A Guide to Optimising for User Intent in SEO

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What is user intent in SEO?

User intent refers to whatever goal or purpose a user has when they type their search query into a search engine.

The specific words – and often the syntax – they use can help build up an understanding of what the user’s intent may be.


Why is search intent important?

User intent is important to search engines. Google’s aim is to deliver to the user a search result that will solve their search query. In order to display the most relevant results for that individual, they must therefore understand and modify their results to match user intent. The better they do this, the more successful they are, so it’s a key priority for search engines like Google.

This also means that user intent needs to be a big focus of your SEO strategy.

When thinking about user intent, and how to improve your site for it, it’s important to remember that the central aim should be to fulfill the goal of your target user. Effectively this means looking at why they turned to Google and typed in the search terms they did. What exactly do they want to see? If you can answer those questions, you can create and tailor your current content so that it is precisely what your user is looking for.


How do search engines define user intent?

Search engines understand user intent by delving into the semantics of the words used in each search query.

To build on that picture, search engines also look at the way users interact with each page on their search results. By looking at the way users react to SERPs for any given phrase, they can build a good understanding of what users are and are not intending to find.

mobile rating showing, heart, smile in mobile


How does Google know if your page matches user intent for a keyword?

Google uses interaction metrics to understand which pages are better matched to user intent for a specific keyword or phrase.

For example, if users are clicking onto websites they find in the SERPs, but quickly leaving to return to the SERPs and click onto another page, that is a signal to Google that those sites are not answering the intent behind the user’s query. If it happens enough, Google acts accordingly and moves the listing down the rankings for that search term.

For those leaving your page immediately to return to the SERP, it might not always be because your website doesn’t answer the user’s query.

Your content and your UX all play a part in how users react or interact with your website. If your content is great but your UX is a mess and frustrating to users, the likelihood is they will leave the page. Equally, great UX showing poor content will have the same effect. Hence, it’s important to make sure your UX is tip top from the start, so you can focus on getting the content optimised.


How can we understand user intent?

Understanding the intent behind your target market and the specific key phrases you want to target is a central factor in developing a website that performs well. So how can you use these to get a better understanding of user intent?

The first step is to define what type of search query you are targeting. This will tell you a lot about what type of content to create for it.

There are some key categories that you can slot your key phrase into. These are broken down into four main categories.

What are the most common types of search intent?

Most search terms fall under the following four main categories:


As the name suggests, a user is looking for more information about something or someone when they use these types of search queries. They usually include words like ‘when’, ’why’, ‘where’ and ‘what’.

Examples include: How to fly a plane, Where is the Nile?, Penelope Cruz, Directions to Glastonbury Tor


In this instance the user is looking to locate a specific website and are likely using the SERPs as a quick way of accessing a specific site. Their search query will usually include a brand name.

Examples include: Natwest log in, Telegraph, Rightmove

Commercial Investigation:

This is the investigative stage that takes place right before a user generally makes a purchase. They have a product in mind and are looking to compare brands or models before buying.

Examples include: Fit bit or Apple watch, Best Marketing Agency Bristol, Wix reviews


This type of search phrase suggests the user is ready to buy something – or make a transaction. They have a good idea of what they are after and have likely completed the Commercial Investigation stage prior. They often name a specific product and will include terms like ‘buy’ or ‘purchase’.

Examples include: Buy iPhone 7, Havaianas sale, Audible sign up


Use the SERPs to help you

An easy way of getting a better understanding of which category your phrase falls into, you can take a look at the SERPs. If you type your phrase into Google, the first few results will usually give you a good idea of which categories rank well.

Categorising the type of search term is key to understanding what type of page will rank for that keyword. If it’s a Transactional keyword or phrase, for example, it’s likely most of the highest-ranking pages for that specific keyword will all be ecommerce pages. For an Informational keyword, you’re more likely to get blogs or guide pieces instead.

Next, it’s a good idea to take a look at the search results again and delve into the high-ranking pages and their content, to build a picture of the type and style web page that performs well for your key phrase.

Take note of elements on the page, including the style, tone and formatting. If a user searches ‘User intent in SEO’, for example, which content do they engage with best? Is it listicles, visuals, or perhaps long-form articles? You can find out the answer to that by typing in your search term and looking at the current top ranking pages.

Search engines like Google are generally doing a pretty good job of trying to rank pages based on user intent. This means you can be reasonably assured that these pages represent the type of content that users interact with for that particular key phrase.


How to optimise your content for user intent

Once you know what category your targeted keywords fall into, you can then make sure your pages are well optimised for that type of user.
You should also know how the competition is doing it too. Analyse the top search results in the SERPs, and use this to inform page structure, style, tone and formatting of your own pages.

Don’t forget to optimise your page meta details as well as your on-page content!

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Simple guide to optimising for user intent

  • STEP 1: Define your search term or key phrase
  • STEP 2: Define which category your search term belongs to. It’s totally possible for it to fall into two categories i.e. the search results have a mixture of search intent pages. That’s fine, you just need to decide which of those categories your page is going to focus on.
  • STEP 3: Analyse the top-ranking search terms for your key phrase. Take note of what types of results you see, and notice anything you could improve upon or that is missing.
  • STEP 4: Create or optimise your content to match (and improve upon) your research findings. Don’t forget your UX!
  • STEP 5: Wait for the traffic to come rolling in.

So, that’s a quick run-down of optimising for user intent. Why not browse our SEO hub to ensure that you’re maximising your website for organic success?

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