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min read
February 20, 2024

How to Analyze and Optimize for Search Intent

Keelyn Hart
Content Writer at Letterdrop


  • Search intent is the reason behind a searcher's query and understanding it is crucial for SEO.
  • There are four types of search intent: informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional.
  • Analyzing search intent involves studying top pages, SERP features, Google's auto-complete answers, and search modifiers.
  • Optimizing for search intent requires mapping intent to the buyer journey, following Google's EEAT guidelines, and implementing technical SEO best practices.

Long gone are the days when stuffing a keyword X amount of times could boost SEO rankings.

Google's people-first policy makes it clear that content needs to prioritize the user and help bring their search journey to an end. That's why understanding search intent and how to optimize for it is so important for ranking.

This guide will take you through search intent and give you a step-by-step guide on answering it the right way.

What is Search Intent?

A user's search intent (also known as "user intent") is the reason behind a searcher's query.

For example, someone who types in "B2B marketing playbook" is looking for an educational resource that can take them through a B2B marketing strategy and how to execute on it. (This particular search is Informational, but more on search intent types later.)

The first link that a searcher sees on Google should, in theory, have all the information they're looking for and effectively end their search. That's because Google has placed certain pages high up on the SERP that it categorizes as most relevant to the search.

The first SERP result should end a search journey
The first SERP result should end a search journey

But if a user bounces from the page and "pogo sticks" between other articles, it means the content failed to answer their search.

Pogo sticking on SERP articles

Focus on creating content that ends that search journey. At that point, you can intercept and drive visitors to action like clicking links to other pages on your site, subscribing to your newsletter, or booking a demo.

Why is Search Intent Important for SEO?

While search intent isn't an official Google ranking factor, relevance is.

Your content needs to be the most relevant and helpful resource out there in order to rank on Google.

For example, someone searching "what is SEO" shouldn't be bombarded with landing pages trying to sell them an SEO tool. They're learning about the space and aren't ready to buy, so those pages aren't helping them end their search.

Keywords are the most basic signal to Google that your content might be relevant, but repeating a keyword 50 times won't help you — in fact, Google penalizes such obvious attempts to cheese the SEO system.

The search engine's AI models like PaLM 2, semantically understand pages and deeper topical relevance. Giving a searcher unique and helpful information related to the primary search gives you the best chance of ranking.

"Beyond looking at keywords, our systems also analyze if content is relevant to a query in other ways. We also use aggregated and anonymized interaction data to assess whether search results are relevant to queries. We transform that data into signals that help our machine-learned systems better estimate relevance. Just think: when you search for “dogs”, you likely don’t want a page with the word “dogs” on it hundreds of times. With that in mind, algorithms assess if a page contains other relevant content beyond the keyword “dogs” — such as pictures of dogs, videos, or even a list of breeds." — Google on Ranking Results

What are the 4 Types of Search Intent?

Search intent falls into four buckets:

  1. Informational
  2. Navigational
  3. Commercial
  4. Transactional

1. Informational Search Intent

Users putting in searches with informational search intent are looking for just that — information.

They're looking for data, detailed guidance, definitions, facts, and more to help them better understand a topic and make informed decisions.

Some example of informational-intent searches are:

  • How to change a car tire
  • SEO guide for beginners
  • Who is Elon Musk
  • Benefits of content marketing

Here's what SERP results for an informational-intent search look like:

An example of SERP results for an informational search

An example of SERP results for an informational search
An example of SERP results for an informational search

You also come across SERP features like Featured Snippets, People Also Ask (PAA) boxes, and Knowledge Panels that quickly give searchers the answers and information they need.

A people also ask box for an informational search
A people also ask box for an informational search

Informational searches are the meat of any content strategy, since your blog serves as a resource hub for prospects.

2. Navigational Search Intent

A navigational-intent search is motivated by someone who wants to navigate through a particular website. They already know the brand and typed the search in the search box because it's quicker than typing an entire URL.

Some example of navigational-intent searches include:

  • Semrush blog
  • Google Analytics
  • Nike
  • Amazon

Knowledge panels are a common SERP feature that appears after a navigational search, since they're typically brand searches.

An example of SERP results for navigational search
An example of SERP results for navigational search

Users don't usually click much further than the first result of the brand website, which is why you shouldn't focus too much on optimizing for navigational intent when it comes to your content strategy.

3. Commercial Search Intent

Searches that have commercial intent show that the searcher is looking to learn more on a specific brand or product, which can help them with future buying decisions.

Examples of commercial-intent searches are:

  • Ahrefs 2024 review (reviews)
  • Macbook Air (product search)
  • Lenovo laptops (branded search)
  • Semrush vs Ahrefs (comparative search)

Example of SERP results for a commercial search
Example of SERP results for a commercial search

Since prospects are entering the market to buy, they would benefit from aggregation pieces and comparisons — it's an opportunity for you to show how your offerings stand out from competitors.

4. Transactional Search Intent

Transactional-intent searches are motivated by searchers looking to buy and find deals. Clear and compelling CTAs are crucial at this level at intent.

Here are some examples of transactional-intent searches:

  • Discount SEO courses
  • Buy Gong.io
  • Car deals
  • Metadata.io pricing

An example of SERP results for a transactional search
An example of SERP results for a transactional search

Landing pages (specifically product pages) are excellent for transactional intent and are an opportunity to push prospects to purchase using CTAs.

How to Analyze Search Intent Behind a Query

Before you start creating content around a target keyword, you need to identify and understand the search intent behind it.

It used to be that uncovering search intent was an entirely manual process, with no specific tools out there to help you — luckily, that has changed.

We'll show you how you can automate some of the below steps with a search intent-specific tool.

1. Analyze How Top Pages on the SERPs Answer the Question

Top pages on Google are there for a reason — the algorithm has determined that these pages best answer search intent for the target keyword (for now).

It stands to reason that the format and type of content in these top results are the best way to get your own content ranking.

Of course, you want to create content that's better than what's out there — but you need to follow the general format and approach.

You need to identify the three C's for top pages:

  1. Content type
  2. Content format
  3. Content angle

Content Type

"Content Type" refers to what top results are — are they landing pages, videos, product pages, or blog posts?

You should create the same type for your own content.

Identifying Content Type
Identifying Content Type

Content Format

"Content Format" refers to the specific format of the content type, typically in reference to blog posts.

Content formats include:

  • Step-by-step tutorials
  • "How-to" guides
  • List posts
  • Reviews
  • Aggregation pieces
  • Comparison pieces, etc

Identifying Content Format
Identifying Content Format

Content Angle

"Content angle" refers to the unique selling point of top results.

The most obvious one are results with the current year in the title. These serve to give users the most up-to-date and relevant information on a topic.

Identifying Content Angle
Identifying Content Angle

Information gain, or providing unique and useful information that nobody else has or can give, is a Google ranking factor. You want to spot opportunities to say something new.

There's a feature in Letterdrop that saves you time analyzing top results. It automatically analyzes your keyword for search intent and gives you:

  • the search intent type
  • the best format to get ranking (video, landing page, article, etc)
  • the buyer journey stage
  • the conversion likelihood based on your company offerings

Automatic search intent analysis
Automatic search intent analysis

Letterdrop also spots and suggests information gain opportunities on the SERPs for you.

Automatic information gain and topic gap suggestions
Automatic information gain and topic gap suggestions

2. Study SERP Features and Optimize for Them

Similarly to the above step, look at what SERP features show up when you search your keyword.

Using this information, you can determine exactly the kind of information searchers are looking for and any related questions you can answer and get featured for.

The two most relevant SERP details to content would be the Featured Snippet and People Also Ask sections.

You want to try to copy the format of Featured Snippets and PAA boxes in your content and optimize for them. Some tips:

  1. Use proper heading structure (H2s, H3s, etc). Google uses this to pull relevant snippets from content
  2. Keep answers short and concise — Featured Snippets are no more than 50 words
  3. Use relevant images and video. Don't use stock assets — proprietary images and footage go a long way
  4. Use bolding and lists to break down answers
  5. Follow technical SEO best practices — optimize your Core Web Vitals, don't stuff keywords, use alt text for images, etc

You can auto-generate unique Featured Snippets into your content using Letterdrop. Answers are based on top results.

Auto-generated featured snippets letterdrop
Auto-generated featured snippets

You can also add People Also Ask sections on-page or in bulk across your pages, published directly to any site.

On-page, auto-generated PAA snippets letterdrop
Automatic People Also Ask sections

3. Study Google's Auto-Complete Answers

Just like SERP features, Google's auto-complete answers can give you more insight into what exactly searchers are looking for and other related information you can give them.

It's based on what users type in after the initial search to try and end their search journey.

Google autocomplete
Google autocomplete

4. Align Modifiers with Different Intent

Search modifiers reveal the type of search intent you're dealing with.

  1. Examples of informational intent modifiers:
    1. what
    2. who
    3. how / how to
    4. guide
    5. why
    6. examples
    7. tutorial
  2. Examples of navigational intent modifiers:
    1. Brand names
    2. Locations
    3. Brand product pages
  3. Examples of commercial intent modifiers:
    1. Review
    2. Comparison
    3. Best
    4. Top
  4. Examples of transactional intent modifiers:
    1. Buy
    2. Pricing
    3. Order
    4. Purchase
    5. Discount

Letterdrop reveals this for you, as shown in the first of these steps.

5. Use Google Ads to Determine Commercial Intent

Google Ads provides data on the competitiveness and cost-per-click (CPC) of keywords. Higher CPCs usually indicate commercial intent, meaning people are searching with the intention to make a purchase.

While useful, this tactic is of course limited to commercial intent alone.

6. Review Your Website Analytics

Use tools like Google Search Console and Google Analytics to understand the behavior of visitors coming from specific search queries. Look at metrics like bounce rate, time on page, and conversion rate to gauge the intent behind the search queries.

While free, this is more guesswork than anything, and there's no guarantee that you'll be right.

How to Optimize for Search Intent

Now that you've analyzed search intent, it's time to follow best practices to bring your prospects' search journeys to an end.

Here are three actionable tips to follow.

1. Map Intent to the Buyer Journey

There are different types of search intent for each stage of the buyer journey.

These buyer journey stages are:

  1. Unaware
  2. Problem-Aware
  3. Solution-Aware
  4. Product-Aware

You need to know and understand these stages in order to deliver the right content at the right time.

For example, a prospect in the "solution-aware" stage will likely have commercial and transactional intent. There's no use in directing them to a "how-to" article, which is unaware and has informational intent.

Buyer Awareness phases in the marketing funnel by Letterdrop
Buyer Awareness phases in the marketing funnel by Letterdrop

This is where Letterdrop's buyer journey indicator (part of the Search Intent feature) comes in handy, as shown earlier.

2. Follow Google's EEAT Guidelines

You need to optimize for EEAT (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) if you want to answer search intent and get ranking on Google.

Optimizing for "Experience" in EEAT

Experience refers to how much first-hand experience the author of any content has with the subject matter.

  • Share your first-hand experiences on the topic.
  • Show evidence of your experience, such as credentials in your bio, screenshots, and more.
Optimizing for "Expertise" in EEAT

Expertise refers to the level of knowledge and skill that you have in the field. It's better to take medical advice from a physician than a freelance writer.

  • Differentiate your content by suggesting new points of view.
  • Regularly audit your content to keep up with the latest information and for any changes in search intent.
Optimizing for "Authority" in EEAT

Authoritativeness refers to the level of recognition you've earned in your field or industry. For example, you wouldn't get SEO advice from a travel blog.

  • Use unique first-party data like graphics, studies, quotes, and videos in your content. This helps you optimize for information gain and Google's Perspectives, too.
  • Interview experts and use that data in content. This helps you optimize for information gain and Google's Perspectives, too.
  • Comarket with brand-name authors and experts, such as asking them to write guest posts for your site.
  • Cite credible websites and sources.
  • Credit other authors and creators on graphics and other assets that aren't yours.
Optimizing for "Trustworthiness" in EEAT

Trustworthiness refers to the level of reliability that you have established with your audience. Is the site a sketchy anonymous forum or a prominent and widely cited resource?

  • Include your credentials and experience in your author bio.
  • Only link out to reputable websites and sources.
  • Structure your pages with clear headings and make it easy for users to navigate to the right answers.
  • Put the most important information and assets at the top of the page.

You want to keep these evaluation criteria in mind while creating your content. A tool like Letterdrop can give you EEAT guidelines specific to your content.

Automatic EEAT evaluation by Letterdrop
Automatic EEAT evaluation

📢 Tip: Interviewing experts on a topic can help you optimize for EEAT, search intent, information gain, and Google's Perspectives.

3. Follow Technical SEO Best Practices

Clean site structure makes for a better user experience, helps Google crawl and index your content, and helps you rank higher.

Here are some of the many rules you need to check for:

  1. The title shouldn't be cut off in the SERP.
  2. Images need alt text.
  3. Images need proper file names.
  4. You shouldn't have more than one H1.
  5. You need at least two or three internal links.
  6. You need least one high domain authority external link.
  7. No broken links.
  8. Optimize your Core Web Vitals (minify code, lazy load images, etc)
  9. Create skimmable structure with bolding and lists.
  10. Use your keyword naturally in the introduction to make it clear what this article answers.
  11. Use your keyword naturally in the conclusion to make it clear what this article answers.
  12. No keyword stuffing.

You can do this yourself, or use a tool like Letterdrop to find and automate technical SEO fixes.

Offer the Best Solution to Ending the Search Journey

Ranking for SEO in the modern day comes down to providing searchers with the best possible solution and bringing their search journey to an end.

Think about how you can best answer their questions, provide unique insights, and make sure your pages are technically clean. This is the formula to ranking.

We helped build Google Search and now we can help you optimize for the future of SEO. Reach out to us to automate best SEO practices today.

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