Search Engine Rankings – Understanding Why Search Intent Matters

Whatever your website niche or industry you work in, chances are that the way people are going to find your business is through search engines, even for local businesses.  

Ranking is a lot more than just understanding keywords. In fact, Google are, for most intents and purposes, uninterested in keywords – what they are much more interested in delivering results that either exactly or as close to the intent of the search.

For that, you have to understand search intent, and why people search in a particular way.

But what does search intent mean?

Search intent is the reason people are searching. It’s key to how Google and other main search engines deliver information based on the search terms that are entered.

By delivering the correct websites based on the search intent is what differentiates a good search engine from a poor one, i.e. the one that you’re likely to continue using against the ones that deliver information that has no relevance to the search term you have entered.

By maintaining their status as the market leader in search engines, Google have pretty much mastered the results that are displayed based on the search intent.

That’s why, when you’re building content for your site – whether it be product content, blog posts or even page content, it’s essential to build content based on what the user is searching for

Search intent is usually broken down into four separate and distinct types:

1. Information Search

An information search is one where the user is trying to find information on how to do something, or what is involved in doing something. Probably the best example of an information search is recipes. in this search, the user is not looking specifically to buy something (although that may occur because of the ingredients), but they are looking to make a particular dish. 

Another example is “how to” searches. A how to search is fairly self-explanatory, i.e. the user needs to know how to do something, for example “how do I change a tire” or “how do I fix a broken lock”. Again, the intent on the search is not purchase driven, but is driven by a need to be able to do something.

Google Search for “how to change a tire”

So, using the search “how to change a tire” shows the above results. As you can see, Google is displaying video results predominately for this term, as they understand that the best results are based on a visual aid to changing a tire. The results also all have the term “how to change a tire” in the title.

Google results for “how to change a tire” – what to deliver after tutorials

Filtering down beyond the video tutorials are then:

  • Sites which Google trust to deliver on-point and accurate information based on the search term. In this example, Bridgestone (a global tyre company) and the RAC are the first two results.
  • People also search for – this is something that’s important to review, as these are related searches – perfect for when it comes to creating content based on this search term.

Content Creation For Informational Searches Based On Search Intent

If you have your own website, it’s essential to understand that, even with the greatest will in the world, sometimes you’re never going to get to #1 for a particular search term.

When it comes to thinking about search intent and how to generate content specifically to deliver visitors, you need to also look at the search result volumes. For our search term “how to change tire” there are a little under 1 billion results. If you were trying to rank for this term, it’s unlikely that you’d get to number one, simply because the companies there have a higher trust value with Google than it’s likely you will.

But Google is offering us a different option.

In this search, we’re told that people are also searching for “what are the steps to changing a tire”.

Google search for “what are the steps to changing a tire”

Although the result count is still massive, over 33 million, the results being displayed are now different. Google has replaced video tutorials with a featured snippet – information which it considers to be highly relevant to the search term.

Using Google’s search terms and using the information that Google is giving us for free allows us to review and make informed decisions on what content is worthwhile and beneficial for our website.

2. Navigation Search

A navigation search is a search for a particular brand or business. Perhaps you’re talking to a friend about search engine optimisation for your business and they say to you “we used Dream Web Design, they were really good”. You then go to the search engine and type in Dream Web Design and find my site. 

In this example, your search is driven by an exact requirement – i.e. I want to find Dream Web Design. It’s not a search driven by a product or service such as “southport seo services. 

These type of searches usually have a much higher CTR (Click Through Rate) and users who click on your site from a search will tend to stay on your site longer, as they have found the business they are looking for. They are also more likely to return a much smaller amount of results (unless your business name is a very generic one) – but don’t forget, Google will use all of the words in a search to base results. That’s why, when searching for Dream Web Design you get 760 million results – because Google us using the term “web design” as well as “dream web design” – generate a much larger volume.

Using an exact match search, i.e. typing “dream web design” into Google with the speech marks only returns 68,000 results as Google as found sites only where the exact term dream web design are displayed.

Google search for “Dream Web Design”

What’s interesting to note is how Google has changed the results page display based on the term. So, in our informational search the results were predominately video or rich snippets. In this search, they are now displaying exact website domains along with a local business listing (in this case, mine).

Again, Google are adapting their results display based the search intent.

Transactional Search

A transactional search is where the intent of the search is to purchase. This is important to recognise, as in this search the user’s main drive is that they are ready to purchase. 

Transactional searches can be broken further down into:

  • A specific product – for example, searching for a “BOSCH Serie 6 WAU28T64GB” is unlikely to be a investigation search (see below) as the search intent is very specific rather than “best washing machine” or something similar. In this instance, the user has probably already done their research and they are probably ready to actually make a purchase. 
  • A specific service – so you’ve just found out that your boiler has broken. The house is cold and there is no warm water. Here, you not bothered about trying to fix the boiler (an informational search) – what you need to do is find a local plumber. Therefore, you’re more likely to search for “boiler repair Southport” or “emergency plumber Southport”. Either way, the results that Google wants to send you is the websites of those plumbers who can help you with your issue – not websites related to broken boilers and how to fix them.
Google Search for “BOSCH Serie 6 WAU28T64GB”

For our washing machine search, Google is returning results based on that exact match. In this example, the bulk of the results are taken up by ads – i.e. paid advertising on Google, and this is where Google generates the majority of it’s money – another reason why it’s important to understand why search intent is so important. Pretty much 80% of the real estate of the page is taken over by paid advertising.

But what Google is returning are results which match the intent exactly – it understands that the search is based on a user most probably looking to purchase this washing machine and therefore returns the results based on that fact. It’s not displaying videos or how to (how to use my BOSCH Serie 6 WAU28T64GB washing machine) tutorials.

Investigation Search

An investigational search is one where the user is researching or investigating information prior to making a transaction. At this stage it’s unlikely the user will know exactly what they want – so following on from our example of the Bosch washing machine above, the user will probably not be searching for “BOSCH Serie 6 WAU28T64GB”. The search terms they are going to be more likely to be searching for is “what is the best washing machine” or “what is the best washing machine with a large drum” or something similar.

In this type of search, what the user is trying to do is find out information so they can make an informed decision prior to moving to a transaction search. So it may be that the user is looking for opinions or ratings, feedback from other users about their experiences in buying a washing machine and which one they chose (and why).

It’s in this search where there are plenty of opportunities to build content. It’s quite common to find sites with content here such as:

  • The 10 best washing machines
  • What is the best washing machine
  • The best washing machine to buy
  • Our favourite washing machine this year
  • Our best selling washing machine this year
  • What’s the best washing machine under £300

By providing content based on the search term it’s allowing the sites to give the user relevant information without overwhelming them with choices.

Sites such as Trustpilot, Which and Expertreviews also gives the user confidence with real life people’s reviews of the items they are purchasing – it’s a great way to give the user information whilst in turn breeding confidence in products and services.

Google Search for “what is the best washing machine under £300”

Search Intent Conclusions

As you can see in our post above, the search intent of a user is something that is extremely important when it comes to your website. More often than not, if you can match the search intent with the content you’re providing than you are going to get better search rankings than if you are simply churning out content for the sake of content.

More often than not, new website owners begin building content on what they THINK that people are searching for, rather than doing any actual research and finding our what people are REALLY searching for.

And the thing is, Google is giving us the tools to find out what those things are. By using Google’s auto-complete facility, we can see what searches are related to the keywords we enter – and then by further delving into the related searches and people also search for options, we’re being given accurate data from Google itself which we can use to build content for.

So my advice is to use that information, do your research and out yourself in the shoes of the searcher – step outside your own shoes as a business owner.