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What Is ‘Search/User Intent’ and How Google Interprets These for SEO

Clearwater Staff

google search intentGoogle processes more than 60,000 queries per second, which averages out to over 5 billion searches every day worldwide. It is the most widely used search engine for one excellent reason: it understands the intent behind your search query and delivers relevant results instantly.

To put it simply, search intent is the reason behind a user’s query, i.e. ‘why’ did the person search for something? Are they looking for a website where they can find information? Are they looking for a product or service to buy or is it a simple question that needs to be answered?

Let’s dive into everything you need to know about search intent.

What Is Search Intent?

A previous study on the subject found that at its very basic level, all search intent can be classified under two broad goals:

  • The user is looking for information about the keyword(s) they have used,
  • Or they are searching for standard info about a specific subject

Now, we can further generalize this based on how specific or exhaustive the search queries are. The former refers to a narrow search intent while the latter has a wider scope around a specific topic.

Generally, people use different keyword phrases to search and these can have four types of intent:

  • Commercial: The searcher is looking for directions to a store, or reviews about a business
  • Informational: They’d like to know the how, what, when, where and why of something
  • Transactional:They want to buy or sell online
  • Navigational:They are searching for the URL to a brand’s website or social page

How Google Defines Search Intent

Google believes its #1 goal is to satisfy user intent as evident in their latest edition of Quality Rater Guidelines.

Hence, if you want to maximize the ROI of your SEO and digital marketing strategies, then search intent has to become a major part of your approach. Yes, backlinks and other usual ranking signals still matter, but if your website doesn’t satisfy search intent, then it will look for another site to rank on the SERPs.

According to a presentation by Paul Haahr, if a user is looking for a particular store (e.g., Walmart), they likely want to know where the nearest store is – and not the brand’s head office.

As such, all search queries can be interpreted according to the following categories:

  • Common interpretations: Sometimes, a search query has several explanations that are equally popular. In such cases, Google will cover all its bases by providing results of all possible interpretations
  • Dominant interpretations: Some queries are pretty standard, i.e. most users mean the same thing when they search for these words, even though there may be other interpretations.
  • Minor interpretations: Keywords used in the search can also have a less common description and so, the search engine further streamlines the results according to location data
  • Do, Know, Go: The user might be trying to pursue some objectives actively – they may want to go someplace or do something. For this, the search engine serves up the right businesses and services to satisfy these queries

How Can This Information Help SEOs?

By understanding Google’s obsession with User Intent and basing your SEO campaigns/content around the recommended guidelines, you can easily convert searchers into visitors – and ultimately, visitors into buyers.

When creating new content, try to see things from the searcher’s perspective and keep your website highly relevant to all possible search scenarios. It’s a good idea to develop strategies by mapping user journeys according to intent and let these structures guide you to the best possible content for your site.


There is no denying the importance of keyword research in SEO; however, understanding the intent and purpose behind a keyword is the only way to focus your strategy onto content that matters to the end-user.

Remember, smart SEO campaigns are created on understanding how your audience is searching around your products, services and the industry at large.


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