A Guide to Identifying Keyword Intent

As you already know, SEO or search engine optimization is the tool used to drive traffic to your website. When you rank highly on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERP), people are more likely to see your content. You conduct keyword research and, hopefully, find words that people may use to find the product or service you offer. The more successfully you choose keywords (hopefully with high search volume but low competition), the higher you will rank on Google’s SERP. Although, even if people click on your website, that’s only the first step. How do you actually get people to buy your product, subscribe to your weekly newsletter, or visit your website again? The answer comes down to ‘keyword search intent.

Before we get into our guide to identifying keyword intent, let’s cover some other basics first.

Why does the SERP change?

You’ve most likely noticed that if you search for something on your desktop it will differ from what you see on your mobile phone which will also differ from when you make that same search on your mobile phone when you are travelling.

If you’re searching for a product, you’ll most likely see Google’s shopping listings with images. The top results will be advertisements which businesses have to pay Google for. If you’re searching for ‘Queen Victoria’ because your child has a history paper to write, you’ll most likely see the Wikipedia page, history websites, and other questions and answers you may ask. You will not see advertisements on an informational query. You will also see a knowledge graph to the right hand side with quick information regarding your search. Finally, if you’re searching for a type of food, you’ll most likely be given the top three restaurant results in your local area. (Remember our mini guide on local SEO?)

So, in other words, the type of search you’re making will alter the type of results you get (more on that later).

What is keyword research?

This topic could be a book, but, in a nutshell, companies conduct keyword research so they can rank in Google to be found for their product or service for specific keywords. Keyword research is step one in any SEO copywriting strategy. There’s not much point in writing lots of blog and website content if it doesn’t contain keywords that pertain to your business. You wouldn’t write about bunnies if you’re a dog shelter. Of course, occasionally your content can go in unique directions, but for the most part, it should be planned out to capture specific keywords.

What terms are your potential customers going to use to find you? What terms would you like to be found for? Then, you want to use these exact terms in the content you write.

Keyword research is coming up with a list of keywords and keyword phrases that you are likely to rank for. There are a number of tools to conduct keyword research, but everyone’s ‘golden search’ appears with keywords with high search volume (i.e. lots of people searching for the term) with low competition (i.e. not very many people writing about the term).

With keywords, you always want to look at the competition to see what they are doing. It’ll be difficult to rank against big, well-known brands, for example, but perhaps easier to capture a fair share of the market against another small-town bakery.

You’ll want to come up with a list of long-tail keywords, focus keyphrases, and search intent keywords to start building your content marketing campaign.

What is keyword search intent?

In early Google times, you would search for a keyword and you would get x amount of results. The ‘intent’ of the search would matter very little. Your search would not distinguish if you typed in the word ‘Pineapple’ because you were looking to find a grocery store, find a trendy restaurant, or buy a t-shirt from a clothing brand. However, as Google has advanced and improved, Google now cares about and has gotten better at identifying the ‘search intent’ of its users. So, what does that mean for business owners?

When you type (or speak) into Google, Google wants to know why you are searching. What are your intentions, in other words? Do you have a question that needs a quick, immediate answer? Or do you want to be directed to a specific website? Or do you want to buy a product or service?

If you need a quick answer, Google may display a set of results that are different from when you want to find a specific website. For products or services, Google’s marketplace may appear. For a restaurant query, Google’s top three will show up. The keywords may all be very similar, but the intent will dictate what the user is shown.

In summation, Google wants to provide its users with answers to their queries that fit not only their search terms but also their intentions and motivations for the search. For businesses, that means your blog post or webpage needs to understand the search intent or likely search intent of your specific audience.

The four types of search intent

The four types of search intent are informational intent, navigational intent, transactional intent, and commercial investigation.

Informational intent: just as it sounds, informational intent are searches where the user is looking for answers, knowledge capital, and/or information. These searches include the following queries. ‘What is the weather today?’ ‘How can I teach my toddler sign language?’ ‘Where is the nearest Italian restaurant?’ ‘How many carbohydrates are in kale?’ ‘How can I optimize my website for SEO?’ All of these searches will result in Google compiling websites that they think will best answer those queries as quickly as possible.

Navigational intent: these searchers know the name of the website they are getting to, but haven’t typed out the full address, for example. When someone types in ‘Facebook’ into Google, it’s most likely they are trying to access the social media website, so the first result will most likely be Facebook.com and will take users to the login page. Results further down may be newspaper articles or other queries such as a drop-down menu that asks ‘How can I contact Facebook?’ Ranking at the top of the page for navigational intent only matters if that, during an organic search, users are actually looking for your specific website. Otherwise, it won’t necessarily help people find you.

Transactional intent: this term is used for the type of intent that means users are ‘shopping around.’ They intend to purchase something but they are looking for the best price or the best deal. For example, someone may be searching for a gold sequin blazer to go with their costume party outfit and they want the product that looks the highest quality for the lowest price (because they may or may not wear it again). This user may or may not have a specific item in mind, but they are searching around and once they find a solution, they will most likely purchase that item. Searches with transactional intent look something like the following. ‘Red cardigan’ ‘Where can I buy a fake beard?’ ‘China teacups made in England’ ‘Best place to buy lightbulbs’ ‘Where’s the nearest tailor?’

Commercial investigation: many businesses bank on commercial investigation when creating their content marketing campaigns. This user has the intention to buy now or in the future but they are using the internet to research and become better informed. These users have transactional intent, but might need convincing to move their purchase time to the ‘now.’ Searches with commercial investigation might look like the following. ‘What are the best SEO agencies in town?’ ‘Which is the best washing machine?’ ‘What brand of toaster has the longest lifespan?’ ‘Where can I find the best fitted jeans?’

How do I capture the right keyword intent?

People will use specific ‘buying’ words when they want to buy something. They may use words like ‘buy,’ ‘order,’ ‘purchase,’ ‘deal’, ‘coupon,’ or ‘discount.’ These people most likely want to buy a product and have transactional intent or commercial investigation. If someone searches for a specific product or type of product, they most likely intend to buy that product. Users who are simply searching with informational intent will use phrases like ‘how to’ ‘the best way to’ ‘how do I’ and so forth. These people may buy in future, but for now, they want information.

How do I target keyword intent?

You want to understand your audience and what they will search for. You don’t want to create a purchase landing page for those who simply want information, for example. So, those with informational intent will most likely enjoy long blog articles with an in-depth explanation of what they want to know. However, that would be exactly the wrong type of content for someone who simply wants to buy now. You’d want to navigate them to your sales page.

If your company sells water bottles, for example, you’ll want pages that capture both ‘buy a water bottle’ and ‘how to choose the best water bottle for runners.’ That way, you’ll capture both those who want more information and those who want to buy the product.

The best way to target your users correctly is to ask them what they are searching for and what results they get and if they are happy with those results. Is your website easy enough for them to navigate? Are they happy with the results? You can gather this information through a survey.

How to build a keyword list for keyword search intent

Before adding in content that centers around keyword intent, you want to have a solid list of core keywords first. Then, you’ll take those core keywords and add ‘modifiers’ to establish the intent.

Some tools to help establish your core keywords are Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, Yoast’s Google Suggest Expander, and Answer The Public. Don’t just use the auto-generated lists, though, because some odd words sometimes slip into the mix.

Then, you can go to Google and type in some of these. See what’s in the ‘People also ask’ box and add those to your keyword list.

Keep in mind where you live and what language you speak (language and location) because keywords may vary for different audiences. For example, American versus British spellings will differ as do ways of writing queries. If you’re an international business hoping to target both areas, then you either need to target both through keywords or you need to establish your ‘home’ language. But, if you’re a sweater company, understand that those in Great Britain will be searching for ‘jumpers.’

Once you have your keyword list, it’s time to add your intent modifiers. These will vary depending on if you’re trying to answer informational queries or want to capture transactional intent.

For informational queries, you want them to center around your product or service type.

  • [Product name]
  • What is [product name]?
  • How does [product name] work?
  • How do I use [product name]?

For transactional intent, you want queries to center around purchase words.

  • Purchase words might include
  • Cheap
  • Affordable
  • Buy
  • Sale
  • Low cost
  • Where to buy
  • Near me
  • Purchase
  • Order
  • Online
  • Services
  • Local

Then you want to capture more specifics such as

  • Best [product name]
  • Compare [product name]
  • [product name] reviews
  • What is the top [product name]
  • [Color/style/size/descriptor] [product name]
  • Find [product name]
  • [Product name] online

You also want to make sure you capture any adjective variants for your product. So, for example, if you sell sweaters and jeans you’ll want to include color keywords (blue, gray, pink, white, black, red…), size keywords (S, M, L as well as small, medium, large), any specific keywords (faded, ripped, stretch, designer, cashmere, wool, faux leather), any brand names, and body type modifiers (plus size, petite, average, curvy, wide leg, high-waisted).

Furthermore, you might want to consider location modifiers such as (in the jeans and sweaters example)

  • Where can I buy faded designer jeans?
  • How to make my own jean shorts
  • What is the best sweater for a large bust?
  • What is the best place to find ripped jeans?
  • Where is the nearest place to find a red cashmere sweater?
  • What is the benefit of buying cashmere over wool?

You want to capture for any keywords that would be associated with your product. Consider gender, audience type, sale, price, plural versions, and any other modifiers that could enhance your keyword intent.

Based on the examples, you may feel this only works for retail-type businesses, but it’s vital for all businesses to understand the intent of your audience and the types of terms they may search for.

Need help with leveraging intent-driven marketing strategy or want to understand how this fits into the Search Journey?

Key Medium are SEO and website experts and can help you come up with a keyword strategy that will work for your business. Get in touch today.

This was originally posted on Running SEO, our resource for helping developers, designers, creatives, marketers, and business owners alike with guides and tools improve rankings in search.


Elaine, an SEO Specialist and Content Writer

Elaine Frieman is a UK-based professional editor, educational writer, and former marketing agency content writer where she wrote articles for disparate clients using SEO best practice. She enjoys reading, writing, walking in the countryside, traveling, spending time with other people’s cats, and going for afternoon tea.