Search Intent in Digital Marketing

Optimize your website and digital marketing efforts by understanding shoppers' search intent and targeting the right type of keywords.

Are your website and digital marketing efforts targeting the right type of keywords? As the customer purchase journey grows more complex, understanding and optimizing your marketing based on user search intent is increasingly important.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is the purpose or the “why” behind a user’s search on search engines such as Google. Based on the type of information a potential customer is seeking, the phrasing of their searches likely varies and can provide insight to marketers.

Search intent essentially falls into one of four categories::

  • Informational intent is simply that – users seeking information on a subject. Informational queries can range from a simple question such as “what day is Thanksgiving this year?” to seeking to understand a more complex topic such as search engine optimization. These searches are typically shorter in length and can be vague. If the searcher is considering a purchase, an informational search might be performed towards the beginning of their journey and likely will be followed by additional searches.
  • Navigational searches are made by users to access a website or resource they are already familiar with. They may not know the site’s url or may find it easier to simply perform a search than type out the address. Example searches could include “youtube” or “gmail login”.
  • Investigative queries are more purchase-oriented and are made by users seeking to evaluate choices for a product or service such as searching “Company A vs. Company B” or “best restaurants in New York”. These types of searches have great commercial potential since the shopper is weighing options and likely not yet sold on a specific brand yet.
  • Transactional searches occur when a consumer has likely identified their desired product or service and are locating the best method to purchase it. These types of searches typically include the words buy, coupon or sale. Though these searches are typically branded, there is still value in targeting these searches, especially for competitive retailers who carry the branded item being searched.

Why is Search Intent Important?

Understanding and satisfying search intent is vital in reaching shoppers at those desirable moments of their purchase journey and then providing them with the type of content that matches their need at that moment. Intent plays an increasingly crucial role in search engine results as Google continues to reward relevant webpages that are not only optimized for target keywords, but that return signals of user satisfaction.

Search intent even dictates how a search engine results page (SERP) is presented to a user. Searches of “how a shirt is made” and “buy a custom t shirt” clearly indicate differing intent and result in differently formatted SERPs from Google. The informational search “how a shirt is made” can return educational video snippets in addition to the standard text listings. “Buy a custom t shirt” signals a purchase intent and returns Google Shopping listings prominently that are significantly less likely to be present on the former search. Understanding the types of content Google features for which searches helps digital marketers to create content more likely to be ranked well.

Search Intent in Advertising

Search intent is not only key to non-paid SEO efforts but also to paid campaigns, specifically Google Search advertising. When paying for ads on a cost per result basis, advertisers should want to ensure their ads are only appearing on search results likely to lead to action. Align your campaigns’ target keywords as well as negative keywords to your prospective customers’ intent.

For example, lawn maintenance businesses typically perform lawn mowing, which would be a common sense keyword to target. However, they should proactively negate search terms of irrelevant intent such as “how to mow a lawn” (indicating an informational DIY-type intent) or “lawn mower repair” (indicating interest in a service, but likely not one that this particular business would provide.) Instead, savvy advertisers would narrow their spend to searches such as “lawn mowing company” or “lawn mowing service near me”.


Understanding and satisfying search intent helps provide more relevant information to potential customers and can greatly impact your website’s user engagement and search rankings with SEO efforts. It also helps to minimize irrelevant interactions with your paid media campaigns and generate improved returns on advertising spend. Intent will continue to play a larger role in digital marketing as tech leaders such as Google invest in new technologies such as Multitask Unified Model (or “MUM”) to better understand user searches and return the best possible results.

Taylor Brown
Taylor Brown

Taylor is the owner & digital strategist of Go-To Man Marketing. With a passion for digital marketing and analytics, he's helped clients to grow their businesses for more than a decade.

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