If you’re looking to drive more traffic from organic search, then understanding user intent is more important than ever. By understanding why people search for specific keywords, you’ll be better equipped to create content that ranks well in search.

Below, we’ll walk through the basics of search intent, how to perform intent analysis and synthesize your research into actionable content recommendations that can be sent to your editorial team. 

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  1. What is search intent?
  2. What are the four types of search intent?
  3. How to discover a searcher’s intent?
  4. How to optimize content for search intent?

What is search intent?

A user’s search intent is the why behind an individual’s search query or the goal behind why someone turned to a search engine in the first place.

If you want to have a chance to rank in the SERPs, then you’ll need to provide the best answer to a user’s query. 

What are the four types of search intent?

There are typically four ways we classify search intent, including:

  1. Informational
  2. Transactional
  3. Navigational
  4. Commercial

Informational
If you’ve ever turned to Google to find out information about a specific topic, then you’ve performed an informational query. This is when people use a search engine to gather information and aren’t looking to visit a specific webpage or make a purchase. Some examples of keyword phrases with informational search intent include:

  • what time is sunrise in San Francisco
  • what to do in napa 
  • how often to water kokedama

Transactional
A transactional search is performed when a user is looking to complete a specific action on the web. Aside from purchasing items, users could be going online to download a specific file, use an online service or access data. Below are examples of transactional queries for users who are looking to purchase a specific item, watch a show and find a downloadable resource:

  • black mid-century modern sofa 
  • marvelous mrs. maisel
  • sweden travel guide

Navigational
When a user is looking to reach a specific site, their query is considered navigational. Although it’s possible to rank for another site’s branded queries, the majority of clicks for navigational queries will go to the site that the user is looking to visit. These types of queries are often performed by users who don’t want to type in the full domain. Instead, they simply use the brand name in search. Below are a few examples of navigational queries:

  • netflix 
  • amazon 
  • the new yorker

Commercial
These include the keywords and phrases that users enter into a search engine to buy a specific type of product. These types of searches are both for users who are looking to buy something online or search for a local store:

  • bmw x4
  • suit tailoring sf
  • best mens jewelry store near me  

Whether you’re writing a blog post or optimizing a shopping landing page, you should always be able to categorize a user’s search intent into one of the four categories above. 

If search intent isn’t obvious from just looking at the search query, then you can use the method below to figure out why people are searching and what kind of content they’re looking for. 

How to Discover A Searcher’s Intent

There are plenty of keywords where the search intent is obvious at first glance; however, there are others that are more complicated to understand.

When it’s not easy to determine the keyword intent or when there are multiple intents for a single keyword, there are a few steps you can take. 

  1. Write down notable SERP features
  2. Compare the title tags of top ranking content
  3. Analyze top ranking content 

Below, we’ll walk through what to look for and how to get insights from each one of these strategies, as well as how to use the information you found to create better content that ranks in SERPs. 

Write Down Notable SERP Features

SERP features tell you a lot about what people are searching for. Whenever you perform a keyword search and get results other than blue links, you’re looking at a SERP feature. There are many different types of search features that show up depending on a user’s search query, including:

  1. Featured Snippets: Featured at the top of Google search results and aim to answer the searcher’s question or provide a preview of a multi-step answer without the searcher having to leave the page.

  2. Local Pack: Appears for keywords with local-intent, including those with specific locations and ‘near me’ modifiers. This includes local business listings that are relevant to the searcher’s query. 

  3. Reviews: Golden star ratings that appears beneath the page title tag. 

  4. AMP: Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) are HTML versions of web pages that can be served much more efficiently for mobile users.

  5. Sitelinks: Links displayed below the main main result, which help users more efficiently find related pages on a site. 

  6. Video: A carousel that includes the most relevant video content for a given query. 

  7. Top Stories: This type of search result is triggered for news-related queries and displays a carousel, as well as a link to view additional stories from Google News.

  8. People Also Ask: A list of questions and answers that are related to a searcher’s keyword phrase. 

  9. Images: A block of related images with a link to Google Images. 

  10. Instant Answer: The answer to a searcher’s query displayed at the top of the SERP. 

  11. Knowledge Panel: Located at the top of lefthand sidebar, this search feature often includes bullet points and a paragraph with information about the topic the searcher is investigating. 

  12. Shopping: Paid listings that include links to Product Listing Ads (PLAs) that are triggered for shopping queries.

For example, let’s say you’re looking to create an article about indoor plants. Start by taking your seed keyword list and searching for each keyword on Google and take note of any SERP features.

KeywordAMSVSERP Features
air plants90,500Shopping, Knowledge Panel
christmas cactus60,500Shopping, Knowledge Panel, Videos
asparagus fern22,200Shopping, Knowledge Panel, People Also Ask, Video
cattleya orchid8,100Shopping, Knowledge Panel, Videos, People Also Ask
types of indoor plants3,600Shopping, People Also Ask, Images
norfolk pine tree1,300Shopping, Knowledge Panel, People Also Ask, Videos

The SERP features provide clues about what type of content users are looking for and help you understand what type of content you need to create in order to rank at the top of the first page. 

In our article example, the ‘People Also Ask’ shows people looking for general information about indoor plants, the best ones to buy and ones that are low maintenance. For the content your team is looking to write, you’ll want to cover the topics featured in the ‘People Also Asked’ result, including: 

When looking at the SERP, you’ll also find an image carousel, showing that users performing this search are looking for images. You’ll want to include photos in the content and optimize the images file names and alt text so they have a chance to rank in the carousel. 

Keep track of SERP features that appear for different queries to better understand search intent and guide which tactics you want to implement.

Compare Title Tags to Understand Intent

The title tags that display on the first page of search results also tells you a lot about what users are looking to find. Keep a record of the top 5 pages that are ranking at the top of the search results for a specific query, including the Site Name, URL and Title Tag.

For ‘types of indoor plants’, you’ll see the following:

SiteWord CountArticle Name (Title Tag)Page Type
Houseplant Experts751House Plant Types – Categories of Indoor PlantsComplete guide with plant categorizations
Good Housekeeping1,98330 Easy Houseplants – Easy To Care For Indoor PlantsList of houseplants with short description
Safer Brand12026 Best Indoor Plants for Your Home – Safer BrandList of houseplants with short descriptions
BHG3,96227 of the Easiest Houseplants You Can GrowList of houseplants with short descriptions

Keep a notes column for recording similarities you see between the title tags that may help you better understand the search intent. From these titles alone, it’s clear that people who are searching for the target keyword are looking for: 

  1. A list of houseplants that people can grow at home 
  2. Categorizations of the different types of houseplants
  3. Houseplants that don’t take a lot of effort to grow

Make sure to cover these topics in your article about the ‘types of indoor plants’. Based on the title tags above you, you’ll also find that numbers work well for this type of content and should also be included in the title tag of your content.

Read & Analyze Top Ranking Content

You may think it’s forbidden to read through your competitor’s content, but it will give ideas about what users are searching for and surface opportunities to provide something of unique value. Take a look at the top 5 pages ranking in the SERPs, or every URL ranking on the 1st page, and writing down the following:

  1. Content Structure
    How is the content structured? Are there images as well as questions and answers? Is information displayed in a carousel? Are there opportunities to learn general information and purchase something on the same page?

    Create a document outline, including each headline. Once you’ve read through the content on the top results, compare the outlines and map out the similarities between each page.

  2. Content Substance
    What is the main purpose of the webpage? What is the tone of voice? What is a searcher looking to get from this content? How does the webpage answer the searcher’s query? How many words does this page have? How often is the keyword used on the page?

    Write down the main purpose of the page and a list of questions you think the user is looking for that the page answers.

  3. Content Quality
    How well does the article answer what users are searching for? What could be improved on the page to make it better? Do you have something useful that you could add to the topic?

    Write down 3-5 areas where you think the content of the page can be improved, either in structure or substance. 

Below, we’ve put together an example of content analysis for the keyword phrase ‘types of indoor plants’.

Site: House Plants Expert 
URL: https://www.houseplantsexpert.com/house-plant-types.html
Heading: House Plant Types – Categories Of Indoor Plants
Word Count: 741 

Content Structure

  • List of plant categories with short descriptions
  • Links to drill down into topics about each specific category, including:
    • Common Houseplants
    • Flowering Plants
    • Easy & Low Light
    • Foliage Plants
    • Cactus Plants
    • Indoor Palm Plants
    • Hanging Basket Plants
    • Trailing & Climbing Plants
    • Bulbous Type Plants
    • Christmas
    • Tree Type Plants
    • Unusual Plants
    • Office Plants
    • Succulent Plants
    • Fern Type Plants
    • Living Stone Types
    • Large Plants

Content Substance
The page is a list of houseplant categories with short descriptions. To learn more about the types of houseplants users need to click through to different categories. 

In this example, it’s clear that there are common categories people who are looking for houseplants tend to search. For your website, you’ll want to make sure that you create a category page that includes links to all of your main plant topics, even if they are different than the ones above. 

Write down competitor content structure and substance to better understand search intent. Use the information you find when deciding what content to create, how to structure it and what type of information to include.

How to Optimize Content for Search Intent

Now that you have a clear understanding of how to identify a searcher’s intent, you’re ready to provide your content team with recommendations on how to optimize the content. It’s best to provide a content team with a detailed document of your recommendations, including:

  1. Tone of Voice
  2. Word Count
  3. Content Structure
  4. Content Substance

Make a list of what you found through intent analysis and create guidelines with examples in each section. The more information you can provide, the better. For the example above, your checklist for Content Structure and Content Substance could include the following:

Content Structure

Most of the pages ranking at the top of the search results for ‘types of houseplants’ include a list of house plant categories with a short description. This page should mainly be used to navigate the site and provide introductory information. This can be accomplished in one of two ways:

  1. Article: Write a short article that lists the major types of  houseplants with a short description and supporting links.

    Example: Good Housekeeping

  2. Category Page: Create a category page with pictures, images and possibly filter options where users can easily drill down into certain types of plants that they’d like to learn more about.

    Example: House Plant Expert

Content  Substance

When looking at the search results and competitor content for our keyword example, there are a few common topics that should be covered in order to rank on the first page of search results, including:

  1. A list of the most common categories of houseplants
  2. A list of the best and lowest maintenance houseplants
  3. The ability for a searcher to drill down into houseplant categories

The tone of voice should be friendly, but authoritative and provide readers with more information about each category.

Conclusion

When intent is difficult to understand, you can now use a few of these tactics to get at the heart of what someone is really looking for and spend time optimizing your site for the right keywords.

Before creating any page or piece of content, make sure that you clearly understand the search intent and have the right team in place to make the page come together. With a little more time spent up front putting together a plan, you’ll create better content that helps drive traffic to your site.