Search intent is the why behind a user’s search query. Learn how to identify the different types, so you can craft content that builds trust, ranks and converts more visitors. Checklist of best practices included.

You could have the best offer in your industry, but are you getting it in front of the right people at the right time? Ranking high on the search engine results page (SERP) isn’t always enough to ensure that. To get conversions, you need to know what the audience is looking for and why.

Understanding search intent will help you meet those expectations, taking everything you publish to the next level. It’ll get you in front of searchers, provide the information they need, and build trust.

Let’s explore the role of search intent and how you can develop a content strategy with this in mind.

What is search intent?

Search intent is the reason behind a user’s query. Understanding search intent helps you build content that answers their questions and problems. This, in turn, increases clicks and possible conversions on your website.

For example, imagine you’re an international travel brand, and someone looks up “How do I renew my passport?” You can create content answering the question thoroughly, creating a positive user experience.

They found what they needed right away on your site. As a result, visitors spend more time engaging with your pages and are more likely to return in the future. When people find your content useful, visitors and search engines take notice.

Why is search intent important for SEO?

“Recognizing search intent allows us to create content that fulfills the user’s needs, enhancing their experience and improving our site’s value. Which leads to better rankings,” says Tierney Pretzer, Growth Lead at Numeric.

Useful content earns authority and domain credibility over time, leading to higher rankings. You build brand visibility and trust by meeting user intent through your content. You demonstrate that you understand your audience’s questions and can provide solutions. This positions you as an authority that searchers can rely on as a go-to resource.

hawksem featured snippet

You may even capture more attention by appearing as a featured snippet or in the “people also ask” section of the search engine. It’s worth going after SERP features because, on average, featured snippets receive 35.1% of the total click share

The 4 types of search intent

When people turn to search engines, they’ve got something specific in mind they’re trying to figure out or accomplish.

What exactly they want falls into four main categories:

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

1. Informational intent

Someone with informational search intent is in research mode. They’re entering broad topics or a specific question. For example, when a homeowner searches for “best home contractors near me,” their intent goes beyond just wanting to hire a professional. This search demonstrates the person is looking to educate themselves before making a service purchase decision.

This proactive self-education path means they may not be ready to buy yet. Capturing them during informational queries with helpful content builds awareness and trust for sales further down the marketing funnel.

So the search results should serve up detailed articles, guides, research papers — materials to boost your knowledge.

2. Navigational intent

This is when someone wants to get to a specific website. For instance, if a driver got an insurance quote on your platform, they may search for an account or login page to get back to that type of content (i.e. “Geico login”).

At this stage, their priority is picking up where they left off to purchase or manage coverage. They know your brand already, so content or messaging around awareness won’t be helpful to them. Instead, they’ll dig for more specific information about what you provide.

3. Commercial intent

Commercial intent shows the highest interest, but the potential buyer wants to do more research before deciding. Think about a search query directly comparing businesses, “brand name vs brand name.”

When anyone does a commercial investigation, they know what they need to do or what the problem is. They also understand what offers and solutions are out there. However, they need help deciding between the options that made their shortlist. Your content must highlight what sets you apart.

4. Transactional intent

Now, it’s all about locating a product or service to purchase. For instance, when busy families type “brand name) meal kit order online,” they’re ready to purchase that convenience and get dinner on the table faster.

If someone uses your brand or product name in a search like this, it’s clear they want to purchase from you. To get that sale, make sure the messaging on these bottom-of-the-funnel pages aligns with what your audience has seen before.

7 strategies to determine search intent

Understanding user search intent allows you to create content that fits their needs. This takes some time and research, but these strategies make this process easier:

  1. Review keywords
  2. Study SERPs
  3. Implement tools
  4. Check analytics
  5. Consider competitors
  6. Ask customers
  7. Use social listening

1. Review keywords

When examining specific keyword phrases, pay close attention to the choice of terminology or how users frame the search. A “How to…” question suggests the person is still in a research phase looking for information to solve a problem. Meanwhile, searching for “where can I buy…” displays immediate purchasing intent.

There are additional details you can dig into. For example, are people looking for pricing or using the words “deal” or “coupon” in their search? If so, your audience is close to making a purchasing decision, but are sensitive to your cost.

2. Study SERPs

Analyzing what appears at the top of search engine result pages (SERPs) gives insights into audience goals. For example, a SERP consisting of tutorials, blog posts, and articles implies an intent to gain knowledge before taking an action.

On the other hand, results with multiple product pages show clear transactional intent. Google looks at factors beyond known ranking factors and bounce rate. The algorithm tries to identify the purpose of a web page to surface relevant results for users. So review what’s already ranking when doing keyword research.

“Nailing search intent is a key factor in ranking on the SERP for particular topics and keywords. It’s at the crux of our content strategy.” says Rambod Yadegar, President of HawkSEM.

3. Implement tools

Keyword research tools that track search volume and difficulty metrics help you understand demand versus competition for particular searches. Look at tools like Google Keyword Planner or Semrush to see this information.

Coming across a phrase related to your offer with high global monthly searches but lower SEO difficulty presents an opportunity. This means competition either isn’t focusing on or hasn’t ranked well for that keyword yet, making it easier for your brand to establish a higher rank.

4. Check analytics

Review site analytics to prove what search terms visitors use to discover and land on your pages. Analyzing which keywords convert best or lead to longer site engagement will give you a better idea of what to focus on.

This behavioral data gives direct insight into customer intent from those reaching you today. Understanding current customers and visitors will clarify what’s working, so you can replicate the results.

5. Consider competitors

Conduct ongoing competitor analysis to pinpoint what keyword phrases increase visibility and organic traffic to leading industry sites. For example, if you’re a SaaS company and your competitor ranks on page one for “lead management tips,” that suggests strong informational intent.

After seeing something like this in your competitor research, look closer at how you can educate and inform your audience. For instance, you could publish a more in-depth guide to try to outrank your competitor.

“For common competitor comparison pieces, people are looking for pricing, packaging, feature comparisons, and a high level of which is better and for whom. We structure our content so that headings clearly address all of the sub-questions from that search intent,” says Tierney Pretzer, Growth Lead at Numeric.

6. Ask customers

Thoughtful surveys and focus groups can surface insights about what customers think when using certain terminology. You may also get insights into their questions when running particular searches. Using that information makes it possible to create more quality content.

For example, imagine a smart devices ecommerce retailer finds that their customers search for “smart home devices compatible with (name of home system).” It may create a compatibility page so new and returning customers can see if products will work for them right away.

7. Use social listening

Forums, review sites, and social media are gold mines for understanding the intent of your audience. Review relevant conversations to identify common themes, questions, needs, and emotions shaping behavior.

For example, a sustainable fashion brand may dig deeper into how its audience discusses sustainability on social media. It’ll want to understand what the top concerns are and the language people use to talk about them.

When you understand the mindset of your audience, you can create content that fills gaps and meets needs. Providing resources that help people answer questions, make decisions, and complete a purchase will support your SEO strategy.

7 ways to examine high intent keywords and increase conversions

Now that you know what’s at the core of user search intent, you can get better results with pages and content marketing strategy. Optimizing for high intent keywords puts you on the fast track to better rankings.

High intent keywords reveal when users have an immediate need and are ready to take action. How do you use this to your advantage and get results? Try these tips.

  1. Use seed keywords
  2. Break down the keyword
  3. Check shopping results
  4. Notice ad keywords
  5. Pay attention to “plus” and “minus” terms
  6. Review trend data
  7. Never stop testing

1. Use seed keywords

Seed keywords are phrases you use as the starting point in a research process to unlock more keywords. For example, “fitness apparel” could be a seed keyword to find additional longer-tail keywords, like “yoga pants for plus-size women.”

Once you identify seed keywords, use your keyword tool of choice, like Ahrefs or Google Keyword Planner, to expand your list. Modifiers or longer phrases attached to keywords can change the intent.

For instance, a “how to” modifier will change the intent to informational, while a “near me” modifier shows the intent to purchase locally.

2. Break down the keyword

Take a closer look at the terminology used and find patterns. Indentify strong action words indicating immediate intent. Examples of these words could be:

  • Subscribe
  • Join
  • Order
  • Book
  • Reserve
  • Buy

Finding keywords that include terms like this can make all the difference. For instance, “qualities of a good mattress” shows research intent. “Where to buy a quality mattress” shows a high intent to purchase.

3. Check shopping results

Search your focus keywords and toggle to Google’s shopping results tab. This will show what your competitors offer and the pages they link to.

Google search result for mattress in the shopping tab.

From here, click on the pages that show up in the organic and sponsored search results. Review the pages to see what language they use and what information companies include to help customers in the purchasing process.

4. Notice ad keywords

Pay attention to keywords competitors bid on aggressively in paid search. If the Google Ads Keyword Planner or other tools show a high cost-per-click for a keyword, it’s valuable in your industry. Having this information gives context around what keywords to optimize for.

5. Pay attention to “plus” and “minus” terms

Terms or phrases that include terms like “with” or “without” show intent toward buying or signing up for a specific type of solution. For example, consider a search like “order blue light glasses without prescription.” Search volume may not be as high, but optimizing for terms like this could boost your conversion rate.

6. Review trend data

Ideas and intent around products or a specific industry change all the time. Identify rising searches showing new promise through tools like Google Trends. This allows you to get ahead as search volume changes and intent shifts.

7. Never stop testing

A/B testing, also known as “split testing” or “multivariate testing,” compares two versions of a similar marketing product to see which option better reaches or converts your audience.

Once you identify high-intent keywords, optimize them to get the best results. Keep tweaking SEO and landing pages using new keyword-targeting experiments. Let site data lead the way forward based on performance.

Also, analyze what your audience is responding to and what they’re not. ConversionIQ, HawkSEM’s proprietary software, reveals who’s clicking your ads (and converting), so you can personalize your ad campaign and messaging for better results. Tracking with CIQ provides more insight into the target audience.

The key is uncovering and optimizing for keywords that show motivation to buy or sign up, not just research. Match those high intent searches with relevant content and offers. Doing so connects you with the right members of your target audience at the right time.

Best practices checklist to optimize for search intent

Optimizing content for different search intent requires tailored strategies that directly serve user needs. By aligning to each intent type, you can boost engagement and conversions:

Informational search intent

Create in-depth content that covers asked questions and informational keywords

Use clear page design to improve comprehension

Implement schema markup and on-page SEO so search engines can index your content

Navigational search intent

Optimize your homepage and core site pages for company and product names

Craft compelling page meta descriptions and titles to stand out in search results

Implement user-friendly site navigation

Commercial search intent

Develop comparison content featuring in-depth reviews

Build trust by showcasing authentic customer experiences

Optimize for commercial search keywords like “vs.” and “review”

Transactional search intent

Share details like descriptions, specs, and images

Create a seamless checkout process with simple cart navigation

Target keywords that include specific products or services

The takeaway

Capturing attention and keeping it is a challenge in the online space. But when you understand search intent, you can build trust and make an impression on your audience, no matter their stage of the buyer’s journey.

You can implement this strategy to boost your bottom line. Use this guide to craft copy and content for your website that aligns with visitor expectations.

Or maybe you want assistance with creating a digital marketing campaign that converts? We’d love to help. Get in touch with our experts today.

B2B SEO Checklist Cover Image

Download The Checklist Now

Download Checklist

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar

Sam Yadegar is the co-founder and CEO of HawkSEM. Starting out as a software engineer, his penchant for solving problems quickly led him to the digital marketing world, where he has been helping clients for over 12 years. He loves doing everything he can to help brands "crush it" through ROI-driven digital marketing programs. He's also a fan of basketball and spending time with his family.