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How to Rank Higher by Optimising for Search Intent

Gary Green
Shai Khullar
September 27, 2021

Search Intent describes the way in which a user wishes to interact with the search engine to get exactly what they are looking for as accurately as possible.

Discovering precisely what a searcher is looking for is imperative for a search engine if it is going to give the user a good experience, suggesting search results that serve their intended purpose.

The search engine is only one part of the equation, and websites need to produce the right kind of content in order to be found.

Google has moved forward at dramatic speed with understanding Search Intent over the past few years, employing technologies such as RankBrain, BERT and SMITH in order to gain a deeper understanding of what is required from a search – be it a text search, or a more complex audio, video or image search.

Let’s look at the different types of search intent to discover how you can effectively optimise your website content to cater to these needs.

Informational Intent

One of the main search types is informational, where people wish to know the definitive answer to a question so they hop on Google and more often than not type in the full long-tail search term. Informational intent can cover a vast array of topics, so it’s up to Google to search the web in a split second and deliver what you need right there on the search results.

The algorithms for search intent of this nature are something extraordinary, and it understands that if you search for something such as ‘barbecue sauce’ you are most likely looking for a cooking recipe to create your own, rather than discovering the history or current sales volume of it. Similarly, if you type in ‘Neptune’ or ‘Mars’ it knows that you are more likely to want information about those planets rather than the Greek gods of the same name.

It is also clever enough to discern if you need visual help with something and it would be beneficial to show you a video instead, so searching for ‘how to change a tyre’ may first provide a short list of the steps to take, but then give you a selection of videos of someone changing a tyre step by step.

Navigational Intent

This is also a common type of search for people wanting to find the exact website for a service, product or information. If the search term just includes ‘login Twitter’ or ‘McDonalds’ then the first result will be that official website.

This kind of intent is sometimes a shortcut to typing out the full website address to access it, and is used when the searcher may not know the full name, or how to spell it correctly and is counting on Google to understand what they are actually looking for.

There isn’t a great deal of return investing in these queries unless you are the owner of the site people are frequently looking for, but you can always include relevant SEO to make you stand out.

Transactional Intent

The internet is undoubtedly a location where millions of people go daily to buy all manner of things, and this more often than not starts with a direct transactional search. This search is used by people who want to purchase items and have that goal already in mind before using the search engine.

Words such as ‘buy’, ‘discount’, ‘price’, ‘deal’ and ‘cheap’ are often found in these search queries in order to obtain what they want. It, therefore, makes sense if you are in eCommerce to develop your content with these types of transactional keywords

Commercial Investigation

This type of search query is halfway between an informational search and a transactional intent search. The searcher is ready to buy an item they’ve already done some preliminary research on, but now wants to solidify their purchase with a further investigation.

Words like ‘compare’, ‘best’, ‘top’, ‘reviews’ and ‘near me’ are used to focus in on what they want, and they’re aiming to compare various products and price ranges of the item before they make their final decision.

Why Is Search Intent So Important?

With so many pages on the internet, it is imperative for the world’s top search engine to continue to deliver high-quality search results when organising and presenting this information to make it useful for the searcher. This is their primary function, and to maintain high standards in comparison to other search engines like Bing and Yahoo, Google has to constantly deliver only the most relevant content from any search query.

They also have their ads to think about too, and if people aren’t using the service then ads are worth far less. In order to rank successfully in 2021 on the world’s biggest search engine, you have to take steps to ensure your content is seen as the most relevant to a search. Being relevant and staying relevant is one of the key factors in successful SEO implementation.

Knowing how to interpret how search results are being displayed gives you the upper hand, as SERP results are no longer focused on just your website, but they have to compete with other content such as AdWords, Shopping results, an expandable list of related questions as featured snippets and even video results from YouTube.

If you have a user looking to buy something, with transactional intent, then Google may show them a carousel of items related to the query, however a list of collapsible questions to understand the topic better appear for a searcher with informational intent. This doesn’t always happen, but when we look into it deeper, we find that Google rankings are very rarely static and can fluctuate – the algorithm can change based on new user data, and can differ whether the user is on a mobile or desktop version of the search engine.

Now that you have a better understanding of Search Intent, it’s time to put it into practice and make sure that your website is geared towards them, whether it means selecting appropriate keywords for the intent, developing new audio and visual content which is unique and informative, or studying over time what happens when you search for different terms related to your industry.

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