Why Keyword Search Intent Matters in SEO

Search intent is the main reason a person makes an online search. Also called user intent or keyword intent, search intent can seem obvious just by reading the search term – and sometimes it is. But with over 5.6 billion searches made every day on Google, a given keyword’s prevailing search intent as understood by the algorithm may differ from your initial assumption.

When choosing keywords to target with SEO, it’s important to objectively analyze the search engine results page (SERP) to determine the dominant interpretation. The alternatives, blindly selecting keywords from lists, choosing keywords by search volume, or pulling them out of thin air, can result in wasted effort trying to rank for search terms that don’t align with the type of visitors you want to attract.

Different Types of Keyword Intent

There are 3 main types of keyword intent:

navigational search intent


This is any keyword that includes a brand or company name. The searcher already knows what they want, and they’re using a search engine to navigate to the right web page for it.


  • nike sneakers
  • yale facebook
  • netflix login
  • naveo seo services

As a company or individual with a brand, you want to be at the top of the SERP for your own name, brands, and products. In general it’s easier for a business website to win on branded vs unbranded search terms.

informational search intent


Just what it sounds like, informational intent means the user is looking for information on a particular topic. An informational search may or may not be a precursor to a purchasing decision.


  • signs of dehydration
  • why do dogs eat grass
  • how to tie a tie
  • what is bitcoin

Just because informational searches aren’t a clear signal the user is ready to buy something doesn’t mean they should be disregarded. Comprehensively covering a topic and providing the best online experience for a given keyword increases search engine visibility and domain authority.

commercial or transactional search intent


Commercial keyword searches are made by someone who is ready to make a purchase.


  • buy stamps online
  • get car insurance quotes
  • best price on all terrain tires
  • kayaks on sale near me

Keywords like “gaming pc reviews” and “top 10 books 2021” can also be considered to have commercial or transactional intent, though not as strongly as the examples above. There’s typically a lot of competition in commercial keyword rankings.

Examples of Unclear Search Intent

  • jaguar could mean the animal, the car, the Netflix series, or the Jacksonville mascot.
  • mercury could mean the element, the planet, the credit card, or several different companies.
  • metal bending could mean the imaginary skill from the Avatar series, or the industrial process.
  • chicago pizza could mean Chicago-style pizza, or pizza places in Chicago.

By default, Google uses 180 days of prior search history to give personalized search results. If you regularly search for products and click on results from a specific vendor, the algorithm learns this pattern and will likely show you search results with more links from that source. If you often search for animal photos online but never vehicles, you’ll probably get jaguar results skewed toward the animal.

So when you’re trying to determine search intent for a given keyword, it’s important to clear your search history first, or search in private/Incognito mode (which does not save your browsing history or cookies).

You can tell when Google considers a keyword ambiguous by examining the SERP. If you see mixed search results including more than one interpretation of your term, the algorithm is trying to cover all its bases to help guide you towards the information you want. Similarly, the autosuggest for ambiguous search terms lets you know there are multiple interpretations.

If you sell mercury, you’re better off targeting liquid mercury for sale rather than mercury, even though the latter has much higher search volume.

example of unclear search intent using Google autosuggest for mercury

Why consider search intent in SEO?

When you understand the search intent behind keywords, you’re able to choose the most relevant keywords to target, and tailor your website content accordingly.

When your content resonates with the right types of users you’ll attract better qualified traffic, which leads to:

  • Lower bounce rates
  • More user engagement
  • Better rankings & visibility
  • Increased domain authority

How to Use Search Intent in SEO

Do a search and analyze the types of pages winning on the keyword. This will tell you the dominant search intent. The more ads appear before organic results, the more competitive it is. If you see a Maps Pack, there’s a local component. You can also look at the ‘People Also Ask’ and ‘Related Searches’ sections for additional clues.

Navigational keyword SEO

Winning on your own branded search terms is imperative. Branded search terms convert at twice the rate of unbranded search terms, so you want that highly desirable organic traffic to find you before your distributors. You’ll want to start with a branded keyword audit. Once you have a list of branded keywords to target, you can either create a branded search SEO strategy, or incorporate the branded search terms into your existing SEO strategy. Many businesses also pay for Google Ads on their own branded search to prevent competitors from occupying that space.

Informational keyword SEO

While the number of web pages for products or services is limited by your offerings, there’s virtually no limit to the related queries people have about them. Developing content to win on informational keywords is a good way to grow your website and domain authority. Again, you’ll want to examine the SERP for the keyword you want to win on. If there’s a Featured Snippet, your page should include content optimized for a quick answer. If the top three results are comprehensive longform articles, you’ll need to create an even more comprehensive (and delightful) version.

Commercial keyword SEO

To appear on the first SERP for competitive commercial keywords, you’ll need to make sure your web page offers all the information and resources users are looking for. To win, you’ll have to make your web page even more helpful and attractive than the competition. That could mean better quality photos, a superlative mobile UX, infographics, or case studies. You could offer free samples, virtual or in-person demos, how-to videos, or quizzes to help guide users toward the best variation of a product.

It’s also smart to consider using paid search to target commercial keywords. Paid results tend to occupy a lot of the SERP for commercial searches, so you’ll gain visibility much faster. Google Ads also gives you a lot of options for product listings like images, price, aggregate ratings, so you’ll have more control over the appearance of paid results compared to organic results.

The bottom line:

No matter the search intent, Google wants to give users the best answer to their implied query. If you want to see your web page in the #1 organic spot, you’ll need to provide content that fulfills the query better than the current winner. Your website’s domain authority and technical SEO also factor in.

Professional Help with SEO Content Strategy

The theory behind using search intent to develop optimized content isn’t hard to grasp. But it can be hard to find the time to implement these practices, especially if you’re already wearing multiple hats at your business. NAVEO provides custom SEO and content development services to help you meet your website performance goals.

Contact us online to learn more, or to request a free website audit with no obligation.

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