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What is Search Intent For Professionals?

User experience optimization, or UXO, is becoming a popular service these days and for good reason. From an SEO standpoint, Google and other search engines use machine learning to pay attention to how people respond to search results.

If someone types in “how to increase organic traffic to my website” into Google, this often happens:

  • They get a bunch of results.
  • They click on one of them.
  • They visit the page.
  • They scan the content.
  • They hit their back button.
  • They return to the results.
  • They choose the next link.
  • And so on.

This is a signal to Google that the the link they provided isn't what the user is looking for. So it could be either one of two things:

  1. the content is bad, or
  2. the user experience is bad.

Called “pogosticking,” this back-and-forth process can tell the search engine that the site is either not providing good content, a good experience, or a match to the user's search intent.

You may have great quality content and a fantastic user experience. But what if the content was simply wrong? In other words, it doesn't meet the user's specific search intent? Usually, that's a signal problem in that what you're telling Google your site is about is wrong, incomplete, or misleading.

Pogosticking adds to the site's bounce rate (i.e., a bounce rate is single-page visits, where users bounce out after visiting one page and without navigating to any other page). But bounce alone doesn't mean the content is bad.

Users may have read the entire article and simply left.

Yes, bounce rates are not enviable. But they may be indicative of a copywriting issue (failure to invite users to stay, for example), or a user experience issue (poor navigation or interaction, for example).

Maybe.

But pogosticking is important to pay attention to, specifically because it's indicative that the site is not relevant to the user's search. It doesn't match what the user was searching for.

In fact, there's another metric called “dwell time” that adds context to the bounce rate, and indicates if the content was appropriate.

Both bounce rates and dwell times are just two of many SEO signals that tell Google the content is a fit and matches the user's search intent, and the user experience is adequate. In short, it's relevant to their search.

To understand relevance, there are three kinds of search intent (and a fourth, which is a variation). Your content's aim is to match either one:

  1. “I want to know” searches (informational)
  2. “I want to go” searches (navigational)
  3. “I want to do” searches (transactional)

There's a variation of the third, when the transaction is a purchase. They are called “I want to buy” searches. Some SEO experts label them as “commercial intent” or “commercial investigation” searches.

However, the intent to buy may not be direct or immediate. The user may be unsure and doing some research. So the search is slightly more informational or navigational in intent (such as looking for sites offering reviews, for example).

Nevertheless, determining search intent is important because SEO relies heavily on how well your content matches the searcher’s query.

Let's take a look at each one with some examples.

Informational Searches

The user is looking for information for educational purposes. They're not looking to buy (at least, not yet). They may be looking for more information about their situation, problem, or challenge. They're only doing research at this point.

Let's say you're a cosmetic surgeon. Some of the searches related to your procedures may be:

  • “How long does it take for surgery to heal?”
  • “How long do breast implants last?”
  • “What types of liposuction are available?”
  • “Is plastic surgery safe?”
  • “Are hair transplants permanent?”

Many informational searches are formulated in the form of questions. But they can also be straight keywords or phrases, such as “lose weight” or “facelift.”

Navigational Searches

The user is trying to locate something specific, which is mostly a website. They're unsure. It might be a URL, an address, a social media profile, etc. It's often based on a name, brand, product, service, or domain entered into a search form instead of directly into their browsers.

Let's say you're a chartered accountant. Some of the searches related to your business or services may be:

  • “John Smith accountant Toronto”
  • “Jane Doe financial services LinkedIn”
  • “download W2 tax form”
  • “zip code Ahmed Muhammad financial”
  • “California tax website login”

By the way, the vast majority of branded searches are navigational. This is another reason why you want to name your business, your services, and your processes, including your intellectual property. People may have heard about you or seen your name, but they're not sure how to get to your website.

Transactional Searches

This is where the searcher wants to do something, mostly to make a purchase. They've already decided they're ready to make a purchase or do something. So the search is related to taking that action. It can be buying, downloading, calling, hiring, ordering, registering, emailing, etc.

Let's say you're a marketing consultant like yours truly. Some transactional searches for what I do might include:

  • “cost website development”
  • “consultation Michel Fortin”
  • “SEO audit price”
  • “subscribe Daily Marketing Memo”
  • “Michel Fortin interview”

Commercial/Investigational Searches

This is a variation of transactional searches where the user is looking to buy. But the user is unsure and wants to investigate further. It can be informational and navigational, too, to some degree.

Since it can blend all three, it's important to match this intent specifically. Sometimes, it can be found on a third party site. For example:

  • “best weightloss program”
  • “Jane Doe criminal attorney reviews”
  • “top plastic surgeon Rochester”
  • “tax accountant near me”
  • “Is Michel Fortin good at marketing?”

Therefore, the goal is to offer relevant content and optimize signals — including amplified third-party signals — that aim to help the user make a decision (e.g., comparisons, case studies, local SEO, FAQs, etc).

Ultimately, When it comes to creating content for any one of these types of queries, the goal may be to directly answer them. But you may have to do more than just educate your audience with relevant content. You want content that targets, engages, and invites them, too.

For instance, if a user is conducting an informational search, for example, they may or may not be in the market for your services. It could be a student doing research. It could be a tire-kicker. It could even be a competitor.

So the goal is to capture, educate, and retain your visitors, the right visitors, as much as possible. Particularly if they're potentially ideal clients. That's where quality content, user experience, and proper signals come in.

But it's also an opportunity to get them to enter your funnel, engage them further, prove your expertise, and invite them to invest in your services.

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Strategic marketing consultant Michel Fortin