Why is understanding search intent so important?

In order to target keywords effectively you need to understand what keywords are being used by your customers. But you also need to understand what those customers are try achieve – the ‘search intent’.

Understanding intent is important in every aspect of B2B content marketing, but particularly for SEO.

Imagine that I’m a small business owner who is thinking about moving from a local to a cloud-hosted server. My information gathering process will go a little like this:

  1. I’ll probably begin by looking for general information on cloud computing to learn more about it
  2. If I decide a cloud solution would benefit the business, I’ll start researching what solutions are out there and which is the best fit for me
  3. Once I’ve found the solution that I want to go for, I might decide I want to work with a local specialist in Bristol

A smart cloud-computing specialist who works with small businesses in Bristol would have created search-optimised content for each stage of that journey. The keywords they target may have looked like this:

  • ‘Cloud computing for small businesses’ – informational 
  • ‘Best cloud computing solutions for small businesses 2019’ – commercial investigation
  • ‘Bristol cloud computing small business expert’ – transactional

“Marketers who try to reach their audience solely on demographics [as opposed to intent] risk missing more than 70% of customers.”

Google, 2017

What are the four types of search intent?

Informational search intent

an example of informational search intent

People who are looking for information on a given subject. These search terms are broad and can often be hard to rank for. If you are targeting informational intent try and answer a specific question with the content, or narrow the focus by targeting long tail keywords.

To use the above example, there’s little point trying to rank for ‘cloud computing’. If you do, you’ll find yourself trying to compete with brands like Google and IBM.

The chance of someone converting at this stage is low so there’s little point in overloading the content with case studies or sales messaging. The end goal should be to pick a key question, challenge or topic and add as much value as possible for the reader.

If you’re content is genuinely useful and adds value, that will do more to endear your business to the reader than pushing for a sale.

Commercial investigation search intent

example of commercial investigation search intent

They’ve done the research, they’re interested and now they’re looking for the solution that is right for them. They might not be close to buying just yet, it may happen at some point in the future, but they’ve bought into the idea.

Often there are numerous similar products or services available. A good way to add value at this stage is to help them with the decision-making process. You can do this by offering direct comparisons of similar products or rounding up the best products available at that time. The more of the legwork you take on, the more valuable your content will be.

Make sure that your keywords include details like niches and dates (‘small businesses’ and ‘2019’ in the above example) to reassure them that your content is current and relevant to them.

Transactional search intent

transactional search intent example

They’ve done the background research, found a solution they like and they’re ready to buy.

The most obvious transactional keyword is ‘buy’ – as in, ‘buy office printer’. But for a lot of service-led B2B businesses people that’s not how people are likely to search. For instance, if you were looking for change management support you wouldn’t search for ‘buy change management’.

They’re more likely to try and find the type of company they want to work with and contact them. For this reason, when targeting transactional intent, look for the differentiating factors that will make someone choose you over someone else. If many of your clients are local, this might be your location. Or the niche that you specialise in.

A good way of figuring this out is to refer to your business’ mission. You can find more information on identifying your business’ mission for SEO purposes here.

Navigational search intent

navigational search intent example

Navigational intent is the least useful of the four. It’s when someone is using Google instead of entering the URL in manually. For instance, searching ‘Twitter’ rather typing twitter.com into the URL bar.

Realistically, the only navigational keyword you need to target is your business’ name.

If you need help defining your own SEO strategy, feel free to drop me a line using the button below. And if you’re looking for advice on generating high search traffic blog ideas, hit the link to check out the process I use.

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