Search Intent - how to understand search queries and user intent

Written by Nick Swan. Updated on 26, November 2020

If your content does not align with search intent, you are not going to be able to get your page to rank well in Google for the query you are targeting.

All query based reports in now have search intent highlighting. This will help you pick out valuable queries to target and work with.

Search intent highlighting in

Search intent highlighting in has three predefined types of search intent, with the following keywords added by default:

Informational search intent : what,who,when,where,which,why,how

Transactional search intent : buy,order,purchase,cheap,price,discount

Commercial search intent : best,top,review,comparison,compare,vs,versus

You can extend this list of keywords by visiting the website settings. There is also a custom search intent field that is free to use for any list of keywords specific to the site's niche or sector.

By highlighting these search intent queries you can easily scan a query report and pick out valuable keywords to investigate and work with. This could involve creating new content, content expansion on existing pages, running click through rate experiments, or simply tracking the query in the rank tracker.

What is search intent?

Search intent needs to be considered from two angles, the perspective of the user and of Google. Google attempts to understand what the user is searching for and match the search results with their expectation.

When a person types a search query into Google they have an intent or next action in mind. These intents could be things such as:

  • Researching information
  • Buying a product
  • Looking for a cat video
  • Finding the nearest coffee shop

Google attempts to understand a user’s intent from the query they use, and displays results that it feels matches those intentions.

For example if you searched for ‘slippers’ - Google will assume your intent is to buy some slippers and display you Google shopping ads and ecommerce slipper category pages from online stores.

Slippers search results in Google

Slippers search results in Google

If however you search for ‘best gaming laptop’ you’ll see a bunch of shopping ads for laptops, but also organic search results of articles reviewing various laptops and specs with a suggestion of which one to go for (especially if it’s an affiliate based site!). Google assumes this is a commercial type query and bases the results it shows the user on that.

An informational search intent query might be something like ‘what is search intent’, and with any luck you might find this article amongst some of the top results.

Google has analyzed billions of individual searches to come up with a query/intent understanding. This data no doubt involves looking at queries, and the type of results users have clicked and stayed on, through machine learning algorithms.

Occasionally you might search for something that Google is unsure of the intent. For these queries you may get a mixture of search results eg 5 ecommerce links and 5 articles.

As Google’s algorithms learn more, the search intent it understands may change. So never rest on your laurels and stop checking the search result pages for your site’s valuable keywords.

Why is search intent important?

As an SEO trying to get pages to rank, understanding search intent is really important. You need to match the type of content you are creating to what Google thinks users are searching for.

You will never be able to rank an informational article in the top 10 search results for a query where Google judges the search intent to be transactional and lists ecommerce pages.

From a marketing and funnel point of view - informational keywords often sit right at the top of the funnel. Transactional keywords sit right at the bottom, with commercial keywords right in the middle.

Examples of Search Intent

As a general rule, head terms, which are often shorter in word count - are transactional.

Some examples of these would be:

  • Slippers
  • Blue dress
  • Gravel bikes

For these you are most likely to see ecommerce based results and Google assumes you want to buy one of these items.

Longer word count queries, are often informational based searches. This is especially true if they contain a question type word such as ‘what, where, why, when etc’

Some examples of these would be:

  • Are slippers bad for plantar fasciitis?
  • How do you style a blue dress?
  • How to maintain a gravel bike?

Search queries that involve a place name, or nearest, would often be classed as navigational query types and would include local (to the search query) results.

How to research search intent?

Google is the first tool to use when investigating what it thinks the search intent of a keyword is.

Simply searching in Google for the query you want to rank for and looking through the top 10 search results will give you an understanding of the type of content you need to be creating to have a chance of a top spot in the search results.

Manually typing search queries into Google can be quite time consuming though so there are a few things to help you out in SEOTesting.

1. Next to each query in the tool we have a little G icon.

Use the G icon to check search intent in Google from within

Use the G icon to check search intent in Google from within

When clicked on this will take the query and perform a search in Google so you can inspect the search results. CTRL + click will open the browser window in a private session or incognito to anonymise the results as best as possible.

2. As you get to understand the intents related to the niche you are working with, you can use SEOTesting to label up specific keywords to specific intents so you can easily scan large reports of keywords and target new content ideas and pages around specific intent.

Add custom keywords to highlight for each site depending on the niche within site settings.

Add custom keywords to highlight for each site depending on the niche within site settings.

Next steps

1. Check your content targeting a specific keyword matches the search intent as judged by Google.

2. Use the search intent indicators in query reports to create new pages that match searcher's intent and position in the funnel.