Why Search Intent Is Important For SEO

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Last updated: September 2023

Meeting Searcher’s Intent is The Future of SEO

There was a time when Search Engine Optimisation meant padding your website out with relevant keywords, and that was enough to shoot your content to the top of the rankings. However, this couldn’t last forever. In order to keep up with the demands of the digital age, search engine algorithms have grown smarter, and more adept at understanding what it is that searchers are actually looking for: in other words, searcher intent.

In response, their algorithms have also had to become more sophisticated when it comes to crawling and understanding web content, in order to ensure what’s ranking actually meets the searcher’s needs.

For SEO, this means a shift in optimisation tactics. Whilst keyword research is still an important part of SEO strategy, your website content now needs to consider the sorts of questions visitors might be asking, and how best to answer them.

What Is Search Intent?

When it comes to search engines, the basic premise is this: the searcher inputs their query, and the search engine bots match that query to keywords and phrases indexed within content from across the web that it thinks are most relevant to the initial search.

It isn’t quite as simple as directly pairing search queries to websites that happen to mention the exact turn of phrase used. Rather, search engines use a complex algorithm to try and determine the underlying motivation behind the search to serve the information that searchers are truly looking for, going beyond surface-level keywords to provide more relevant, and insightful answers.

Search engines instead rely on context, synonyms, and related keywords in order to make an educated guess about search intent. It’s all about the semantics.

Take a look at your browser history, and your recent web searches, and try to think about the reason why you decided to make each of them. Generally, the answer lies in one of five different types of search intent:

  • Informational: An informational search happens when the user is looking for answers or knowledge about a particular topic. Usually, the searcher doesn’t want to make a purchase or have a particular website in mind. Instead, they are looking to learn, and turning to search engines to find the information to satisfy their curiosity.
  • Navigational Intent: In contrast, navigational searches happen when users are looking to visit a specific website. Often, navigational searches are branded, for example, “Amazon order history” or “Facebook login”. For both of these search queries, it is clear where the user intends to go, and search engines are able to get them there quickly.
  • Commercial Intent: Commercial intent refers to a particular stage of the buyer journey, when the user is thinking about buying a product or service, but isn’t ready to make the final purchase. They are doing their research, with the intention of buying what they’re after down the line. For instance, if I was thinking about taking up photography, I may perform a search for “best digital cameras” or “easiest photo editing software”. I have a broad idea of the product I need, but need some extra guidance before making my final choice.
  • Transactional Intent: Following on from commercial searches, transactional searches occur when buyers are finally ready to make their purchase. This may involve using specific product names – keeping with the photography example, for instance, I might decide to search for a specific model of camera that suits my needs, and use the search engine results to find the best price and order it – ‘Buy Leica DSLR” or “Canon EOS deals”. Transactional search queries have a high level of purchase intent.
  • Local Intent: When users are searching for businesses or services in a specific geographic location, this is known as local search intent. Searchers may use modifiers to signal this to the search engine – examples of such may be something like “florists near me” or “places to eat in London”.

Why Does Search Intent Matter?

If you’re thinking about website optimisation, search intent needs to be at the forefront of your strategy. By aligning your content with the intent of the searches you’re aiming to rank for, you increase the likelihood of your page being relevant to the user’s needs.

This holds several benefits for your website: by appealing to search intent, your content stands a higher chance of attracting clicks from the SERPs, engaging your audience when they land on your site, enhancing their experience and leaving them more likely to explore your website further or turn to you in the future.

For businesses, this also means an increased conversion rate. The more relevant your website can be, the higher you’ll rank in the SERPs, and the more visitors you’ll attract. By focusing your SEO strategy on matching search intent, you’re putting your users’ goals front and centre and enhancing their web experience, and search engines will reward you for that in the long term.

That isn’t to say that utilising keyword research shouldn’t be part of your technique. Rather, keywords are still a crucial element of SEO, but you need to think about them in a slightly different way.

Instead of focusing on ranking for specific keywords, you need to be contextualising your efforts in a broader sense to really hone in on the types of long tail search queries that connect to your keyword shortlist, understanding the intent behind these and tailoring your content accordingly.

Search Intent and SEO

Search intent has transformed web searches and their results into something far more intelligent, and helpful for searchers. Thanks to the increased intelligence and learning capacity of search engine algorithms, with every search they become more adept at inferring context and guiding users to the answers they’re looking for.

By understanding search intent in SEO, you can make sure your website is providing thoughtful, quality content that meets the needs of your target audience – which will result in attracting users who are likely to convert, plus give a healthy SEO boost for you down the line.

For more information on how to optimise your content to satisfy search intent, why not reach out to our team?

If you have any comments or questions about this post, or would like to discuss a specific issue with your site, please get in touch using the form below.

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Magnus Linklater SEO Consultant

Author: Magnus Linklater

Magnus is an SEO specialist and online marketing professional with over 25 years of digital and traditional marketing experience.

As the founder of Bespoke Digital, Magnus has worked on technical site audits and content marketing campaigns for hundreds of clients and regularly writes about SEO strategy, tips & tricks.

Find Magnus on LinkedIn

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