What Is Search Intent?

Search intent is a broad term to describe why the user is searching through the search engine. In short, it represents the reason users are submitting that query via the search engine and what’s the purpose of it. In general, search intent is classified as informational, navigational, and transactional.

The basic functioning of search

If you can grasp the general purpose behind users’ search intent for specific keywords, you can pretty much build a solid digital distribution for your business

This might seem trivial as a topic, yet it’s surprising that a few people still get that. And in reality, in many cases, it’s hard to really understand a user’s intent, and we can only guess it. 

Let’s go back then to how search engines work then by starting from Google. When Google builds up its index, it uses specific crawlers (software that goes on web pages and scans them by looking at hundreds of signals). 

Once those pages have been “scanned” (web crawling is something continuous that Google can do at scale on billions of web pages, this is indeed the feat of modern search engines), they are inserted in Google’s index. 

Within that index, those pages are retrieved based on several factors. Some factors that had a major influence on how search engines worked in the last decades are related to the so-called “keywords” and “backlinks.”

In short, on the one hand, when a user inputs a keyword in Google’s search box (perhaps I might be looking for “car insurance”), then Google will retrieve a bunch of pages from its index based on how each page has been recorded in the index. 

On the other hand, for many years, Google has scaled its index by using backlinks (a link on your site coming from another site) as a voting mechanism, similar to what happens in research papers (where academics will link to more authoritative sources for their papers’ references). 

Thus, if that page was recorded in Google’s index for that specific query, and it had enough authoritative references, Google might retrieve it from its index, ranking it among the top pages.

As a result, the way Google shows its organic listings – pages that show up on Google even if you didn’t bid on any keyword, but rather because you have a web page that relevant for that search – have remained unchanged for quite some time.

Turning into an answer engine 

However, starting in 2015-16, Google started to implement more advanced search features that give specific answers to users beyond the traditional listings. Thus, Google pretty much extracts content from web pages, and with queries that resemble more of a question:

This is relevant because it tells us that Google is more equipped now to guess users’ intent and that this also is an evolution that shows how Voice Search might look like. 

These advanced features are taking more and more space on Google’s search results, thus starting to play a critical role. 

Now back to why this matters to us. 

Inside the users’ minds

The most important advantage of targeting the right keywords through Google is that we can build a digital funnel to target our business objectives. 

But how do we guess users’ intents? There are many ways to do that. Let’s start from a fundamental but effective one. When we look at keywords, there are a few key metrics to look at.

Let’s start from three core ones: 

  • Volume: how many times per month has that keyword been searched – on average?
  • CPC: what’s the cost per click that advertisers are paying to bid on that keywords? 
  • CTR: how many times are users clicking through our pages when shown on Google?

As a general and simple rule of thumb, keywords with lower volume might also have a higher CPC.


Well, in the so-called SEO space (practitioners that try to guess how search works), keywords are usually classified in: 

  • Navigational where the users are still in the consideration phase.  
  • Transactional users know they want to buy a product/service, so they are looking for specific products/services.
  • Informational where the users are more looking to get to learn a specific topic. 

Understanding this basic difference is critical because if you target an informational keyword, you might get more traffic but fewer conversions on your product. And if you’re only targeting transactional keywords, you might be getting some conversion through, but your funnel might still be too slow. 

Thus, you want to balance the two to build a solid sales funnel. On top of that, you will have informational and navigational keywords that help users get to know a topic, understand what’s important for that topic.

And connect those pages with more transactional ones, where users will be guided in a potential discovery, understanding, and purchasing journey. 

Once you have that, you can say that search engines are also working for your business as digital distribution channels!

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