Optimizing for Search Intent

Keyword research is the foundation of any good SEO strategy: strategically mapping terms and phrases to pages on your website can help bring in more traffic, more leads, and increased brand awareness. However, when it comes to finding the right keywords for your website, it can be easy to fall in the trap of choosing highly trafficked terms instead of lower-traffic but highly relevant keywords. Let’s take a look at why prioritizing search intent is important for your keyword research strategy.

What is Search Intent?

Put simply, search intent (user intent) is the ultimate goal or purpose of an online search. The intent is the why behind a search. Is the searcher’s end goal to purchase something, find more information on a certain topic, or to look for a specific website? When it comes to mapping keywords to target pages on your site, it’s important to understand the intent behind each targeted query, so you can make sure the content you provide is relevant to what the user wants when they search

All queries have different intents and could be categorized into the following:

Transactional Intent

Transactional intent refers to the user who is looking to purchase something. Most likely, the user has a specific item in mind and is ready to buy. Some example searches include:

  • “Nike Air Jordan Sneakers”
  • “Flights from New York to Chicago”
  • “Buy a standing desk” 

Informational Intent

Informational intent keywords are often used by users at the beginning of their customer journey, when they’re still building awareness of your brand and offerings, often via longer-form content such as blog posts. The user is looking to get information on a certain topic, so a sales pitch isn’t the way to go. Some example searches include:

  • “How tall was Abraham Lincoln”
  • Chicago home prices”
  • “How old is Leslie Knope”

Navigational Intent

Navigational intent refers to a user who is already familiar with a brand and is looking for a specific page, product, or site. This user may not know the exact URL of their intended website, or they find it easier to Google the name of a brand. Branded searches will happen naturally for a company, so it is not necessary to optimize a web page for these terms. Some example searches include:

  • “Facebook”
  • “LinkedIn login”
  • “UpBuild blog”

Commercial Investigation Intent

Users who are conducting commercial investigation are likely doing research and due diligence before purchasing a product or a service. These keywords are often middle-of-funnel, providing users with solutions to pain points, while also helping a brand qualify their leads. Some example searches include:

  • “Best standing desk”
  • “Peleton vs Echelon”
  • “Best quality fold-up kayak”

Local Intent

As described in the title, local intent refers to when a user is looking for local services, such as food, shopping, or entertainment. Their intent is typically to visit a brick-and-mortar location. Some examples of searches include:

  • Tacos near me
  • Waterparks Chicago
  • Cable services in my area


Understanding a search’s underlying intent is key to building relevance.  Relevance is everything. Google’s top priority is providing its users with the most applicable content and answers for their queries. Google has talked about the importance of search intent in its Quality Evaluator Guidelines for years, and recently published a report titled, “How Search Intent is Redefining the Marketing Funnel”. 

If users click on a URL in the SERP and realize the information they are looking for is not provided on that page, they’ll most likely bounce back to the search results and find a better resource. Whether or not this behavior can affect search rankings is unknown; however, if you’re not providing relevant, engaging information, users won’t stay on your site or make a purchase.

Additionally, if a page’s topic and associated keywords are too broad and don’t offer a targeted solution to a user’s query, the quality of leads brought to your website will be lower than leads from a highly targeted, relevant search. No sales team wants to sift through numerous unqualified leads.

Tips for Identifying Intent

Now that intent is your primary goal (or should be), how do you identify intent for your current keyword research strategy? 

Look at the Individual SERP

For keywords you’re considering, search the query yourself and look at the search results. What are the results telling you? Google has more information about search intent than anyone and seeing what Google returns in the search results is a big clue as to how they view a user’s intent.

Make sure you’re doing an incognito search to ensure Google is not returning personalized search results but rather giving you an unbiased SERP. If you don’t have the time to manually check every search result, you can use SERP analysis tools such as Moz’s Keyword Explorer or AHREF’s SERP checker.

What to Look for in the SERPS

  • Are your competitors in the search results? This is a good sign that the search intent is relevant to your purposes.
  • Are the search results relevant to what you had in mind? For example, if you searched for “enterprise companies”, do the search results return pages from Enterprise Car Rental or Enterprise sized companies? 
  • Are the results dominated by landing pages, blog posts, news articles, or product description pages? If you’re planning on creating a sales landing page in a SERP dominated by news articles, you may want to consider a different keyword.

Look for Modifiers

The simplest way to understand a keyword’s intent is simply by looking at modifiers. What do certain modifiers tell you about a keyword’s intent? Examples may include:

Transactional Intent Modifiers:

  • Buy
  • Cost
  • Price

Commercial Intent Modifiers:

  • Compare
  • Reviews
  • Top

Local Intent Modifiers:

  • Near me
  • Close by
  • Chicago

Informational Intent Modifiers:

  • How
  • What
  • Who

If you’re looking to increase traffic but also increase the quality of leads to your site, it’s necessary to understand how search intent is affecting your site’s performance in search. Understanding a user’s journey and their ultimate goal will not only improve user experience but also your bottom line. 

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