Search intent is one of the most critical metrics in keyword research. With it, you can understand what users want from your product (or service). And it also gives an idea about potential traffic that you could get from search engines.

Search intent informs you how different words are combined to form a particular query and which intentions they represent. That is how Google classifies questions by purpose:

Informational query – someone wants information about something
Transactional question – someone wants to buy something or get some service
Navigational query – someone knows what he wants and looks for URL directly.

May be used as bookmark or link within a piece of text) Comparison query – someone wants to compare different things and get a feedback

The informational query is the most difficult to work with because it could be done in so many ways. The comparative query is also complex, but at least you have two products or services for comparison. Transactional queries are easy.

Most business owners will consider these as the primary traffic sources when working on their keyword research. But they shouldn’t forget about informational queries at all! These queries could generate some traffic even in significant amounts if your site is focused on a specific topic (it’s pretty apparent).

Also, navigational queries may become informational later on after a user comes and finds what he wanted: product specifications, customer reviews, etc. Finally, comparing search intent with other metrics (like CPC, for example) will give you more information about which keywords should be focused on. 

Good knowledge of search intent is vital when you want to get website traffic from organic search. You can optimize your site for each type of query and thus improve SERP position, traffic volume, and conversion rate.

Search keyword intent helps to understand what users want now: it’s constantly changing with time and context (place, situation, etc.). But at the same time, there are some patterns in user behavior that help us forecast it a bit. For instance, if you check February 2017 Google Search Console reports, you’ll see that informational queries have dropped down a little, while transactional ones increased).

Why do researchers think so?

Well, users may need more answers and information right now, just after New Year, because the holiday season is over. On the other hand, they want to get ready for summer though: please go surfing from May till August 🙂 And here’s one tip for you: always check what trending searches are in Google Trends. 

What is search intent, and why should you be optimizing for it?

Search intent is an essential concept that marketers should understand. The reasons are as follows:

Search intent helps predict what people want to do on your website and gives you insight into how to design your user experience, such as the content and structure of the website.
Optimizing for search intent allows you to define your target audience based on their behavior and increase the relevance of your marketing campaigns and content.
A better understanding of search intent can help improve conversion rates leading to improved ROI from paid advertising campaigns like PPC (pay per click), SEM (search engine marketing).
It also helps in better optimization of organic traffic by ensuring that you are generating more relevant traffic and converting them too. That is done by providing that your content ranks high in search results and generating higher click-through rates (CTR) and lower bounce rates.

In short, understanding search intent helps you build better businesses; it improves customer experience, leads to higher conversion rates (sales/leads), improved ROI from advertising campaigns, and more importantly, a better chance of returning visitors who are likely to convert when they return.

So what is search intent?

It’s about what people want to do before or after the search on Google or any other search engine like Yahoo! or Bing. So instead of interpreting queries as keywords, we should be looking at them in terms of how we can help users get closer to their goals because user intentions often come from their past experiences of similar searches in the past.

For instance, if your search for ‘car’ leads to an article that discusses cars and not a website selling them, you can be sure that people are likely to come back for more discussions on the topic as they were not satisfied with what they found initially.

This realization has led to a shift towards increasing the relevance of online content by designing pages with titles and meta descriptions targeting user intent. It’s also given rise to new metrics like conversion rate optimization (CRO), which focuses on improving your page design to increase conversion rates.

So it is essential here to understand how search intent helps us better design our user experience and improve conversions.

Search intent helps us understand user session duration because your search intent drives sessions. If your title and content during a session are relevant to the levels of how people search for them, then you can be sure that they will remain on your site longer as compared to if the words in the title and content don’t match their intent.

It also helps us know more about our customers and define what kind of audience we are targeting, e.g., whether they have kids or not, whether they prefer buying products online or offline, etc.

Higher conversion rates are directly linked with the relevance of user experience, which is related to search intent. The degree to which people find your website relevant from a query point of view defines whether they convert or bounce back from the website without any purpose.

Search intent is also used to understand the strength of relationships with your target audience. For instance, if you know that someone who searched for ‘best university in the UK’ on Google and ended up at your website, then there is a good chance they might contact you for admission.

But if they end up anywhere else, it’s probably not a strong relationship, and hence conversion rate from such visitors will be lower. Idem goes for search intent of products like mobile phones where price comparison sites rank higher than manufacturers’ own websites because people are more likely to find the same or better deals from other platforms.

So how do we measure search intent?

We can look at two main forces behind what drives search query: Relevance & Intent. What are the words or phrases being used, and what are people looking to find? The match between these two forces determines your search results.

Relevance means how relevant the search query was for a particular web page. So we can look at this by concepts like PageRank, which is based on several incoming links to a URL (we’ll get back to Page Rank in some other post, so it makes sense here to explain more about relevance). If your site gets many links, you’re relevant and hence rank higher than someone with fewer inbound links. Though Page Rank has been replaced by Google’s updated algorithm called ‘Penguin,’ still the concept is the same: Number of Links = Relevance.

Now while relevance is just about the number of inbound links to your site, the intent is more complex as it involves relevant words/phrases and expectations from users. That is, how people intend to use your website was given a query and what they expect to get when they click on search results, e.g., conversions or signups. And there are many ways we can measure this. So let’s discuss some here based on where our attention should be focused:

 

(a) User Intent:

That is an aggregate represented by all related activities that a user does back and forth between two entities like websites during a single session.

So basically, each entity (or website) can know how many users visited and what they did during the session. For instance, if you visit Amazon from Google, search for a book, and buy it on Amazon. You as an entity want to know this so that your content is based on ‘intent’ and relevant for user queries.

Relevance of entities based on user intent can be measured by statistics like the number of page views, time spent on particular pages or conversion rate, etc.

In addition, suppose you have more than one site monitoring each other’s traffic. In that case, you can also measure user interactions like clicks between multiple locations under a single session, which is called cross-site interaction.

If your site does not get many links or doesn’t rank well in search results, then it is good to look at cross-site interactions and optimize for the same.

This kind of analysis is also called ‘interaction-based metrics’ as they are mainly used if a site does not have many links or is well ranked in search results.

(b) Query Intent:

We can measure query intent through what is known as Search Query Report (SQR). QSRs provide insights about your searches by showing you advanced data like keyword difficulty, ad rank, average CPC & CTR over time, etc.

It tells you about each query on which users click on ads and how much such queries cost an advertiser to be displayed on the top result per Google Adwords. So if a user clicks on an ad, it means they liked that specific query and hence is an intent.

Other channels like Google Analytics can also measure user queries. It lets you analyze search results and keywords by showing data like impressions, clicks, average CPC & CTR overtime, etc.

So if we see users increasing in overall impressions or average CTRs are growing, then it means the query intent is improving. Other metrics that help us understand how a keyword performs better or worse than expected are Impression Share, Average Pageviews per session, Average Session Duration, Time on a page, etc.

(c) Content Intent:

That can be measured based on content consumption across platforms and devices, increasing click-through rate (CTR). Also, measuring bounce-back rates from apps to websites leads to better content optimization based on the expected intent.

You can also use Google Analytics to understand how well your site performs over smartphones and tablets. The metrics which you should be looking at are:

  1. Mobile Traffic vs. Desktop traffic.
  2. Device Category & mobile OS.
  3. Time spent on each page or content category.

Summary

Once you have these insights about user intention, query intent & content intent, then it becomes easier to optimize your website for better search rankings. And many folks believe that Google is more of a ‘relevance’ engine than an ‘intent’ oriented one.

That is why building the relevance of your web entity and its contents by having quality inbound links, backlinks, and site improvements was always considered necessary. Although Google’s latest update, named ‘Hummingbird,’ is all about intent and context, you can’t ignore relevance in SEO which I will be writing a separate article on shortly.

You can check out other articles around the topic here ??

Author

A data-driven professional with more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing, SEO, PPC, automation, and so on. Privately tea lover, gamer, tech nerd, and traveler. I love writing about marketing!

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