Search intent, also known as user intent, is the purpose of an online search and it can tell us a lot about what type of content we should create to rank higher on Google.
Meeting search intent is essential for success in search rankings and SEO.
When your content aligns with search intent, it serves as a clear signal to Google that your content is relevant and deserves a higher rank.
In some cases identifying search intent is quite straightforward. For example, if the user is searching for ‘best indoor plants’ then it’s clear that they want to learn about different houseplants.
The top-ranking pages for this query are blog posts in listicle format, so to rank for this query you should consider doing the same.
However, identifying search intent is not always this simple and for certain queries you can experience fractured or mixed intent, which means that the query has multiple meanings.
A simple word like 'apple' could lead us down two entirely different paths - one to the fruit and the other to the tech giant and this is where understanding mixed search intent becomes crucial.
Search intent analysis
Google's mission is to provide users with the most relevant results for their queries, however, what happens when people want different things from the same search?
Queries can have multiple meanings, with one interpretation often being more dominant and the others less common.
If your content doesn't align with the dominant intent, your chances of ranking diminish significantly.
To decode search intent effectively, one of the key strategies is to look at the top-ranking pages for a target query.
To better understand search intent, the queries are often categorised into four main buckets:
- Informational intent: When users seek information. Ranking for informational intent is achievable through articles and blog posts that provide valuable knowledge. A lot of this is done by answering ‘how’ or ‘what’ based questions.
- Navigational intent: This applies to users looking for a specific website or location. For businesses, it's essential to optimise for navigational queries related to their brand.
- Commercial investigation intent: Users with this intent are typically in the market for a product or service but haven't yet made a final decision. Content in this category includes "best of" lists, reviews, and product comparisons, so users can do their research and weigh up their options.
- Transactional intent: This is where users are ready to make a purchase. It's usually reserved for websites that sell the specific products or services directly.
So, how do you determine the search intent for your target query? To analyse search intent effectively, consider the following factors:
Organic blue link search results
Analyse the SERP from a location where you hope to rank. To do this, you need to use a VPN and sign out of your Google account or use incognito mode to eliminate any personalisation factors. Look at the top-ranking pages for this location and determine the intent they're trying to serve. For example, if you search for 'best slow cooker,' you'll find that the intent can be both informational and commercial, but since the dominating content type and format are a blog post and listicle, commercial intent is more dominant.
SERP features are elements other than the standard organic blue link pages that appear in Google's search results, including local packs, knowledge panels, people also ask, ads, featured snippets and videos. They can help paint a clearer picture of how Google sees user intent. For example, a featured snippet is common for informational search intent, a knowledge panel can be seen for navigational queries, ads are common for commercial investigation and a shopping box often appears for transactional intent queries. Keep in mind though that SERP features can often fit into multiple intent buckets.
SERP stability vs. volatility
The stability of a SERP can reveal much about the clarity of search intent. If the top-ranking pages frequently change positions in the top 100 results, it indicates a volatile intent. On the other hand, if the top-ranking pages consistently maintain their positions on page one over an extended period, it suggests a clearer intent. It's important to note that both stable and volatile SERPs have their pros and cons. Stable SERPs offer predictability but are challenging to break into, while volatile SERPs can be quicker to rank in but come with uncertainty in terms of whether you can rank.
The 3 C's of search intent
To succeed in the world of search, keep in mind the three C's of search intent when analysing the top-ranking pages. First of all, pay attention to content type. It could be blog posts, landing pages, or product pages, depending on the query. Make sure to analyse the actual format of content, such as tutorials, reviews, comparisons, or list posts. Understanding the dominant format can massively help with ranking. The last thing to check is the content angle. This is the unique selling point highlighted by the top-ranking pages in SERPs. It provides insight into what users value the most when entering a specific search query. For example, it could be results relevant to the current year, such as ‘best running shoes of 2023’.
Understanding search intent is crucial to navigating through the vast ocean of search results.
If you aim to rank for the long term, it's important to focus on providing searchers with relevant and valuable content that satisfies their search intent.
By doing so, you can expect to be rewarded with better rankings and more visibility.