What is User Intent and How to Identify it

Every business wants to understand its target audience as much as possible. This is necessary not only for product development but also for successful online promotion. Therefore, you should pay attention to user intent. Understanding this concept will significantly speed up the result and will lead you to the right place. It will help you find the right keywords, make relevant content, improve behavioral factors, and also increase conversions.

So, let’s take a closer look at what user intent is, why it is so important, how to define it, and how to use this for your SEO efforts.

What Is User Intent?

User intent is the intent that drives a person when entering a specific query into a search engine. Simply put, the user performs a search to find a solution to their problem. The goals can be different – to find out the answer to a question, buy a gadget, find a specific site, etc. These intentions determine the list of sites that the user sees in the search results at his request.

Now Google is paying more and more attention to finding out the user’s intent and semantic search. Algorithms are improving, and unlike previous years, they not only rely on keys (phrases that describe the content of the site’s pages), but also check the relationship between all the words of the search query, as well as synonyms – in order to more accurately determine what the user wants to receive in response … Basically, the main purpose of a search engine is to provide what the user wants. Therefore, in the top of the results there will be sites that the search engine considered relevant to the intent.

Let’s see an example. We enter the query “buy  shoes”. Our intent is to buy a pair of shoes. And Google immediately gives out what we wanted – various online online stores where you can make a purchase. We just have to choose the appropriate option.

You need to take into account the intent in order to select the right keys and create high-quality content that meets the user’s intent.

But it is sometimes not so easy to recognize the intent. Let’s see why.

Short-tail and Long-tail Search Queries

The most frequent search queries consist of 1-2 words – these are short-tail keywords. Often these queries are vague and generalized. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “kitchen design”
  • “bicycle”
  • “taxi”

Did you immediately understand what the user wants to see in the search results for these queries? Maybe he needs to learn about different kitchen design ideas, or maybe order the services of a designer. Perhaps the user wants to buy a bike, or maybe just read its history of creation. In the third case, a person is looking for a taxi number in his city or a movie of the same name?

As you can see, such requests have a vague and not immediately clear intent. They do not reflect the exact desire of the user, and users who typed the same query in a Google search box may mean different things.

Such requests are of high frequency and high competition. Therefore, you need to devote a lot of time to their analysis in order to understand whether it is worth spending resources on promoting pages on them and which of them to focus on.

Long or long-tail keywords, which usually consist of more than 3 words, on the contrary, are more specific. Such queries usually include 1-2 common words and a tail – an explanaition, so here the intent will most likely be understood immediately.

For example, let’s expand the short query “kitchen design” and write in the search box “kitchen design in a private house, designer services”.

From this extended request, it is immediately clear what the user needs – he wants to choose a studio or designer who can plan the kitchen in the house and order services.

It is these requests that can bring high-quality traffic to the site. And you should pay special attention to them. They have a low frequency because they are less frequently used for search, which means that the competition is lower. Although an active struggle can be waged on such requests.

With the definition of intent it is clear, now let’s look at what it is and why it can change.

User Intent Types

There are 3 main types of intents: informational, commercial, and branded. Let’s figure out what their features are.

Information intent

The user enters a request to find out something, to go deeper into the topic – he needs an answer to his question. For example, on the query “Top Movies 2020”, the user probably wants to find a list of films and select the ones they like; upon request “How to cook sweet potatoes” the user wants to receive recipes, and by entering “Where to go in summer” – read about places to stay.

This also includes requests when a user compares a product. He has not yet decided on the choice and is not ready to make a purchase, but is looking closely at the options. For example, when asked for “best portrait photographers,” the user probably wants to read about different lenses. And as we can see in the screenshot, the search engine gives out lists, comparisons, tops of the best options.

For information requests, the words “How”, “Why”, “Reviews” are typical. Also, users often pay attention not only to sites in the top, but also to those that are in the 20-30th position, because their main goal is to fully study the issue. And this may require more than one source.

Most of all existing queries are informational. And they can be attributed to the top of the sales funnel – which means that for such requests, the conversion is the lowest.

But creating pages for informational requests helps to increase brand awareness, build trust and expertise among the target audience. A great example of this is a blog on a website.

For such requests, you are unlikely to see ads, but such content perfectly generates organic traffic, which can eventually lead users to buy. After reading an article on the blog and receiving an answer to his question, the user may want to get acquainted with your goods / services and at some point even purchase them.

Commercial intent

The user enters a request with the intent to find a specific product or service. Such requests express the user’s desire to perform an action on the site. For example, on the request “buy nikon 50 1.4” the user most likely wants to purchase a lens, and on the request “pizza delivery Moscow” – order pizza. The search engine understands this and offers him pages of sites in the catalog of which this product or service is presented.

Commercial queries are characterized by the words “buy”, “price”, “order”.

This group is very important for business – it brings the target, solvent audience to the resource. And it is commercial requests that create the main competition, because, as you might guess, they have a high conversion. After all, a potential client is ready to buy, and the only question is whether he will pay attention to your site among the rest in the search results and whether your offer will suit him according to the terms.

Brand intent

A user searches for a specific brand on request with different goals – they may overlap with the types of intent that we described above. For example:

Mentioning brands of goods to buy. This is where brand and commercial intents intersect. Online stores with a large assortment of goods usually work with such requests. For example: “buy airpods”, “Panasonic TVs price”, “Nike sneakers”. Such queries indicate both interest in a particular product and prospects for conversion.

Mentioning a brand in order to find out something related to it. This is where the brand intent intersects with the informational one. For example, “apple history”, “branches of the savings bank”. Such requests contain the brand name and do not indicate commercial interest.

Also, users often mention brands in their queries if they want to find a specific company site. This is a navigation intent.

Examples of queries are “nike’s store”, “apple’s official website”.

Such requests are usually entered when the user is familiar with the company and does not remember exactly how the website address is spelled. It is not necessary to write the name correctly – search engines have long learned to recognize inaccuracies and show the necessary sites. For example, an IKEA store can be searched by the query “IKEA store” or by the phrases “ikea”, “ikea”, “ikea”, etc.

This type of request is used by the most loyal users, because they already know about your company, and even more, they want to go to your site. As a result, the conversion rate for such requests is usually quite high.

Intent Changes Over the Time

User intent is an unstable phenomenon. When defining a particular request, one cannot say that after some time the issue for it will remain the same. The intention can change due to various factors. One of these is seasonality. Users can use a specific keyword to search for information for most of the year, and then at some point with the intention of making a purchase. That is, the intent was informational, but became commercial.

For example, a new iPhone 13 will be released in September. If you type in the query “iPhone 13” now, we will see sites with comparisons, news, information about the release date and characteristics of the phone. At the moment, users’ intent is informational.

But as soon as sales open, the main intention will be to buy a phone – and the intent will turn into a commercial one. And in the top of the search results there will be sites of online stores where you can buy a new iPhone.

Another example is when a commercial request becomes informational. In 2010, when the iPhone 4 was launched, users entered the corresponding phrase with the intention to buy this phone. Now, in 2021, a user who enters the query “iPhone 4” is more likely to search for sites with a history of its creation, information on troubleshooting phone problems, etc. As you can see, the first in the search results is the Wikipedia page.

This volatility of intent needs to be understood and changes in the market regularly analyzed. Various tools and services will help with this, for example, Think with Google, where you can track consumer trends – what different audiences are looking for and interact with now.

How Google understands User Intent

Google’s algorithms are getting better and better every year. The search engine tries to analyze and understand as accurately as possible what purpose the user is pursuing by entering this or that query. And often Google provides relevant content in the format that the user is likely to expect. For example, on the query “installation of an ikea kitchen” in the top, videos with instructions.

On request “what to see in Rome” – a list of guides with locations and a warning from Google about the need for vaccination or quarantine.

But there are situations when there are simply no high-quality materials that would be 100% consistent with the user’s intent. In this case, the search engine has no choice but to give out at least something that, in its opinion, will be at least approximately relevant to the intent, because it simply cannot give out anything.

For example, we want to know how to fix a robot vacuum cleaner ourselves, and enter the corresponding request. In the top 10 search results among the resources that reveal the topic, there is a page that offers repair services, and does not write a full guide “How to fix a robot vacuum cleaner yourself.” We see a video, 3 relevant results, and then a repair service website.

Going to the resource, we see that there are no repair instructions – only information about the company’s services.

Yes, due to imperfect algorithms and the lack of relevant materials, there may be pages in the top that will not be useful to the user.

Is it worth looking for loopholes and thinking about promoting in this way – the choice, of course, is yours. But you are unlikely to get a good conversion from users who followed the answer to the question and did not intend to make a purchase. And remember: even if you manage to “deceive” the search engine for a short time and take a good place with irrelevant content, you can be sure that this will not last long – sooner or later the page will go down or disappear from the search results altogether.

If you want to get the most out of it, create landing pages with content that matches your search intent.

How to Identify User Intent

Words that are markers

We mentioned earlier that for each type of intent there are characteristic words in the queries that most likely give us an idea of ​​what the user’s intent is. For example, the words “how” and “why” say that the user is looking for an answer to a question, which means that his intent is informational. With the word “buy” they will search for sites to make a purchase. Brand queries involve mentioning a brand / company name. You can analyze all your keywords for such markers.

But in fact, this method is far from ideal – after all, many queries consist of 1-2 words and do not have markers in principle. Plus, in order to understand the exact intent of the user and how the search engine broadcasts it, you need to conduct a deeper analysis. Therefore, you should not rely only on marker words. Search results will help you find out what is behind each request.

SERP analysis

Search engines try to give users the most accurate and complete answer to their query, and if a page is in the top of the search results, then, in the opinion of search engines, it is relevant to the intent and will be useful to the user more than others.

Step 1. To find out the intent, drive each keyword into the search and see what the search engine gives out on the first page.

Let’s see what will be in the search results for the vague short query “kitchen design”.

At the SERP top – articles with reviews of layouts, design solutions, ideas and advice. This request has an informational intent. We conclude that it will be difficult to promote your designer services using this key. But a designer blog – why not.

Step 2. Analyze in detail the search results and each of the sites. See not only what resources are ranked in the top of the search results, but also in what format the information is presented. These can be step-by-step instructions, reviews, comparisons, tops, lists, media content, etc. Also, pay attention to the special elements of Google.

If there is a video block in the search results, you most likely need to add a video to the relevant page of your site, if there are a lot of pictures, you need high-quality images. If it gives out the special element “Local Results”, be sure to add all the company data to the map.

Now let’s take a look at all this with an example. Let’s analyze the query “how to make pizza”. In the first place of issue we see the special item “Recipes”, just below – the video.

Everything is clear with intent here – find a pizza recipe. But let’s dive a little deeper. A simple recipe text will not be enough to satisfy both the user and the search engine. The user wants to see information that includes cooking times, ingredients list, calories, high-quality images, clear and detailed cooking steps. And even better – if all this is clearly shown in a 5-minute video.

The search engine understands this perfectly, and therefore gives out pages with step-by-step recipes, structured information and high-quality media content.

We draw a conclusion: it is impossible to qualitatively analyze the intent only on the basis of search results – you need to take into account the content of these pages.

Always check the pages in the top. This will help not only to be 100% convinced of the user’s intent, but also to take note of ideas for your site. After all, if the page is in the top, then its content is completely satisfied with the search engine.

Final thoughts

Understanding the user’s intent is very important for any business. Knowing the user’s intent, you can create relevant and high-quality content that will rank highly for the search queries you need and fully meet the user’s intent.


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