyond the typical blue link listings.
They include elements such as event listings, product review snippets, and video tutorials.
When looking at rich results, ask yourself, “What does this feature help someone do?”
For instance, a video tutorial helps someone learn how to do something, which suggests informational intent. But a product result helps people research and purchase, which serves commercial and transactional keywords.
Here are some of the rich results that are most relevant for each type of intent:
Informational: Article, dataset, education Q&A, estimated salary, fact-check, FAQ, how-to, learning video, math solvers, Q&A, recipe, and video
Navigational: Book, course, job posting, local business, product, sitelinks search box, and software app
Transactional: Book, carousel (shopping), product, course, event, local business, and product
Commercial: Book, carousel (shopping), product, and review snippet
Local: Event, local business, and local knowledge panel
Consider the entire SERP
Finally, take a look at the entire results page to get a holistic view of the keyword’s intent. Some keywords have fractured intent, meaning the top results serve multiple intents.
Looking at the entire page can give you a better idea of what search perspective is most valuable to searchers.
For instance, do you see the word “beginner-friendly” or “tutorial” pop up a lot? Or are there a lot of product visuals on the page?
The overall impression of the SERP can help determine what type of information to include in your post so readers achieve their search goals.
Remember that intent can change
A drop in organic traffic or rankings may suggest that there’s been a shift in the audience intent for your target keyword. That’s why Clearscope has a content inventory feature that monitors the performance of your published pieces.
How to optimize content based on search intent
Once you’ve identified the search intent for your keyword, you have a wealth of information to use to create relevant, high-quality content. Here’s how to use intent to inform your on-page SEO strategy.
One way you can optimize your content for intent is by choosing a structure or format that’s more relevant to the user’s goal.
For instance, product comparison pages between you and your top competitors are ideal for capturing keywords with commercial intent.
In contrast, you can create a guide that uses subheaders to break down each process step to optimize for an informational keyword like “how to change a tire.”
As you outline each piece of content and think about the structure, it can be useful to look at what the competition is doing. Then, see if there are ways you can improve upon it.
User intent also helps you determine which types of images, infographics, and media elements are most helpful to your target audience.
Ask yourself, “What type of visuals will help the reader reach their goal faster?”
You can create a step-by-step tutorial infographic if the goal is understanding a process. However, if your reader wants to research a product before buying it, you can show images of the product (or screenshots if it’s software).
The same concept applies to videos. You want to highlight the information that’s most relevant based on intent.
Analyzing the SERP for audience intent lets you identify opportunities to rank for different types of results, such as featured snippets, People also ask, and rich snippets.
Let’s say the search results for your primary keyword have a list snippet. You can optimize for that position by creating a bullet point list or structuring your article so your headers are all list items.
As for the People also ask feature, look at the questions that pop up. Then, include an answer for each in your article.
Finally, look at the rich snippets on the SERP and use structured data on your post or page that fits the result type.
For example, if you’re creating a recipe, you’ll want to follow Google’s recipe schema markup instructions. That way, the search engine can include your content in the enhanced result sections.
Google provides general structured data guidelines and specific instructions for each feature.
Meta title and description
You must consider user intent to create meta titles and descriptions that generate more organic search traffic. These are the elements that users see when deciding which link to click.
Aligning your title and description with the appropriate search intent helps increase your click-through rate and get more qualified leads on your website.
Here are some ways you can optimize your SERP result for each intent.
Informational: Use the title to explain the post, including terms like “step-by-step guide” or “detailed comparison” that tell the reader how your page answers their question.
Navigational: Keep your title simple and to the point, and use the description to describe the action they can take if they click your link.
Transactional: Include brands, product names, and feature descriptions. Mention shopping-relevant features, such as free shipping or discounts. Use clear call-to-action language, such as “order now” or “try free for 7 days.”
Commercial: Use product and brand names in your title and write descriptions that include product specifications and pricing information. If you’re writing a product comparison article, summarize your findings in the meta description.
Call to action (CTA)
Finally, your call to action (CTA) on any page should be relevant to user intent and where your reader falls along the customer journey.
Lower-stakes CTAs, such as “learn more” or “subscribe to the newsletter,” work better for informational and navigational intent keywords where the user isn’t thinking about making a purchase yet.
However, don’t be afraid to use your CTA to ask for the conversion when you optimize for high-intent keywords (commercial and transactional). At this point, the reader is further along the customer journey and already considering a purchase.
Matching your CTA to the right user intent can help increase your conversion rates at each step of your marketing or sales funnel.
Final thoughts: Your guide to understanding user intent for better SEO results
Search engines continue to get smarter so they can find the most relevant results for their users. As marketers and content creators, we should follow their lead. In other words, it’s all about helping the searcher complete their goal.
Identifying the audience intent behind a keyword and optimizing content accordingly is a crucial step in any SEO content strategy.
Director of Marketing, Clearscope
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