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What search intent is (and why it matters for your SEO)

Updated: Oct 19, 2023


Image of a person with a clear search intent (through a magnifying glass)
"Juuust what I was looking for" (Photo by Marten Newhall on Unsplash)

Search intent is what your audience is looking for when they type in an online search query.


Are they looking for information? A specific service? Recommendations for the best products? A how-to guide?


Understanding the intent of a search is important if you want to write pages that rank and get clicks.


But knowing how search intent will relate to the actions your audience will take when they get there is also important to get your head around when it comes to assessing SEO performance.


Here's the most helpful stuff to think about:


What is search intent?

Search intent is the reason why a particular person has typed a particular search term into a search engine. It's the purpose behind their search.


It's sometimes called "audience intent", "searcher intent", "user intent", or "keyword intent".


What are the different types of search intent?

There are generally agreed to be three or four main reasons that people type search queries:

  1. Informational – the most popular. Someone looking for the answer to a specific question or doing research on a subject has informational search intent.

  2. Navigational – not sure what a specific website's URL is? Nor are the people with a navigational search intent. It's usually easier to type something into Google than try to guess.

  3. Commercial investigational – entire websites exist to take advantage of this kind of investigational search intent. The searcher wants to buy a type of product or service but isn't sure which is the best one.

  4. Transactional – someone with a transactional search intent wants to get something out of their search. Usually, it's to buy something.

Why is search intent important?

The most important thing to understand about search intent from an SEO point of view is this – it's whether that user can achieve their intention that matters.


Search engines like Google and Bing want to make sure they allow their users to successfully fulfil their intention, whether it happens to be transactional or informational.


You might work with an excellent in-house or freelance copywriter. You might be a dab hand at the keyboard yourself.


But if your perfect SEO copy ranks highly yet doesn't let users achieve their intent, even with the best choice and positioning of keywords in the world you won't be the most relevant page for the search.


Other ranking factors like links and keywords are vital. If your page doesn't let users learn, find, compare, or sell as desired though, you're onto a losing strategy.


Search intent – an example from e-commerce

One of the best examples of this is e-commerce websites. These sites exist to sell things to people online.


Online marketplaces in some industries can be tough. Competition can be high. Which products get sold is often determined by how well they rank.


Problems arise in that most people don't start with a transactional (“I want to hire a copywriter now”) search intent. They start with an informational search (“How do SEO copywriting services work?”).


But many e-commerce site operators want their product pages to position and sell to people whose intent is to find information. Operators get disappointed when searchers turn away from their product pages, the user's intent to find out more going unfulfilled.


This is where informational content comes in. Alas, some e-commerce sites don't appreciate the need for pages that don't sell directly. Others think that product pages should simply do the job on their own.


Informational content and e-commerce sites – the test case

A real test case for why understanding user intent is important took place in e-commerce a few years ago. It was a complete accident. Here's what happened:


An e-commerce platform with 60 000+ product pages decided to remove its 25 (total) informational pages as those pages – according to their data – only directly drove 2% of sales.


Turns out, those 25 pages were pretty vital. Without them, the platform lost 33% of its traffic. The rankings of its product pages absolutely tanked.


What did the company do? It put the pages back. Fast. It then took less than a month for their site to recover its former rankings.


Turns out, they had unknowingly been taking advantage of informational search intent to drive sales the whole time.

Dropped ice cream, representing SEO copy that misses informational search intent
"Whoops! Best put that site back together." (Photo by Pawel Janiak on Unsplash)

Why write informational pages if you want transactional intent?

For e-commerce websites that still doubt whether they need to create informational intent-focused content or that it doesn't drive sales, the above is a pretty stark reminder of why this matters.


But it's not the only reason why allowing users to achieve their informational search intent can be very beneficial for your website. It can also help you:

  • Hit top search positions – informational pages are often easier to position than product pages.

  • Generate links – it's easier to get backlinks and promote interesting content than it is sales pages.

  • Establish your expertise – building your reputation and attracting more sales in the long run.

  • Answer audience questions – potential clients might have questions relating to your products and services. If you answer them, they might be ready to buy.

  • Link to product pages – there's no reason why you can't drop in a few links to your related products anyway...

Search intent and your SEO

Choosing the most-searched keywords for your SEO isn't always enough. You also need to ensure that those keywords align with your audience's search intent.


If most people entering the keywords you've chosen for your product pages have an informational intent, you'll struggle to directly convert visitors to buyers.


By all that is good in the world, I would love the phrase “freelance copywriter” to be what people type when they want website copywriting services like mine. It's not though. It's more the sort of thing people type they want to discover how to become a writer.


Equally, informational intent can be a great way to demonstrate your expertise and reach places you might not otherwise get found online.


So if you're not taking advantage of that, now might be the time to start writing how-to guides or answer questions you get every day in your content.

Understanding what search intent is can be made to work for you in several different ways.

Not got enough time to run your business and write great content too?


Let's chat about it. For the past ten years, I've been providing friendly copywriting services to businesses in Bristol and far beyond.


Every industry. Every niche. Engaging content matched to your tone. Reach out to me at benjamindmaiden@gmail.com to tell me about your needs with zero obligation.

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