What is search intent?
Search intent is the reason behind the search – why the user decided to use that particular word or words in his search? Is he looking for an answer to a question? The definition of the word? Does he want to buy the product? Is he looking for a specific website he knows?
Search intent types
In general, we distinguish 4 basic types of keywords based on the search intent:
Keywords that serve only to go to a specific website. A significant percentage of internet users visit the known websites through searching them in Google (e.g. instead of typing facebook.com into the address bar, they search for “facebook” and click on the first result). In some cases, it is easier than to remember the exact URL.
These keywords are usually easy to rank for as they represent your brand and there is usually no point to try to rank for the competitor’s keywords as the CTR of the other results is negligible.
Typical examples: “facebook debugger”, “google search console”, “toys r us”
Informational keywords represent the majority of searches on Google. People are always looking for the information – questions (what, why, how, where, when,…), definitions of the words, information about entities, opening hours of shops, weather info…
Typical examples: “london weather”, “stephen king”, “how to bake muffins”
This type of keywords is usually the most interesting for anyone running an online business as the results for these keywords decide where the purchase will be made.
Transactional keywords are keywords that are used by users who have a very clear intent to make a purchase.
Typical examples: “apple iphone buy”, “mangools subscribe”, “netflix discount”
Sometimes, the line between an informational and transactional keyword is very thin. There are many keywords with the intent that is most probably transactional but do not lead to the transaction immediately.
The commercial keywords are usually part of the research made prior to the transaction. These are also one of the most profitable keywords.
Typical examples: “best coffee maker”, “canon 6d review”, “samsung galaxy price”, “alternative to …”
Unknown search intent
Of course, some keywords, are ambivalent and it is hard to guess the intent without further information. It may be caused either by several meanings of the word or because the keyword is too general.
An example can be a user searching for the keyword “Alexa”. Maybe he wants to buy Amazon Echo device (transactional intent), go to the official website of Amazon Echo (navigational intent) or just wants to find more information about it (informational/commercial intent), but he may also want to visit the website of the web traffic data provider called Alexa (navigational intent) or just find the meaning of the name (informational intent).
As we can see, Google estimated that the query is most probably about the Amazon Echo virtual assistant, however, you can see the results for “Alexa Internet” in case this was the meaning behind your search query.
This is basically what Google Search and all the updates in the recent years (especially Hummingbird and RankBrain) are all about – to identify the intent behind the query and serve the most precise results even if it is not clear.
Why knowing the search intent is so important?
Now that you know the theory behind the search intent, you may ask how to translate it into practice.
Let’s say you own an e-shop with coffee makers. You do a keyword research and find a keyword – “best drip coffee maker”. It has a great search volume, relatively low difficulty and it is relevant to the website. It would be great to rank for it with the product page with the most popular drip coffee makers you sell in the eshop.
There is one problem – a quick look at the SERP results will tell you that although your website may seem relevant, Google actually doesn’t rank any product pages, only the articles with reviews and comparisons of the products.
In other words – Google thinks that the keyword “best drip coffee maker” has commercial, rather than transactional search intent and does not rank any pages with transactional content. Your effort to rank with your eshop product page would be probably worthless.