The Discovery Phase: What is search intent?

In order to give your reader or customer what they want, you first have to understand the 'why' behind their search.

Transcript & mp3 file 👇

Hello everyone! Welcome back! Welcome to lesson 2! I'd like to start this lesson with a question: what the heck is search intent? Like, what is it? What is user intent? Have you ever heard of it? Basically search intent is the 'why'. And I'm not talking about the existential why, like why are we on this big, giant spinning rock of a planet. It's the reason people search for what they search for. It's the why!

More often than not, most every individual's search falls into one of four categories. We have: navigational, transactional, commercial or informational. We're going to go through each one step-by-step. Ready?

Basically, you’ve got questions, and you’d like answers ASAP. Here’s an example: How to cook paella

Capital of Poland

Or simply ‘who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1993?’ (spoiler: it was the late, great Toni Morrison)

Next, we have Navigational intent which comes into play when the user already knows where they want to go, but they just need a quick lift to get there because they want to get there fast! You may search for Spotify login or YouTube versus typing in the entire URL to save time and brain juice...

Commercial intent is the window shopping of the interwebs. It’s when someone wants to buy something, but they’d like to compare and contrast and basically shop around before making a final decision.

For example Surfer review or iPhone vs. Samsung Galaxy

Last but certainly not least: Transactional intent. The user wants to buy something, credit card in hand but needs to find the right place to do so.

More often than not, pages ranking for transactional intent are e-commerce stores or product and services pages.

Oh! I don’t want to forget local search intent! It’s where the user is searching for local products or services, like an electrician, a hairdresser, or a pizza place near them. Just something to keep in mind!

So, why does any of this matter?

There are three main reasons:

First, search intent will help you evaluate your chances to rank for a keyword! It will help you determine the type, scope, and language of your copy. It’s one of the best ways to determine keyword difficulty. If the SERP is transactional, your article--no matter how awesome it is--probably won’t rank unless it’s a product page that allows users to buy what they’re looking for.

Secondly, search intent helps you understand who you’re competing against! It’s not enough to have a look at the top ten and go from there. You should always exclude competitors whose content serves different search intent than yours. Google has different sets of rules for different search intents. If you’re writing a software guide, Quora is not your competition as you all have very different purposes. Just include other guides in your competitor analysis.

Third, knowing the search intent will establish authority, and, frankly, people like people who give them what they want! That’s you! (Hopefully).

Let’s put this into action, shall we?

I’ve got two dogs which I love with all my heart, so let’s try “dog grooming” as a keyword. Imagine you’re tasked with writing a landing page for a local dog grooming company, where they want to present their services. You need a landing page that fits the transactional and commercial intents. So far, so good?

The top 10 includes Wikipedia, YouTube, stores, and tips on dog grooming… but, at home.

While the SERP does include a list of dog groomers with a map on the top: the video box and the People Also Ask section all relate to DIY dog grooming.

What does it tell us about search intent? Well, first of all, we can see that it’s mixed, which already puts us in a bad position because we can’t compete with pages that have a different intent than our own.

Secondly, even though this SERP does include pages that serve the transactional intent, a lot of them are about supplies. We can assume they’re visited by people interested in doing the grooming themselves, which is the opposite of what we want to sell.

It’s obvious that at least half the people want to groom their dogs at home and look for supplies and advice. A large portion of the people looking for dog grooming services are still weighing their options and have a commercial, not transactional intent to their search.

Great, now what? We should ditch this keyword and search for one where the search intent is clearer and corresponds with ours.

Here’s some advice: check out other elements of the SERP, not just the traditional results.

Take a look at the People Also Ask box, related searches, and v. Are they mostly “how-to” questions and guides? Ads for products and queries about different shops? Or maybe the SERP is full of images? All of this information is useful for you!

Surfer understands the importance of search intent which is why we’ve made it easier than ever to understand what your potential customer is looking for.

After you’ve completed the query and gathered all of the relevant content clusters, you click on the “more filters” option. There you’ll see “search intent.” You can filter out based on 1 of four categories: local, customer investigation, informational and shopping, or transactional.

This is super helpful because imagine you’re creating a beauty blog, but your focus is on educating your audience about clean beauty practices and false beauty myths. You can use this convenient filter and focus purely on informational user intent!

Whew! I hope you're still with me! In the next lesson, we're going to dive into another aspect of this pillar: keyword research! I'll see you there! And you know what I'm going to say next: Happy Surfing!

Last updated