The Easy Guide to Search Intent
Just yesterday, a client asked me to write a blog post around a certain keyword. For the sake of example, let’s say it was wedding caterer Austin*. The client currently appears on page three of Google search results for that keyword, and they want to get up to page one.
Now, this company is a Central Texas wedding caterer, and they have a strong website. So a well-optimized piece of content that focuses on that keyword should be able to get to page one.
But when I got started, I ran into a snag regarding that keyword’s search intent. And it was a good reminder that not every keyword is always a good fit for every business or every type of content.
If you have a website or do any kind of blogging, this post will help you to understand search intent, and how you can use it to get better rankings for your content.
What is Search Intent?
Search intent (aka user intent) is the reason behind the query.
Think about the last time you ran a Google search. What were you looking for? Were you planning to buy something? Looking for a specific website? Trying to find a tutorial?
Those different searches all show different search intent. Connecting your content and keywords to the right user intent is a key part of improving your search results.
Depending on who you ask, there are either three or four main types of search intent. I prefer four intent categories, as I think they’re more complete. They are:
This is probably the simplest intent to identify. Navigational intent is intended to lead the searcher to a specific website.
If I were looking for Royal Fig Catering, a local catering company, I would search for that keyword. Keep in mind that for a navigational search, there may not be much point in trying to optimize for these keywords if it’s not your website.
For example, if I wrote a blog post about the “Best Catering Companies in Austin” and included Royal Fig, I might get a decent ranking for the keyword “Royal Fig Catering.” But it’s highly unlikely that the search would direct any traffic to my website.
Because people who search for that keyword aren’t looking for a list of the best local catering companies. If they searched for “Royal Fig Catering,” they’re looking for Royal Fig Catering’s website. They’re not going to click on my blog post because that wasn’t what they were looking for.
Navigational search examples:
- “Google Analytics”
When the goal of the search is to make a purchase, that’s transactional intent. Usually, the searcher has already decided what they want, and are just looking for the best place to buy it.
Transactional search examples:
- “White by Vera Wang Textured Organza Wedding Dress”
- “Bravetart cookbook”
- “Restaurant depot coupon code”
How-to’s, recipes, history, biographies — this type of content all answers informational intent. These searchers are looking for knowledge, whether it’s an in-depth topic or something as simple as today’s weather.
Informational search examples:
- “Auguste Escoffier”
- “How to smoke a brisket”
- “Traditional Hanukkah recipes”
With a commercial search, the user has an idea of what they want, but hasn’t decided who to buy from. These searches are often looking for information with an intent to make a future purchasing decision. They’re looking for reviews, comparisons, and “best of” lists to help them shop. They may also be interested in finding vendor or company websites that fit the search.
Commercial search examples:
- “Wedding caterer austin”
- “Best tacos in Austin”
- “Local menu printing services”
Identifying Search Intent
Once you know the four types of search intent, you have to identify the search intent of a query for your proposed keyword.
This is where many people get tripped up. They assume they should go after any niche-related keyword, but don’t think about what the searcher is actually looking for.
Certain modifiers can be a clue about search intent. For navigational searches, a brand or product name may be the giveaway — but these searches could be commercial, too.
A transactional search may have a local modifier, like “near me.” Or it could include words like buy, coupon, or price.
For informational queries, look for the 5 W’s — who, what, when, where, and why — plus words like:
Finally, commercial searches often include words like best, review, comparison, or features.
Also, some keywords may have mixed search intent. Consider “carnitas tacos.” Google knows that this search may have more than one intent. Most of the results on page one are for recipes, and there is a recipe block right up at the top.
But if you keep scrolling down the page, you’ll also find a Google Local Pack including taco joints near me that sell carnitas tacos.
That’s because the search for carnitas tacos can have both informational and commercial intent.
So what’s the best way to figure it out? Head to Google, search for the keyword, and see what comes up!
Google prioritizes search results that get clicks, because that means the result answered the searcher’s query.
If your blog post about that one memorable time you ate carnitas tacos isn’t getting any clicks for that search, Google will decide it’s not satisfying keyword intent and bump you further down the results.
So you can generally trust that if all the results on page one are detailed guides or product comparisons, that’s what the people want.
Back to My Client…
To recap: my client asked me to write a blog post to help them rank on page one for the term “wedding caterer Austin.” So I did a quick search of that keyword, to see what turned up. And I found that the user intent for that keyword doesn’t line up with an informational blog post.
After the Google Local Pack up at the top, we have:
7 results from sites like The Knot and Yelp, with lists and reviews of Austin wedding caterers
3 home pages for local wedding catering companies
Only one of those results is a blog post, and it’s a blog detailing the top 10 wedding caterers in Austin.
People searching for “wedding caterer Austin” are trying to learn more about specific businesses so they can make a hire for their weddings. This is a commercial search.
So what could I blog about for my client that fit this search intent?
A list of local wedding caterers? That fits the intent, but it’s certainly not a good idea to promote your competition.
A self-promotional piece about how we’re the best wedding caterers in Austin? It’s possible, but I strongly doubt it would be enough to outrank anyone else on page one. Plus, since only one blog post shows up in the first page of results, that doesn’t seem like the best type of content for this search.
So what could I do for my client?
It’s highly unlikely that writing a blog post around that keyword would have achieved the desired result, and would have just wasted their money. Since I don’t like wasting my client’s money, I made an alternate suggestion.
I proposed rewriting a location-specific landing page on the company website to better attract couples looking for wedding caterers in Austin. Our competition for the front page isn’t TripAdvisor or Yelp — it’s the three other local catering companies that are currently ranking on page one.
I’ll rewrite my client’s local landing page for the Austin area, and hope to knock one of those three off the first page. It’s like SEO whack-a-mole.
I rewrote two local landing pages with search intent in mind. The results?
A 17 place bump rank in two months for one, and an 8 place bump in rank for the other. That’s a major improvement!
For content creators, breaking through the search intent barrier can be a major step forward in getting their websites and blogs to rank higher in Google.
If you still have any questions about search intent, let me know in the comments below!
*My client isn’t actually an Austin wedding caterer, but is a wedding vendor in another city. I’m using an Austin wedding caterer as an example.