Search Intent Marketing:

Google and search intent marketers want to give visitors exactly what they want. The modern consumer is hungry for answers and they want these answers quickly.

Whether a search is being carried out on a desktop, via a mobile device or even voice search, it is important to assess and act on ‘search intent.’

Google’s latest release, BERT, is probably the biggest thing since RankBrain® back in 2015 that illustrates the importance of understanding natural language and search intent. The machine learning algorithm is a beast that never sleeps!

The initial release is already affecting 1 in 10 searches in US English. If it is globally implemented it will potentially lead to a worldwide shift in organic rankings and featured snippets.

BERT is continuing the battle to understand the complexity of us mere humans. Whilst we can always stay (hopefully!) one step ahead of the machines, Google will always be snapping at our ankles.

In this article, we’ll focus on the 4 main categories of search intent: how to recognise them, and the keywords to optimise for these types of searcher.

Informational Search:

This is an obvious one to start with. The searcher wants some type of information, so is likely to ask a question looking for a quick answer.

Informational query example

If the question has a straightforward answer, Google will deliver the answer on the front page of the results, without any need to click on any further sites.

This is called ‘Position 0.’ Whilst it may not lead to a click-through, this position does a lot to reinforce the all-important ‘EAT’ (expertise/authoritativeness/trustworthiness) perception of a brand. Wikipedia claims a lot of these positions, for obvious reasons!

Informational intent searches will include trigger words such as: who, what, how, ideas and tips.

You can see below how the results page changes if we enter an informational search term that has a broader interpretation:

informational intent example with some commercial intent too

The top of the SERPs are now populated with paid ads –attempting to entice a click that has a more ‘commercially based’ intent.

Google is essentially presenting answers to the question:

“Can you give me ideas of what Christmas presents I can buy and where I can buy them online, please?” (manners are important!).

This is a good example of how well Google can interpret search terms (it has a pretty large data set to work from, to be fair) and how it is constantly working to present the searcher with exactly what they want. But it’s not always an exact science…

google search mission statement

Google are obsessed with getting it right – preferably the first time – and if it makes them a bit of money along the way, then everyone’s happy!

Navigational Intent:

This type of search is used to find a specific site or particular page on a site.

These are searches that will often include a brand name or a distinct product name.

Ideally, the required result should be presented at the top of page 1.

navigational search intent natwest log in example

As you would expect, NatWest have the first page pretty much to themselves. The answer is located in position 1 and is also covered in the “People also ask” knowledge panel.

A query with navigational intent should ideally have a one click answer. In this example, it has several!

Google does not deliver any ads on this results page, as the destination isn’t really up for interpretation. After typing in this pretty specific query, a searcher is unlikely to be enticed to click on a Santander ad!

Google and advertisers would get no benefit from ads appearing on these results pages: in other words, no money to be made here – except by NatWest, obviously!

Transactional Intent:

This is where the money starts to change hands! Transactional Intent queries are made by consumers already on the purchase journey.

Keywords, such as buy, order and price will have a massive effect on the results pages.

Take the example of PlayStation.

As a single word search, these are the results:

This is almost a ‘corporate results’ page, with links to top news stories as well as the official global website of PlayStation.

Add that one little word, ‘buy’ and see how things change on Page 1:

Opportunity knocks and the big money advertisers are weighing in alongside sponsored Google shopping results, with the local 3-pack showing the location of local retailers.

Everyone wants a piece of the action!

If you can start to capture these high value transactional keywords and phrases for your business, it can be very lucrative.

Commercial (Investigative) Intent:

Commercial Intent is more focused on the research before buying stages of search, which is why it’s often called ‘investigative intent’, too.

This kind of search can quickly lead to a sale or offline visit.

A perfect example of this, at a local search level, would be search terms such as “coffee shop near me”.

Keywords that help identify this type of intent include: ‘review’, ‘A‘ v ‘B’, ‘best’, ‘compare’ and ‘advantages/disadvantages’ of.

You can see from the example below that Google is sometimes sitting on the fence with the results it delivers.

canon v hp commercial intent results

The top of the page is populated with sponsored ads that take you straight through to transactional pages of advertisers. The Which? result is probably more relevant, and sits just underneath.

Google (probably) realises that the intent is still commercial but is also flirting with the high potential of this becoming transactional.

canon v hp commercial intent results page

A little further down the page and the featured snippet and knowledge panels are both providing more answers.

The featured snippet result here is actually very poor content wise but it has somehow managed to crow-bar itself into top spot! The first organic result offers the best answers to this query with a comprehensive article, but loses out to the ads and knowledge panels.

Looking at these results, we need to add the word ‘best’ to commercial intent keywords to target. The fact that it occurs in the majority of the results is a powerful ranking signal!

Top Tip: Plan an early strategy to take advantage of ‘Seasonal Transactional Intent.’ This can have massive traffic benefits if you plan early enough to take advantage of searches around holidays, major events and commercial goldmines like Christmas.

How to Benefit from Search Intent Knowledge and Analysis:

  • Check and analyse the top performing results for your search terms and see what the SERPs are presenting as their top results. The top sites are giving searchers what they want so you can see straight away the kinds of things that search engines are ranking.
  • Analyse the type, form and angle of the content that is ranking highly. Page 1 results are a live example of what people are searching for. This could be text articles, videos, product sales or quick fix featured snippet answers.
  • If you can improve on existing content, offer more value and deliver results for questions that aren’t yet answered, this will help your ranking efforts.

Search intent should be a strong influencing factor in your early keyword SEO and content marketing research. It should also be an important consideration for your conversion rate optimisation (CRO marketing) on each page on your website that you expect a visitor to take an action on.

Always ensure to be optimising for your ideal visitor. Position yourself to win the click, and make the customer experience on your site as accessible and straightforward as possible.