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SEO Basics: What You Need to Know About User Intent

February 14, 2023
Paul Gordon

Woman searching internet on laptop

Why does user intent matter? The bottom line is that If you match a user's intent, Google will reward you with a better ranking and more visitors. 

Read on to discover what you need to know about user intent regarding search, the content you produce and how search engines are programmed to understand it. 

Man exploring analytics on tablet

The basics of user intent

In days gone by, Google depended only on plain text and backlinks for a monthly update of its index for rankings.

These days, Google has changed dramatically. It's now become a sophisticated tool that uses various algorithms to select the best pages and content to meet the user's needs. 

After all, Google's most important job is to keep users happy. The more happy users they have, the more Google searches there are and more revenue from ads. As it evolves, Google is getting better at understanding intent, therefore serving up more relevant search results and better overall results.

In this post, we're going to get down and dirty in the world of SEO's rankings, traffic, search numbers and conversions. 

SEO marketing concept

Google and SEO professionals measure results 

As you know, the clients of the SEO professional are looking for a better position in the search rankings, so they get more traffic, leading to increased sales and opportunities. 

When selecting target keywords, it's easy to focus on which words have the highest search volumes, but it's essential to focus on the search's intent. 

There's an inclination to discount any word that doesn't have much search count, but if the intent is spot on, it's a mistake to overlook those words.

It's vital to match the user intent, or they won't click as it will not fit their needs. 

Let's look closer at search intent, how it relates to the content, what we experience and how search engines determine user intent based on a simple query input. 

Businessman searching the internet on laptop

Intent and the Thinking Behind it

Search intent can typically be divided into two different goals. The first is that the user wants to find information aligned with the keyword used, and the other is that the searcher wants to know more about a particular topic. There's also something to consider: the searcher may be thorough, exhaustive, or both. 

Some users will search very narrowly and won't go beyond, whereas an exhaustive searcher may have a broader scope around the topic or topics. 

Search engines now have tools to learn more about search intent. They have set up systems such as Hummingbird by Google.

Google search engine

Google & Search Intent

Many studies have been undertaken to understand more about what users are looking for. The results that Google displays are a reflection of this. 

An example is when a user searches for Matalan; they are likely to be searching for their local Matalan store rather than the headquarters in Liverpool. 

You can learn more about User Intent and the best way to use them in this document –Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines

In these guidelines, you can view examples of how websites meet user intent. 

The Search Quality Rating Guidelines echo this. The guidelines give examples of how to apply the ratings on pieces of content. 

Categories such as FullyM (Fully Meets) to FailsM (Fails to Meet) and flags on content that contains anything that is offensive/upsetting, not loading, foreign language or indecent help to label sites. 

To get a full understanding, look for the section in 13.2.2 where there are examples of where queries are not returning content that can fully meet. These queries are typically very ambiguous without clear user intent.

How about when there are multiple meanings to a search?

There are also search requests with more than one meaning – for example, the word Apple may be referring to the fruit or brand. 

Google handles this by giving it a classification of its interpretation. For example, these are divided into the three following classes: 

Woman searching the internet on laptop

When there are dominant interpretations

This is what most people use as the interpretation for a query. Google's search raters are told that the dominant performance should be evident. 

General or common interpretations

An example of a query with a range of interpretations may be 'Mars' which may mean the planet or the chocolate bar. 

In this example, Google produces results to meet all interpretations and intent. 

Minor Interpretations

There may also be queries with less common interpretations, which may be locale-dependent.

Person typing a search query into keyboard

Do – Know – Go

There is also a concept in use where search queries are put into three different categories: 

  • Do
  • Know
  • Go

Woman online shopping on mobile phone

Do (Transactional Queries)

The 'do' query is typically used when users want to take action, such as buying a service or a product. ECommerce websites need to be involved with these types of queries. 

The smartphone is often used for queries when people are out and about and want rapid access to information.

How about on devices and mobile searches? 

It was in May 2015 when mobile search overtook desktop search. A study in 2017 stated that mobile traffic and tablet devices sent 57% of traffic. 

Google has responded to this by instigating two mobile-friendly updates and a mobile-first index. Now that most of us have a mobile phone with an internet package, many more searches are based on real-time. In effect, mobile has changed how we interact with the internet. 

Many countries access the internet via mobile phone on a more than 60% basis, such as Brazil, UK, USA, Canada, China and India. 

Informational search on laptop

Know (Informational Queries)

A query that would be classified as 'Know' is when a user wants to learn more about a topic. For example, they may want to know about a train or bus schedule time or even the price of a stock. 

Google refers to this as micro-moments. A moment in time when they want to get an answer to a query. Many queries of the 'know' category may be about asking how old Johnny Depp is to more complex questions. However, they are typically informational in intent. 

The 'Know' query isn't typically related to transactions or selling. However, if you have an e-commerce site that provides answers, they may also look at what you're offering for sale on that same topic. 

What you should know about snippets 

Another massive part of SEO is the rich snippets and featured snippets that appear in an SCRB area that can drive large amounts of traffic to your website. Featured snippets are twice as likely to be clicked on than the top-ranking results.

Google map search

Go (Navigational Queries)

When users type in "Go" queries, they typically want a website or a location.

There's a difference between the intent and the journey of the user

The customer journey is vital when planning content, websites and marketing campaigns. A person must be mapped out, and how they will likely use your website is vital to understand. They will be at different points of their journey. 

Quite often, a user will join a website on the landing page, go to the home page, a product page, and then a form. 

We need to accept that most users know what they want to do. 

Woman searching internet on phone

What happens when intent changes?

There are times when the user intent can change rapidly, such as when the Dyn DDoS attack in 2016. Press coverage went mainstream, and search results were quickly modified to meet users' needs for information about how a DDoS attack works. 

Machine learning can change the classification of intent 

If Google discovers a lot of content produced through marketing, then that intent may also change. Machine learning working alongside algorithms can change search result pages. 

How to Satisfy User Intent

The best thing for anybody interested in meeting user intent is to do a Google search on your keywords. Look at the ads, organic results, and related searches. 

Homework like this will help you understand who is searching, their problem, and what type of content is ranking. 

Woman searching laptop at home

What is user satisfaction?

The answer to this question is any content that satisfies user intent. It should be comprehensive, valuable and exciting content. Google looks at how a reader interacts with your page regarding how well you rank. These days content is everything. 

Why does satisfaction matter? 

Google measures how a reader uses your page and interacts with it. After all, user experience is vital, and if users aren't satisfied with the returned pages, Google will drop you in the rankings. 

So how do you meet user satisfaction? You produce epic, long-form content that is well-formatted. It needs to provide an enjoyable reading experience, including ads, pop-ups, etc., copywriting needs to be engaging, and there should be reasons why your reader wants to stay on the page – think embedded videos, surveys, FAQs, etc.


In summary, producing content that matches people's desires is essential. When people want information, then give it to them. Ensure you're the first on the search results page for your brand name, and then guide them to your sales page when they are ready to buy. 

If you need help with your SEO or your content, get in touch for a no obligation chat about how Paul Gordon can help you.

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