Have you ever started a Google search and just didn’t get the right result? Maybe instead of information about a product, you were shown tons of ads for buying the same thing? Then Google may have simply misjudged your search intent.
We show you which different search intentions exist and how you can use them to optimize your content.
What is the search intent?
The search intention describes the intent with which a user starts a search query. The correct interpretation of search intent is, therefore, crucial to ensure that search engines can provide their users with the best and most relevant results.
If a user types a search query into a search engine, then both the user and the search engine have a common interest: to provide precisely the information that is relevant for the user. Because only if the user receives satisfactory answers to a search query will he continue to use the search engine in the future.
After all, Google & Co’s business model is based on displaying advertisements for the right search queries, and this can only be achieved in the long term if the users are satisfied with the results.
For the search engine to be able to deliver this, it has to recognize the intentions with which a user makes a search query, what information he is looking for when he starts a search.
What search intentions are there?
There are various models for describing the search intention of a user. The best-known categorization is the division into informational, transactional, and navigation searches:
- Informational searches: All searches whose search intent is to find information. Example: “Barack Obama Alter,” “Sommerferien NRW,” “Advent calendar tinker.”
- Transactional searches: All searches with a transactional character; For example, the user would like to complete a transaction, send a contact form, or subscribe to a newsletter. At the end of the search query, there is ideally a conversion. Example: “book last minute vacation”, “pdf viewer download”, “buy iPhone 11”.
- Navigation-related search queries: The user would like to navigate to a specific location, e.g., to a company website or a forum on a specific topic. Example: “Zalando”, “BMW Forum”.
The individual search intentions cannot always be 100% delineated from one another; in some cases, search queries also fulfill several search intentions. An example would be the search query, “Reebok shoes.” The user signals a navigation query here because he wants to visit a specific online shop. At the same time, the search query also has a transactional character. A user who is explicitly looking for Reebok shoes would almost certainly want to buy them. Individual search queries can, therefore, fulfill several search intentions.
Different search results depending on the search intent
Depending on what search intent Google suspects behind a search query, various features are displayed in the search results (SERPs), so-called SERP features.
Informational search query
For example, if a user is looking for “how does LED work,” he is looking for information about the technology of LEDs. The matching search results are, therefore, informative and explanatory:
In this search result, we see a box at position 0 that explains how LEDs work – a so-called featured snippet. With Featured Snippets, Google answers specific questions directly on the search results page, without the user necessarily having to click on a result. Featured snippets are primarily used for informational search queries to provide the user with quick answers to (as far as possible) specific questions.
Videos are shown below the featured snippet to answer the user’s questions. Google knows that videos about topics requiring explanations are popular with users. So it always makes sense to optimize the video description of your videos concerning the search intent.
After these elements there is a “People also ask” box:
This box is primarily intended to help the user find the desired answer as quickly as possible by answering similar or further search queries directly. If you click on one of these questions of the accordion, the answer to the question opens, similar to the featured snippet above. This box also gives SEOs and editors a good insight into which questions still have to be asked about the topic “LED” and which topics should be answered in a comprehensive text on the topic.
Only then do we see positions 1 and 2 of the organic search results, the snippets of which are specifically geared towards informational search by promising information.
Transactional search query
On the other hand, if the user is looking for a “buy led light chain without cables,” his search query implies that he is already interested in a certain product. The search results that Google now plays are, therefore, clearly geared towards the purchase of a product, i.e., transactionally:
At the top of the SERPs are Google Shopping Results, a form of Google ads that quickly lead the user to a specific product. Underneath there is a “conventional” ad, which is similar in structure to the organic search results. Depending on the topic, the number of advertisements displayed varies; in principle, Google shows a maximum of four advertisements plus Google Shopping in the search results. If all four slots are used for advertisements, and Google Shopping results are also shown, the organic search results slide significantly further down.
In some cases, the organic search results only begin below the fold, i.e., outside of the user’s direct field of vision – they first have to scroll to see them.
In the example above, the first organic search result is still Above the Fold, so you can see it without scrolling. When you click on the Amazon snippet, we go directly to the online shop and are shown suitable products – the result is transactional. A result like the first example with information on how the product works would be completely out of place here, so Google correctly estimates the search intent.
So we see a clear difference in the search results, depending on how we formulate a search query: Are question words used, for example, or are certain products or product properties specifically named?
Search intentions for Google
The search intention is of great importance for all search engines because only if the search engine can deliver relevant content is it useful for the user. Google also affirms the importance of search intent in its General Guidelines and becomes even more specific in differentiating between different search types:
This small-scale differentiation of the different search intentions is particularly useful about the additional category of local search queries (visit-in-person) because the conventional three-intentions model has not yet covered this.
You optimize content based on the search intent, taking into account that not all of the Google search intentions are equally suitable for search engine optimization.
“Know Simple” queries are usually answered directly by Google via the so-called knowledge graph; the user no longer has to click on the search results. An example:
Answering a simple question in the search results through the Knowledge Graph
It is, therefore, not worth optimizing for very specific questions that can be answered with a defined value. In the area of informational search queries, it is the “know” search queries that hold the greatest potential for optimization.
The search intention “Device Action” is also rather uninteresting for SEOs, since there are specific calls for action to the respective end device that has no SEO relevance.
The search intention “website” is more important because the user has a specific goal in mind. This search intention is especially important from a branding perspective – if someone is looking specifically for your company, you should ideally be number 1 in the search results. It becomes difficult if you try to move to another brand instead of your own. As already mentioned, Google is interested in delivering exactly what the user wants. Playing another page on a brand is not in the interest of the user and, therefore, not in Google.
If we optimize content about search intent, then the greatest potential is clearly on know, do, website (when it comes to your own brand), and visit-in-person. This also reflects the three-part model informational (Know), transactional (Do), and navigational (Website), supplemented by the important local search intent.
Search intention ≠ User intention
The terms user intention and search intention are often used similarly, with the search intention being subordinate to the user intention. Behind all search queries is the user intention, so what is the end goal of the user? The search intent, on the other hand, describes the individual steps on the customer journey in much smaller parts.
Let us take a user who moves into an unrenovated rental apartment and needs new flooring: The intention of the user is very clear – to find the best flooring for his needs. However, he is still at the very beginning of his customer journey, because up to now, he has not particularly dealt with all types of flooring. So he will probably first collect information and, first of all, look very superficially for “floor coverings for a rented apartment” in order to find out generally which coverings are in question and what the legal provisions are.
The search intention at this point is, therefore, rather informative. In the further course of the research, he may find out that laminate can be used as a floor covering for his requirements and budget. His search queries are now more specific and take on a transactional character. Hopefully, at the end of his search history, there will be the successful purchase of the perfect laminate and, thus, the fulfillment of the user’s intention.
How do I recognize the search intention?
It is often not so easy to find the actual search intention. Positive for us: The way users formulate their search queries is increasingly approaching natural language. Instead of using pure keywords, users often formulate their search query as a question, making it significantly easier for us to recognize the search intention.
Informative search queries usually begin with the W-words who, how, what, why, which, etc.
Transactional search queries, however, often contain a treacherous transactional keyword like “buy xyz” or “book xyz.”
Navigational keywords are mostly brand keywords, such as brand names, URLs, or parts of a URL. Local searches often include a country, city, street, or the phrase “near me.”
However, there are also search queries, since even Google doesn’t know what the user wants. For example, if we are looking for large companies that offer both branches and an online shop. For the example of IKEA:
All search intentions on the first page of the SERPs are served here. The IKEA website covers the navigation search intent, and the Knowledge Graph on the right offers informative content. The advertisement above the organic search results explicitly advertises the online shop and is, therefore, aimed at users with transactional intentions. If you scroll down a little further, the nearest branches are displayed via Google My Business – for local search intent.
If we are unsure how to classify a search term about the search intent, a look at the search results for this keyword often helps. Because these search results tell us at least how Google interprets the search term, can I find a lot of ads and Google Shopping results? Then Google will probably see a transactional character here. However, if information pages appear or even a definition in the featured snippet, Google probably classifies the search intention as informational or “know.” Of course, Google is not always 100% correct with the assessment, but the query always gives good insight.
The following Google SERP features provide information about the search intent:
- Know Simple: Knowledge Graph
- Know: Featured snippets, videos, pictures, Google News, tend to be a little less Google Ads, info pages, advice articles, etc. characterize search results.
- Do: Google Shopping, Google Ads, search results refer to specific products/offers/services
- Website: Knowledge graph on the right with information about the company, company website ranks number 1, often as a rich snippet
- Visit-in-person: Local Pack, search results refer to specific locations
A great example of how we can use Google search results to identify which search intent Google is using is the keyword “pizza.” Theoretically, a user might just want to find out more about pizza when entering the keyword. However, Google knows that this is unlikely and that someone who is looking for “pizza” would probably like to eat some. The results are accordingly local and transactional, although no specific transactional or local keyword was used:
This example also shows how important Google is for determining the location of the search intent. On the other hand, if a user searches Cologne with the same search term, they will receive information about the burger chain of the same name and the locations in Cologne.
The search intention can also be influenced by the end device the user is using. Local searches are more often done on mobile devices than is the case with desktop users. The search results can, therefore, differ depending on which device I search for.
For example, if a user is looking for “Deutsche Bank” on their desktop PC, they may be looking for general information about the company, would like to open an account, or want to do online banking. If he searches on a smartphone, the probability increases that he is interested in the nearest branch.
As already mentioned, the search intent cannot always be assigned, but the different possible search intentions are weighted differently depending on the device. Mobile, the user will probably be shown the Google My Business results with the branches at the beginning of the search results. This element is also shown in the desktop search, but it is placed there further down because the relevance of Google is assessed differently.
Modify the search intent
There are some modifiers with which users can make their search query more specific. This includes additions such as the best, most popular, cheapest, newest, most important, cheapest, or the like. If a user searches for “vacuum cleaner,” he will get different search results than if he searches for the “best vacuum cleaner.”
Here for comparison:
The search results for the keyword “vacuum cleaner” are clearly transactional and are characterized by Google Shopping results and many advertisements:
However, if the user is looking for the “best vacuum cleaner,” the search result is a little more differentiated. In some cases, the Google Shopping results for such modified search queries are eliminated, and the advertisements are significantly less:
Keyword additions such as “test winner” or “comparison” also have the same effect. So if I want to offer informative content about a product, it is worth working with such modifiers or other keyword combinations to differentiate yourself from the transactional keyword.
Text creation based on search intent
How can you use the knowledge about the different search intentions to optimize your content? Quite simply – at the beginning of every text creation or optimization, the question should be: Which search intent do I want to serve with this content, and which specific search query fits this search intent?
Ideally, we start the creation of search engine optimized texts with a keyword analysis. This continues to make sense to check which search terms users are looking for. However, if we include the search intention, there is a further step before the actual text creation.
Take a look at the keywords collected in the keyword analysis and try to assess which search intent they should serve, because the orientation of your text depends on it. Google’s intention is always to provide exactly the content that satisfies the user. The keyword here is clear relevance.
The best text is of no use to you if it does not match the search intentions of the users. If you’re not sure, take a look at Google search results. The played SERP features help you with the assessment.
The main keyword of the page does not have to change. Rather, it is about the formulations that give the keyword its content. A page with the main keyword “vacuum cleaner” can have both “How does a vacuum cleaner” and “Which vacuum cleaner you should buy” have as a theme – the keyword alone does not always say something about the actual content of a page. Here it depends on the assessment regarding the search intention, how we align a text to this keyword.
Also, consider where it pays to put a lot of energy into a new text. In the area of transactional search queries, in particular, competition is often much more pronounced since measurable money is earned here. However, this not only leads to increased competition in the organic search results but also to the fact that the existing organic search results slide very far down in the SERPs due to many advertisements and Google Shopping results.
Also, users with this search intent are usually not interested in further content anyway but are looking for specific products or offers. A search engine optimized text does not necessarily have to be useful here and probably has a poor cost-benefit ratio.
For this reason, it can make sense not to jump straight at the promising transactional keywords when optimizing. It is important to consider whether organic search results can be used to pick up users better and more successfully in the information phase.
Optimize existing content
Do you already have comprehensive and optimized content on your website, but it doesn’t perform as you want it to? Then a look at the search intentions of the users is also worthwhile. To do this, however, you first have to find the poorly performing pages.
A look at the Search Console can already give you a good first insight: Pages that have many impressions but few clicks are usually an indication that the user does not recognize the relevance of the page in the search results. Analytics data, such as the organic entrances, can also tell you which pages have the potential for optimization.
If you have found pages that perform poorly in organic search, continue to the next step: Open the page in the Google Search Console and look at the search queries for this page. Here, Google tells you which search queries this page is being played for and how often it was clicked about the playout (CTR).
Do the displayed search queries match what you want to cover with the page? If not, there seems to be an indication that the search intentions of the users do not match what you find relevant in your snippet.
Normally, there are always outliers in the search console search queries that have absolutely nothing to do with the content on your page. These can be ignored as long as they don’t take over – otherwise you will be completely wrong. Rather, the search queries that are very close to the subject of your subpage are relevant to optimize the search intent but still cannot motivate the user to click on your page.
So ask yourself what the user really intends with his search and optimize your content accordingly. Especially with already optimized content, it is often enough to turn a few, but correct, adjustment screws so that the page performs better. For this purpose, the wording should be adjusted primarily at the following points:
- Page Title
- Meta description
- H1 heading
- H2 and H3 subheadings
- Content (if not optimized yet)
Certainly, the search intention cannot always be determined 100% correctly.
Nevertheless, a closer look at the intention of the user is recommended – especially if already optimized content simply does not perform. In the course of the Google updates of the past months, it is also evident that Google continues to push the “relevance” factor in its algorithm. Content creators are well-advised to take search intent into account from the outset when creating SEO-relevant content.
Note:- All the images are captured at the time of publishing the blog. The result of the search query may vary.