Search Intent and SEO: Why A Search Intent First Approach Matters

And Why It’s the Best Way to Acquire Links Naturally.
Published on 
May 27, 2024
Updated on 
May 27, 2024
Posted in 

Search Intent. If you’ve been in the SEO game for a while, you are no doubt already familiar with this term, what it means and how it factors into Google’s ranking system. 

It is, without a doubt, one of the most important concepts in search engine optimization, one of, if not the most important of Google’s ranking factors, and it overlaps in some very important ways with link building.

In the article below, we’re going to explore the concept of search intent, its general importance in search engine optimization and how it relates more specifically to our world: link building. 

Let’s get started. 

Search intent and link building

First things first (because we are a link building service), why should you focus on search intent if you want to build links and improve your backlink profile?

In a nutshell, building content with search intent in mind–while also factoring in things like search volume and keyword competitiveness–is one of the most surefire ways to attract links and generate that extremely important external authority. 

The more your content satisfies search intent, the higher up the SERP it is likely to appear, the more chance it has of garnering powerful editorial links, the better the ranking signals you are sending to Google, shoring up your position at the top of the search engine results page. 

That’s basically it.

Of course, you need to know what search intent is and how you can build content that satisfies it.

What is search intent?

Search intent (aka “user intent”) is what you (or anyone) the searcher is looking to accomplish when they enter a query into search engines. There are various types of search intent, but the four most common are: 

  • Informational intent
  • Transactional intent
  • Commercial intent
  • Navigational intent

Informational keywords are those that, as the searcher, you are utilizing in order to learn something. Transactional intent is when you are looking to buy a product or service. Commercial search intent is similar to transactional, but you are still weighing your different purchase options. 

Navigational intent is when you are looking for a specific web page. Here, searchers already know exactly what page they are trying to find. 

Search intent in action

As an example. You are on your way home from work on a Friday evening and you’re meeting friends for drinks at 8 p.m., but you want to make dinner before heading out. You want it to be fast and healthy. 

You open Chrome on your phone and search “fast and healthy dinners” so that you can get some inspiration for a quick grocery shop. The title and meta description of the first search engine results looks promising so you click. 

You scroll down to preparation time, and you see “1 hour 10 minutes”

It’s healthy, but it takes 70 minutes to prepare. It hasn’t fully met your search intent.

You navigate back to the results page and click on the second hit.

Bingo, 25 minutes, healthy, this page satisfies your search intent. 

If enough people searching for fast and healthy dinners also feel this way about this particular article, odds are Google’s algorithm will reward it with a higher position on the search engine results page. 

So, why is search intent so important?

In a nutshell: because that is Google’s primary aim when showing you search engine results. It wants to show its users the most relevant page(s) possible given their needs. This is how search engines battle for dominance and market share. 

In theory, the search engine that best satisfies user intent is the one that most people are going to flock to. 

Therefore, if you want Google to reward your pages with those premier top of the SERP spots, you need to create content that tries to satisfies the search intent of the people searching for the specific keywords you’re targeting.

Understanding search intent 

Google’s quality guidelines make it very clear that they are all about search intent. 

Google even published a report titled “how search intent is redefining the marketing funnel” 

Of course, backlinks and other well-established ranking signals are important. But if you aren’t optimizing your content for search intent, you are probably not going to rank. 

With that in mind, let’s explore some search intent best practices and how you can plan and write content that really satisfies search queries. 

Identifying search intent

The most important step in writing search intent-first content is establishing what that search intent is. This should be something you do before you start writing anything. 

As we touched on previously, almost all search terms can be categorized as information, commercial, navigational and transactional. 

It’s generally quite simple to determine the search intent from the keyword itself. For instance, a longtail keyword like “buy a travel suitcase” clearly has commercial intent. 

Something like “what size travel suitcase for carry on” is clearly informational. You want to know what size suitcase you can take with you on the plane without having to pay for checked baggage. 

With that in mind, even if the search intent seems self-evident from the keyword itself, you should still look at the pages that are already ranking for that keyword. The top results have already been deemed by Google to satisfy search intent. 

If you also want to pass that test, then you should probably come at the keyword and content from a similar angle. 

For example, have a look at the keyword “high authority backlinks.”

Here are some more: 

What do all of these top-ranking pages have in common? They are all informational in nature. They are all describing how you can build high authority backlinks. 

Which is to say, people searching “high authority backlinks” aren’t looking to be sold high authority backlinks, they want to know how to build them. They want the information. 

Look at the results for “da pa checker.”

And some more: 

The top results for this keyword are, by and large, tools. This means that if you wanted to get yourself a spot on the first page of the SERP, you would probably have to create a tool (or at the very least a list of tools). 

So, to recap, determining search intent is a two-part process: 1) pay attention to what the keyword is telling you and 2) look at the top ranking pages to determine what Google is currently rewarding. 

After you’ve determined what the search intent for a particular keyword is, it’s time to optimize your content for UX. 

Keywords where there are multiple intents

There are sometimes instances where you come across keywords with various different user intents. 

This happens fairly often. 

Google actually goes into detail regarding multiple keyword intent in its rater guidelines. Check out the below image: 

So, what is the protocol when dealing with multiple search intents? The best practice is generally to optimize for just one intent. Don’t try to hedge your bets by covering all of them, or you could end up satisfying none of them. 

And don’t just optimize. Really go all in on one search intent. 

Some searchers may be after informational content, some might want to make a purchase. Decide which search intent you are going to try and satisfy and then go for it. 

Optimizing for user experience 

Google determines whether a given page satisfies search intent by how people interact with the search engine results page. 

That is to say, they are able to see if and when people do or don’t like a particular result. If they see that a page isn’t the right fit for the keyword being searched, then they are going to move it further down the results page. 

What Google doesn't want to see is people landing on a page and immediately exiting it because it doesn't give them what they’re looking for. 

Think back to the fast and healthy meal example we used a little while back. Our hypothetical searcher clicked on a result, saw that it wasn’t going to be the quick meal he or she wanted, and abruptly left. 

If enough people do this, Google will conclude that the page doesn’t give people searching for “fast and healthy dinners” what they’re after and very likely downrank the page. 

Google claims that user experience is paramount and, therefore, anything that diminishes user experience is to be avoided. 

These would include things like: 

  • Invasive popups. These are ones that appear either right as you navigate to a page or while you are scrolling. 
  • Too small font. 
  • No subheadings. 
  • No videos or images 


Generally speaking, Google doesn’t really like popups. Users like them even less. Once in a while, you are ambushed by a time-triggered popup or one that appears as soon as you hit a page that you actually find useful. 

But most of the time you have no interest in signing up for some list that is going to send you 10 emails a day. 

If you do decide to incorporate popups into your website, it’s usually best to go with “exit intent” popups. 

Font size

Font size is crucial. You can write the best blog post on the internet for a given keyword and satisfy search intent (on paper) better than everyone else, but if your content is unreadably small, people are going to bounce, and that’s a bad signal to be sending to Google. 

Break your content up into subheadings

People want information quickly, which means they are most likely not going to be reading every single word of your page. The vast majority of people have short attention spans and skim read pretty much everything. 

Using subheadings (H2, H3, H4, H5 etc.) title tags lets people go through your content quicker to find what they’re looking for. 

Make use of multimedia

Walls of text are not pleasurable to read and engage with. Most visitors, if they see that a page is just a mass of text, are not going to be bothered to give it the time of day. 

Sad, but true. 

Pay attention to your analytics

Google analytics is your friend with respect to improving your bounce rate and average session duration. You want people to spend as long as possible on your site and on individual pages. 

Google views session duration as a sign that people are enjoying our content which, in theory, should mean that content is satisfying search intent (among other things). 

Improve your existing content 

Most people have at least one page on their website that should rank but stubbornly doesn’t ever seem to. 

Most likely, the problem is search intent. This means that you shouldn’t just be applying the search intent principle and criteria to new pages, but ones that have been languishing on the more obscure SERP pages for quite some time. 

As a matter of fact, optimizing old and neglected content from the past is one of the best ways to get more organic traffic. 

You’ve already done a bunch of the leg work, you’re just missing some of the crucial search intent elements. 

Look at the “people also ask” section of the SERP

A great way to make your page more search intent-friendly is to look at what people who search your keywords are also looking for on Google. 

These results are great for identifying user intent information because these are some of the most recurring questions that people have when it comes to this particular topic. When you create content that is able to answer those questions, you’re creating a go-to resource for people. 

Optimize your commercial pages

One of the most important things to realize about search intent has to to with the different types of search intent we outlined earlier. 

There isn’t just informational intent to optimize for. There is also transactional intent and commercial intent. 

Transactional search intent applies to search queries where people are looking to buy something, sign up for a free trial of something, get a quote on something, etc. 

For example, look up the keyword “dyson air purifier.” Your first thought might be “I’m going to create a great piece of informational content for this keyword that will satisfy informational search intent.”

That wouldn’t be the right course of action, however. As is the case with the majority of keywords that contain a specific product, this one screams transactional search intent. 

And the results prove this: 

Most of them are eCommerce product pages. 

There are no long-form blog posts or product review articles in the top ten results. People searching for Dyson Air Purifiers already know what they want, they are just looking for somewhere to buy. 

That is why it is so important to determine search intent for all keywords you intend to target. The search results are your best friend here. 

Optimizing for advanced user intent

Determining whether a particular keyword has one of the main four search intents is the basic approach to search intent. 

Understanding search intent at a more advanced level involves getting a lot more granular. Take, for instance, the keyword “quick dry pants.”

There is very obviously a lot of transactional intent behind this keyword. People are looking for a specific type of pants. 

What, precisely, does that tell us though? 

Is the person searching for this ready to buy right this instant? Or are they still weighing their options (i.e., looking for different types and brands of quick dry pants)? You can usually determine this by looking closer at the search results. 

Someone searching this keyword is still at the beginning of the sales funnel. They are looking for transactional content, but they want to see a bunch of different options. 

Or, how about the search string “how to do a pull-up.”

What are people looking for when they search this? Do they want a list-style article, a case study, a video, etc.?

Based on what Google returns, it’s quite obvious that people are looking for a specific set up steps they can put into practice to perform the pull-up. 

You will probably find that, most of the time, people searching “how to” keywords are looking for specific steps. Therefore, if you want to rank for that search term, you will need to include these steps in your content. 

What’s more, the more clearly outlined your steps are, the better shot you have at a featured snippets box. 

Wrapping up

Search intent (or user intent) is the foundation of quality content.

Whether it’s informational intent, navigational intent, transactional intent or commercial intent, doing good keyword research involves a strong understanding of the different types of search intent. 

Knowing how to identify a keyword’s search intent (or intents) will make or break whether or not you actually end up ranking for a particular keyword, which has a direct impact on the number of natural links you can expect to generate. 

That’s why search intent and links are so intimately linked. 

Of course, you can’t solely rely on acquiring natural backlinks. The fact remains: strategic link building is still a vitally important part of search engine optimization and external authority. 

That’s what we do. 

Get in touch with dofollow and let’s chat more about whether our no-contract, user-centric link building is right for your business.

Why Trust Us On SEO

Eric Carrell & Sebastian Schaffer have been working in SEO for over a decade, building their own projects - understanding and testing SEO strategy, along with building hundreds of white hat links per month for our projects. They take their learnings and experience and apply them to the strategy that drives our link building strategy for our clients.

Eric & Seb have always believed in quality over quantity, doing things the right way so we future proof our client’s websites against future Google updates and the evolving industry of search.

While Seb handles the company strategy around culture, processes and structure, Eric is constantly working to improve our service offering, customer experience, and following the industry in parallel with Google’s Quality Guidelines so that we are always one step ahead of our competition and aligned with what Google wants to see for your site to rank higher.

In this Article:

Turn your website into a traffic & lead gen machine with the world's most powerful backlinks.  

High-quality backlinks to your business each month with our user centric link building service.

Recommended Posts

Ready to get started?

Book a discovery call and get to know us better. Ask all the questions you have about how we can help you scale your business.