Previously published on our WordPress blog site, farm6media.com.
Why do writers need to optimize their content for search intent? Everyone relies on the internet to provide answers to the questions that we have. Understanding search intent and how to capitalize on it can help take your content strategy from ordinary and stellar in no time. In this article, we will explore how writers can optimize their content for search intent and rank for your related keywords.
Search intent, also called user intent, is the primary reason behind a user’s search query on a search engine. Once you have insight on what your users are looking for and their intent for a specific query, it does half the job of deciding what your keywords and content should be.
What Is Search Intent?
Each day, there are over 5.4 billion Google searches on the internet. (source)
With all of those searches, the users have a specific goal in mind. Search intent is the reason why people use a specific query. In other words, what are they looking for? What do they aim to achieve through their search?
Do they want to want to buy something? Visit a specific website? Are they looking to learn something through their search?
Over time, Google has become more adept at figuring out the search intent of users. It used to match users with the specific searched keyword but has now evolved to finding the best fit for the search intent.
You may have noticed situations where the results of a query do not even include the exact searched term. This is because Google has gotten better at determining user’s search intent and ranking pages that best fit.
Put simply, if you want to rank high on Google and drive more traffic to your page, you would have to offer relevant content that fits search intent.
The Types of Search Intent
There are four broad types of search intents that cover millions of queries daily.
- Preferential or Commercial Investigation
As the name implies, it covers search intent related to users looking for information about a particular subject. It is the most basic type of search intent and covers over 80% of all Google searches. (Source)
Searches along the line of this query could be anything from a definition, how-to guide, directions, local weather, recipe, or information on the latest award show. Even though the searches may contain information about a product or service, they are not primarily transaction-oriented, and no further interaction beyond reading is required.
Informational queries may also not always be in question forms. For example, users can simply search the term “Jack Dorsey,” and it is clear that they are looking for more information about Jack Dorsey.
2. Preferential or Commercial Investigation
In a way, these are also informational searches, but they are more focused on investigating commercial products and services. Before users are ready to buy a product or service, they begin the process by commercial investigation of said product or service. They have gotten all the general information they need and have narrowed down their options. Now they want to further investigate products or services.
At this stage, users are more interested in comparing the different brands, products, or services to choose one that best suits their needs.
Examples of searches under this category include:
- Best web hosting service
- Twitter ads vs. Facebook ads
- Top holiday resorts in Dubai
Transactional queries show that the searcher intends to make a purchase of a product, service, or subscription. At this stage, users have already done research on several brands, products, or services on the market. They already most likely know what they want to buy and are looking for a place to get them.
Examples of queries under this category include:
- Zara sale
- Buy iPhone 12
With navigational queries, the searchers are trying to get to a specific website. They already know where to go. But it is quicker to Google search rather than type out the URL. They could also be unsure of the specific URL. Searches under this category tend to be website names and maybe, additional specifications to take the users to a specific page.
- Twitter login
- Harvard Business School
Knowing the different categories of search intent is all well and good, but what do they mean for your content as a writer? Let’s find out next.
How to Optimize Your Content for Informational Search Intent
Informational queries cover a wide range of topics and can yield thousands of relevant results. The main question is how to make your content stand out while still fulfilling the needs of the user.
Most informational queries will contain question words like
- What can I
- What is
- How to
- How can I
- Ways to
- What are the benefits of
- Why do
- Where can I
As well as other content words like:
- Ways to
If you are putting out informational content, it means that your writing would have to find ways to answer the questions that the user has.
How to Create Content for Informational Search Intent
Since users under this category are seeking information about something, they will use words that will help them learn more about the subject. Creating content for informational queries involves using a lot of intent modifiers as your keywords.
Intent modifiers, as the name suggests, are words that imply intent. When used in a query, they change its meaning. For instance, you could just type in “Sushi,” and the results would show a list of restaurants near you that sell Sushi as well as other websites that mention the word “Sushi.” However, if you were to add the phrase “How to make” before, Google would know that you are looking for instructional articles, guides, or videos on how to make sushi.
Adding the extra words “How to make” modifies your intent. To write an informational article, the formula for doing so is using an “intent modifier” plus “your industry term.”
For instance, that you wanted to write an article on sunscreens. You know that your readers would be searching for a how-to guide on choosing the best sunscreens.
In this case, to create your content, you would want to work with “how to buy sunscreen” or “what are sunscreens.” You have the intent modifiers (how to, what are) and your industry term (sunscreen).
The most effective type of content for informational queries should include:
- Step-by-step guides
- How-to videos
- Blog posts with lists or tips
How Do You Optimize for Informational Intent?
There is a feature on Google for this type of query called the Featured Snippet or Google Direct Answers. If you do an informational search using our example “what are sunscreens,” it will give you a direct answer in a box defining sunscreens, and directly under it will be a link to the website containing the information.
That is because that particular piece is a direct answer to the query. The content best fits the user search intent, and it will therefore rank high.
To optimize your content for informational queries, use the question your readers ask in strategic positions like your URL, page title, headings, subheadings, and descriptions.
Also, have the answer to the question in the first paragraph to make sure that Google and your reader can quickly see that your content matches their query.
How to Optimize Your Content for Preferential or Commercial Investigation Search Intent
This search intent is almost similar to the informational search intent, except that this time, the user is looking to compare the information.
Taking the previous sunscreen example from the informational search intent, once the user has figured out what sunscreens are and how to buy them, the next step is choosing the best sunscreen on the market to buy. This is where preferential or commercial investigation intent comes in.
Typical preferential or commercial investigation queries will have comparison words like:
- Product descriptions
- Reviews, etc.
How to Create Content for Preferential or Commercial Search Intent
The formula for creating content with preferential or commercial search intent is “comparative keyword” plus “industry terms.”
For instance, if someone was looking to choose between an iPhone or Android, they could search “iPhone vs. Android,” and the SERP will pull out relevant articles that compare the two products.
The most effective kind of content for preferential or commercial intent should include reviews. Depending on your industry, you could write content that compares similar products or services.
How Do You Optimize for Preferential or Commercial Search Intent?
Using our example “best sunscreens on the market,” the featured snippet will give you a direct answer in a box listing some of the best sunscreens on the market, and directly under it will be a link to the website containing the information.
That is because that particular piece is a direct answer to the query with all the lists of the best sunscreens in the market. That content best fits the user search intent, and it will therefore rank high.
To rank high under this search intent, be sure to include detailed descriptions of the products and services, as well as their reviews.
How to Optimize Your Content for Transactional Search Intent
Users with this search intent are trying to purchase a product or service or find a place to make the purchase. To get to these pages, the search query may contain transactional keywords like:
- Where to buy
- Schedule appointment
How to Create Content for Transactional Search Intent
Knowing the kind of content to create to meet transactional search queries is important because it helps to narrow down the type of queries that will bring ROI.
The formula to use for transactional search intent should be “transactional keywords” plus “product/service/brand/industry terms.
For instance, if you wanted to create content to sell a lawnmower, based on the above formula, it should be “Deals on lawnmowers” or “where to buy lawnmowers.”
Some of the content most suited for transactional intent include:
- Sales pages
- Product pages
- Sign up pages
- Pricing pages
- Appointment pages
- Free consultations
- Live demos
How Do You Optimize for Transactional Intent?
At the transactional intent stage, the users are in buying mode and ready to take action. As most of the results that will turn up for this query are from stores that are selling the products or services the user is ready to buy, make sure that your content supports the relevant user intent.
Take a look at what your competitors are doing. Take note of the things they did to rank. Replicate it and optimize your content for the transactional keyword intent.
Do not forget to also optimize for the locality. Most people willing to make a purchase want to buy things or book for things within their locality. Google is also focused on creating a personalized experience for each user, so content that falls within the search intent’s locality will always rank higher.
How to Optimize Your Content for Navigational Search Intent
Under a navigational query, the search intent is to reach an already known website or brand, or product, or service. In this case, instead of looking for more general websites that offer the same intent, they are looking for only one.
Why then is the person searching instead of visiting the website directly? Maybe the user is not sure of the exact URL and would prefer to type a keyword that would take them directly to the website.
For these cases, the query may contain navigational keywords like:
- Brand/service/product name
- Brand login
- Near me
- Directions to
- Location of
- Cost of
- Hours of
How to Create Content for Navigational Search Intent
As with the other types of search intent, the formula for creating content for navigational intent is either your brand name or “navigational keyword” plus “brand name.”
For instance, if you wanted to create navigational content for Nike using the above formula, the content would be “Nike outlets near me,” or “Nike shoes.”
The following type of content is suitable for meeting navigational search intent:
- Landing pages or online forms
- Product demo videos
- Presentation pages
- Case studies
- Products/service list, or any other related content.
How Do You Optimize for Navigational Intent?
Unless you are the owner of the site or brand in question, there is not much you can do to target a specific navigational query.
However, you can try to determine search intent keywords using SERPs, write relevant and optimized content around those keywords.
How to Determine Search Intent
1) Look for Intent Modifiers
As explained before, intent modifiers are helpful in determining search intent. However, in terms of keyword research, it is not just enough to know what these terms are; you also need to know how to find them.
There are a lot of keyword research tools that can help you filter out terms that include the specific modifiers you are looking for.
Also, the Google SERP feature is a good place to filter out specific keywords. Using informational intent, for example, you can filter out keywords that rank for the featured snippets, knowledge panels, and related questions.
2) Do a Quick SERP Search
You can also use the SERPs as a means to determine search intent. Do a search query for your chosen keyword and take a look at the results Google yields.
The type of results you get from the keyword search will tell you what Google thinks are the most relevant search intent for each term.
SERP format for informational queries
The SERP for informational content tends to provide condensed information. The results show up on featured snippets, knowledge grabs, and related questions.
Usually, the top results are organic content from Wikipedia, dictionaries, and informative blogs.
SERP format for preferential or commercial investigation queries
Preferential or commercial research yields almost similar SERPs as informational queries in that it also has a featured snippet. The only difference is that paid results will appear at the top of the page. The results may also lean more towards information about brands searched than topical information.
SERP format for transactional queries
These are the most straightforward and easiest to spot. The SERP usually contains paid results, shopping carousels, shopping results, and reviews.
The organic results that do show up are usually product pages from both brick and mortar and online stores. The search may also include maps to the locations of these stores.
SERP format for navigational queries
As said earlier, people who search navigational queries already have a specific website they are looking for in mind. The SERP contains results that show the most relevant pages to the search at the top.
For example, if the query was “Microsoft,” the first result would be Microsoft’s homepage. But if the query were to be “Microsoft login,” the sign-in page would take the first place.
Depending on the query term, related features such as top stories, site links, and knowledge cards may also show up on the SERP.
3) Look at the Full Picture
Although keywords and SERPs play an important role in determining search intent, they are not always reliable. That is because some terms may have more than one search intent. Always keep the bigger picture in mind when using keywords and SERPs to determine search intent.
Also worthy of note is that SERPs can be volatile. The same keyword that ranked for one search intent one month might not in the next month!
The Challenge of Matching Your Content to Search Intent
The volatile nature of SERPs means that search intent is not static. The same term that gave navigation intent a few weeks ago might switch to being informational. For example, before the United States elections, search intent for “Capitol Hill” may have been mostly navigational, but after the attack, a few of the searches may have switched to informational intent as an effort to better understand news snippets or social media buzz around the Capitol Hill invasion.
Some keywords are more consistently associated with a particular search intent than others. For instance, a search for “Twitter” would always be associated with the social media network. Using the term on its own will likely have a navigational intent behind it. However, if some other keywords are added, it can change intent. “Twitter CEO” would switch to an informational intent around the CEO of Twitter.
In addition to the format and structure of the content, another thing to consider is the angle you are aiming for with your content. What is the unique selling point of your content? How can you make it stand out from hundreds of others that already exist?
Format and structure will put your content on the first page. However, the angle you aim for will determine what position on the first page you fall on. With your format and structure, you can do what everybody else is doing because that is what works. But your angle is how your content becomes original and stands out from the rest.
Creating SEO optimized content for traffic is simple. If you follow these rules, you are well on the way to creating content in a format that users are looking for.
Here’s a quick recap of what we have learned so far. If you want more people to find your content as a writer, you need to first learn how to figure out search intent before creating your content. The different kinds of search intent will help you determine the structure and format your content should take and also the different ways to optimize them and rank high on SERPs.
What Are the Types of Search Intent?
There are four types of search intent - informational, preferential or commercial research, transactional, and navigational search intent.
Why Is Search Intent Important?
Search engines now favor sites that help them deliver the best user experience. As a result, it is now very important that you optimize your content for the search intent of the user. Search intent helps to keep your content at the place where it matters - where users who are looking for your content can easily find you.
How Do I Optimize for Search Intent?
There are three simple steps to optimize for search intent. You first have to match your content and metadata to the search intent. Then look at what your competitors are doing to rank high. What points do they cover in their content? What tone do they use? It should help you to understand what users are looking for. Finally, format your content for SERP features.