Businesses looking for their web pages to rank highly and reach key audiences can’t afford to ignore search intent, also known as user intent. The days of stuffing pages with keywords are long gone as the search engines become ever more sophisticated in how they interpret the words and phrases people type into the search bar. Successful website design – and overall marketing strategy – has always been underpinned by a good understanding of audiences, and what they want.

Getting to grips with search intent can help you:

  • Do more effective keyword research
  • Create better content that answers users’ questions
  • Structure pages in a way that satisfies both users and search engines
  • Rank higher with content that search engines see as relevant and valuable

The shift to semantic search

Search is increasingly concerned with semantics – which refers to the study of meanings. Google and other search engines are continually adding semantic features to help them understand what the user is trying to ask. So rather than just matching keywords to pages, semantic search uses the intent, query context, and the relationships between words to produce the most accurate results. These combine with the search engine’s learning patterns – fed by indicators such as bounce rates and conversion rates – to help deliver more precisely what the user is looking for.

The different types of user intent

Search intent can be broken down into four main categories: navigational, informational, transactional and commercial intent.

1) Navigational

This is when the user is trying to find something specific like a website, physical address or contact details. Google aims to serve this up to them as efficiently as possible, using SERP (Search Engine Results Page) features such as the Knowledge Panel (see below) and Featured Snippets, so they may find what they need without having to leave the page.

For example, searching for NatWest Bank returns the following Knowledge Panel which is a SERP feature.

From a brand point of view, navigational intent is not about sales, it’s about being easy for your customers to find you when they need to. For a business to optimise for this, your site needs to be organised with each section clearly labelled with page titles, tags, headers and descriptions, and URLs that are descriptive and easy to read.

2) Informational

This is when the user is trying to find out more about something. They often use words like ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘where’ or ‘why’. Informational queries make up the majority of online searches.

From a business perspective, you can reach informational searchers who are interested in your sector, product or service by having spokespeople feature on trusted media sites and by providing useful educational content on your own website.

3) Transactional

This is when the user is trying to do something specific such as making an online purchase, submitting a form or booking an event or appointment.

To target transactional keywords, you need to be clear about what the desired conversion is. Make sure users are being directed to a page designed for this purpose with keywords in the title description and headers. The page should be well structured with a clear CTA and conversion text that simplifies the decision process.

4) Commercial investigation

Sometimes the user has the intention to buy in the future, but they need to do some more research to help them make their decision. This category, called commercial investigation, is a hybrid of informational and transactional search intent. It’s super important to businesses seeking to reach potential customers online.

As well as product comparisons, users may look for reviews from authoritative sources, technical specifications and other details, depending on the type of purchase. To target commercial keywords and optimise for this type of search, it’s important to understand what your audiences want at each point of their customer journey. Then structure your pages so that they can find what they’re looking for as efficiently as possible.

The user at the centre

The focus on search intent is part of the shift towards user-centric design and experience. Companies that win attention and business are those that efficiently deliver what the user wants, when they want it, rather than being driven by what the company wants to say or sell.Quality content matters more than ever, and there is a need to be guided by user intent when creating it. SEO experts are advising businesses to think about topics rather than keywords, and write naturally about them, in order to rank highly. Well-structured information is essential for search engines to interpret what’s on the page. There’s also scope to strategically target specific SERP features like Rich Snippets and Knowledge Panels.

At Embrace, we’ve always placed importance on understanding audience intentions. We carry out detailed requirements exercises for our clients, defining key audience segments and their possible user journeys, and mapping out site structures to support these journeys. Using our preferred SEO tool, SEMRush, we analyse search intent to ensure content is optimised to rank highly, capturing more interest and leads. Informational content helps users educate themselves and make confident purchasing decisions. And by targeting navigational and transactional keywords, customers can find our clients quickly when they are ready to convert. It’s all part of our approach to building digital experiences that bring customers closer.

If you’d like to talk to use about your digital marketing needs, do get in touch