What is Search Intent and Why Your SEO Depends on It

When you hear “SEO,” most people think “keywords.” It’s a natural association. After all, people have been using typed words to conduct internet searches since the birth of the internet, and more recently, people are speaking words to conduct their searches. Still, as search technology evolves, keywords (and the other known SEO ranking factors like links and social mentions) are not enough to secure top ranking.

For a HUGE share of internet searches, to get top organic ranking, your site needs to match search intent.

Search Intent Defined

Search intent is what it sounds like—it’s the intent motivating the human user to perform a search.

Search intent has been classified in a number of ways. The categories we think are most useful are:

  • Navigational (sometimes called branded searches)—users conducting these searches are trying to get to a specific web location like “Chase credit card login” or “Reebok”.
  • Informational—users conducting these searches are looking for information. These types of searches can be further broken down:
    • Broad research—searchers are gathering general information on a topic. Many “how to…” and “what is…” searches fit in this category.
    • Specific research—searchers are moving closer to making some type of decision, so they are carefully examining their options. Searches for reviews, ratings and comparisons fall into this category.
  • Transactional—users conducting these searches are ready to purchase a product or service, so they are looking for platforms that allow them to do that. “Buy…” and “near me” searches are popular transactional search formulas.

How to Implement Search Intent

Search engines want to deliver the results that meet their users’ needs. To determine search intent so that results can match it, search engine algorithms now incorporate behavioral analysis and context signals. These highly evolved algorithms are ranking your website, so if you want to appear at the top of organic searches, your content needs to match more than keywords; it needs to match user intent.

How do you do that?

By developing content that anticipates users’ needs and questions and provides the answers. This isn’t done on a single page. It entails developing dozens, maybe even hundreds, of pages or online assets (like downloadable white papers, brochures, infographics, etc.), each created to answer specific user questions.

Here’s just one example to illustrate how you can develop intent-based content:

Say you’re a hot air balloon company. You want to increase awareness and sales of private hot air balloon tours. To use search intent to improve rankings, you:

First, imagine your target audience and what kinds of questions might they have.

If they are completely new to hot ballooning, they might ask or search for:

  • Are hot air balloon rides safe?
  • What is the history of hot air balloons?
  • What are hot air balloons made of?
  • What training do hot air balloon pilots need?
  • Places to get hot air balloon rides

If they know they want a hot air balloon tour, they might ask:

  • How much do hot air balloon tours cost?
  • What to wear on a hot air balloon tour
  • What to pack for a hot air balloon tour
  • How long are hot air balloon tours?
  • What will I see on a hot air balloon tour?
  • Best hot air balloon rides in Albuquerque

Once you have exhausted all the questions you can think someone might ask, then check to see if your website has pages or assets that answer those questions. If you do, these pages may still need some tweaking to more clearly match a user’s informational or transactional intent.

If your site doesn’t have assets to answer users’ questions, then you will need to create the blogs, pages, infographics, etc. When you craft your content, also make sure that the snippet (meta description) for your page also clearly summarizes the answer the user is seeking. Google and other search engines prefer links with snippets that match user intent without requiring the user to actually follow the link. (Even if the user doesn’t click your link, you still got the visibility, which may be all that’s necessary to make your site the site they search for when they are ready to buy.)

SonicSEO.com clients, of course, already have websites engineered for top search intent performance. Identifying your target market, their primary motivations and ways they may search to fulfill their intent are all part of our process. If your target market expands or shifts, contact us, and we will adapt your content to maintain top search performance.