What is Search Intent? A Guide for Beginners

Search intent is the purpose behind a keyword typed into a search engine.

Google has always aimed to deliver the most pertinent information to users’ queries. Though, for many years, results were based largely on keyword frequency and less on the quality of web content. The intent of the keywords was also not a focus, allowing companies to easily manipulate search rankings through keyword stuffing and other tricks. Eventually, the programmers at Google realized it wasn’t providing the best experience for its users and needed to be more sensitive to context and connotation.

The search engine has since improved its algorithm to better determine why someone made a particular query beyond just the words entered in the search bar. Google now ranks websites based on semantic keywords, presenting information better aligned with a user’s intent even if the words or question being searched aren’t the same as the keywords targeted in the content.

This evolution in search engine operation is why focusing on search intent in webpages and blogs is one of the most effective ways to boost organic search rankings. Also, by curating content to reach different types of intent, you can extend your company’s reach across various levels of the consumer buying process.


Types of Search Intent

There are two primary types of search intent:

  • Research intent
  • Buying intent


Research Intent

Research-intent keywords are the phrases people use when they seek out information. Examples include searching for restaurant hours, word definitions, or Instant Pot recipes.

Most initial queries contain 2-3 keywords or simple, straightforward questions like “How can I tell if I’ve sprained my wrist?” Search results would, in turn, present articles about the symptoms and treatments of wrist injuries.

Google knows if you search ‘bedbugs,’ you’re likely looking for a way to rid your home of them and directs you to blogs and videos showing treatment and prevention methods.

Research-intent keywords are also frequently included in searches looking for comparisons and reviews:

  • Top 5 refrigerators 2022
  • Chromebook user reviews
  • Fitbit vs. Oura


Buying Intent

As the name implies, buying-intent keywords are phrases people use in search engines when they’re looking to make a purchase. These types of terms are often used after someone conducts research. During this phase, the consumer determines where they can buy a product or which companies are available to address their needs.

Using one of our previous examples, if you were looking to treat a potential wrist sprain, you might search “acute injury clinic Green Bay” or “wrist braces.”

Buying-intent keywords are sometimes brand focused and can contain qualifiers like “discount coupon for Sephora” or “cheap Packers tickets.”

Adapting SEO strategy to target consumers with buying intent is especially important for eCommerce stores.


Optimizing for Research Intent

Since research is often submitted into a search engine as a question, consider using FAQs related to target keywords as headers and subheaders on your website. Always answer the main question directly near the top of a page so Google can quickly match search intent to your content. Businesses often present this type of information in blog posts or videos.

Also try creating content that compares/contrasts your company’s offerings with competitors’ to shepherd prospective customers from research to “buying mode.”


Optimizing for Buying Intent

When looking to optimize your website for consumers looking to take action, make it as easy as possible to find everything needed to make a purchase or request a quote. The design should be kept simple with ample white space to make important information (like the call to action) stand out. Photography must appear professional and reflect brand personality. Keep written content laser focused on the value the product or service provides and consider including modifiers (e.g., purchase, order, affordable, free delivery, next-day delivery, etc.) Do not, however, use any modifiers that conflict with your brand image.


Create Content for Every Stage of the Consumer Buying Process

It’s important to develop content for both types of search intent to make a strong connection with a prospective customer, regardless of where they are in their buying process. It will also boost search engine ranking and click-through rates when headers and content directly explain what the consumer is there to find.


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