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What is User Intent?

14 min read

Ready to take your digital marketing to the next level? Understanding user intent is key to improving ranking, user experience, and increasing your chances of conversion. In this article, we unveil the hidden power of user intent and how you can harness it for maximum impact. 

Let’s dive in and discover how to effectively leverage user intent.

What is User Intent?

Also known as search intent, it refers to the underlying motivation someone has when searching online. User intent plays a significant role in driving relevant search results and improving overall user experience. 

Here are four common intents used in digital marketing, plus a fifth one that’s equally valuable:

  • Navigational Intent
  • Informational intent 
  • Commercial Intent 
  • Transactional Intent
  • Local intent 

Navigational Intent

Navigational intent refers to the specific intention of a user to navigate to a particular website or webpage. It indicates the user is looking for a specific website or wants to access a specific page within a website. Some examples of navigational intent:

  1. MarketMuse login — The user intends to navigate directly to the MarketMuse login page, specifically looking to access their MarketMuse account.
  2. Microsoft office inbox — The user wants to navigate directly to their MS Office inbox, access their email account and check their messages.
  3. Amazon — The user intends to navigate to Amazon’s website. They’re looking to browse for deals starting at the main site and potentially make a purchase.

In all these examples, the users have a clear intention to navigate to a specific website or webpage, indicating navigational intent.

Informational Intent

Informational search intent indicates a searcher is seeking information or answers to their queries. It indicates a search for specific information, facts, or explanations. Google calls this intent “Know”. Here are three examples:

  1. What is user intent? — Here the user is seeking information on “user intent”. They may be looking for a definition or additional information to aid in understanding the concept.
  2. What is the capital of Canada? — The searcher is looking for specific information, in this case, the capital of Canada. They want a direct answer to their query.
  3. How to choose the best telescope — The user is looking for information on evaluating telescopes.

In these examples, the searchers are in the top of the funnel, conducting initial research, exploring options, and seeking information.

Commercial Intent

Commercial intent refers to a searcher at the stage of commercial investigation. It indicates that they’re interested in buying a product or service, but not yet. We often refer to this as comparison intent. Here are some examples:

  1. Best running shoes for marathon — The user is indicating a commercial intent by searching for the best running shoes specifically for marathon purposes. They’re likely in the market to make a purchase and are looking for recommendations or reviews to help make an informed buying decision.
  2. Comparison of DSLR cameras — The searcher is looking for information to help make a purchase decision. They may be comparing features, prices, customer reviews, and other factors to determine which camera best suits their needs.
  3. “Reviews of telescopes” — They’re looking for feedback and opinions from other users. They want to make an informed decision based on the experiences of others before buying.

In these examples, the searchers have moved beyond initial research and are actively comparing options, seeking reviews, and narrowing down their choices before making a purchase decision.

Transactional Intent

Transactional intent refers to the explicit intention of a user to complete a transaction or engage in a specific commercial activity. Here are three examples:

  1. Buy Meade LX600 online — The user is expressing transactional intent to buy this brand of telescope online. They’ve made a decision to purchase the product and are actively looking for a platform or website to complete the transaction.
  2. Book a hotel room in New York for two nights — The searcher is indicating transactional intent by specifying their intention to book a hotel room in New York for a specific duration. They’re ready to make a reservation and are actively searching for available options, prices, and booking platforms to complete the transaction.
  3. Order a large pepperoni pizza for delivery — Shows that the user has transactional intent by placing a specific order. They’re ready to make a purchase and are actively seeking a pizza delivery service to complete the transaction.

In all these examples, the users have a clear intention to engage in a transaction and complete a specific commercial activity, indicating transactional intent.

Local Intent

Local intent refers to the intention of a user to find information, products, or services geographically relevant to their location. These are a few examples:

  1. Observatories shops near me — Indicates local intent by searching for observatories in close proximity to their current location. They’re specifically looking for results that are nearby and easily accessible.
  2. Example: “Plumber in [city name]” Shows local intent by searching for a plumber in a specific city. They’re in need of plumbing services and want to find a professional who operates within their local area.
  3. Example: “Grocery stores open now” Reveals that the user has local intent by searching for grocery stores that are currently open. They’re looking for immediate options within their vicinity to fulfill their grocery needs.

In all these examples, the users are expressing their intention to find information, products, or services that are relevant to their current location. They’re specifically looking for results that are nearby or within a specific geographic area, indicating local intent.

User Intent Descriptors

Intents aren’t always so cut and dry. Different people may use the same search phrase but have different intentions — that’s fractured intent. In other cases, the same phrase may have multiple meanings — that’s ambiguous intent.

Fractured Intent

Marketers often assume that each search phrase has one specific intent associated with it. However, organic results in the SERP often display multiple intents. In cases like this, we say that the intent is fractured. 

In this example, the primary intent is transactional but there are several pages in the top 20 SERP that show either a Know (Informational) or Comparison intent.

Ambiguous Intent

When a search phrase can mean multiple things, the search result will reflect that ambiguity. If we’re going to get hard core about this, intent isn’t the issue. The problem is that the phrase can mean different things to different people. My favorite example is the term “Chicago.”

It can refer to nine different entities:

  • The city
  • Tourism board
  • Band
  • Movie
  • Musical
  • Multiple colleges
  • Newspaper
  • Writing style manual
  • Sports team

That certainly makes for an interesting SERP. And it’s a major challenge for anyone trying to dominate one like this. 

According to MarketMuse’s keyword database, “Chicago” gets a million searches a month. The problem is that they’re all looking for different things — at least nine that we know of. So ranking well for an ambiguous term like this won’t perform as good as expected. 

Ambiguity typically occurs in shorter phrases or what SEOs refer to as head terms. The shorter the phrase, the more room for uncertainty. So check SERP (use MarketMuse SERP X-Ray) before making any decision.

Understanding User Intent

By understanding user intent, you can optimize your website, create compelling and relevant content, and tailor your marketing strategies to align with what users are searching for. Here are some key guidelines I use to help interpreting intent:

  1. Analyze the Search Query — Start by analyzing the search query itself. Look for keywords, phrases, and context clues that indicate the user’s intention. Pay attention to specific words like “buy,” “how to,” “best,” or location-based terms that can provide insights into the user’s intent. Longer and more specific keyword phrases capture the user’s intent with greater accuracy. For instance, instead of targeting the broad keyword “digital cameras,” consider targeting long-tail keywords like “mirrorless digital cameras for travel.” 
  2. Consider their Stage in the Buying Journey — User intent can vary depending on where the searcher is in their buying journey. Are they in the early research phase, comparing options, or ready to make a purchase? Understanding the stage can help you align your content and offerings accordingly.
  3. Examine the Searcher’s Language and Tone: The language and tone used in the search query can reveal the user’s intent. Are they asking a question, seeking information, or looking for a specific product or service? 
  4. Consider the Context: Factors like location, device type, and time of day can influence user intent. For example, a search for “restaurants near me” on a mobile device suggests a local intent for immediate dining options.
  5. Study the Search Engine Results Page (SERP): Use MarketMuse SERP X-Ray to review the SERP for the search query. Look for common patterns in the types of results displayed, such as informational articles, product listings, or local business listings. 
  6. Leverage User Data and Analytics: Google Analytics and other tools provide valuable data on user behavior such as the pages they visit, the time they spend on each page, and the actions they take. Look for patterns and trends that reveal user intent. For example, if a significant number of users quickly exit a page, it may indicate the content doesn’t meet their need.
  7. Continuously Test and Refine: Interpreting user intent is an ongoing process. Continuously test and refine your understanding of user intent based on user feedback, analytics, and market trends. Stay updated with changes in user behavior and adapt your strategies accordingly.

Do this before creating a content brief or writing a single word and you’ll have significantly more success. Now let’s look at how to optimize existing content for user intent.

Optimizing for User Intent

The first step in optimizing content is determining whether the article’s intent matches the primary intent surfaced by Google. Ideally there will be match, but that isn’t always the case.

If my page is directed towards a commmerical intent and Google shows that it’s primarily an informational search, I’ll investigate the top 20 results to determine the degree to which the intent is fractured. It’s one story if all those results are informational intent. But it’s another issue if nine show commercial intent.

What do you do when there’s a signficant intent mismatch? For example, the top 20 results show informational intent but your page is targeting transactional.

In my experience, I’ve found it to very difficult to get Google to consider approach. So I want to make sure everything is in my favor. Even then there are other steps I’ll take to ensure proper alignment:

  1. Update Headings and Subheadings: Ensure that your headings and subheadings accurately reflect the content of each section. Use topics from MarketMuse’s topic model — they address user intent and will guide readers to the information they’re seeking. Clear and descriptive headings improve user experience and make your content more user-intent focused.
  2. Refine Meta Descriptions: Craft compelling meta descriptions that align with user intent. A well-written meta description can influence whether users click on your content in search results. Include relevant keywords and a concise summary of what users can expect.
  3. Improve Readability: Enhance the readability of your content by using shorter sentences, bullet points, and subheadings. Make sure the content flows logically and is easy to understand. By improving readability, you can better cater to a wider audience and capture their attention.
  4. Add Internal Links: Incorporate internal links within your content to guide users to related pages or resources on your website. Internal linking also improves user experience and encourages users to stay longer on your site. Plus, it’s a great way to funnel internal page rank.
  5. Optimize Call to Actions (CTAs): Make sure CTA’s clear, relevant, compelling, and align with user intent. Whether you want users to download a resource, sign up for a newsletter, or make a purchase, adjusting your CTAs based on user intent can lead to higher engagement and conversion rates.
  6. Conduct User Surveys: Engage with your audience through surveys or feedback forms. Ask direct questions about the information they’re seeking and any gaps they perceive in your existing content. Incorporate this feedback to align your content more closely with user intent.

In many cases, this may be enough. But if you want to go the extra mile, focus on conversions. Regardless of the intent of the searcher, there’s always a possibility for conversion — even if that’s just signing up to get more information.

Driving Conversions with User Intent

Driving conversions is all about getting in the mind of your target audience — why they’re here and what they’re looking for. That’s what intent is all about. Improving conversion rates is much easier once you understand that. Here’s what you should consider.

Map User Intent to the Different Stages of the Buyer’s Journey

Let’s consider a scenario where a user is interested in purchasing a new smartphone. Here’s what I think about when mapping user intent:

  1. Awareness Stage (Informational Intent) — Someone may have a general interest in smartphones but isn’t yet committed to buying. Their intent is primarily informational. Satisfy this intent through blog posts or videos highlighting the latest features and trends. Offer tips for choosing the right smartphone. Help your audience become more aware of their options.
  2. Consideration Stage (Commercial/Comparisons Intent) — A consumer has narrowed down their options and is actively comparing different smartphone models. They’re more focused on evaluating and considering specific products. To address this intent, create in-depth product reviews, feature comparisons, and user testimonials. Content like this helps users make informed decisions.
  3. Decision-Making Stage (Transactional) — Searchers show a clear intent to make a purchase. They’re looking for the best deal or most convenient way to buy the chosen smartphone. Help prospects take the final step towards making a purchase. Provide promotional offers, discounts, and links to reputable online retailers or local stores where the smartphone is available. 

As this example shows, mapping user intent to the buyer journey ensures visitors get the most relevant information. This increases engagement and improves the chance of conversion.

Create Targeted Landing Pages to Align with Transactional Intent

Imagine a scenario where a consumer is searching for “buy running shoes online.” In this case, the user’s intent is transactional, indicating that they’re ready to make a purchase. To align with this intent and increase the chances of conversion, you need a targeted landing page specifically for buying running shoes online.

Here are some ways I use to optimize a landing page:

  1. Relevant and Targeted Content — Provide clear and concise information about the running shoes available for purchase. The page should highlight key features, benefits, and any special offers or discounts. 
  2. Seamless User Experience — Fast loading times, easy navigation, and mobile responsiveness. Visitors should be able to quickly find the desired running shoes and access additional information, such as size charts, customer reviews, and shipping options. 
  3. Persuasive Call-to-Action (CTA) Buttons — Buttons like “Buy Now,” “Add to Cart,” or “Shop Now” need to be visually appealing and strategically placed. 
  4. Trust Signals and Social Proof — Instill confidence by showcasing customer testimonials, ratings, and reviews. Display trust badges, secure payment options, and guarantees to further establish trust.
  5. Personalization and Customization: Offer personalized recommendations based on the user’s preferences or previous interactions. Use data from previous visits or provide a questionnaire to gather information about the user’s specific needs. 

Other tasks to consider, that are beyond the scope of this article include data analysis, A/B testing, and continuous iteration.

Take Away

User intent is a powerful concept for creating content that resonates with your target audience, provides a seamless user experience, and increases the chances of conversion. From mapping user intent to the different stages of the buyer’s journey to creating targeted landing pages, there are various strategies you can employ to optimize for user intent.

Continuously analyze user data, test and refine your approach, and stay current with market trends to ensure your content remains relevant and effective. By prioritizing user intent, you can drive better results, improve user satisfaction, and achieve your marketing goals.

What you should do now

When you’re ready… here are 3 ways we can help you publish better content, faster:

  1. Book time with MarketMuse Schedule a live demo with one of our strategists to see how MarketMuse can help your team reach their content goals.
  2. If you’d like to learn how to create better content faster, visit our blog. It’s full of resources to help scale content.
  3. If you know another marketer who’d enjoy reading this page, share it with them via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.

Stephen leads the content strategy blog for MarketMuse, an AI-powered Content Intelligence and Strategy Platform. You can connect with him on social or his personal blog.