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What Is Search Intent? A Complete Guide With Examples

by Abie Davis

The age of search intent is here. Knowing what keywords people search for isn’t enough anymore. 

People use Google to search for things they need. They don’t search for keywords. You must understand search intent to increase organic traffic, improve SEO, and create future-proof content.

This ultimate, step-by-step guide will reveal precisely how to use search intent.

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent, also known as user intent, is the reason a person searches for something online. It’s an attempt to answer: 

  • What’s the intent behind their search? 
  • What do they want to do?

Recent semantic search updates at Google, such as Hummingbird and RankBrain, made significant adjustments to the algorithm. Your favourite search engine now looks at each search query and tries to understand the user’s intent.

  • Are they looking for a specific website?
  • Do they want to learn something?
  • Would they like to buy a product or service?

The search engine then delivers results that satisfy the user’s needs. 

If content matches the search intent, the person can stop searching because they have everything they need on one page.

Why Is Search Intent Important For SEO?

The better you understand a user’s intent, the better content you can create. 

Understanding search intent allows you to can create content that:

  • Speak to a user's pain points
  • Answers a user's questions
  • Prompts a user to take action

Google uses search intent to rank content on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). They went into great detail about it in their Quality Evaluator Guidelines.

Understanding Search Intent - Meme - Meet the user intent

Imagine you searched for a guide on how to grow the world’s hottest pepper, and all you could find were shops trying to sell you chilli sauce?

When you understand user intent, you can:

  • Do better keyword research: You’ll learn how to target keywords that align with your goals and meets your audience’s needs.
  • Create better content: Understanding user intent leads to better content that answers questions in a structured, logical manner.
  • Rank higher: When you create content that’s relevant to users and is easily understood by search engines, you’ll rank higher.

4 Types Of Search Intent

There are 4 different types of search intent. While they often overlap, understanding the 4 primary categories is essential to using user intent to optimise your content.

Informational Search Intent

Informational search intent is when a user is looking for information. 

For example, “What is the world’s hottest pepper?” is a simple question with a simple answer. Sometimes, informational queries can have longer, more detailed explanations, like, “How to grow the world’s hottest pepper?”

Remember, not all informational queries are formulated as questions.

Here are some examples of informational search intent:

  • “What is the hottest pepper?”
  • “Growing ghost peppers.”
  • “Carolina Reaper pepper.”

Navigational Search intent

Navigational search intent is when a user is looking for a website. The user knows where they want to go, but it’s probably easier for them to go to Google rather than typing it into the address bar.

The user may also be unsure of the exact URL.

Some examples of navigational search intent include:

  • “Twitter”
  • “Facebook login”
  • “Pepper Growers Login”

Transactional Search intent

The user wants to buy something. They know what they want to buy. They intend to find a shop where they can buy it.

Some examples of transactional user intent include:

  • “Buy ghost pepper seeds.”
  • “Pepper growers coupon.”
  • “Ghost peppers cheap.”

Commercial User Investigation

The searcher is in the market to buy a product or service, but they haven’t decided on a specific product. In this case, they are most likely researching their available options. They’re looking for content that includes reviews, comparisons, and product guides.

Some examples of commercial user investigation include:

  • “Best chilli seeds.”
  • “Ghost Pepper vs Carolina Reaper”
  • “Jolly Green’s Soft Mulch fertilizer review”

A bonus example for commercial user investigation could be a search term like: “plant nurseries near me.”

This search demonstrates that many local searches are actually commercial investigations. Other examples could be “restaurants near me” or “cheapest garden depot in California.”

Commercial user investigation keywords are also great for brandjacking content that tries to get into your competitors marketing funnel.

How To Optimize Content For User Intent: A Hot Step-By-Step Guide

Now that you understand the 4 types of search intent, it’s time for a practical example.

For this guide, we’ll be looking at creating search intent optimised content around “how to grow ghost peppers”. Hold on to your hats. It’s going to be a flaming hot journey!

Understanding Search Intent - Meme - How to create search intent optimized content

Find Your Keyword

First, find your keyword, and determine its search intent. You can almost always determine a keyword’s intent based on the keyword and its search results. 

For example, “how to grow ghost peppers” is an informational keyword. Informational keywords are often phrased as questions. 

When you understand the user’s intent, you know where they are in the marketing funnel. 

Here’s a quick guide:

  • Awareness Stage: Users are searching for information, i.e. informational content.
  • Consideration Stage: Users want comparisons, reviews, and more details about a product or service. Examples are “best ghost pepper chilli sauce.”
  • Conversion Stage: Users are ready to transact. They’ll often have navigational or transactional keywords, such as “Jolly Green’s Ghost peppers” or "ghost pepper seeds near me".

Use keyword explorer tools like Ahrefs and keyword grouping tools like KeyClusters to narrow down the perfect keywords for your content. In our example, Ahrefs will return these results:

Understanding Search Intent - Software - Use Ahrefs to search for keywords

Don’t evaluate keywords on their search volume alone. Keywords with large search volumes are super competitive, and it’ll be challenging to rank on the first page for them.

You can also analyse your competition’s keywords with Ahrefs. Doing this allows you to see what keywords to rank for, how long your content should be, and what keyword density to aim for.

When doing keyword research, remember to exclude sites whose content serves a different user intent. 

Create Content According To Our Triple S Formula For User Intent

Now the real work begins. After establishing your keyword’s search intent, you must create your content according to our Triple S formula.

At Contentellect, we’ve been using this tried and tested process for years to create quality content. The Triple S formula of user intent consists of:

  1. Sort
  2. Structure
  3. Selling Point

Let’s look at each step in detail.

Sort

Determine the sort of content you need to create. The type of content falls into any of the following:

  • Blog posts
  • Product pages
  • Category pages
  • Landing pages

You determine the type of content by looking at the search results for your preferred keyword.

For example, take a look at the top results for “How to grow a ghost pepper”:

Understanding Search Intent - Example - How to grow a ghost pepper

You can see from the titles that most of the results are blog posts. They address common topics such as:

  • Tips for growing ghost peppers
  • How to plant and grow ghost peppers
  • When and how to plant ghost pepper

Now let’s change things up a bit. Look at the search results for “buy ghost pepper chilli sauce”:

Understanding Search Intent - Example - Buy ghost pepper chili sauce

A quick look at the titles and URLs will show that these are all eCommerce pages.

Your goal is to create the most dominant content type in the search results for your keyword. You create dominating content by addressing the user’s search intent.

Structure

Structure refers to the format of the top-ranking pages. The structure typically falls in any of the following:

  • How-to guides
  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • Lists
  • Opinions
  • Reviews
  • Comparisons

While there are undoubtedly other formats, these should give you an idea of what to look for.

Let’s look at an example. If we look at the search results for “how to grow a ghost pepper”, we see that most of them are how-to guides or step-by-step tutorials.

When we search for “the hottest peppers on earth”, we get list posts:

Understanding Search Intent - Example - The hottest peppers on earth

When planning your content, it’s best to follow the crowd. Google knows what users want, and it shows only the best results.

You should create a blog post if the top results are blog posts. And you should create a how-to guide if the top results are how-to guides.

Selling Point

The selling point refers to what makes your content valuable and unique. Here you should add the value that provides insight that searchers will appreciate.

For example, if we look again at the search results for “how to grow a ghost pepper” we can see that while the majority of results are similar, there are a few notable differences.

Understanding Search Intent - Example - How to grow a ghost pepper (Selling Point)

Here are a few that stood out from the rest:

  • How to Grow Ghost Peppers (With Pictures)
  • How to Grow Ghost Peppers From Seed

In the case of a transactional search intent like “buy ghost pepper seeds,” we see retailers pitch their low prices and discounts in the search results.

These sales pitches tell us that price is often a significant consideration for shoppers.

Again, the secret to optimising your content is to follow the crowd.

If they all pitch price in their content, think about new ways to spice things up. What could you do differently to address the issue of the price?

This is your unique selling point. It sets your content apart from the competition. Readers will appreciate your content more when it’s unique and still manages to address their needs.

The more people appreciate your content; the higher search engines will rank it.

Use Search Results, Keywords, And Top-Ranking Pages

Our step-by-step guide for search intent optimised content works well to help you decide what content to create. 

However, to turn the heat up and take your content to the next level, you need to analyze the SERPs and top pages in detail.

Look At The People Also Ask Box

The “People Also Ask Box” tells you what other questions people ask. These questions relate to your keyword, so it’s wise to include them in your content.

For example, look at “how to grow a ghost pepper”:

Understanding Search Intent - Example - How to grow a ghost pepper (People Also Ask Box)

Some interesting questions related to our topic are:

  • "Are ghost peppers easy to grow?"
  • "How long does it take a ghost pepper to grow?"
  • "How many ghost peppers do you get per plant?"

Answer these questions in your content to truly address your reader’s needs.

Refine Your Content With Keyword Tools

Refine your keywords with tools like Ahrefs. In our case, we’ll focus on the keyword: “how to grow ghost peppers”.

We paste it into Ahrefs and hit search. Here are the results:

Understanding Search Intent - Software - Use Ahrefs to optimize keywords

We can see some searches like:

  • "How to grow ghost peppers indoor"
  • "How to grow ghost peppers in a pot"
  • "How to grow ghost peppers inside"

From these, we can tell that people don't just want to know how to grow a ghost pepper, but how to do it indoors.

This gives you insight into what subtopics to cover when creating your hot content.

Look At The Top Performing Pages

Nothing beats old-fashioned research. Look at the top-ranking content for your keyword. 

  • What do they have in common?
  • What didn't they include?
Understanding Search Intent - Meme - Do Research

Looking at the top results for "how to grow ghost peppers", we can see some other commonalities:

  • Images: People want to see photos of how to grow ghost peppers.
  • Links: There are always links to buy ghost pepper seeds, fertiliser, and toolkits. Users find this helpful, even if it isn't a commercial or transactional keyword.
  • Structure: Structure is essential. The top pages talk about preparing the seed, planting it, working with the growing seedling, and harvesting your ghost peppers. So, including this is a must.

Fact is, if you don't look at the top-performing pages and learn from them, you're going to miss out.

How To Determine User Intent From Keywords

Search intent goes hand-in-hand with semantic SEO. It delivers relevant search results to people. 

When you optimise your content for search intent, you can:

  • Reduce bounce rates: People who get everything they want from your page will stay on it.
  • Improve page views: If your content meets users' search intent, they'll be likelier to stay on your website and browse around.
  • Steal the featured snippet spot: Addressing search intent can get you that coveted featured snippet. Google will allow your page to rank on top as the first search result.
  • Reach more people: Google is clever. Optimising your page will help Google show it to more people, even if their questions are only semantically related to your content.

These benefits will ensure your content is SEO optimised and ready for the future. Do it right and enjoy a larger audience, better quality traffic, and more engagements with your hot content.

Learn more? See our guide to off site SEO.

Abie Davis

Abie Davis is an avid miniature war hobbyist. When he's not knee-deep in the trenches, he's helping to write content that charms, converts, and convinces. Relentlessly helpful and creative, he loves to write while exploring with his partner and their two brilliant dogs.


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