A guide to optimising and understanding search intent

Aug 23, 2019 by
A guide to optimising and understanding search intent

As an aspiring digital marketer, there is one particular adage that you should adopt wholeheartedly, no matter how sick you might be of hearing it – “content is king.”

This is the crux of modern search engine optimisation and essentially means that, in order to rank in Google in an era where everyone is out to rank, you need to focus on content that aligns with search intent.

What is search intent?

If the keywords are the “what” behind any search query then the search intent is very much the “why?” Intent is not what they are looking for, but why they are looking for it. Do they want to make a purchase? Are they looking for more information? If you can answer these questions, then you will be well on your way to building your rank in a swift and organic fashion.

Why does it matter?

The entire reason that search engines exist is to match users with the result that is most relevant to whatever their query might be. For Google, the mission is right there on its homepage – “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

That last word is the key one here. Whereas the SEO marketers of yore were content with stuffing keywords into content that meant nothing to nobody, Google is smarter these days; it knows what people want to see. That’s what search engine intent is really all about – relevance.

Types of intent

Search intent can either be informational, investigational, navigational, or transactional, all of which need to be approached in a slightly different manner. When it comes to informational intent, you’re going to be looking for content that answers a question, which can be tricky, as not all searches are formulated as such.

Investigational intent, meanwhile, is for those users who are looking for a service or product but have yet to make up their mind. These searches will typically include searches reviews, comparisons, and lists.

Navigational intent is a little easier to plan for, as it refers to search queries used when a user knows exactly what they want and where they want to go. This is often a quicker route than simply typing in the URL. Finally, Transactional intent is when a user is looking to purchase something and they already know what that something is.

Understanding search intent

Which category of intent a query falls into should be abundantly clear from the wording of the query itself. Informational queries are often prefaced by a “how”, a “what”, or “why,” whereas navigational queries will typically

include a band name and investigational queries will relate to reviews or specific attributes. Transactional intent, meanwhile, often makes itself known by using qualifiers such as “order,” “buy,” “purchase”, or “price.”

Optimising search intent

You optimise your search intent by tailoring your content to match what users will be searching for. For example, navigational and investigational intent should have multiple landing pages, featuring brand names in strategic positions, as brand names are massive click-through targets.

For informational intent, meanwhile, you need content that answers the questions your target users will be asking. The best way to do this is to ask the question in the heading and then answer it in the first paragraph.

Transactional intent, finally, should remain keenly focused on the purchase, so keep content simple and make sure there is an engaging call to action drawing the eye of the user.


Ultimately, it’s all about knowing your market, knowing your content and making sure they are best equipped to find each other in an organic way. At a base level, this means taking intent into account as you’re creating the content, not afterwards. 

Google Search Console and Google Analytics will certainly help a great deal when it comes to judging existing content, but in essence, it’s something that you’ll get better at the more you do it.

Intent is, however, one of the most important ranking factors right now and it should be treated as such. Tricking Google with poor quality, irrelevant content simply won’t fly anymore, at least not in the long-term. For the real results, you need to give the people, and Google, what they want!

Search Intent Titbits

  • Studies have revealed that around 80% of queries are informational in intent.
  • Google has become much better at understanding ambiguous intent in recent years.
  • Another manner in which intent is evaluated is “active” and “passive” intent. The former refers to a query that is explicitly described by the syntax, whereas the latter is less obvious. Active intent is what brings users in and passive intent is what converts them.