What Is Search Intent? The 4 Motivations Behind Search (2023 Guide)

Last updated on July 15th, 2023 at 07:14 am

If you’re looking up search intent, you’re probably a seasoned internet user. Most people (myself included) don’t give a thought to Google Search anymore. It’s so convenient and easy to use that we just pop in the first few words that come to mind and see where the almighty browser leads us. It’s just a guess, but you probably typed in something like “what is search intent” or “search intent SEO.” If that’s correct, then it follows that you’re looking to learn about search intent in the context of SEO (Search Engine Optimization), right?

If I’m wrong, then this article is pointless for you to read (sorry for the inconvenience), and I need to up my game in the SEO/search intent arena.

Given that the results led you here, I would say that you had an informational intent for your most recent search. Because I know that about you, dear reader, I can curate this article to contain all of the information you’re looking for. And I have.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is the motivation behind someone’s search in a browser. Ever typed “apple” into Google and wondered how the algorithm decides when you want the fruit or the tech giant? The short answer is that most people want the tech giant. But how Google knows is the interesting thing!

Yoast, a leading SEO platform, has this to say on the topic: “Search intent (or user intent, audience intent) is the term used to describe the purpose of an online search. It’s the reason why someone conducts a specific search. After all, everyone who does an online search is hoping to find something.”

Screenshot of the Yoast.com landing page taken April 26, 2023.
Screenshot of the Yoast.com landing page on April 26, 2023.

If you search “apple,” at the time of writing this article, you won’t see a single fruit on the SERP (Search Engine Results Page). But add an “s” to the end of that search, and you’ll get fruity pictures, grocery stores and horticultural data, etc.. The point of this article is that search™️ is deeper than just using the right keywords to find the right content. Google and other browsers want to understand the intention behind the keywords in order to deliver the right content.

The 4 Types of Search Intent

Informational Intent

A set of encyclopedias on a shelf, meant as a metaphor for seeking out information to fulfill the user's search intent.
Photo by James on Unsplash

When a search has informational intent, it means the user is looking for—wait for it—information about the keywords in the search. Remember those apples from the beginning of the article? Maybe you want to know the cellular structure of a Golden Delicious! Or maybe you want to see a video review of the latest MacBook Pro. Based on the context of your search (determined using factors like your location, Google settings, and other words in your query), you’ll be presented with whatever the algorithm decides is most likely to float your boat.

Definitions, conversions, blog articles, news, infographics, recipes, videos, song lyrics, forum discussions, the list goes on… All of these are potential results for an informational search.

Photo by Anastasia Petrova on Unsplash

Navigational intent means that the user already knows where they want to end up. They type in a specific URL and allow themselves to be taken thither. So if you type apple.com in the search bar, Google knows you mean the tech giant (for sure this time, since that domain name is connected with one, and only one company), and will list the Apple home page as the first result. (Or, if you use the top search bar, Google will bypass the SERP entirely and take you straight to the site!)

Commercial Intent

Photo by Kristian Egelund on Unsplash

When SEO jockeys like myself say a search has commercial intent, we mean that the user wants to buy something, but that they want more information first. A commercial search might be “Apple phone vs Android phone.” In this case, Google knows you’re looking for reviews, comparison articles, and forum discussions, maybe some unboxing videos.

Transactional Intent

Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Sometimes you just want to buy something, no research required. You know exactly which product you want, you just want to enter your payment details already! This is called transactional search intent. Type in “Apple watch Amazon” and your SERP will be flooded with product pages from Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, and many more, all ready for your oh-so-coveted click on the “add to cart” button.

Why Is Search Intent Important?

First off, all users can benefit from an understanding of search intent, even if you’re just an average user. If you know how the browser will respond to certain types of queries, you can fine-tune your searches to more accurately express your intention.

But if you are a website owner or a marketer, search intent can be an invaluable tool. When you think about it, most searches boil down to people trying to make their lives easier, and nothing builds trust in a brand like consistently serving up valuable solutions to their users’ everyday pain points.

Understanding search intent can help you to:

  • produce more helpful and accessible content
  • create a faster and overall better user experience
  • target your audience more effectively
  • rank higher in search results
  • tailor your own searches to help Google bring you what you’re looking for faster and with more certainty

Remember, when you know why people are searching, you get to the root of their problem (or your own), which allows you to solve it more effectively.

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

How Search Intent Works

Google uses five main factors when determining which results to show a user in response to their search:

  1. Meaning: What is the user’s search intent?
  2. Relevance: Which content on the web is relevant to the user’s query?
  3. Quality: How well is the chosen content put together?
  4. Usability: Is the chosen content accessible enough to actually be useful?
  5. Context: Does the chosen content have the same context as the user’s query?

To learn more about the search process right from the horse’s mouth, read Google’s documentation on the subject.

Browsers determine search intent based on a lot of different factors, including checking for spelling mistakes, judging content quality and domain authority based on EAT (Expertise, Authority, Trustworthiness), and even cross-checking the query with synonyms to catch content that may be related, but using a different keyword.

Search Intent and Your Content

Now I wanna talk to the content creators at the back of the class. If you’re like me, you avoid unnecessary work like the plague. It’s not that we don’t love our jobs, but churning out content left and right and 24/7 takes a lot of brain power, especially if you’re like me and you don’t let AI do all the work for you. Knowing the motivation behind your visitors’ visitations takes the guesswork out of the creation process.

Photo by Jenny Ueberberg on Unsplash

The great news for content creators is that you can follow the same general process to enhance your content. Simply reverse engineer your content and set it up to satisfy those requirements: meaning, relevance, quality, usability, and context.

Before you publish your next piece, whether it be an article like this, a video, or a podcast, take some time to think about how you earned the site traffic you already have. If you have no idea, that’s a sign you need to put some thought into search intent and find out why people are searching for your content. Without that knowledge, you’ll get some traffic, maybe a lot. But it won’t be as much as if you target that motivation right out of the gate.

Wrapping Up

The TLDR here is that knowing search intent is a way to save time and seize control of your brand. It can be tempting to half-ass content when you’re in the middle of a stressful week, but I’m here to encourage you. Believe me when I say that approaching your work with a whole-ass mentality is the only way to secure true community loyalty and organic search traffic. In essence, you have two choices: You can know what problem you’re trying to solve, or you can move forward in the dark.

Either way, I wish you the best of luck and success in all your noble endeavors. If you’re interested in boosting your site traffic even further, you need to generate more backlinks to your site. Check out my article, “What Are Backlinks? Introduction and 17 Effective Link-Building Methods (2023 Guide).”

Overwhelmed by everything you have to keep track of for SEO? That’s ok, everyone is! And that’s why I make it my business to help your business succeed online. Please feel free to reach out in the comments or through the contact page. I offer an SEO/marketing subscription plan so you can sit back and watch your numbers grow. Lastly, I’m always happy to answer questions, and I do take requests for future blog posts. Just reach out!

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