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Why Search Intent is Essential for Small Business SEO

Search intent, or user intent is a major part of any SEO strategy. But for small businesses, it can be even more significant - and can help you find the perfect niche to market your business and get ahead of your competitors.

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Person typing on a keyboard  with an overlay of a search bar

What is search intent?

Search intent is also known as user intent or keyword intent, and refers to the purpose of someone's search.

Understanding the purpose of someone's search helps Google give them results that are going to be the most relevant for them. 

So for you, understanding search intent can help you find the perfect target keywords for your website, help you create content that will be useful to your target audience, and stop you from spending time and effort on keywords that actually don't really match you with the right users.


Why is search intent SEO so important for small businesses?

In your keyword research, Intent is one of the 3 pillars of analysis, along with Volume and Difficulty, to help you work out whether this particular term is a good opportunity for you.

But for a small business, or an organisation without a huge budget and team to manage your digital marketing, carefully analysing search intent can be the best way to streamline your efforts and find the best keywords.

That's because you can focus on the terms that perfectly match your area of expertise, providing useful, relevant content that's got a good chance of ranking.

Narrowing your focus to highly relevant keywords, particularly long-tail keywords, gives you the best chance of success without needing to invest lots of time and money. That's why for smaller businesses, user intent is so important to your overall keyword strategy.

So, in this article we'll explain the different types of search query intent, and show you how to:

  • Find the intent behind a keyword search
  • Work out how commercially viable a term might be
  • Create the content that perfectly matches that search intent

Let's get to it!


Different types of search intent

Most SEOs agree that there are 4 types of search intent, but there are other ways that you can categorise and analyse your keywords that might be more helpful. 

We'll explain the most common categorisations, and then show you our own, more in-depth way to analyse intent.

Standard search intent examples

The vast majority of SEO tools will categorise keywords by search intent. They do this in 4 categories, informational, navigational, commercial and transactional.

Informational search intent

Roughly speaking, informational intent refers to searches that are designed to gather general information, such as "when is mother's day", "how to rewire a plug", "Best Picture 1993 Oscars".

Navigational search intent

Navigational searches are where people are looking for a specific website, page or company. For example "bbc news", "unforgiven imdb", "asos".

Commercial search intent

Commercial searches are where someone is looking for information that may lead to a transaction. Commercial terms are often for people in the consideration stage of the sales funnel, where they're trying to determine what they need, or where to get it from.

Commercial searches may include things like "best kettles", "wordpress v custom cms" or "garmin venu 3 reviews". 

This category is a bit of a crossover section between informational and transactional searches, and is often the best target for content marketing strategies. That's because the searcher is likely to be in the consideration phase of the search intent funnel - someone looking for products or services, but who hasn't decided exactly what they need, or where to purchase.

Transactional search intent

Transactional searches are essentially when someone is ready to buy. Any search that includes terms like "buy", "price" or "book" are likely to be transactional. These are the sorts of terms you want to consider using on your selling pages.


Three Cs search intent

The Three Cs of search intent was established by online SEO tool Ahrefs as a way of analysing search intent for content marketing.

This strategy involves searching the term and seeing what Google considers to be the most relevant results. You can then use this information to create your own content that fits these criteria.

The three Cs are:

  • Content type
    Such as product page, infographic, video or blog
  • Content format
    For example, a how-to guide, list article, comparison or review
  • Content angle
    This could specify items from a particular year, products below a certain price or services for a specific industry

You can use the three Cs alongside the standard categories to help dig a little deeper into the search intent of your keywords.


Additional categories for search intent

The standard 4 categories of search intent are pretty broad, and miss a couple of significant elements.

For example, someone in Edinburgh looking for a plumber isn't likely to want results from Evesham, so Local should be a search intent category.

There's also Educational intent. This type of search intent is for people who are looking for courses and training on a particular subject or skill. 

These categories can also be considered highly transactional, or more informational, which is why we prefer to use a more nuanced method of determining search intent. One which includes a broader range of categories, but considers transactionality on a sliding scale.


How to determine search intent

At Edge of the Web, we use a combination of categorisations to establish search intent. This is a bit more complex than the standard 4 categories that most SEOs use, but we find that it's a much better way of determining whether a keyphrase is suitable for your webpage.

Step 1: Search intent categories

Identifying the category for your keyphrase is a good start. This can help you understand the general reason someone is searching.

We recommend categorising using the following definitions:

  • Navigational - is this person looking for a specific website or page?
  • Local - will the results need to be for services close by?
  • Educational - are they looking for guides, tutorials or courses about how to do something themselves?
  • General - this covers everything else!

Most terms are likely to fall into the "General" category, but being able to classify into these areas will help you decide whether the keyword is likely to be a good target for you, and also start to shape the sort of content you may need to rank for it.

Step 2: Commercial intent

While most SEOs use categories for Informational and Transactional intent, with Commercial being sort of a crossover term, we find it's better to think of this as a sliding scale.

A purely informational search would be someone looking for general information on a subject, or the answer to a question.

A purely transactional term would be where someone is literally just looking to purchase a product or service.

But most terms fall somewhere in between, and being able to quantify the commercial intent of the term can be a big help in deciding if it's a good target.

For example, someone searching "when to get a new website" is going to be fairly early on in their decision making process. They're not sure if they even need what we offer, let alone whether we'd be a good choice for them.

But someone searching "wordpress vs custom cms" has clearly decided they need a website, and are now in the process of deciding the details.

We use a scale of 1-4 for commercial intent alongside our categorisation, and these are very similar to what you'd use in a sales funnel.

  1. Information - this person has very low or little interest in purchasing products or services
  2. Awareness - someone with an interest in the subject, that may or may not become commercial
  3. Evaluation - someone who's looking to buy/book/enquire, but is looking at the different options available
  4. Transactional - this the point someone is ready to make a purchase or enquiry

By using this scale in conjunction with the intent categories, we can see whether a searcher is a good match for our service, and also how far along the sales funnel they already are.

Step 3: Google search intent analysis

The next step is to test your analysis by seeing what Google thinks.

Google's entire existence is based on providing searchers the results that are most relevant to them. So if you need more help identifying what the intention is behind a particular search, put it into Google and see what results come up.

Navigational searches often pull up the Knowledge pack, if it's referencing a specific brand or website, or may simply be the answer to the query. Local intent searches will most commonly be presented with the map pack.

If Google thinks a term has a high commercial intent, you may also see product and shopping results.

However if a term is considered more informational, chances are you'll find blog posts and articles.

This is where the "three Cs" can be super helpful, because in order to see if your query is suitable for this strategy, you need to know what people are expecting.

For example, a search for "best kettle" is clearly being used by people who want in-depth reviews of the best kettles for 2024, as almost every result is: 

  • Content type - an article
  • Content format - a list
  • Content angle - for 2024

So, not only do we know the category of search intent, we can also identify the exact type of content that searchers are after - an article that lists the top kettles from this year.

This 3rd step of the process not only helps you clarify whether your categorisation was correct, it can also guide you towards the type of content you need to produce in order to rank for that term.


Search intent in keyword research

When it comes to your keyword research, identifying the search intent - and if possible the desired search content too - means that you can tailor your copy to provide exactly what the searcher is looking for.

But remember, this isn't as strict as transactional terms being the sole focus for product pages, and informational terms requiring blogs.

In fact, sometimes it can be really helpful to use queries with lower transactional intent on your selling pages to help them to rank higher - and to provide better information for your users too.


Getting ahead of the competition with search intent strategy

Now that you understand how significant search intent is, and how to categorise and analyse your keywords, you're ready to start putting together a content strategy to beat your competition.

The extra information you have about the intent behind your keywords can help you identify:

  • If it's a good match for your website
  • How commercially valuable it might be
  • What type of content you need to provide in order to rank for it

This extra level of analysis will prevent you from wasting time and effort creating content that doesn't match the searcher's intent, and help you focus on terms that can really make a difference.

And if you are looking for an agency who can do this in-depth research for you, have a chat with us about our SEO and digital marketing offering!


Hannah Laird

Digital Marketing Manager