search intent--cafe macbook guy with beanie

Search Intent In SEO: What It Is & How To Nail It In 2023

If you don’t get search intent right, you won’t rank. Discover what it is, why it matters, and 5 easy steps to doing search intent yourself. Plus, a guide to working search intent into your content.

Everyone talks about Search Intent, but what is it exactly? And why does it matter? Can I do it on my own? And how do I know if I’m getting it right?

Good questions. And yes, you’re in the right place if you’re wondering…

  • what search intent is.
  • why it matters.
  • how to do it yourself without any SEO tools.
  • how to incorporate it into your own writing.

Get search intent right, and you’ll vastly improve your content’s rankability. This post will show you how, in 5 simple steps.

Ready to nail search intent? Let’s go.

Search Intent—What is It?

Unlike any other media form, the web is oriented to active and engaged problem-solving. And the search engine, and more intimately, the search query window, is where it begins.

Simply stated, Search Intent is the purpose of an online search. It’s the problem, desire or question the searcher is thinking about as she’s typing a search into Google (we’ll use Google synonymously for all internet searches, since over 90% of searches are done through that search engine).

It’s what she’s looking for answers to, or solutions for.

Through the evolution of their many algorithms, Google has developed the ability to interpret search intent and produce search results (those listings of articles Google determines is relevant to a searcher’s intentions) that align with it.

There are typically four types of search intent

  • Informational intent— searcher is looking for information (How-to articles, a list of tips, a comprehensive guide, etc)
  • Navigational intent— searcher is trying to get to a specified page or site
  • Commercial intent— searcher is researching various aspects of a specific product known by name
  • Transactional intent— searcher is researching a class of products generically (Best flights to Phoenix from Chicago; Best podcast platforms)
search 4 search intent types charts showing examples

You might be thinking how am I supposed to know what the searcher is thinking? That, we can learn, by simply searching on your topic keyword.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but first, let’s answer the question…  

Why Is Search Intent So Important?

As a content creator whose goal is to rank articles in Google search results, your job is to write quality content that satisfies searches. 


Because satisfying search intent is what Google is all about.

Now why would Google care about search? Don’t they have Chrome, and Google Maps, and Pixel Phones and Google Play, and YouTube?

Yes. But 92% of Google’s revenues come from Google services, and that segment generates most of its revenue from advertising. Which we’ll see when we’re performing Google searches.

You see, Google wants people to use its search engine so they can continue selling Google Ads and sponsored articles. The best way of doing that is to make sure the content they rank satisfies user search intent.

That’s why Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines not only demand high-quality content written by humans, but content that’s relevant to what the searcher is looking for.

Search intent isn’t THE most important factor ranking factor, but it’s right up there. If you don’t have a solid grasp of what people are looking for when they’re searching your topic, your content will not rank.

And ranking is why you’re writing.

So, let’s give you an easy 5-Step guide to making sure your content is aligned with search intent.

Get Search Intent, Get Free Traffic

An estimated 53% of website traffic comes organically, meaning it was found through search engines. And from the biggest players to boutique websites, organic traffic is internet currency. Proof?

Ahrefs, an SEO tool used by content professionals like myself, showed a 677% increase in organic traffic simply by tweaking their content so it was more aligned with search intent.

search intent--ahrefs traffic chart
Credit: Ahrefs

Now, Ahrefs is a pretty big outfit, and trust me when I say they’ve got their content—landing pages, blog posts etc—pretty well battened down. And yet, getting their search intent fixed for just one landing page made a huge difference to their traffic.

So if it matters to them…

5 Steps To Nailing Search Intent

1. Before Search Intent, Understand Keyword Intent

Target Keyword: A Quick Definition

Target keyword is a term used in the content industry to denote what keyword or phrase your post will rank for. As you’ll see momentarily, it’s usually very evident in the search result headlines.

What it means to you– as content creator– is that once you discover the target keyword used for your topic, you’ll use that keyword or keyword phrase strategically throughout your post.

Understanding Keyword Intent

The simplest way to explain keyword intent is it’s what searchers expect to find in the search results. And just as importantly, keyword intent tells us if our intended topic is the right match to our audience.

Reading keyword intent isn’t very hard because clues will show up in search result headlines. For example—transactional intent will have words like these in their headlines–

  • The best…
  • Top 10
  • Buy  or deal

Conversely, informational intent gives itself away when headlines contain—

  • How to…
  • What is…
  • Why…
  • 10 tips for…
  • The best way to…
  • Everything you need to know…
  • What to look for when…
  • 10 Things to consider…

Why am I bothering you with all of this now? Because if your content doesn’t match keyword intent, Google won’t see its topical relevance and your article won’t be ranked.

Let’s illustrate—

Say you’re planning to write a post on the topic how to choose a robovac. You search robovac, but the results show robovac product pages on Amazon, reviews of robovacs, top-10 robovac posts, and even a local repair shop. What’s that telling you? The keyword intent for robovac is transactional and commercial, and navigational. But it’s not informational, which is YOUR intent if you’re planning to write a How to post.

But then, you do a search for buying a robovac and voila! You find nearly all of the search results show informational keyword intent.

Takeaway? Getting a handle on keyword intent can save you the frustration of writing excellent content for nothing.

Mixed Search Results and Keyword Intent

Google doesn’t always have keyword and search intent completely figured out. Many topics, in fact, will show a variety of Informational, Commercial, Local and Transactional intent. And all this means is that Google’s search engine algorithms are still trying to determine the predominant intent for a given topic.

What should you do when you get mixed search results?

Run with it. If Google is still experimenting, it means your informational post will fit in amongst posts which are Commercial or Transactional. But…know that there is uncertainty inside of Google’s decision-making here, and they will change their mind if the volume of articles posted for that topic move in one direction or another.

Decide if you want to take that risk. If you do, run occasional searches on that topic and see what keyword intent direction(s) Google is taking. And adjust your expectations accordingly.

2. Discover Your Topic’s Target Keyword

Remember what we covered in that last section. As we move forward, be ready to shift gears if necessary as you discover your topic’s keyword intent, and the keyword itself.

Ready? Let’s go.

Begin By Googling Your Topic

We’ll use the topic from one of my previous posts– Content Writing — to show you how to arrive at both the target keyword and search intent for your topic. You can follow along with your topic as I walk you through this, so let’s have you go ahead and google your topic.

Check the first page results, disregarding any Ads or Wikipedia pages.

Identify the Target Keyword

How’s that done? Let’s look at the following screenshot—it’s a SERP (search engine results page) for the keyword phrase content writing.

search intent--search results for target keyword--content writing

You can see that content writing is the obvious keyword. But what if we Googled Writing Content?

search intent--SERP for keyword Writing content

We get nearly the same result. In fact, the first six articles are the same in both searches.

Why is this?

Because Google will deliver search results based on predominant keywords relevant to that search.  Since most top-ranking posts are publishing articles (and most people are searching) using the target keyword Content Writing, that’s the result you’ll get when you search Writing Content.

Here’s another example. Let’s say you were going to write an informational post on How to shop for ice cream machines. Ice cream machines is your target keyword, so you search Ice Cream Machines and find these results–

search intent--ice cream makers search results

Amazon, in the first ranking, is the only SERP result that uses your chosen keyword Ice Cream Machines. Everyone else calls it an Ice Cream Maker. Like content writing and writing content, even though we’re all saying the same thing, when search results show you more people are searching Ice Cream Makers than they are Ice Cream Machines, change your target keyword accordingly.

ALWAYS Google your topic keyword, and never settle on your target keyword until you know what the search results are telling you. Using the right target keyword is that important if you want your content to rank.

3. Determine Search Intent and Predominant Angle

Now that we’ve settled on Content Writing for our target keyword, let’s take another look at its search results and see if we can find the search intent.

search intent--search results for target keyword--content writing

We’ll disregard the 7th, 8th and 9th SERP pages because they’re selling services, courses or sponsored jobs. But look at the other search result listings, and you’ll notice What is… (used 3 times), #Tips (4 times) and How to… (twice).

The searcher is clearly looking for information. She not only wants to know what Content Writing is, but how to do it. And… she’s keen on getting tips for doing it effectively. Those specific elements of informational intent—How to, What is,  and Tips—are what we refer to as the search intent angle.

Excluding those three commercial listings, this keyword search produces results with informational search intent. And since informational is the intent of our article, we can move forward to writing the search intent summary.

4. Write Your Search Intent Summary

Writing your search intent summary is simple– you’re looking at the search result headlines, and you’re inferring what the searcher is looking for.

Your search intent statement should be no more than one or two sentences, emphasizing accuracy over detail. In the case of Content Writing, we’d write something like this for our search intent summary—

The searcher wants to know what content writing is; they’re curious just how to do it, and they’re looking for some helpful tips on how to write content.

That single sentence accurately captures what somebody is looking for when they type Content Writing into the search window.

Once you’ve had a chance to scour the headlines, and you’ve written your search intent similar to how I wrote mine, keep it handy. It will be your guide as you write the post.

Reading Search Results for Target Keyword & Search Intent Clues

Writers of top-ranking posts know their headlines must be effectively clear on a few things—

  • What the post is about (the target keyword)
  • They understand the search intent
  • They know what the searcher wants the article to be (Tips? How-to? Definitive article? Comprehensive Guide?)

So, high-ranking content writers will be sure to include each of those clues for Google to see. And that’s why search result headlines are your first, and best, source for search intent.

search intent--headline writer working at macbook

5. Browse the Ranking Posts and People Also Ask…

Dissecting search result headlines is the mainstay of determining search intent. But getting search intent doesn’t end there. You’ll want to dig into the ranking articles, just a little, and see if there’s anything not mentioned in the headlines.

You see, Google will cut off any headline in the search result that’s longer than 580 pixels. Which makes it harder to say everything you want in the headlines, especially if your keyword phrase is long.

So, go ahead and peruse the ranking posts. Study the intro sections–if there’s anything beyond what you saw in the headlines, it will show up there. Do you see any additional (and commonly-occurring) angles? Anything that expands your original search intent?   

If so, amend your original search intent accordingly.

And before you move on, sneak a peak at the People Also Ask boxes on the search results page. People Also Ask are VERY RELEVANT questions people have about your topic. It may or may not change your search intent statement, but if you can find a way to address them in your post, even by adding an FAQ section at the end of your article, you’ll really nail search intent.  

Now that you have a full search intent, you have the rudder for your article. Let’s see how you’ll work that search intent into your article.

How to Use Search Intent in Your Post

Done well, your post will reflect search intent throughout. In the headline and intro, it’s what signals to the reader they’re in the right place for answers to their questions. In the subheads and body content, it’s what (continually) affirms their decision to keep reading.

Read on for a few tips and tricks for folding search intent into your content.

Incorporating Search Intent In Your Headline

Your headline has to prove itself to Google and the reader. You’ll do that by capturing the target keyword, search intent and one or more angles. It might seem like a lot, but with practice it’s very doable.

Let’s pull a few screenshots from a post created from the keyword Content Writing. Here’s the headline–

search intent--content writing post exerpt--headline

Note that it includes the following best practices for an effective headline–

  • It uses the target keyword, near the beginning of the headline
  • Includes the predominant angle(s) of the search intent
  • Includes a benefit (implied or explicit)
  • Isn’t truncated (Use a snippet tool to make sure your headline fits search results)
  • Has at least one Click-Through-Rate (CTR) booster

Never, ever underestimate the importance of the headline. You don’t have to write it out before you start writing—many content writers do it once the post is finished—but don’t hesitate to go through dozens of versions to get it right.

What’s a CTR Booster?

Click-Through-Rate Boosters are symbol devices that Google has found increases click-through-rates on search results. These include Parentheses, Special Characters, Years, and Numbers. So, looking at the headline screenshot above, you’ll see there are 4 different CTR boosters—the Ampersand and Plus sign, Parenthesis, and the number 10.

CTR Boosters are easy and economical. Use them!

Fascination—Attention—Anticipation & Headlines

Your headline will be all the searcher sees of your article before deciding which of the 7-10 results she’ll click or tap on. So, make your headlines count. Good headlines do at least one of the following—

  • Create fascination
  • Grab attention
  • Generate anticipation (of an answer or solution)

Decide which of those three are most apropos to your post, and dig in.

search intent--cafe macbook patron

In Your Introduction

Best practices say use your target keyword in the first 100 words of your article. I prefer to get it out there right away. In the first paragraph, within the first two sentences.

Getting your target keyword involved is only the beginning, though. You want the reader to know at a glance they’ve clicked on the right post. If you’re still reading this post, chances are the intro satisfied your search intent.

So let’s take another look at the search intent we wrote for the Content Writing—

The searcher wants to know What content writing is, they’re curious just How to do it, and they’re looking for some helpful tips on how to write content.

Here’s the intro paragraph we wrote for our article on Content Writing.

search intent--content writing post intro

See how search intent is affirmed 4 times in the first 4 sentences? And how the angle of the search intent–What Is It? How do you do it? and Tips– is covered at the beginning of the intro and in the article preview? All of it straight and to the point, all of it succinctly bulleted where it helps.

Aside from the headline, and a good sub-headline, your intro MUST pull the reader into your post. Knowing your search intent makes the all-important intro that much easier to write. Make it clear in the first three sentences that you understand search intent. Do this by very quickly articulating the problem, and very briefly providing a preview of how your post will deliver the solutions your searcher is expecting to find.

Finally, show the reader how they’ll benefit from the post. These can be worked into the bullet point preview, or the final sentence leading the reader into the post itself.

In the Subheads and Body Content

If you incorporated the common sub-topics of ranking posts, your subheads will be aligned with search intent. But… make sure your content within those sections are also relevant to search intent, by making sure it’s consistent with the subhead topic.

Also, you’ll please the Google algorithm gods when you use your target keyword throughout the post, where it fits naturally and logically, in at least one subhead, and the closing section subhead.

In the Outro (Closing Section)

Your outro is not there to summarize your post. Rather, it has 3 important functions that seal the reader’s decision to finish your article—

  1. It reminds the reader of what they were looking for when they searched and found your post.
  2. It encourages them to take steps to implement the solutions provided in the post.
  3. It paints a picture of the reader having acted on the solutions you provided.

Do the closing section this way, and you’ll have succeeded in nailing search intent throughout your article.

Search Intent—The Foundational SEO Fundamental

There are three broad categories of SEO—On-Page (Search Intent part of it), Off-Page, and Technical. Attending to each is important for building domain authority and getting content ranked.

But ranking really begins with writing content that satisfies search intent.

As you read articles relevant to topics you’re writing on, you may be surprised that some sites, no matter their success, pay less attention to content quality than others. And yet, they rank.


They pay attention to search intent. That’s good news for you, because doing the same means even a humble content creator can someday find their work on page one of Google search.

And that is why search intent is arguably the most important SEO investment you’ll make.

It All Begins With Search Intent

So, there it is. Search intent—what it is, how to figure it out, and how your content is inspired by it.

Hopefully, the 5-step process we took you through gives you the confidence to create your own search intent statements. It’s fairly easy, but it does take effort to put together.

It’s time well worth spent, though, because search intent is the divining rod to relevant content. Make it part and process of every post you create.

Do that, and you’ll not only find readers in the search results, you’ll keep them with you to the end.

Questions? Clarifications? Feel free to drop me a line. You’re welcome to check our blog page for article examples to model your own work on. You can shoot over to our portfolio page for inspiration too. And if you prefer to have an agency do content work for you, read about our content writing services here.

In the meantime, Best of Luck. And Be Well.

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