The “Why” of Search – Understanding Search Intent

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Ever wonder what people are thinking when they land on your website?

You and I (and all other human beings) use search engines for a wide range of highly diverse purposes, and for nearly all searches, there are definite behavioral patterns. If we examine these patterns, we can make some educated guesses as to a user’s intent when making a search query.

Understanding user intent can be challenging at first, but by understanding why a user is entering keywords into Google in the first place can help you to connect better with your audience.

Today, we’re going to take a moment to walk a mile in our visitors’ shoes to better understand why they are making search queries in the first place.

Let’s take a closer look at different query types.

Search to Acquire Information and Look Up Data

The first type of query that we’re going to analyze is any query performed to acquire information. These types of queries are often submitted by cold leads, and the user doesn’t necessarily have any intent to purchase a product, sign up for an email list or take any action at all. Quite simply, the user just wants an answer to a definite question. They’re in research mode and have no buy intent.

It could be something simple, such as the name of an actor in the user’s favorite movie. Perhaps the user just wants directions, a model number or wants to see the weather forecast in a particular region. If you are targeting keywords for informational queries, it’s your job to answer the user as accurately and quickly as possible, and to establish yourself as an authority on the subject in question to keep them coming back.

A good way to get this sort of traffic is to build pages that qualify for featured snippets.

Actionable Queries

Some keywords, on the other hand, clearly paint a picture of the user’s intent. These types of keywords are often very actionable, and indicate that a user is primed for a purchase, or is seeking a web page with the intent to take action.

For instance, the user may already know that he/she wants to purchase an airline ticket, book a hotel, reserve a seat at a restaurant or sign up for a cloud storage service.

One key identifier of actionable queries is vocabulary relating to the cost of the product. For instance, if a user searched for “cheap VPN,” chances are the user has an intent to purchase a cheap VPN service (duh!).

If you can identify keywords relating to actionable queries, you can build pages that improve the chance of the user taking action or making a purchase since the lead is already primed.

Queries Designed to Find a Location

Yet another type of query that’s crucial for the end user is a keyword search designed to find a location. Due to the emergence of voice search and apps like Google maps, it’s easier than ever before to find the location of a building or business.

But apps aren’t used exclusively; there are still tons of use cases when a user will turn to the Google search bar to locate a point of interest.

In fact, Google Maps data is often returned as one of the top search results, and other times the user may wish to use a website’s store locator or visit an ‘about’ page to find a businesses other locations. Users making these types of queries frequently have an intent to visit a physical brick and mortar location.

For these types of queries you’d want a good ‘About Us’ page, or if you have multiple locations you’d want each location to have it’s own page that is optimized for its particular area.

Secondly, you should make sure your Google My Business listing is optimized and fully filled out. You may optionally even want to run ads to that page (something Google recently added to their Google Ads platform).

Wanderers and Curiosity

So, do the aforementioned types of queries represent each and every possible reason a user enters keywords into a search engine? Of course not, and there are many other angles to take into consideration. For instance, consider that the previous examples all assumed the user knew, more or less, what they were looking for.

Often users turn to the Internet when they don’t know what they’re looking for at all.

For instance, sometimes I may type in general search terms or a poorly phrased question when I’m breaching a topic, hobby or body of knowledge that I know very little about. These types of queries are entered for a couple reasons. First and foremost, the user is likely just curious about a particular subject or doesn’t understand what someone else was talking about.

Other times, someone may enter vague search terms to educated themselves on a topic or to appear more intelligent, or more ‘in the know.’ In such a case, a user may enter an immensely broad search query just to see what comes up. For example, a user may simply enter the query “essential oils” to take a shotgun-style approach and cover a wide area in one go, simply hoping that some of the results will answer their questions.

Similar to users who don’t quite know what they’re looking for, there is a class of search engine users called wanderers.

To put it bluntly, wanderers are extremely low quality leads, and are either addicted to the Internet or just want to kill time by incessantly following links or entering queries as they move from site to site in an unfocused manner. A user may have read an interesting article about Space X and future voyages to Mars, only to have then clicked on a link to Tesla and self driving cars, and from there clicked on another link to a sports cars page.

The user doesn’t really have any finite or definable goals, other than meandering around to stave off boredom. Idle wanderers and curious users don’t often yield any great results, but one of your goals should be to build a bridge to these types of users by signing them up for your mailing list.

If you engage in email marketing, you might be able to get these types of users to take action in the future (if you capture their email address, which is unlikely).

Final Thoughts

Humans are immensely complicated beings, and there aren’t really any static rules regarding how an individual will use Google to solve his/her problem. Even though we can separate search queries into the aforementioned categories based on user intent, the user’s intent could change on a whim. There are a myriad of distractions in today’s data driven world, and people access content from all sorts of devices.

Just remember, when researching keywords, try to think about your user’s intent to connect with your audience better. Ask yourself a few questions to uncover information such as where the user is when entering the search, what they may be doing at the time, and any emotions that are tied to the search terms. Doing so will help you craft content and an experience custom tailored for your target audience.

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