Search Intent in Digital Marketing

Are your website and digital marketing 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 like Google. Based on the type of information a shopper seeks, the phrasing of their searches will vary and can provide insight for marketers.

Search intent essentially falls into one of four categories:

  • Informational searches are simply that – users seeking information on a subject. Informational queries can range from a simple question like “what date is Easter this year?” to seeking to understand a more complex topic such as website coding. These searches are typically shorter in length and can be vague. If the searcher is considering a purchase, an informational search might occur toward the beginning of their journey and likely will be followed by additional searches of different types.
  • Navigational searches are made by users to access a familiar website or resource. They may not know the site’s exact URL or may find it easier to perform a search than to type the address. Example searches could include “YouTube” or “Gmail login”.
  • Investigative searches are more purchase-oriented and made by users evaluating choices for a product/service such as searching “Company A vs. Company B” or “best restaurants in New York.” These searches have great commercial potential since the shopper is weighing purchase options and likely not yet sold on a specific brand.
  • Transactional searches occur when a consumer has likely identified their desired product or service and is locating the best method to purchase it. These searches typically include terms like “buy”, “coupon”, or “sale.” Though these searches are often 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 the type of content that matches their needs at that moment. Intent plays a crucial role in search results as Google rewards relevant webpages optimized for target keywords and achieving 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. 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 much less likely to be present on the prior search. Understanding the types of content Google features for which searches helps digital marketers create content more likely to be ranked well.

Search Intent in Advertising

Search intent is key to both non-paid SEO and paid campaigns, specifically search advertising. When paying for ads on a cost-per-result basis, advertisers should want their ads to only appear for searches likely to lead to action. Align your campaigns’ target keywords (and negative keywords) to your prospective customers’ intent.

For example, lawn maintenance businesses often perform 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 intent) or “lawn mower repair” (indicating interest in a service, but likely not one that this particular business would provide.) Instead, savvy advertisers narrow their ad spend to searches such as “lawn mowing company” or “lawn mowing service near me.”


Understanding and satisfying search intent provides more relevant information to shoppers and can greatly impact your website’s user engagement and search rankings with website SEO. It also minimizes irrelevant interactions with your paid advertising and generates improved returns on ad spend. Intent will continue to play a larger role in digital marketing as tech leaders invest in new technologies such as Multitask Unified Model (or “MUM”) to improve understanding of user searches and return the best possible results.

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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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