Search Intent and SEO: Your Ticket to More Website Traffic

Search Intent and SEO: Your Ticket to More Website Traffic

No one’s better at being passive aggressive than a mom. I learned this—as you probably did, too—in high school, when my mother opted for the passive aggressive “You sure?” whenever I asked if I could stay out late.

Other famous phrases?

“Who’s going?”

“How late will you be?”

“I suppose you can take the car, if you’re careful.”

Thanks to a long, painful journey full of screaming matches, teenage tears, and trial and error, I learned to read between the lines and decipher what WASN’T being said.

I learned to infer intent.

  • “Who’s going?” really meant “Are you hanging out with that sketchy kid I hate?”
  • “How late will you be?” really meant “Your butt better be back here before 9 pm.”
  • “I suppose you can take the car” really meant “You touch my car and I will END you.”

By understanding the true intent behind what she said, I figured out how to respond with the answer my mother wanted.

Know who else has gotten really good at reading between the lines and inferring intent?


Yes, Google is a master at interpreting what you really want (or your commercial intent). If you understand a user’s search intent, you can tailor the content on your website to provide the exact answers Google and searchers are looking for.

Stay with me, and I’ll break down what commercial intent and search intent SEO are, plus how you can use that knowledge (as well as publicly available information from Google) to rank your content higher in search results and boost traffic to your website.

What Is Search Intent (or Keyword Intent)?

The search intent definition is the consumer’s intent, or real meaning, behind Google searches—the “why” of the keywords. It’s also known as a commercial or buyer’s intent. Over time, Google’s algorithms have identified four main types of search queries:

  • Know query, where the user wants information about something. Ex:
    • “What is commercial intent?”
    • “How many planets are in the universe?”
    • “Why is Jon Snow so moody?”
  • Do query, where the user wants to take action on something. Ex:
    • “Buy new iPhone”
    • “Best emergency plumber near me”
    • “Christmas presents for people I hate”
  • Website query, where the user wants to go to a specific website or webpage. Ex:
    • “YouTube”
    • “Gmail”
    • “Wells Fargo login”
  • Visit-in-person query, where the user wants to find and visit the physical address of a location. Ex:
    • “Closest Trader Joe’s”
    • “Bed Bath and Beyond near me”
    • “Liquor store within walking distance” (hey, we all have our days…)

Source: Google Search Quality Guidelines, 2015

Now, within those queries, Google identifies a few different interpretations when deciding which search results to spit back out:

  • Dominant interpretation: What most users mean when they type the query. Not all queries have a dominant interpretation.
  • Common interpretations: What many or some users mean when they type a query. A query can have multiple common interpretations.
  • Minor interpretations: These are interpretations that few users have in mind.

I’ll use this with the mom example.

When my mother would tell me, “Are you sure you want to go out?” there were a few different interpretations of what she really meant.

  • Dominant interpretation: “I’m pretending to give you space, but you better not set foot outside that door.”
  • Common interpretations: “Is there any homework you could be doing,” or “I don’t like the people you’re about to go out with; please reconsider.”
  • Minor interpretations: Once in a blue moon it meant “You don’t look well; are you sure you want to go out?”

To determine the true meaning of my mom’s passive aggressive response, my brain—like the Google algorithms—would scan the situation to look for other clues if it wasn’t immediately obvious what she meant. But while I would look for things like body language and tone, Google looks for data-based indicators.

How to Dominate Search Intent SEO by Focusing on Keyword Intent

If SEO is the practice of getting your website higher in search results, search intent SEO is the practice of optimizing your content to match the most common commercial intents associated with your target keywords.

So, how do you figure out the most common keyword intents related to a keyword? You take cues from Google.

Google’s algorithm is designed to provide you with the best and most common answers to your search query. How it does this is by looking at a wide variety of ranking signals to determine the type of content other users with the same query have found helpful.

Let’s take a look at the example from a recent Moz Whiteboard Friday with Rand Fishkin:

A user types “damaged furniture” into Google. Google first identifies a few different keyword intents that searcher could have:

  • They could possibly want to buy new furniture to replace the damaged one
  • They could possibly want to visit a company that fixes furniture
  • They could possibly want to learn how to repair furniture on their own

Google is going to produce results based on historical data and ranking signals that best match the most common intent and most “helpful” answers to serve that intent.

Here’s a rule of thumb: the higher up a piece of content is in Google search results, the more common the intent it’s answering. This intent-to-position ratio is your golden ticket to writing content that ranks.

Taking a look at the search results for “damaged furniture,” we can see that the top results correlate with the intent “I want to buy new furniture to replace the damaged one.” That means the dominant interpretation Google has seen is, “I want to buy.” Therefore, if you want to rank for this search term, you should address that specific need.

Think of a search term you want to rank for. Now, Google it. Look at the type of intent the results answer. Now, re-frame your content to answer that specific need. There; you’ve successfully optimized for search intent SEO.

Incorporating Search Intent Optimization into Your Content Marketing Strategy

Words are powerful, especially the ones that aren’t said. I can tell you right now, a lot of my mother’s and my communication in high school was based on non-verbal cues.

It didn’t start that way. When I was a freshman, the fights were often—and loud—because I wasn’t giving her the answers she wanted. I wasn’t reading between the lines. I was focusing on what I wanted.

Once I figured out how to use data from past experiences and unspoken cues, I learned to produce the exact answer my mother wanted, thus leading to a more peaceful household.

Just like I learned from knock-down drag-out fights with my mother, you can learn from Google by paying attention to the “why” of search results. If you can connect the dots between the answers Google gives and the buyer intent it correlates to, you can not only rank better, you can also offer better versions of your product or service. If you need help with search intent optimization, we’re absolute pros at it. You can contact us here!

Learn more about:

  • Writing Ad Copy for Different Search Intents
  • Google Ranking Indicators and Guidelines