Search Intent in SEO: How to Create the Right Type of Content

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Search intent (also called user intent) is the end goal of a user, the reason why a user actually turns to Google and types in a query. Search intent is a hint as to what exact type of content a user expects to receive in the SERP.

Sometimes search intent is pretty obvious from the query — say, if I google beef wellington recipe. Other times, search intent may not be that clear, so it’s up to Google to interpret the query and decide what kind of content to show. For example, if I google the last of us, Google will not be sure if I want the game or the TV series, and if I want to buy or just get some information.

Google’s algorithms suggest different types of content based on the search intent. Your goal is to understand the true intent behind your users’ queries and offer them the right content.

In this post, I’ll guide you through all the types of search intent and show how to create great content for each.

How search intent works and why it is important for SEO

Google satisfies each type of search intent with a very specific type of content. So, if you are targeting a specific query, but your content does not match the intent, then your page is not likely to appear in search results. Understanding the user intent and creating appropriate content will be a real breakthrough in your search engine optimization strategy.

For example, when I search for how to fix a bike chain, I get a featured video result at the very top of the SERP:

If I search for iphone 14 buy, I get snippets for websites that sell iPhones at the very top of the SERP:

A query like Dunkin Donuts Munich triggers a local pack and a map:

Well, you got the idea.

Types of search intent

The traditional classification suggests four types of search intent: navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional.

However, SERPs evolve fast, get new features, and offer more types of content than before. That’s why marketers and SEOs consider the traditional search intent classification too general and divide them further into micro intents. Before writing this post, I analyzed a pretty informative article by Olaf Kopp. Then, I dwelled on the idea and put the information together into a more digestible format. Enjoy! 

Navigational intent means that users just need to get somewhere, be that a site or an offline location. I think you’d agree that search results for online and offline locations will differ — the latter will most probably feature a map and directions. That's why navigational search intent is further divided into website and location micro intents.

Location micro intent

A user wants to find an offline location. In this case, search queries are usually something like McDonalds Seattle, gas station near me, Dunkin Donuts Munich.

Most common types of search results:

  • Maps
  • Local packs
  • Business’s websites

Website micro intent

A user needs to find a website or a specific part of it. For example, SEO PowerSuite blog, twitter, Shopify help center.

Most common types of search results:

  • Knowledge panels
  • Target pages

Informational intent

Informational search intent shows that users need to get some information. As information types are different, I’d suggest classifying informational search intent into four micro intents:

Entertainment micro intent

A user is looking for some information just to pass time and relax. Typical queries: AGT golden buzzers, british react to german food, doge memes. This type of intent doesn’t usually evolve into other stages of the customer journey.

Most common types of search results:

  • Images

  • Videos

  • Social media posts

Definition micro intent

A user wants to find out the meaning of something or get basic information on the topic. Example queries: burj khalifa height, what is pappardelle, what oysters taste like, wednesday netflix actress.

Most common types of search results:

  • Knowledge panels

  • Zero-click results

  • Featured snippets

  • Blog posts

  • Wiki articles

Explanatory micro intent

A user wants to dig deeper into the topic and is looking for more details. Explanatory micro intent is often expressed by modifiers like how, where, when, etc. Queries: how burj khalifa was built, who invented pappardelle, who decided to eat oysters.

Most common types of search results:

  • Blog posts

  • Wiki articles

Enablement micro intent

A user wants not information but guidance on how to do something. Enablement intent modifiers signalize readiness to perform some action, to do something, i.e. how to, guide, tutorial, recipe, etc. Queries: how to build a house, how to boil pasta, how to eat oysters.

Most common types of search results:

  • Videos

  • Text guides

  • Featured snippets

Commercial intent

This type of intent is also referred to as commercial investigation intent. Users are not ready to buy yet but are specifically mining information about certain services/products. They want to compare products to choose the most suitable solution. Commercial search intent is usually indicated by modifiers like best, top, compare, review, etc. Queries: iPhone 14 vs iPhone 14 Pro, best running shoes, top Bali resorts.

Most common types of search results:

  • Listicles

  • Featured snippets

  • Video reviews

Transactional intent

That’s when a user is ready to make that purchase but may still have doubts about what option of the same product to choose. Still, these doubts do not affect queries and types of content a user expects to see. Transactional search intent may be shown by buy, buy cheap, etc. modifiers. So the queries that indicate transactional intent usually look like this: iphone 14 buy, nike lebron 19 buy cheap, Rank Tracker buy.

Most common types of search results:

  • Product pages

  • Category pages

  • Google product listings

Mixed intent

The truth is that Google nowadays tries to satisfy all the search intents with one SERP, especially if the query is general and the intent is not that obvious. This is also referred to as mixed intent.

Here is what happens if I google baskin robbins:

Actually, I expected to see a local pack and the addresses in my location, but Google didn’t get it and welcomed me with a knowledge panel, an official website, and a Wikipedia page.

How do you use search intent in SEO?

When it comes to utilizing search intents in your SEO and content strategy, here’s what you can do. First, give Google as much information about your entity as you can to get into general SERPs.

Entity definition

An entity is a thing or concept that is singular, unique, well-defined, and distinguishable. For example, an entity may be a person, place, item, idea, abstract concept, concrete element, other suitable thing, or any combination thereof. Generally, entities include things or concepts represented linguistically by nouns. For example, the color "Blue," the city "San Francisco," and the imaginary animal "Unicorn" may each be entities.

Then, create enough relevant content to cover explicit search intents. Here’s how.

Split your keywords by intent

This step requires Rank Tracker. You can download it now for free.
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When doing keyword research for your website, make sure that search intent is taken into account. There is no reason to create informational pages that target commercial queries — it’s a waste of resources. Instead, split your keywords by user intent and map them to corresponding pages.

If you are doing keyword research in Rank Tracker, you can use filters to identify keywords with specific intent. Once you’ve collected all of your keyword ideas in Keyword Research > Keyword Sandbox, go to filters and enter keyword modifiers that are associated with a particular user intent. For example, if I want to single out keywords with informational intent, I can filter the keyword list using modifiers like how, what, when, etc.

I’ve applied this filter to the list of 11,000 casino-related keywords and got about 1,200 keywords that definitely have informational intent and are perfect for creating guides and how-to videos:

You may also use any other keyword research tool that allows filtering or identifies keyword intent.

Actually, there is little point in going beyond informational and commercial intent keywords here. Transactional keywords are mostly for product pages, you don’t have to research them to know what they are. Navigational keywords are anything with your brand and/or your type of business in them, like *brand* address, *brand* working hours, bike shop cleveland, etc.

Use SERP for content ideas

Now that you have some of your keywords sorted by intent, it’s time to figure out the exact type of content you need to create to satisfy the searchers. As we discussed before, the keyword intent of the query and even the query itself are not reliable indicators of the type of content needed to satisfy them. It’s common for two nearly identical queries to trigger very different SERPs.

The only reliable way to create the best content for a particular query is to look at what’s already ranking in the SERP. A quick and systemic approach is to use an SEO tool like Rank Tracker. There, if you go to Target Keywords > Rank Tracking, you can sort your keywords by SERP features and see which queries trigger results with videos, reviews, image galleries, and so forth:

One more way to check what types of pages are prioritized by Google for this or that query is to check the SERP Analysis module. Here you can see the top SERP competitors for a keyword you need, analyze their content, and adapt your strategy accordingly:

Once you do this, your content strategy becomes pretty straightforward. You know right away what are the topics for which you have to create videos, and what topics will turn into in-depth reviews. On top of that, you can prioritize the order in which to create content by keyword search volume, which you can also get from Rank Tracker.

Note. When you get to creating content for a particular query, it’s worth visiting the actual SERP to see yourself what kind of content Google prioritizes, what words are used in the titles, and what’s on the actual pages. You can also open WebSite Auditor and check the Competitors section of Page Audit > Content Audit > Keywords in title to see the titles of your SERP competitors and get some new ideas:

Utilize social media

You’ll often find that certain types of queries are best met with social media and other off-page content (like informational queries with entertainment micro intent). If that’s the case with your query, consider making these platforms a part of your sales funnel. 

So, for example, if a certain query triggers results from Pinterest, consider creating a corresponding Pinterest board and then connect your Pinterest account to your website. This way you can get into the SERP and still have some traffic funneled into your website.

Another platform you have to consider is YouTube. Most videos featured in SERPs come from YouTube, which is no surprise since Google owns YouTube. On top of that, YouTube allows for closed captions and segment markup — mechanisms Google uses to analyze videos and find pieces that can satisfy specific search intent:

Optimize Google Business Profile

Another thing to consider in the era of entities is Google Business Profile.

While this is a must-have for local SEO and navigational queries, it may also help you cover general informational queries (and maybe other types of intents, too, as Google shifts towards entities wherever possible).

Set up Google Shopping

Google actively pushes its shopping features into SERPs, so ecommerce businesses have to join Google Shopping. This will help you get your products directly into Google product listings and have them featured for transactional and commercial types of queries:

Google product listings

Apply Schema markup

One way Google pulls the data for knowledge panels, featured snippets, and zero-click results from our websites is by relying on Schema markup, aka structured data. It’s a semantic vocabulary of standardized tags that are added to the page’s HTML. These tags help a search engine understand the content and context of your web page and better represent it in search results. For example, if it’s a recipe, we can use structured data to highlight ingredients, cooking time, calorie count, the number of portions, and so forth. And then Google can use this information to create a rich snippet, like this:

There are certain types of queries for which you have no chance of ranking if you don’t have structured data on your pages — there is just no room in SERPs for non-rich snippets. For other queries, having structured data is not critical, but may give you an advantage over your competitors. Please consult our guide on structured data and see if there are any types of markup that might be applicable to your content.

Watch out for SERP shifts

This step requires Rank Tracker. You can download it now for free.
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SERPs are fluid. You might have cracked it with exactly the right type of content, but the entire thing might change a day from now. Google may be testing different intent approaches and decide that queries like SEO software need reviews and listicles instead of developers’ websites. Besides, new SERP features are introduced constantly, users flock to other types of content, and your competitors are always out to grab your positions.

The fluidity of SERPs is not necessarily a problem, I’d say it’s more of an opportunity. Watch your positions in Rank Tracker and, if you see a sudden drop in rankings, investigate the SERP.

Look for a change in the way Google satisfies search intent with SERP composition or in the way your competitors satisfy search intent within their content. It’s usually not a problem to regain your ranking if you realign your content quickly.

Epilogue

Since Google search algorithms have developed greatly and learned to understand and fetch tons of information, most SERPs now feature everything: videos, images, blue links, featured snippets, products, and so forth. 

Still, search intents are not likely to leave for good — it is the way you present content that changes, not the meaning. Your product page will still not get into the SERP triggered by an obviously informational query. Make sure you're following the latest search trend, creating content of high quality, and adapting your SEO strategy to new changes.

By the way, do you bother with intent classification? Share your experience in our Facebook community.

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