Search Intent

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Organic search is a powerful medium to engage your audience across their entire buyer journey. However, many SEO companies focus solely on “top of the funnel” content. While this may drive traffic, it fails to engage potential customers who are further along in their purchasing journey. That’s why it’s wise to create content for each funnel stage that matches the searcher’s intent.

Before we dive into the buyer’s journey stages and how to create content that matches the searcher’s intent, let’s define search intent.


  • Search query objective

What is Search Intent?

People use search engines to find something specific, such as information on a product or service. Search intent is the purpose behind what a person seeks when entering a query into a search engine.

The four main types of search intent are:

  • Navigational: The user is looking for a specific website or page.
  • Informational: The user is looking for information on a particular topic.
  • Commercial: The user is comparison shopping or researching a purchase.
  • Transactional: The user is looking to buy something.

We go into these in more detail below. Now, let’s explore why it’s important to understand search intent in SEO and content marketing.

Importance of Understanding Search Intent

Understanding potential buyers’ search intent is helpful in several ways. For one, it can help you target your marketing efforts more effectively. It can also help you create better content that is more likely to rank well in search results. Finally, it can help you improve your overall website design. Take the time to understand search intent and use it to your advantage!

Analyzing search intent also informs your content creation strategy and keyword research. You can identify the type of content (blog posts, infographics, videos) that best suits the user’s intent at each stage. Additionally, keyword research that considers search intent helps you discover relevant keywords to target, improving your website’s organic reach.

Understanding search intent allows you to create a targeted content strategy that attracts, engages, and converts potential customers by giving them what they want at the right time in their buying journey. This buyer-centric content improves user experience and boosts marketing ROI.

Search Intent and the Marketing Funnel 

Understanding the connection between search intent and the marketing funnel is essential for crafting an effective marketing strategy. Search intent reveals a user’s goal behind a search query. Are they in the information-gathering stage (looking for “best laptops for students”) or purchase-ready (searching for “buy Dell XPS 13”)?

The marketing funnel visualizes the customer journey, with stages like awareness, consideration, and decision-making. By understanding search intent, you can tailor your content to each stage. For example, informative content like blog posts works well for someone researching laptops, while product comparisons or discount offers might be more enticing for someone closer to buying. This targeted approach helps you attract qualified leads and guide them toward conversion.

We want to examine how users change their search queries based on their needs, behaviors, and where they are in the buying process. This plays a huge role in deciding the type of content we need to create, how we need to optimize our pages, and how we ensure that we’re driving the right traffic to our site rather than just traffic in general.

Applying Search Intent and the Marketing Funnel 

The marketing funnel and buyer’s journey are helpful guides to understanding buying behavior, but they’re not necessarily what happens in the real world. Nobody walks directly step-by-step through this type of process. We can use the funnel as a starting point, but real life is dynamic. We need to look at the user and their behavior through the entire funnel process to understand their needs and break down their search intent.

Ahrefs does an excellent job of defining search intent in SEO and how to optimize for it. The four types of search intent are informational queries, navigational, commercial investigation, and transactional.

Informational Intent

An informational query occurs when someone wants to gain general knowledge on a topic. For example, ‘How do I get more traffic?’ The person is looking for ideas on how to achieve that goal, but they are not committed to it yet. 

A navigational query occurs when users know what they’re looking for to some extent. For example, they may be looking for a specific company or information and know which website to go to find it.

Commercial Intent

Commercial intent is when somebody is looking to make a purchase and wants more information on products they’ll buy. Examples of commercial search queries are “best keyword research tool,” “best smartphone for 2024,” or “top screen recording software.” These types of queries help people investigate product options.

Transactional Intent

When someone is trying to purchase a product, they have transactional intent. They are ready to buy and want to know the price. Examples are, “How much do SEO services cost?” or “What’s the cheapest price for a smartphone?”

Understanding the Context of Search Intent

It’s important to understand that user intent can shift. One term can mean one thing for one person and something entirely different for another. It all revolves around context. Context is emotionally driven.

Whether you’re marketing to engineers or creative people, emotions will drive their purchase behavior. We must understand the emotional context of search intent when we do our research, create our site content, and consider how to engage our target audience.

What are the Six Types of Emotional Search Intent?

Google describes six types of emotional search intent. These are:

  1. surprise me
  2. thrill me
  3. impress me
  4. educate me
  5. reassure me
  6. help me

These types of emotional search intent can serve as a starting point for our preliminary research and content strategy development.

Surprise Me

Here, users are looking for something entertaining or a unique angle on a topic they’re interested in. Understanding this intent helps shift the way you drive a user. You want to show how you’re different and that you add a new flare to it.

Thrill Me

‘Thrill me’ is similar, but this is a quick adventure. The searcher wants to be thrilled, to find new things about themselves or the world.

Impress Me

‘Impress me’ is about influencing and winning. It tends to be more focused. These people know what they’re looking for but want to be impressed. They want to know that what they’re buying is the best and matches their needs, and the content should reflect that.

Educate Me

‘Educate me’ is about competence and control. Users look at reviews and ratings. It’s similar to ‘impress me,’ but users want validation. These people are not early adopters; they want to make a well-researched decision.

Reassure Me

‘Reassure me’ is about simplicity, comfort, and trust. These are the people who want a simple process and to know that they can trust you. Trust signals like reviews and ratings show that the product or service is easy to use and uncomplicated.

Help Me

People with ‘help me’ emotional search intent want step-by-step specific information on how to solve a problem. Educational content and location-specific content fit here. For example, “I need to find a cell phone repair shop near me.” That person’s looking for help immediately, so they want a location.

As you can see, someone who’s looking to be helped or reassured will have very different search behavior from someone who’s looking to be entertained. If you market to your audience with messaging aimed at surprising them, but your ideal buyer needs to be reassured, your message will miss the mark, and they’ll not convert.

Aligning SEO and Content Strategy with Search Intent

Understanding search intent is crucial for crafting relevant content that attracts and converts potential customers. Aligning SEO and content strategy with search intent creates the opportunity to develop user-centric content that drives business results.

Here’s how to achieve this winning alignment:

  1. Keyword Research with Intent in Mind: Keyword research is essential to SEO. However, simply focusing on high-volume keywords can be misleading. Delve deeper and analyze the search intent behind those keywords. Are they informational (“best mountain bikes for beginners”) or transactional (“buy mountain bike online”)? This understanding guides you toward creating content that directly addresses the user’s needs at that stage.
  2. Content Optimization for User Experience: Once you understand the search intent, optimize your content for search engines and user experience. Incorporate relevant keywords naturally throughout your content, using clear headings and subheadings and optimizing for mobile-friendliness. But remember, user experience comes first. Prioritize creating informative, engaging content that fulfills the user’s search intent.
  3. Content Variety is Key: Search intent can vary greatly depending on the keyword. Don’t get stuck in a rut creating only blog posts. Leverage different content formats, such as infographics, videos, and interactive quizzes, to cater to diverse preferences and learning styles across the marketing funnel.
  4. Measure and Analyze: It’s crucial to track your progress. Use website analytics tools to monitor organic traffic, conversion rates, and user engagement metrics. Based on search intent, analyze which content types and keywords resonate best with your target audience. This data will help you refine your strategy and publish more compelling content in the future.

Selecting Keywords That Match Search Intent

Selecting the right keywords that reflect user intent is like aiming for a bullseye – it attracts the most relevant traffic and boosts conversions. Here’s a breakdown of recommended keyword types for each search intent category:

Informational: Users are seeking information and trying to learn or understand something.

  • Keywords: These often include question words like “what,” “how,” “why,” “when,” and “where.” They might also contain general terms related to your product or service.
  • Examples: “what is SEO,” “how to change a tire,” “best places to visit in Italy,” “benefits of using a CRM system”

Navigational: Searchers are looking for a specific website or webpage.

  • Keywords: These are often branded keywords directly referencing a company or website name. They might also include the name of a specific product or service offered by a particular brand.
  • Examples: “[Company Name] login,” “[Brand Name] support,” “[Product Name] reviews,” “YouTube [topic]”

Commercial: Users are researching products or services and have not made a purchase decision.

  • Keywords: These often include comparison terms like “best,” “reviews,” “alternatives,” “vs,” or “pros and cons.” They might also include specific product features or functionalities.
  • Examples: “best laptops for students 2024,” “[Product Name] reviews,” “free CRM software comparison,” “wireless headphones with noise cancellation”

Transactional: Users are ready to purchase or take a specific action.

  • Keywords: These often include clear buying intent with terms like “buy,” “order,” “discount,” “free trial,” or “price.” They might also be very specific product names or model numbers.
  • Examples: “buy iPhone 14 Pro Max,” “[Product Name] discount code,” “free trial of CRM software,” “[Model Number] running shoes”

These are just recommendations. There can be some overlap between categories, and the best approach is to understand the overall user intent behind a particular keyword.

Bringing the Buyer’s Journey and Search Intent Together

Watch this video for an example of search intent across the buyer’s journey.

As marketers, it’s essential to understand each stage of the buyer’s journey and how buyers react throughout the funnel to ensure we match their intent with the proper context.

Key Takeaways on User Search Intent

Creating buyer-centric content that matches user intent is an ongoing process that evolves as you understand more about your buyers and their behavior. As you develop your SEO and content strategies, keep a few things in mind:

  1. Search Intent is the Why Behind the Search: It’s not just about the keywords people use, but the goal behind their search query. Are they looking for information (informational), a specific website (navigational), ready-to-buy (transactional), or somewhere in between (commercial investigation)?
  2. Align Content with Search Intent for Better Results: Understanding search intent allows you to create targeted content that directly addresses the user’s needs at each stage of the marketing funnel, increasing the chances of attracting qualified leads and guiding them toward conversion.
  3. SEO and Content Strategy Thrive with Search Intent: Effective SEO considers search intent when choosing keywords to ensure your content ranks well for searches where users are genuinely interested in your offer.
  4. Content Variety is Key: Search intent can vary, so don’t limit yourself to blog posts. Utilize various content formats, such as videos and downloadable eBooks, that cater to different learning styles and preferences.
  5. Measure and Adapt: Track your content’s performance based on search intent. See which formats and keywords resonate best with your audience. Use this data to refine your strategy and create more compelling content.
  6. User-Centric Approach is King: SEO and content strategy are about creating valuable content that users find helpful and informative. Prioritize user experience and provide solutions that address their search intent at every stage of their buying journey.

By understanding and leveraging search intent, digital marketers can create targeted content strategies that attract the right audience, improve SEO performance, and ultimately achieve their marketing goals.

SMA Marketing Foundational SEO
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