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Understanding Search Intent: A Guide to Writing Content That Ranks

Jan 31, 2023

Content will always be king. So, you better write it in a way that tickles the sweet spot of every search engine, especially Google. In this article, we will learn the importance of understanding search intent in ranking content.

In my years of reading and analyzing content to discover how to write content that ranks, I have also uncovered a part of its history. I found out that SEO was around just as long as the internet. And that the first generation of web search relies on several on-page elements such as text and structure. Search queries are also mostly informational.

The playing field changed when link analysis was introduced by Google. Along with text and structure, content now has to have credible backlinks to rank better. This was the second generation.

Another massive change came. By now, Google and all other major search engines are now using multiple source points of data to understand search queries more accurately. It resulted in a better user experience for searchers.

In this article, you will learn the following so you can write content that ranks better on search engines:

What is search intent?

What are its types?

Why is it important?

How to optimize for user intent

Let’s dive ahead. . .

What is Search Intent?

search intent

Search Intent / Query or also called User Intent is the reason people type a word or a phrase in the search engine. In other words, understanding it is akin to understanding the need of the person doing the query.

When a person types "how to do SEO" the person is probably looking for practical guides on how to implement SEO steps, whether basic or advanced.

Alta Vista conducted a survey on how users utilize search queries and how they filter and fine-tune results that match what they are looking for. Results showed that searchers do not only look for information, they also search for products to buy. They also search for the best brands for a particular item to compare or investigate. These segregation of queries are now what we call types of search/user intent.

Types of Search Intent

Informational Intent

Searchers are looking for more information about a topic. They are looking to read content that will help shed light on their question. They could be looking to read more about complicated questions such as “how quantum physics work?” or as simple as “ingredients to make a tasty kale salad”. Informational intent can come in many forms, not just a question that ends with a question mark.

An informational query can be one or two words or a phrase asking the how, who, what, where, when, or why of things. Like the examples below:

  • “SEO”
  • “San Francisco”
  • “How to bake cookies”
  • “Who was the first man to reach the Everest summit?”
  • “What’s the closest planet to earth?”
  • “Kim Kardashian”
  • “Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. net worth”

Navigational Intent

This is the kind of user intent where searchers are looking for particular websites or parts of them. The searcher might have been to that website before or it was recommended by someone. It could also be that they save time and effort if they search on Google for these pages rather than trying to navigate a website they aren’t much familiar with.

Below are some good examples of navigational queries:

  • “WordPress login” – the searcher might be looking for the login page of so he can access his website.
  • “process street blog” – the searcher might be looking for the blog page of Process Street’s business website.
  • “Payoneer community” – the searcher was trying to reach the community website of Payoneer.
  • “Grammarly referral link” – the searcher would like to know where to particularly find his referral link for the tool called Grammarly.
  • “AHrefs website audit” – the searcher wants to access the website audit tool of Ahrefs.

Transactional Intent

This type of search query is geared towards purchasing particular goods. Searchers who are in the mood to buy most likely already know what item they’d like to buy, just searching for the right platform. 

It could be an online shopping spree or looking to buy tools for business purposes, either way, people always head to Google to find the platforms that offer the best deals. 

Below are some examples of transactional queries made by people who are in a buying mode:

  • “where to buy rog Zephyrus 14 cheap”
  • “Nike shoe coupon”
  • “lifetime access Nordvpn”
  • “process street cheapest price”
  • “AHrefs pricing”

Commercial Investigation

This particular type of query was not originally in the study made by Alta Vista. It developed over the years because of the changing dynamics of how users use search engines to look for things. The commercial investigation is coined for searchers who are searching for in-depth and particular topics and are likely planning to buy soon. They could be searching for comparisons of two tools or platforms. It is more thorough research of products they are interested in buying but have not made up their minds yet.

Here are some good examples of commercial investigation:

  • “WordPress vs. GoDaddy, what platform is more SEO-friendly”
  • “best facial oils”
  • “olay retinol benefits”
  • “process street reviews”
  • “Best digital tools in 2020”

Why is Search Intent Important?

It is important because it is how Google best determines the kind of content to serve a particular query.

Understanding this concept will help you craft the right content. Knowing the need behind a particular query will tell you whether you should write an in-depth article explaining every minuscule detail that they shouldn’t miss. Or write it in a short and crafty way that entices them to head to your shop and buy that item.

The moment you understand the user intent, not only will you be able to find the right keywords to rank for but you’ll also know what kind of articles to write. Whether it is an article that gives more information, an article that prompts action to buy or subscribe, or an article that will help users navigate a particular tool or platform. Being able to answer the main query and other related questions will effectively help put you in front of users who might have a use for your content.

Without the search query, you’ll have a harder time ranking your content even with the best keywords (hundreds or thousands of search volume a month), structure, and quality links.

For you to understand the searcher’s intent better, you can look at how the entire query was written. Often, they are given away by modifiers such as “buy rog Zephyrus g 14” (transactional), “how to bake fluffy cookies” (informational), “go to WordPress dashboard” (navigational), “best facial mist for dry skin” (commercial investigation).

There are also good tools you can use to help you such as Ahrefs where they have a feature in their keyword research tool for Questions reports.

Personally, the best and cheapest way to infer user intent is by looking at SERP. All other SEO tools you know or have been using only have a fraction of data compared to what Google has.

When you type in a particular query, it would be good to examine closely whether the result yielded a featured snippet, a knowledge card, people also ask boxes — all indicating informational intent. Carousel and Adwords for transactional.

How to optimize for search intent

To optimize for user intent ultimately boils down to looking at SERP results for a particular query. 


Make sure that the keyword you are going for accurately represents the topic of your content.

Here is an example:

You have a series of lightbulb products. If you are going to write content for your product would you go after “light bulbs” or “buy light bulbs for porch light”?

If you choose “light bulb”, your content will most likely appear on mixed intent queries for “light bulb”. In other words, your content will likely appear on inaccurate queries.

But if you go for the term “buy light bulbs for porch light” Google understands that your content is highly relevant to those looking to buy light bulbs for their porch lights right now.

Going after single or general keywords without the benefit of search intent or context will give you fluctuating results or statistics. This only means Google cannot decide whether your content is appropriate for people searching for the invention of the light bulb or people who want to buy some light bulbs.


If you search for “best running shoes” you would get a list of reviews of top brands and variations of running shoes with links to what stores to best buy from. The person who made this query was probably looking into buying a pair of running shoes in the future so he needs a list of good brands and the name of their particular product.

You’ll do well to write a review blog post for “best running shoes”.

Understanding what top results have done right

It is always a must to look at the top-ranking pages and blog posts for your target keywords and incorporate their best practices into yours. What better way to hit the ground running other than understanding top results on SERP because those are the live proofs that a particular method or strategy does bring in the result you’d like to see on your website.

Pay close attention to related searches and “people also ask” boxes. It will be highly strategic and important if you can write your content in a manner that answers those boxes.

You also have to incorporate all other major SEO elements such as structure, internal and external links, word count, and image optimization.


Understanding search intent is a crucial SEO factor if you want to maximize the ranking result of your content. Search is also another big telltale sign of what good keywords to target and what kind of content you should produce to get in front of more people.