In the world of SEO, there is a lot of focus on getting a page to the top of Google search results, whether this be through content optimisation, technical SEO, or link building. However, another element that SEOs can take advantage of and try to get to that coveted number one spot is search intent.
Search intent is used to describe the purpose of an end user’s search. Google has been working on constantly improving its algorithm to determine the search intent of a user, ensuring that they get the information they need. As a result, it’s critical from an SEO perspective to ensure that a page meets the intended search intent.
What are the different types of search intent?
So, what are the different types of search intent?
Search intent can be broken down into four different categories:
- Commercial Investigation
So, let’s go more in depth into each of these search intents and how Google defines each category.
Informational search intent categorises user queries that are searching for insights and data. Searches that might fall under the informational search intent include the likes of medical knowledge, how-to guides, and travel information.
As a result, many informational searches are question-based, such as ‘how do I install an SSD?’ or ‘lemon sponge cake recipes’. Another example is if a user searches for a name, for instance, ‘Eric Clapton’. Because Google will assume the user is looking for information on this person.
Commercial investigation is when users investigate a product, brand, or service during the decision-making process before making a purchase.
This follows on from the informational stage when users have decided they wish to purchase a product and are narrowing down their options in search, often via comparison searches between different brands or products.
An example of a commercial investigation search would be “Hotpoint vs Zanusi” or “Best electric cars to buy in 2022”.
Transactional search intent is when a user is browsing the search engine with the intent of purchasing a product, service, or subscription. This category of search intent is mostly dominated by brand terms, as the user has already decided what they wish to buy and is now looking to purchase it.
Examples of a transactional search would be ‘Buy Steam Key’s Online’, ‘Sony PS5 Console Bundle’, or ‘Disney + Subscription’.
Navigational search intent is when the user is looking for a specific website. Rather than typing in the specific URL, it is often faster to just search for the login page on Google.
Examples of navigational searches would include Spotify login, Yell, c3 search intent blog, etc.
Can search intent fall under multiple categories?
One interesting factor of search intent is that keywords and search terms can have multiple intents behind them. One of the best examples of an industry that can fall under multiple search intents is the gaming PC sector. This is because PC gaming-related searches fall into three different search intents: Informational, investigative, and even brand search.
This is due to the PC gaming industry consisting of informative searches such as, “what is the best PSU for gaming” or, “how do I install an MSI motherboard?”.
At the same time, PC gaming falls under investigation as a lot of searches compare different hardware and software. For instance, users frequently search for ‘Ryzen vs Intel’ or ‘Nvidia RTX 3080 vs 3070’. This differs from the informational content.
Finally, PC gaming searches fall under navigational intent due to the number of highly recognisable brands, including Nividia, Intel, AMD, Corsair, and MSI.
Search intent in organic SERPS?
With the idea of search intent falling under multiple categories, how would search intent be affected by different types of searches? With this in mind, we tested four different scenarios via Semrush to see how Google’s search intent categorization compares with live organic results, and what this would mean from a strategic point of view.
Singular vs plural searches
One question that is asked about search intent is how do singular vs. plural search terms alter the search intent and the results Google will generate? For this one, we will be sticking with the computer industry and looking at the ‘Gaming PC’ search term and how the search intent differs between singular and plural.
In Semrush, we can see that Google categorises both singular and plural keywords under commercial investigation.
However, how accurate are these findings compared to live data?
To test this, we did a search for both keywords in Google and recorded the results, as well as the search intent to see what the difference was between them.
Data gathered from live SERP results indicates that both singular and plural search terms return commercial investigation search intent. We also ran a further test, adding “buy” to both the singular and plural search terms.
Buy gaming PC
Buy gaming PCs
We can already see a significant difference in search intent compared to before, shifting from commercial investigation to transactional intent.
However, what is reassuring is that both tests showed consistent search intent across all the results. This makes it easier to target both keywords, without needing to create two different types of content to cater to different search intents for one keyword.
Another interesting factor of search intent is how Google interprets ambiguous search results. By ambiguous, we are referring to search terms with no clear goal or focus, normally made up of a single word or phrase.
Let’s take the search term ‘3D Printers’ as an example. Looking at Semrush, 3D Printers is categorised under the informational intent, indicating that users searching for this term in Google are searching for an answer to a specific question.
So, how does this then compare to organic SERP results?
Looking at the organic SERP results, we can see that for ‘ambiguous’ search terms, Google provides pages with a more dynamic range of search intent.
Interestingly, we found that transactional and commercial investigations made up the bulk of the organic results. This differs from the Semrush categorization of informational intent, as only one organic result was informational.
This begs the question, how exactly are informational searches defined by Semrush? Does it combine both information and commercial investigation results into its classification?
Subscription services and search intent
An interesting discussion regarding search intent is how Google defines the search intent for subscription services. In particular, how do the transactional and navigational search intents work for subscription-based services, such as Spotify, Netflix, and Disney +?
Our first point of call was to research the brand keywords, using Netflix and Spotify as examples. We decided to test the Semrush search intent against the live SERP to create a clearer picture of what Google determines the search intent of these keywords.
Looking at the organic results for ‘Spotify’, we can see that the results are more skewed towards the informational/investigational with only two transactional-focused results.
If we look at Netflix, we can see that it follows a similar SERP layout with more of an informative focus at the top of the SERP. However, this differs from Spotify, which has more transactional-focused search results.
Streaming services offer some interesting results when compared to the Semrush categorization. For one, it could be seen that multiple search results can fall under more than one search intent.
For instance, Spotify may well fall under navigational intent, but a user then may subscribe to the service from there. With this in mind, does the search term ‘Spotify’ fall under transactional intent as well?
Another interesting finding is how most of the search results returned by Google were informational results, indicating that the keywords are not strictly navigational only.
Streaming services would present a unique challenge from a strategy perspective, as even though the brand has significant pulling power, Google seems to pull a lot of informational searches that may require informative content enhanced with structured data.
Search terms with multiple meanings
The final test we carried out was how search intent is affected when a search term can have multiple meanings behind it. The example we chose for this research was PCP, as this refers to both personal contract purchase car finance, and the drug Phencyclidine.
Looking at Semrush, we can see that the search term PCP is classified by Google as informational intent.
Looking at this from the car finance perspective, we can see that a lot of the results that Google pulls are informational results, matching the classification provided by Semrush.
Two of the results, Chorley Group and Evans Halshaw, feature a call to action within their articles, putting them under commercial investigation. However, these are intertwined with results regarding the PCP drug-related results, with the top result being a Wikipedia article.
From a strategic point of view, this keyword is quite challenging due to the level or uncertainty from Google’s side in regard to what the intent is. This is what leads to such varied results, meaning PCP finance companies are battling for even less space than normal.
To summarise, knowing the search intent of a keyword and how to tailor your strategy to get maximum exposure in search results is a key element in SEO. This is because a website’s content can drastically affect how Google determines its usefulness to the end user’s intent.
However, as our research indicates, this is not always easy, as the Semrush classification can often clash with what the search engine deems to be the most useful result for the end user. This then results in multiple types of search intent appearing on page one of Google, presenting quite a challenge from a strategic point of view.
So, it’s important to remain flexible when it comes to a search intent strategy, comparing both Google’s classification and the live SERP, in order to deliver the most relevant content for the user.
Thank you for reading, and we hope our research has given you a greater insight into the impact of search intent. For more information on our SEO services, head here.