How to Use Search Intent to Guide Your SEO Strategy

There is a common misconception among small businesses that building a website is enough to attract new customers and retain them.

Unfortunately, this is not true. Your website is just the foundation of your online presence and your brand’s identity.

The digital marketing landscape is rapidly expanding, and your competitors are seeing the benefits of SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, and paid ads.

In such a competitive environment, your site won’t rank well if you don’t optimize it for search engines — you need an SEO strategy.

When I say SEO, the first thing that comes to mind is probably ‘keywords’. They’re like a compass for your small business. They reveal what your customers are searching for online, and help you create relevant content around your keywords to rank higher.

But doing keyword optimization is pointless if you use terms that are irrelevant to your searchers. Not only will your site fail to get noticed by the right audience, but it can attract visits from the wrong audience. This can lead to bounces and poor user engagement metrics, sending negative signals to search engines that cause you to slide in the rankings.

This is why you need to consider search intent when entering the world of SEO.

What is Search Intent?

When it comes to your website, organic search visits are critical and should be one of your top sources of traffic. This type of traffic is the result of your customers seeking a specific piece of information, and using a search engine and its results to end up on your site.

Given that Google sees 15% of its daily searches for the first time, it uses RankBrain. This is a machine-learning algorithm Google uses to assess the relevance of sites and provide its searchers with only the most valuable, relevant results.

Why is this important?

In the past, you could simply use some basic keyword research tools to find the most popular keywords in your industry, and pack your website with them. What became known as ‘keyword stuffing’ was a simple way to skyrocket your local business’ rankings. However, this changed with the introduction of RankBrain.

Today, coupled with your keywords, Google also uses over 200 additional factors when ranking pages on your site, such as content length, freshness, relevance, security, domain authority, backlinks, and more.

In other words, Google observes how user-friendly your site is: how it engages your potential customers, and whether or not it satisfies their search query. It refers to its combination of keywords and user experience signals as latent semantic indexing — analyzing the intent behind the search, rather than just the exact phrasing.

This is why it is important to make sure that your SEO strategy aligns with your customers’ intent.

Search intent tells you why a searcher conducted a certain search. For example:

  • Did they want to educate themselves about something?
  • Are they searching for a specific product or service?
  • Do they want to make a purchase?

Different Types of Search Intent

Your target audience and potential customers search the web for multiple reasons. Because of that, you need to understand the different types of search intent. Here are the most common ones:

Informational intent. Lots of your potential visitors are people looking for specific information. They are looking for online resources that offer relevant answers to their questions.

  • Navigational intent. These searchers have a previous awareness of a brand, and want to visit its site; they enter its name directly into the search box.
  • Transactional intent. People with a transactional intent are using search to shop for products and make online purchases.
  • Commercial intent. This is similar to transactional intent, as it usually leads to a purchase. However, these searchers are still not ready to buy from you. They’re browsing the web, visiting numerous similar sites, reading online reviews in order to find the best deals.

How to Understand Your Customers’ Search Intent

Traditionally, to target relevant keywords, marketers used keyword research tools like Google Keyword Planner or Moz Keyword Explorer. These tools are still the fundamental aspect of your keyword analysis, as they provide you with multiple keyword options and give you greater insights into them.

The only problem with these tools is that they don’t inform you about your target audiences’ search intent.

To understand why your customers entered the search terms they chose, you need to use some additional resources. Here are a few powerful options you may like to try out:

  • Buzzsumo lets you identify trending topics.
  • Answer the Public has a massive database of Google and Bing searches that lets it predict what searchers will ask next.
  • Buzzsumo’s Question Analyzer, formerly known as Bloomberry, gives you insights into the questions your audience already asks online.
  • Google Trends lets you identify the hottest topics in your niche and country. You can even compare two keywords to see which one is more popular among your audiences.
  • Social networks serve as individual search engines. You can use them to find out what your customers are searching for. Most importantly, using social media listening tools, you can track discussions and learn more about the questions people ask and the topics they discuss.
  • Q&A sites like Quora are also a treasure trove of your potential keywords.
  • Google search can also help you understand what your customers are searching for. For example, its Autocomplete lets you identify the potential variations of your keyword. The People Also Ask feature lets you identify the most common questions your customers ask, and its Related Searches are a superb source of long-tail keywords.

Search Intent and Ambiguous Keywords

Not all keywords on your list are simple. Some of them have multiple meanings and can add additional levels of complexity to your SEO strategy.

Let’s say you’re a local plumber in Vancouver. If someone googles “leak repair services Vancouver price,” it’s obvious that they’re looking for a plumber that can help them solve this problem.

However, if someone types in just “leak repair” this may mean numerous things. Are they looking for a plumber? Do they want to learn more about the causes and prevention of this problem? Are they looking for tips on DIY plumbing fixes?

To cater to a wider audience, Google usually provides diverse content in its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). It first identifies different search intents, and displays results relevant to each of them. The listings on a results page give you an idea of how common this search intent is, and what Google understands it to mean.

This is why you need to observe search results continually.

For instance, if the top results for “leak repair” appear to match the “I’m looking for a plumber” intent, then you should use this high-performing keyword to address this specific customer need. In this case, your result shouldn’t lead to your blog post or your homepage, but guide a visitor directly to your “Services” page.

Tailor Content for Each Stage of a Buyer Journey

Optimizing your homepage or product pages around transactional queries is a great way to target customers who have clear intent to make a purchase or hire a service.

However, to target those audiences who are still in their research phase, you need to focus on content marketing — crafting content that helps the user, answers their question, and encourages trust in your authority on the subject.

A recent SEO Terms Glossary by New York-based SEO company Four Dots puts it like this: “Informative or entertaining materials that site visitors could benefit from. Videos of cute cats or detailed whitepapers, it’s all content, as long as it serves a purpose and answers a user’s query.” Blogs, case studies, white papers, and videos are among the types of content you might create and optimize for this phase.

Keywords are not the only thing to keep in mind when honing your SEO strategy for search intent. You also need to ensure that your content is created for your customers, to solve their problems and establish your business as a trustworthy resource. This is how content marketing guides your customers through the different stages of their buyer journey, all the way to making a purchase. It’s not about creating a page or post with targeted keywords, only to hammer the visitor with sales pitches.

For example, if you optimize your blog post title for a long-tail keyword like “How to fix a leaking tap,” a customer expects to find a list of proven DIY solutions they can apply. If your content veers off in another direction, such as a list of your kitchen sink accessories, Google won’t consider it relevant and rank it for this keyword.

Failing to understand search intent and to tailor your content strategy can also hurt user experiences. If a visitor lands on a page that has nothing to do with what they were hoping to find, most of them will “bounce” (exit without taking another action). A high bounce rate is among the factors that can tell Google that your content isn’t relevant to that query.

By understanding your customers’ search intent and what information they expect to find, you can tailor your entire SEO strategy to their needs. Once you do that, the rest of SEO will be a walk in the park. Remember, only an intent-based SEO strategy can boost your traffic and help you drive more sales.


Raul Harman is the editor in chief at Technivorz blog. He has a lot to say about innovations in all aspects of digital technology and online marketing. You can chat with Raul about all things digital marketing on Twitter.