Search Intent, the cornerstone of modern SEO

Understanding Search Intent is critical for anyone who intends to pursue a Content Marketing Strategy, and succeed.

In this article you will delve with me into the most relevant concepts and implications of Search Intent. Through some simple examples you will become aware of the importance of this concept, and why you should be applying it immediately.

Hereinafter you will find:

  • A concept of Search Intent that no one has explained in this way.
  • The Types of Search Intent that exist and why they are relevant. One of them dominates the search engine scene.
  • How search engines identify users’ Search Intent, if they can’t look inside their heads.
  • The step-by-step to apply everything you will learn and create content that will climb the rankings of Google and other search engines.

The table is set.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is defined by many SEO specialists as the purpose of people executing a search. A priori it is a good definition, although I think it falls a little short to explain the phenomenon in its full scope.

As I understand it, search intent is the sum of need plus expectation. The need is what motivates the user to go to Google, or any other search engine, and make a query. The expectation is what the user expects the platform to respond to satisfy that need.

As human beings, whenever we ask a question we expect or intuit the answer. If the answer is in line with our expectations, we confirm our worldview. In the opposite case, if the answer is far from our expectations, we can react in two opposite ways: we change our “vision” on the subject, or we distrust and look for other sources of information.

If you’re interested in SEO, it’s important to distinguish between the two components of Search Intent: Need + Expectations. I’ll go into detail later on why this distinction is so important.

Types of Searching Intent

There are 4 basic types of Search Intent, with multiple variations or subtypes:

Informational Search Intention

Informational search intent is where the user’s need is satisfied with information on a specific topic or theme. A study published in ResearchGate (Bernanrdo Jansen, Danielle L. Stand and Amanda Spink), explain that 80% of web searches are informational.

Normally, the user who performs a search with informational intent expects to find content that expands or confirms his or her knowledge on the subject.

Some informational queries are answered directly by Google in the search engine, through its Featured Snippets. For example, if you search for: temperature in Miami, Google shows you something like this:

Informational Search Intention

For more complex searches Google displays other types of content, or links to websites where the user’s questions are answered. The variability of the content depends on the subtype of search intent.

For queries about current or developing events, Google will prioritize media. For “Evergreen” queries the search engine may display links to Blogs, Portals, Forums and the like. Of course, this varies greatly depending on the keywords used.

Commercial Search Intention

The commercial search intent is the one that leads the user to search for information about products or services that he is evaluating, but about which he is not entirely convinced. It is the most common search for people who are considering purchasing options, but are not yet ready to pull out their wallets.

In a way, search with commercial intent is somewhere between informational and transactional.

Let’s take as an example a person who wants to buy a bicycle. However, he has little knowledge about brands and models. He could go to Google and type the following query: list of best mountain bikes.

Commercial Search Intention

As you can see, the results are mostly listings. Listings in the form of articles, videos, and product categories. This happens because Google knows that you are researching, evaluating options, and you are not ready to buy yet.

Transactional Search Intent

Transactional search intent is one where the user seeks to make an exchange or transaction. We can speak of transaction whenever the user wants to obtain something tangible or not; and is willing to deliver something else in exchange.

For searches with transactional intent, the most common results are e-commerce sites, positioned landing pages, product and service listings or categories, or specific products and services.

The typical Transactional Search includes the word “buy” or one of its synonyms. For example: buy Canyon Spectral 125 CF 7 (one of the options in the highlighted snippet in the above commercial search).

Transactional Search Intent

Many people equate transaction with buying and selling, but this is a mistake. A transactional search that does not end with a purchase is one in which a user wants to donate money, or get an exchange of one product for another.

Navigational Search Intent

Navigational search intent is where the user needs to find and go to a physical or digital place. Most of the time the user knows where they want to go, but not how to get there.

Navigational searches generally include brand names, company names or the site searched. However, in some navigational searches of the “local” subtype, it is possible that the person, instead of a specific company or place, may search by typology. For example, a tourist in Vancouver at noon might pull out his phone and search for: restaurants near me.

Navigational Search Intent

Although this tourist wants to go to a place for lunch, even if he does not know the names of the nearby establishments. Google also knows that the search intent is navigational, so it shows as the first result a Map with the available options.

Another example of a search with navigational intent a user types in the Google box: access Instagram.

Here the user has a specific place in mind, the login screen of the social network. But he does not remember how to get there, so he trusts that Google will know how to lead him directly to that place, and the search engine fulfills the expectation perfectly. 

Search Intent vs Keywords

Although they are completely different, Keywords and Search Intentions are closely related. It is impossible to work directly with users’ Search Intentions, as these are subjective and vary from one person to another. On the other hand, we do know the keywords they use in Google and we can work with them.

A keyword is a word or phrase that the user types in the search engine box to perform the search.

Keywords are always connected to a search intent, although it is sometimes difficult to identify such a relationship. Moreover, a search intent (need + expectation) can be expressed in many different ways (keywords).

Two people may coincide in needing to find the best used car dealer in Vancouver. Here we would say that both have the same search intent. However, when going to Google the first one will type the keywords: used car dealership in Vancouver, while the second one will type: buy used car in Vancouver.

The dealership owner is interested in being shown by Google for both searches. Does that mean he should have a specific page optimized for each possible keyword? The answer is NO. Moreover, it is not even necessary for the specific keyword to appear for Google to show the page, as long as its content satisfies the user’s Search Intent.

How does Google know what users’ Search Intention is?

Google cannot know exactly what the users’ search intent is because, as I mentioned before, these are subjective. So, to identify and differentiate Search Intentions, algorithms are based on how users act and respond to the results.

Remember when I said earlier that search intent is the sum of need and expectation? Well now is when I explain why they are important and how they help Google deliver you the best possible results every time.

Google does not know what our specific need is.

What Google does know perfectly well is how users react to the results it offers for each search, and each keyword.

Let’s suppose that 2,000 people search for the same keyword. Of these, 1600 decide to click on the second result, and not on the first. This is a reaction that Google will register and consider.

Google engineers recently admitted that clicks (along with many other factors) impact search engine rankings.

If a particular result best meets users’ expectations and the content they find satisfies them, it is inevitable that this result will climb the Google rankings to the top.

Google carefully studies users’ expectations and their satisfaction with the results it offers. Thanks to millions of small variations and experiments run in real time, the search engine refines its answers to deliver the most accurate results every time.

That is to say, the search engine algorithms cannot know the Search Intention of a specific user. But, they are able to “guess” it depending on the keywords we use when we search for information on their platform. They know, because they have previously analyzed millions of similar searches, and know which contents are the best in each case.

How can I leverage Search Intent in my Marketing Strategy?

You can leverage everything you learn about Search Intent in your Marketing Strategy, once you understand that the different intents relate to the stages of the Customer Journey.

What is the Customer Journey?

The Customer Journey is the process or path a customer travels from the time they discover they have a need or problem, to the time they purchase the best possible solution. Typically, the customer journey is divided into three stages:

  • Discovery: You become aware of your problem or need. You know that you should look for a solution, but you are not clear about what it is. 
  • Consideration: Seeks information about existing solutions and options. Evaluate which of these is best for you, according to your characteristics and preferences.
  • Conversion: Performs the transaction that allows you to solve your problem or satisfy your need.

Depending on the magnitude of the need, this journey can be short and painless, or require a lot of time and effort. Let’s take a closer look at two examples.

First example.

A person has lost the keys to his house, and urgently needs a locksmith to open the door. What difference can there be between a locksmith and others? Not many, so he will search on Google, make a few calls and the first one who confirms the service gets the job.

This person has gone through all three stages of the customer journey quickly.

  • Discovery: She looks for the key in her purse and can’t find it. She has lost it.
  • Consideration: Google locksmiths near me. Make a few calls.
  • Conversion: Passes the address to the locksmith. Wait for him to arrive and open the door.

Second example.

This person begins to experience headaches more frequently. He doesn’t know what the cause is, so he begins to do some research on Google. He learns that one of the possible causes is the presence of brain tumors. He makes an appointment with his doctor and begins a long and grueling process of examinations and medical tests. They confirm that he has a benign meningioma, but that he must undergo surgery. He is offered different options of doctors and hospitals where he can be operated on. It is difficult for him to make a decision because he is literally risking his life. Finally he makes a decision and undergoes surgery. Everything goes well and he recovers without major setbacks.

In this situation the person goes through the same stages of the customer’s journey. Only now the process is longer, more complex, and requires more effort on their part.

  • Discovery: From the time you become aware of recurrent headaches, until you receive the doctor’s diagnosis. In between he performs countless searches on tests, possible diagnoses and courses of action.
  • Consideration: Analyze all the options of hospitals and doctors available to operate on you. Possibly make in-depth searches and inquiries about each of them. Also about all the possible outcomes you can expect from the surgery.
  • Conversion: He decides, is operated on by the selected doctors, and recovers.

There are many examples like this in every market, industry or niche you are in. People always go through the journey before they end up acquiring the solution to their problems or needs.

You may be pondering this and wondering what the customer journey has to do with Search Intent. I’ll explain right away.

Customer Journey and Search Intent

To move from one stage of the Customer Journey to the next, people need information. This can come from different sources: friends, books, the media or search engines like Google.

When trying to get information, there is always a Search Intent (need + expectation). The difference between most of the above sources and Google is that Google processes millions of similar queries, and learns and adjusts with each user it responds to.

Therefore, depending on the keywords that are typed into the Google box, their algorithms are able to identify with a high degree of reliability which content best meets expectations, and will provide the most satisfaction. In addition, by knowing the Search Intent, they can determine what stage of the Customer Journey that user is in.

Being able to identify at what stage of the Customer Journey is critical to Google. They use this information both to serve the right organic content and for their advertising system.

Customer Journey and Content Strategy

Now you know that Google is able to identify what stage of the journey your ideal customer is in. In addition, it determines precisely what content best responds to their Search Intent. The next step for you is to create a Content Strategy that allows you to be the choice that Google will show to your customers.

The steps to create a Content Strategy that Google and your potential customers will love are as follows:

1 – Identify who your ideal customer is. You can create an Avatar that represents the people who make up the market sector you are targeting.

2 – Create a map with the stages of the Customer Journey, and the possible concerns they have at each moment. If you already have active customers you can interview them to tell you about their experience since they discovered their need, until they decided that your product or service was the best solution.

3 – Research how Google is responding to your customer’s concerns or questions. The idea is to know what their Search Intentions are, and what types of content the search engine is satisfying them with.

4 – Create a Content Strategy that allows you to be the source of reference for your potential clients’ doubts and questions. Try to cover all the stages of the Journey, so you can capture the attention of potential customers from the moment they become aware of their needs or problems.

5 – Evaluate the performance of the contents in Google. If you notice that you are having a hard time positioning in Google or other search engines, it is possible to optimize your published contents a little.

If you follow these steps, I assure you that you will be able to use all the knowledge acquired about Search Intent to boost your Marketing Strategy. You will be able to generate content 100 percent focused on users’ needs. What is known as valuable content.

Key findings on Search Intent

If you had to extract the most important concepts and ideas from this article, they would be these:

First: Search Intent is the sum of the need that motivates the user to perform a search, plus the expectation of the content they may receive in return.

Second: Users express their Search Intent through the keywords they use to query search engines.

Third: Search engines identify Search Intent by analyzing the behavior of millions of users performing similar searches. They basically evaluate whether certain results are satisfactory or not.

Fourth: There is a very close relationship between the stage of the Customer Journey in which the user is, and the Search Intention of their queries on the Internet.

Fifth: If your Digital Marketing Strategy focuses on creating content that responds to Search Intent, you can achieve truly amazing results. By satisfying users’ information needs, you can accompany them on their Journey to becoming customers.

Please… allow me one more.

Seventh: If you found everything interesting, but a bit overwhelming, send me an email and let’s talk about how I can help you with my SEO Strategy Creation and Development service. You can take advantage of all my experience and knowledge in post of your business.

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