What is Search Intent?

One of the most basic concepts of SEO and yet many marketers just skip this step in their keyword research. Many "content creators" gloss over it when writing their content. It boggles the mind. Let's get into it.

Okay, listen up. If you're new to digital marketing and SEO in particular, this is one of THE MOST BASIC concepts that you must understand. If you want to be successful in your marketing endeavors, you simply must learn about search intent. It's the key to ranking your website and getting the right people to actually click on your links.

I define Search Intent as such: "The reason behind someone using a particular query in a search engine." That's it. Is the user trying to learn something? Trying to find a specific product or site? Trying to buy something but not sure which one to buy? Trying to buy a specific product or service?

Which one of these intents is important to you? Sorry, you're wrong. It's all of them. But you should have multiple pages that each address different search intents. By the way, this is also a #YMYL (that's Your Money; Your Life if you're not familiar with the term). I won't really go into that here, but I touched on it in this post about Local Citations, you should go check it out.

Understanding search intent is important because it allows you to create content that is relevant to what people are actually looking for in that very moment. If you publish a blog post about your new best dog foods for sale, but your keywords are all informational, such as what are the best ingredients for dog food, you're not going to rank very high for people searching for a dog food to buy right now.

Why does this happen?

Because Google is smart. And this is why, as of August 2023, 91.85% of all search queries conducted across all search engine providers go through Google (Source: Oberlo). Have you ever accidentally used a search bar and you're like "what the heck is wrong with Google, why do these results all suck?" Then you realize you're on Bing and you immediately feel disgusted. You close the tab and open a new one, making sure to manually type in google.com first, just to guarantee you get those sweet, sweet accurate results. No? Never? I don't believe you. Anyway...

Photo by Valérie Ungerer / Unsplash

How is Google so smart? It's because they spy on you and everyone you know 24/7, of course. Go back and read that long EULA you skipped and at the bottom you clicked "I Agree" when creating your Google account. Google uses query, location, click, back-button, click again, time on site, pages per session, and eCommerce data (and about a billion other things) for everyone using it to help determine which sites are matching the intent of the user. So if someone is searching for what are the best ingredients for dog food, they're very likely to be researching various dog foods or possibly even looking to make their own at home. In this case, Google will rank websites that provide informational content about dog food higher in the results.

Let's take a look at those Google results...

Google Search Sponsored Results for "what are the best ingredients for dog food" search query.

First of all: 2.29 BILLION results? Dang.

Second: Take a look at the Sponsored results, which are always shown to you first, even if they don't match your search intent. That's not Google's fault, that's on the Ad Campaign Manager and using really broad, short-tail keywords. But that's another post.

Third: Look at the featured snippet and related queries!

Google Search Featured Snippets for "what are the best ingredients for dog food" search query.
Nice exposure if you can get it, right? Not always. You can get a Featured Snippet without actually ranking very high. The worst part is, it usually ends up in a Zero-Click Search. We'll talk about that later... NOT another post. This post. Keep reading.

Fourth: Ah, finally, some organic search results... Don't you hate it when you have to scroll 3 screens just to get to what you actually came for? It drives me NUTS!

Google Search Organic Results for "what are the best ingredients for dog food" search query.

But seriously, take a look at this SERP (that's Search Engine Results Page for you newbies still trying to learn the lingo). The website that got the Featured Snippet is not even in the top 4. Their snippet might have answered most people's question... but I guarantee they get fewer click-throughs than the top Organic result here, which is almost perfect. It's a listicle that teaches you the 7 best ingredients to look out for. This is the perfect piece of content for someone searching for what are the best ingredients for dog food?, wouldn't you agree?

What if I am trying to sell products, not just provide information?

Photo by M Burke / Unsplash

I'm so happy you asked! Just be aware that there are a million other companies ALSO trying to just sell products. If you instead focus your blog post on keywords such as best dog food to buy or best dog food deals or where to buy the best dog food then you're going to rank higher on SERPs for more transactional search intent than research intent. You had better have something to sell on that page. And make it easy to buy! And look trustworthy! And accept at least 3 different payment methods!

How do I write content that is relevant to search intent?

  1. Think about what people are trying to achieve when they search using a particular keyword. Are they trying to learn about something? Buy a particular kind of product? Buy a specific brand of that product? The better you can understand the intent behind certain keywords and phrases, the more likely you'll have the right people finding your content.
  2. Write content that meets a need. If you want people to learn about your unique product while they are in the research phase, write content that showcases the R&D that went into your product. Describe what problem it solves and even how it solves it. Targeting the people ready to buy? Compare it to your competitors' products, provide pricing, and sing the praises of how it will meet all their needs and exceed their expectations.
  3. Use relevant keywords in your content. Do the keyword research (that's another post) and make sure you're using both short- and long-tail phrases that have some search volume and match the intent you're trying to target.

How do I identify search intent by keyword?

Okay, if you insist, we'll dig into this a little bit.

Awareness Stage

At the awareness stage, people are just starting to learn about a product or a service. Maybe they heard it at work or a friend mentioned it or they saw an ad and now they're interested in learning more. These will include queries such as what is a CRM or what is the best vacuum cleaner or what is a backlink. You might notice a trend here. The queries usually start with what and tend to be short phrases. This is because the searcher doesn't really know much about the topic. These kinds of queries usually result in Wikipedia or reddit or some kind of respected industry blog being the top result, unless it's about a very specific product or service.

Consideration Stage

At the consideration stage, people have narrowed down their options and are now comparing different products or services. They may be looking for more options than just the few they initially learned about. These will include queries such as best CRMs for freelancers or where can I test a Miele vacuum or how do you get lots of backlinks. There's a trend here, too. Still asking questions like what or how but now the strings are longer and/or more specific of a query.

Decision Stage

At the decision stage, people are ready to buy. They have learned about something they now feel they need, they have done the research, and now it's time to make a purchase. They may use queries like coupon code for Zoho CRM or Miele vacuum seller in new york or organ meat dog food near me. These are search queries about specific products or services and a way they can acquire it, at a discount if possible!

Should I target long-tail or short-tail keywords?

Honestly, a good website has content that targets all stages of the buying process, but not on the same page! You should have dedicated informational pages, in-depth review pages, and sales pages. For all of your products/services. Look for a post soon about keyword research. I'll go deep into real-world examples of search intent and even effective landing page design.

Wait, you said you would tell me what a ZeroClick Search is!

Oh, right, that... I'm sure you're already familiar with it. Have you ever Googled something like what is Keanu Reeves' birthday and get this?

Question answered. Why would you click? You're just out at a bar and someone mentioned Keanu Reeves (or you just think about him all day like I do) and you're like "wait a second, how old is he now?" And you whip out your global database-connected pocket supercomputer and ask it. It tells you. Are you then going to go read a biography about him? No. You're going to put your phone away and continue talking with your friends, right? Good.

Happy belated, Keanu!

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