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8 Resources To Help You Determine User Search Intent & Types of Searches

POSTED 05/14/2013
By Brad Zomick

So you have completed your users personas and are ready to start writing? Most writers and marketers will now start jumping into keyword research to help brainstorm ideas for articles with the idea being that they will write articles revolving around the more attractive keywords. Before getting into the thick of keyword research there is one small but important step, and that is determining your user’s search intent. What is search intent1 you might ask? It’s what goes on inside the user, searcher, or buyer’s head as they are searching online.

Perhaps you are doing some marketing for a website that is selling vinyl records. After some keyword research, you determine the term “rock music” may be a good term because of its low competition and 1 million plus search volume in Google’s Keyword Research tool. Searcher intent aside, it sounds like a great opportunity. However, if you scratch the surface and begin to think about what the people who Google “rock music” were looking for, it could be any number of things, from rock history to album and ticket information, and could cover any type of rock music from classic rock and the blues to heavy metal and alternative rock. With such general terms, a very small fraction of a percent may convert to sale. In contrast, a more targeted search term like “Rolling Stones vinyl” or better yet “buy vinyl” will return a significantly smaller search volume, but will deliver users who are looking to purchase vinyl records. Make sure to know exactly what you are selling, and talk to your customers about how they would go about looking for it online.

Searcher Intent Types

Searcher intent falls into three major categories: navigational, informational, and transactional. A fourth category – commercial – straddles information and transactional intent.

The example above also illustrates the subtle differences between types of searches. There are 4 types of searches:

  • Navigational: These are direct searches for a brand, company, website, or a person (ie. Adidas, Costco, Facebook, Barak Obama, etc.)
  • Informational: This is the largest category and typically represents people looking for quick answers like phone numbers, recipes, news, and sports scores.
  • Commercial: Investigational searches leading up to a purchase that help a buyer find information.
  • Transactional: These searches are largely for purchases and completing a task (ie. signing up for a web service)

The above search types are listed in order of increasing value. Navigational searches are lowest in value as they typically represent someone who will come, get the information, and leave immediately. A saavy SEOer may be able to deflect navigational users to another page they were not looking for, but the effort is higher and return is low. Transactional searches have the highest value as they can lead directly to sales, and Information and Commercial searches fall somewhere in the middle. It is the goal of online writers and content marketers to create content for the various stages of purchase and push those who were simply seeking information towards making a purchase.

Search intent is the crux of content marketing and once you understand it, you can design specialized content for people in the various stages of the buying process. For instance, articles, videos, and infographics best satisfy informational searches which educate, inspire, and entertain the consumer. Commercial searches require more touch points and a good way to provide needed information is through surveys, polls, subscription newsletters and white papers. Transaction searches require a landing page with some sort of conversion mechanism with a purchase, buy, or download button. The simpler the engagement, the easier it is for your target to make a purchase.


A good online writer can develop content for the different stages of the purchase feeding potential buyers informational content and pushing them towards a transaction.

Now that you get the basic jist of content marketing, it’s time to become a pro, and the following resources will help you get there:

  1. SEOMoz’s “Segmenting Searcher Intent” is an oldie but goodie that breaks it down in simplistic terms.
  2. “Search Intent – 6 Types of Searches You Should Know” from ByteFive gets deep into the different types of searches.
  3. “How To Use The Keyword Funnel To Understand Searcher Intent” from Search Engine Land is a solid primer that ties together searcher intent, keyword research, and marketing activity.
  4. “Keyword Intent: Reach More Searchers By Considering The Intent Behind Your Keywords” by Larry Kim, founder of Word Stream gives some tips on maximizing value through use of high intent terms. The page is heavy plug for Word Stream still has good info.
  5. “Keywords Are Dead! Long Live User Intent” from Grant Simmons at Search Engine Watch is a modern interpretation of keyword research in the wake of the Google Penguin and Panda updates.
  6. “The Evolution of Search Intent Markers”  by Aleh Barysevich is another good commentary on the state of search intent in keyword research.
  7. “Searcher Intent: My Main Focus When It Comes To Keyword Research” from the SEOMoz YouMoz blog focuses on the importance of wording and keyword clarifiers.

Get Inside Your Targets Head & Understand Search Intent

Understanding search intent of your user and buyer personas is an often overlooked step in the process of keyword research and developing content for a website or marketing campaign. Before trying to understand search intent, make sure you understand your product or service. The best way to understand searcher intent is through talking with actual consumers. Once you understand how they search, you can set up different types of content for users in the different stages of the purchase. An article will suffice for someone looking for general information, but someone seeking commercial information would probably benefit from a white paper. Good writers and content marketers know their user personas and set up content for various stages of buyer intent. Moral of the story: Don’t start keyword research without knowing your searchers’ intent.

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  1. SEO Training: Keyword Research And Searcher Intent. Search Engine Direct[]
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