The Role of Intent in SEO

Let’s say you’re searching for information on how to set up a branded Facebook page. You type your query into Google and click on one of the results. It takes you to a website that immediately attempts to sell you social marketing services but gives you absolutely no information about how to do things yourself.

How would you feel in this situation? Not great, right? Let’s try another analogy.

Say you’re out shopping for a new pair of shoes, and you see a store with a picture of a boot on its exterior. Thinking they might have what you’re looking for, you go inside. Turns out it’s an upscale arts and crafts store.

What do the two stories have in common?

Simple. In both cases, you went somewhere with a particular intent, only to learn to your dismay that your destination did not match that intent. It’s something that a lot of so-called SEO experts seem to forget.

Sure, it’s important that you rank high for a particular keyword or keyphrase. Sure, making your site mobile-friendly and easily-accessible to search engines is critical. But ultimately, if you aren’t designing your website to match the specific intent of the people visiting it, your efforts are going to waste.

People will navigate to your site, realize it doesn’t meet their needs, get frustrated, and leave.

For each page on your site, it’s important that you ask yourself what kind of person is going to be viewing it, and why. What is their intent in not only searching for a page’s keyword but visiting that page? According to the Yoast blog, each search falls under one of the following umbrellas:

  • Informational. These are people just looking to learn. This is probably one of the largest intent groups, as it’s literally anyone who seeks information about a topic. Maybe they’re looking for an update on their favorite TV show, or information about the weather, or information about search engine optimization.
  • Navigational. People who want to navigate to a specific website, such as Facebook. Most users who find your site through navigational intent have already been there before. They’re returning customers.
  • Commercial Investigation. This one has a bit of overlap with informational. The main difference is that people who conduct this kind of search are doing so with the intent of eventually purchasing something.
  • Transactional. Now we’re getting to the good stuff. People who search with transactional intent are actively looking to purchase a product or service. If you can rank high amongst these users, that likely means more prospective sales leads.

It’s important that each page on your website be created to match a particular type of intent. Blog posts, for instance, are geared toward informational searches. Generally, you don’t want to sell your products too hard – though a soft call to action is usually fine. Product pages, meanwhile, are chiefly transactional and commercial.

It’s important to remember that there’s also a lot of overlap between these kinds of searches. Someone looking for information might decide to check out a brand’s products after they find a helpful post on that company’s blog. Someone conducting a commercial investigation may switch their intent and decide to buy if they find a business that meets their needs well enough.

Design your pages with intent in mind, first – that’ll help you determine the right keywords to optimize for, and ensure that your visitors actually find what they expect to rather than an unpleasant surprise.

Author: Terry Cane

Terry Cane is a technical writer for, a reliable and supportive SEO hosting partner.