Search intent describes the purpose a user has when using a search engine.
This has been at the forefront of what Google has used over the years to:
- Tune algorithms.
- Shape what search engine results pages (SERPs) look like.
- Best serve their customers – the searcher.
We’re also focused on searchers – specifically, our target audience and how they search.
Understanding what your audience needs and what they are looking for based on where they are in the customer journey or funnel is the key to SEO.
Historically search intent has been put generally into several specific categories.
However, recently at MozCon, SEO thought leader Lily Ray made an excellent point: there are actually a lot more intents. Or maybe we could call them sub-intents? (I won’t go as far as calling them “micro” intents.)
Inspired by Ray, I will revisit the commonly accepted intents and my expanded list of examples.
4 most common search intents
Search intent is commonly categorized into four buckets: commercial, transactional, informational and navigational.
These serve as the four core search intents and the foundation of how many SEOs define a search action.
Google categorizes commercial intent as pre-transactional searches.
A user intends to buy a product or service, but just needs a little extra convincing. This can include searches that compare features of similar products.
When a search query aligns with transactional intent, users are primed to purchase and often have a specific product or service in mind.
Informational search intents define search queries that indicate a user who wants to gain further knowledge about something.
True to its name, navigational intent directs users to specific pages. The pages users search for can range anywhere from a specific social media platform to directories in your local town.
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Expanding for all intents and purposes
While those four search intents may broadly cover a sizable portion of queries, they don’t fully represent how users search.
The behavior of someone searching for a movie start time at a local theater isn’t the same as someone looking for movie reviews.
Sure, both are looking for information about a movie, but they are in different stages of the customer journey.
Expanding your understanding of search intent can help refine your engagement and marketing strategies – ultimately improving your understanding of audience segmentation, relevancy, engagement, visibility and increased conversions.
People often use search engines when they want to:
Before making a purchase, people will do their due diligence. They review pricing, specifications, reviews and more around products, brands and retailers.
Purchase a product
Once the product research and hand-wringing are complete, bottom-funnel searchers will use specific searches to find the exact product they want, often including the store they intend to purchase it from.
Find a store’s nearest location
Search engines are extremely useful for discovering which of the five fast-food burger joints within a two-mile radius of you is closest, has the best reviews and is open.
Find tutorials or tips
Enthusiasts of various hobbies, such as gardening, photography, cooking, and gaming, use search engines to find tutorials, guides, and communities related to their interests.
Fix a technical problem
When encountering technical issues with devices, software, or appliances, users can search for troubleshooting tips, forums, and support resources to help resolve their problems.
Users looking for fun and entertaining things to do, such as finding activities or attractions in their city.
Whether planning a trip to a friend’s house or a trip cross-country, people use search engines to find accurate directions, maps, and real-time traffic updates to navigate their journeys.
Catch up on current events
When a user is wanting to know the latest stories or local, national or international news.
Check the weather
Users can check the temperature, determine whether they will need an umbrella later on, or determine if they need to make backup plans in case their picnic gets rained next weekend.
Cook something delicious
Search engines make it simple to discover new recipes and cooking methods from both amateur blogs and world-renowned chefs.
Expand their brain
Search engines are a primary tool for finding information on almost any topic imaginable. From historical events to scientific concepts to trivia questions, users can quickly locate relevant articles, websites, and resources.
DIY enthusiasts find guides, tutorials, and tips for various projects, such as home improvement, crafting, gardening, and repairs.
Self-diagnose their symptoms
Before seeking professional advice or visiting a licensed medical practitioner, users can search their symptoms to understand whether they are allergic to something or came down with a deadly illness.
Understand their neighbor
Language barriers can become much smaller thanks to language translation tools that enable users to quickly translate text, phrases, or entire web pages between different languages.
Play the stock market
Search engines provide access to real-time stock quotes, financial news, investment advice, and resources for managing personal finances and investments.
Find a new job
Job seekers use search engines to find job listings, research companies, access career advice, and prepare for job interviews.
Plan their next trip
Travelers can almost do it all directly from search engines – research destinations, flights, rental cars, and hotels and find tourist attractions and tips.
Find photos and videos
Users search for images and videos to find visual content related to specific topics, ideas, or projects. This includes finding stock photos, artwork, memes, and video clips.
Identify something they see
Searching using images has never been more advanced with engines being able to identify flowers, wildlife, furniture, artwork, and more with just a picture.
Listen to a song
Music lovers can discover new music or listen to that song that’s been stuck in their head.
Figure out the lyrics to a song
No matter if users only know one line of the song they heard on the radio or know the title and artist, search engines can show them the lyrics.
Watch the video
Video results allow users to find movie trailers, music videos, tutorials, reviews, news clips, often without even having to leave the search results page.
The ‘what’ and ‘why’ behind a searcher’s query
Search intent is a central key to SEO. Understanding what and why someone is searching and aligning your brand, content, and engagement opportunities with it is central to SEO.
SEO is hard enough when you have a well-defined target audience and a great strategy and plan.
Without grasping the “what” and “why” of user search intent, your optimization efforts will miss the mark.
Having a full understanding and nuanced approach will help you nurture someone through their journey or your funnel while also giving you a chance to tell your brand story and further engage them in the process.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.