SEO is crucial when it comes to increasing your rankings in Google and attracting more traffic to your website. To achieve this you must write compelling, relevant content and implement keyword optimisation. However, what’s equally important is how you use your keywords and optimise for search intent.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent, or user intent, refers to the purpose of an online search. Simply put, it is what someone is looking for when they type in a search query into the Google search bar. This could be a question they ask in order to find the information they require, or the words they use to find a specific product or service. Google’s algorithms have developed over the years to improve the way it understands user intent and serve more relevant search results. For example, a search result could be informational, navigational, transactional or commercial investigation. So, in order to rank for relevant terms and increase online visibility, it is important that you write and optimise your website content for user intent. Here’s our SEO user intent guide which includes everything you need to know to help you write and optimise your online content to satisfy your users and offer your customers a seamless user journey. 

How do we know user intent is worth optimising for?

Google’s algorithm updates give marketers a clear indication of how they should be writing content to achieve the best results. Some relevant algorithm updates include:

Panda

The Panda update was rolled out in 2011 and focuses on the quality of online content; it penalises anything it deems thin or low quality. This includes content that does not answer the search query, plagiarised content or pages which are saturated in paid advertisements. This type of low quality content is unlikely to rank in Google’s Search results pages (SERPs). Google has now rolled up Panda into their frequent ‘Core’ algorithm updates to evaluate content ‘quality’ of a website.

Hummingbird

The Hummingbird update was released in 2013 and improves the way Google understands search queries. It now looks at the user's entire query when matching content to keywords and has improved semantic search, not just focusing on particular words. It helps Google understand context in search queries to help serve more accurate content in the SERPs. For instance, if you searched for ‘victoria sponge cake’, Google offers so much more than a simple definition of victoria sponge cake or images. It offers listings for recipes, nutritional information and other related topics. This highlights the way in which Google understands the relationship between entities and identifies intent. Hummingbird evolved into the BERT algorithm update, which enables Google to better understand the intent of a long-tail search query. 

Pigeon

The Pigeon update was launched in 2014 to improve the way Google matches results to a user’s location and focus more on local search results which are relevant to a search query. For example, if you searched for ‘Supermarket near me’, Google would serve results to show you supermarkets in your local area, including addresses, maps and opening hours.

Google’s algorithm updates show us that it is paramount to optimise our content for SEO and produce high quality content; however, we should also be conscious of the context of the keywords we are using. We need to ask ourselves, what is the user really searching for with these keywords? and write content to satisfy their intent. 

The four types of search intent

There are four different ways Google can interpret search terms, each displaying a different user intent. This includes:

Informational

An informational search means the user has a question and is looking for an answer or more information.

Navigational

Navigational intent indicates that someone is looking for a specific website. For example, if a user searches for ‘LinkedIn’, they are expecting to land on the LinkedIn website and log in to their account.  Note that if you rank for a navigational term, this is only beneficial for organic growth if your site is the one the user is looking for.

Transactional

Online shopping has become increasingly popular over recent years and someone who shops onlines with the intent to purchase shows transactional intent. 

Commercial Investigation

When someone plans to buy something, they may use the internet to conduct some research before purchasing. This is called commercial investigation. This type of intent is similar to transactional as the user intends of buying however not immediately. Commercial investigation is common for large, or expensive, purchases such as a Dyson hairdryer, for example. Users will want to compare quality, delivery times and prices across different websites before spending their money. To align with the framework of a sales funnel, you can also segment commercial investigation intent into awareness, consideration and decision stages.

How does Google identify user intent?

Google can interpret search queries in a number of ways. If you type the word ‘washing machine’ into the Google search bar, this could have various meanings and indicate various intent. Firstly, you could have transactional intent, and be looking to purchase a washing machine. However, you could be looking for information about washing machines or you could even be looking for the nearest place to buy a washing machine in your local area. Google has adapted and improved to understand your intent based on the words you use and will serve the most relevant result based on this. So, how does Google know what the user wants to see? There are a few telltale signs that indicate your intent to Google and these are the words you use, how you optimise your metadata and how well your content performs. On average, we use 3 words for our searches and Google must decipher our intent predominantly from this. The specific words we use indicate user intent. For instance, words such as buy, deal, sale, discount or simply just a product name would signal transactional intent. On the other hand, words such as ‘how to’, why or ‘best way to’ would suggest an informational query.  In addition to this, when Google bot crawls your website’s content, it looks at your metadata, titles and subheadings, and uses them to identify what your content is really about. This is why it is crucial to optimise your metadata. Lastly, Google will also consider the performance of your content in order to identify intent. For example, if you have a high click-through rate but a high bounce rate, this may signal that your content does not match user intent and negatively impact your rankings for that particular search term or keyword. Let’s take another look at the washing machine example:

‘Washing machine’ is an ambiguous search query which does not explicitly signal user intent therefore Google caters for various user intents in the search results, and offers various SERP features. Predominantly, the SERP is populated by regular listings for transactional web pages but also includes a local pack of the nearest brick and mortar shops to buy washing machines.  There is also Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for transactional intent and informational content in the form of a ‘people also ask’ section, such as ‘how long does a washing machine last?’ for informational intent or ‘which is the best washing machine to buy’ for commercial investigation.  The ‘people also ask’ section is made up of rich snippets from other related search terms and is a beneficial position to gain if you want greater visibility in the SERPs and improve click-through rate. Therefore, when writing content, you should always optimise for the rich snippet where possible in order to attain the first position in the search results but also have a chance of featuring in the ‘people also ask’ section for other search queries. 

How to write content for each type of user intent

Start with your existing content

In some cases, you may need to go through and filter your existing content to identify which content satisfies user intent or if any pieces fall short. You can then make changes and optimise accordingly. We recommend that you take a look at your competitor sites and see what they have written for similar content or have a look at the current SERPs to take learnings and improve your own content. Whoever is ranking highly in the SERPs has the right idea and can act as a benchmark to ensure you have included all relevant topics in enough detail. However, remember to keep it original and avoid plagiarism!

Informational content

When writing informational content, it’s always a good idea to optimise your headings using common search queries. This could include using words such as: 
  • Tutorial
  • How to
  • What is
  • Guide
  • Ways to
 If you sell washing machines and you wanted to inform users on how to clean them, you could write a blog article titled ‘A guide to cleaning your washing machine’. The best format for informational blog posts include:
  • Top tips
  • Lists
  • How-to videos
  • Infographics
  • Step-by-step guides
  • Checklists

The example above shows the article that ranks in first position for ‘A guide to cleaning your washing machine’. It features in the rich snippet and is formatted using a numbered guide.  When writing your optimised article for informational intent, use the same tactics mentioned above for existing content e.g. learn from competitors and the SERPs.  In addition to this, you should make sure to include all the relevant information possible. An easy way to make sure you do this is to answer all the ‘people also ask’ questions in one article. If you do this, you will be more likely to increase rankings for multiple search terms. So, in your guide to cleaning a washing machine, you would include how to clean the washing machine, as well as which products to use and the best way to do it. Note that for informational intent, it’s best to provide direct answers to questions (especially to obtain the rich snippet) and avoid any long-winded back stories.

Navigational content

When it comes to navigational intent, it is most likely that a user is searching for brand terms or names of specific products, or services, that they are already familiar with. Typing out the brand URL in the URL bar is a sure way to find the site you’re looking for however simply typing the brand name into the search bar is much easier and quicker; users also rarely know the whole URL. Some navigational search queries include: 
  • Brand names
  • Service names
  • Product names
  • Brand login pages
  • Reviews
  • Location of
  • Directions to
  • Near me
  • Testimonials 
 You are not likely to rank for navigational terms unless you own the site that the user is looking for however, you can optimise for your own brand name using navigational search queries e.g. Curry’s washing machine reviews. Curry’s is the brand name, washing machines are the product and reviews are the type of content the user is looking for. The main types of content to prioritise on your website for navigational intent include: 
  • Landing pages
  • Product Demonstrations
  • Case Studies
  • E-books
  • Produce pages
  • Service pages
  • Webinars
 Top tip: Make sure you own your own brand’s navigational query as, sometimes, brands are not ranking first for their own name!

Transactional and commercial investigation

As explained briefly before, transactional intent shows the user’s desire to complete a transaction. A transaction could be making an online purchase or completing a specific task, such as downloading a file. Transactional queries are likely to deliver ROI in search, both through organic and paid channels. You should therefore make sure to optimise for transactional pages. This is key not only for specific transactional pages but pricing pages, sign up pages and blog articles, too.  Some transactional keywords include words such as: 
  • Buy
  • Where to buy
  • Discount
  • Apply
  • Purchase
  • Schedule appointment
  • Reserve
  • Deals
  • For sale
  • Order
  • Download
 Local SEO is also important for transactional queries as some users may be looking for somewhere to go and buy a product nearby, in a brick and mortar shop. Read here to find out more about Local SEO. If you want your products to appear as a Product Listing Ad, you will need to invest in the appropriate advertisements and include all key transactional information, such as price and product description. You can speak to your Paid Media experts for further information. Top tip: The main thing to keep in mind when writing content for transactional queries is the user is ready to buy. This means you need to make sure your content is designed for this stage of the funnel and provides clear calls to action. You should ensure your tone of voice is appropriate for this stage of the funnel and the user journey is seamless to encourage more conversions. 


A final note of search intent

Ultimately, content is all about creating meaningful connections and engaging your audiences. Search intent is key to helping you do this. Search intent ensures that you give your users what they want while also signaling to Google that your content is worth ranking highly in the SERPs.  SEO and user intent go hand in hand and you should devise a comprehensive SEO and content strategy which considers both, optimising for keywords with search volume and taking an audience-first approach. In this way, you can make sure your content ticks all the boxes and satisfies your users.  Get in touch with our team to find out how we can help your business optimise content for search intent or visit the SEO solutions page for more information.