What is Search Intent?

search intent types - lazarina stoy
search intent types - lazarina stoy

Search intent is the reason why someone would write a query and submit it to search engines. Back in the days when there weren’t any search engines or the internet, search intent would be the reason why someone would visit the library or go to find information in the Yellow Pages about a particular shop that they want to shop from.

Search intent represents an objective that the searcher is trying to accomplish through their online journey.

What are the types of search intent?

search intent types - lazarina stoy
search intent types – lazarina stoy

There are three main types of search intent that have been sustained since the days of library searches, reflected in academic research, and defined in Google’s guidelines. Though there are multiple subtypes which we’re going to discuss a bit later on.

Core search intent categories

informational search intent

80% of all queries submitted to search engines have an informational search intent type and this indicates the intent of the user to locate a particular information snippet that satisfies a knowledge need that they are struggling with.

There is a recognized need, with no clear solution.  The user search behavior is purely information-seeking. The searcher is asking general questions with the intention of learning and understanding potential pathways to a solution better.

navigational search intent

Navigational search intent demonstrates a desire to be taken to a specific location of an organization that they are already brand aware of. So this type of intent might be something like finding an Amazon account page or anything related to a brand that is very specific. So the user already knows the brand and they’re trying to locate something related to it on the web.

There is brand awareness. The searcher is solution-aware, but more specifically in the context of digital marketing, they are brand-aware. The searcher is interested in navigating to a specific destination, e.g. a brand website, a product page, a solutions landing page. 

Transactional search intent

Transactional search intent demonstrates a desire to obtain something other than information which is typically a web-mediated transaction.

There is a recognized need, recognized solution, and recognized vendors for providing this solution, and also a purchase desire for a user to develop and express a transactional search intent. The searcher in this stage is in the process of market evaluation, comparative analysis, and option consideration.

Niche Search Intent Categories

According to academic research, 75% of all queries can be classified into a single category of search intent. These same studies only consider the main three types of intent as the main categories. So, the likelihood that a query submitted to a search engine aligns with these three types of intent is very high.

But the interesting thing is from this remaining 25 %, we can directly distinguish patterns that form new categories of intent. So for instance, we already know of two additional types which are very prominent in SEO, which are commercial intent and localized intent. And these correspond to different stages of the user journey. Now the interesting thing about these intent categories is that they have a certain percentage of one of the main intent categories in them, but they are highly reflected in the degree that they form new intent categories.

Explicit Commercial Intent

Commercial intent has a transactional intent within it. The user wants to complete a web-mediated transaction and they are already, for instance, brand-aware of one or two organizations in the space, but they are also seeking information about these brands. So, here we can see a mixture of intent types.

There is a recognized need, recognized solution, and recognized vendors for providing this solution. The searcher in this stage is in the process of market evaluation, comparative analysis, and option consideration.

Explicit Localized intent

With localized intent the user is seeking information about the brand, for instance – whether they have a shop that is offline, how they can contact the team. But they’re also, again, brand-aware and they are also interested in completing a transaction.

These are people looking for local business contacts, directions, contact information or any other point. of contact related to the real world.

Implicit search intent

Fear-Based Intent

Fear-based intent arises when users are seeking information to alleviate their fears, concerns, or anxieties related to a particular topic, event, or situation. These users are motivated by a desire to address potential risks, avoid negative outcomes, or find reassurance and guidance. They may search for information on topics like safety measures, prevention methods, or ways to overcome challenges and obstacles.

Comparison Intent

Users with comparison intent are looking to evaluate and compare multiple options before making a decision. They may search for terms like “X vs. Y,” “best alternative to,” or “pros and cons of.” Creating content that presents thorough comparisons, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of different options, can be valuable for these users.

Trending/Popularity Intent

Users with trending or popularity intent are interested in staying up-to-date with the latest trends, news, or popular topics. They seek current information, viral content, or insights into what’s popular in a particular industry or niche. Creating content that explores trends, provides analysis, or showcases popular items can cater to this intent.

Problem-Solution Intent

Users with problem-solution intent are actively seeking solutions to specific issues or challenges they are facing. They may search for phrases like “how to fix,” “solve,” or “troubleshoot.” Crafting content that offers practical solutions, troubleshooting guides, or step-by-step problem-solving techniques can effectively address this intent.

Inspirational/Motivational Intent

Users with inspirational or motivational intent are seeking content that uplifts, inspires, or motivates them. They may search for phrases like “success stories,” “inspirational quotes,” or “motivational speeches.” Creating content that shares inspiring stories, offers motivational advice, or provides strategies for personal growth can resonate with users seeking this intent.

Educational Intent

Users with educational intent are looking for in-depth knowledge, courses, or tutorials on specific subjects. They seek comprehensive information that helps them acquire new skills or expand their understanding. Creating content that offers detailed guides, tutorials, educational resources, or online courses can cater to this intent.

Recreational intent

Recreational intent is another important custom search intent type that caters to users seeking entertainment, leisure, or recreational content. These users are looking for content that provides enjoyment, relaxation, or engages their interests.

These are users searching for entertainment recommendations, events to visit, facts about their hobbies, and leisure activities, reading travel guides, researching fun facts, or watching celebrity gossip. These type of searches are performed with a purely relaxing or rewarding purpose.

How does search intent correlate to the marketing funnel and conversion likelihood?

According to two resources by Ahrefs and Getstat, search intent corresponds to the different parts of the marketing funnel, i.e. the user journey to purchase. This means, the lower down the search intent funnel, the higher the likelihood of conversion. 

As you will notice, there is a discrepancy between the two sources on the placement of the navigational search intent on the funnel. Navigational search intent is the most difficult to map. The reason for this is that a user can become brand-aware at different stages of the buyer journey. As Ahrefs highlights in their blog: 

Navigational queries are perhaps the most nuanced. Those searching for such queries may be in the “Interest” stage of the funnel and just want to learn more about your products/services. Or they could already be customers and are simply trying to navigate to a specific page on your website.


For instance, if the searcher is looking for a digital bank, they might already know of Revolut or Monzo. Or, they might discover them in the process of researching different options for digital banking. If we were to illustrate the search intent funnel using this example, the user buyer journey, expressed via queries might look like this: 

  • How to open a digital banking account (informational)
  • Digital banking account guide (informational)
  • Best digital banking accounts (commercial)
  • Monzo digital banking account (navigational)
  • Revolut digital banking account (navigational)
  • Open a digital banking account (transactional)

By using this example, it is easy to see that depending on the additional off-page, social, or even offline marketing campaigns and user brand awareness, the navigational search queries can be placed anywhere in the search journey and this will not really affect the end result. 

Understanding the intent categories is only the first step in the process. It can enable a few (very important) things:

  • conversion prediction.
  • a full-funnel, search-first marketing strategy
  • understanding intent and aligning the website architecture to it can also lead to very happy visitors.

So, what this needs in practice is that while we do want to have a lot of organic visitors on the website and we do know that we can achieve this via informational intent-focused keywords and pages, it is very unlikely that this traffic that we receive is going to convert as per this graph.

image 5
Conversion Funnel Relationship to Search Intent Funnel

Differentiating Search Intent from Keyword Intent

While search intent focuses on the user’s purpose or goal, keyword intent centers around the specific words or phrases used in a search query. Keyword intent is about identifying the intent behind the choice of keywords, which can provide insights into the user’s underlying needs.

For example, consider a search query like “best running shoes.” The search intent behind this query could vary. One user may have transactional intent and intends to purchase running shoes, while another user may have informational intent and seeks recommendations and reviews. The keyword intent remains the same (“best running shoes”), but the search intent varies.

Understanding the distinction between search intent and keyword intent is essential for crafting effective SEO strategies. It enables marketers and content creators to align their content with the user’s goals and deliver meaningful and relevant information.

Why is Search Intent important for content creation?

Search intent is crucial for content creation because it ensures that the content produced aligns with the needs and goals of the target audience. By understanding the intent behind a user’s search query, content creators can tailor their content to provide relevant and valuable information that satisfies user expectations. This not only enhances the user experience but also improves the chances of ranking higher in search engine results, driving organic traffic and increasing engagement. Ultimately, creating content that matches search intent helps establish authority, credibility, and relevance in the eyes of both users and search engines.

When you have an idea of the search intent it’s essential to make sure the content you are creating fits the search intent of your audience. Are people just looking for an answer to a question or a definition? Are they comparing products before purchase? Or, are they intending to buy something right away? This is often reflected in the type of query they make.

Pages can answer more than one search intent, but it is important to know the natural flow of search intent and try not to mix search intent on vastly different sides of the spectrum in one content piece. Or worse, try to satisfy all of them with just one piece of content.

Imagine trying to sell a product or service via an informational blog post. This might not yield great results, as the user is there for the information, not the solution. The goal with such content would be to create the seed for future navigational, commercial, or transactional searches, or otherwise to build brand awareness. 

Here is what Google’s John Mueller says about search intent and content:

Now let’s say you are selling the same product or service via a white paper or case study, which presents cutting-edge research or comparatively analyzes its performance in the context of industry averages. Now, this is a proven conversion-boosting tactic and there is a reason for that. The person engaging with this content is likely problem-aware and way past the information-seeking stage. They are now seeking a solution, hence, product placement is suitable.


Search intent is a fundamental concept in SEO that revolves around understanding the underlying purpose or goal behind a user’s search query. It helps marketers and content creators tailor their content to meet the specific needs of searchers. While keyword intent focuses on the specific words or phrases used, search intent delves deeper into the user’s motivation.

By recognizing the distinctions between search intent and keyword intent, and incorporating search intent into your content planning and information architecture you can optimize your content strategy to deliver valuable and relevant information that aligns with user goals.

Frequently asked questions

What is search intent?

Search intent is the reason why someone would write a query and submit it to search engines. It represents an objective that the searcher is trying to accomplish through their online journey.

What are the four main types of search intent?

There are four main types of search intent: informational, navigational, commercial, and transactional. There are also multiple sub-types, such as localized search intent.

How is search intent shown in Google’s search engine results page (SERP)?

Google’s search engine results page (SERP) reflects its understanding of search intent by presenting various elements that align with the user’s search query. Here are some ways in which search intent is manifested on the SERP:

  1. Featured Snippets: Google often displays a featured snippet at the top of the search results, providing a concise answer or summary directly extracted from a relevant webpage. Featured snippets are commonly seen in response to informational queries, demonstrating Google’s recognition of the user’s intent to find quick answers or information.
  2. Knowledge Graph: The Knowledge Graph is a prominent panel that appears on the right-hand side of the SERP for specific searches. It provides concise and structured information about entities such as people, places, or organizations. The presence of a Knowledge Graph suggests that the user’s intent is likely focused on obtaining factual details or exploring specific entities.
  3. Image and Video Results: When search intent involves visual content, such as finding images or videos, Google’s SERP includes dedicated sections for image and video results. These sections display relevant visual content alongside traditional search listings, indicating that the user’s intent is oriented toward visual exploration or consumption.
  4. Local Pack: For location-based queries or when users are seeking nearby businesses or services, Google may display a Local Pack within the SERP. This pack typically features a map and a list of local businesses with relevant information like addresses, ratings, and reviews. The presence of a Local Pack suggests that the user’s intent revolves around finding local establishments or services.
  5. Shopping Results: When users have transactional intent and are searching for products to purchase, Google may present a dedicated section for shopping results. This section includes images, prices, and links to online stores, allowing users to explore and compare products directly on the SERP.
  6. “People Also Ask” and Related Searches: Google’s SERP often includes sections such as “People Also Ask” and “Related Searches.” These sections display additional questions and related queries that users commonly search for, indicating Google’s understanding of the underlying intent and providing users with further avenues for exploration.

By observing these elements on the SERP, users can gauge how Google interprets their search intent and find more relevant content or explore related aspects of their query. It’s important to note that the specific elements displayed may vary depending on the search query and user context.