How to Classify Search Intent

Search intent becomes a dominant factor in multiple types of search results.

Google's search results have changed in recent years. Beyond search volume, you should strive for a clear understanding of search intent. This is key for a successful content marketing strategy. Google has dramatically improved its ability to produce search results that meet user expectations without relying solely on traditional factors like links, meta titles, etc.

It has also been shown that Google only uses meta titles and meta descriptions a third of the time. Search intent then becomes a dominant factor in multiple types of search results.

The big problem with SEO is that current methods used to classify search intentions are often lacking. SEO tools are not always able to give clues about the intentions behind the detected keywords.

Previous models for understanding search intent

The Navigation, Information, Transaction model

There are several search intent classification models. When people ask "what are the 3 common types of search intent", I know they are most likely referring to the first classification of search queries: "navigational", "informational" or "transactional". This methodology dates back to the article “A Taxonomy of Web Search” by Andrei Broder of Altavista, published in 2002. This model considers informational search, navigational search and commercial intent as different categories that must be satisfied. 

The “See, Think, Do” and “Know, Go, Do & Buy” models from Google

Fast forward in the early 2010s and Google began to refer to its own variation in the classification of the different types of search intent by speaking of "micro-moments.” These micro-moments are defined as Know, Go, Do, & Buy. These basically cover the same categories as Andrei Broder's previous model.

It's great for newbies, but it's not best for content creators and marketing strategists.

Unfortunately, I think the systems that currently exist are good at explaining research intent in hypothetical terms. However, when you try to apply them to keyword research and teach creators and writers how to factor them into their content, their usefulness is reduced.

Moreover, this keyword classification framework does not take into account the overlap of intentions. Most of the time, we categorize a keyword without checking the results in Google to validate the true category this keyword should be placed in. An SEO strategist looks at keywords in the hundreds or thousands and fills in a column with Transactional, Informational, or Navigation. In short, the keyword classification process must evolve. That's for sure.

Another Approach to Classifying Search Intent Today

So how do you measure search intent more usefully and reliably? I think it's more helpful to rank search intent in a way that closely aligns with the characteristics of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). Writing content with search intent in mind leads to high-quality content that ranks because it takes into account the type of content that should be produced along with what it should contain. Here are different elements you should consider when building content: 

1. Search Intent

These are usually search phrases that generate results like Wikipedia pages, definition boxes, examples of academic work, blog or feature articles, and other SERP features that suggest to users answers to or ideas on a topic that they are looking for.

2. Question / Answer Intent

Slightly different from search intent, there are a number of searches where users generally don't care about clicking on a result. They want a quick response.

Good examples are definition boxes, answer boxes, calculation boxes, sports scores, etc. Some examples to keep in mind:

  • Queries about the weather - the user wants a clear answer
  • Loan Calculator
  • Sports results
  • Conversion units
  • Translations

3. Transactional query

Potential customers looking to buy products or to research those products. These are easy to spot, as Google tends to be aggressive with this type of intent. Multiple prominent ecommerce products or category pages (next to purchase results) and highly rated product snippets are good indicators of transactional intent.

4. Local Intent

Dominated by a combination of local packs and geographic markers, this type of intent is truly geolocated. The location of maps and information panels to the right (knowledge graph) is a good indicator that we are looking at a location-specific query. If a Google Maps map comes out first in the results, it's a very strong local intent indicator. 

"TikTok has been getting lots of buzz among younger generations. It is even being used as a search or local search engine to find restaurants and things like that." Cindy Krum for MajesticSEO.

5. Visual Intent

Many SERPs have image packs in the top 100 results by default. If you see Pinterest in search results or a pack with only images, it means that Google understood people seek visual information for these types of queries. Users do tend to want multimodal multimedia experiences. Users want images, videos, diagrams, quick tips, etc.

6. Video Intent

As we look at more and more search results, it becomes clear that video is a separate type of user intent. Video carousels are commonplace. Google has invested in video content shown for informational intent (tutorials, recipes, etc.). These video carousels are the most common indicator of video intent that we see. Another very strong indicator of video intent is video thumbnails.

7. Intention to keep abreast of current affairs

Top Stories boxes, recent tweets, and the heavy use of recent dates in the past few days / weeks / months in organic results are all signals which imply that Google sees something as viral.

Featured links in search results are a clear sign that users are looking for news and current affairs. Recent tweets are another type of result typically triggered by keywords classified in this category.

8. Brand Intent

Brand intent queries tend to be dominated by brand home page results with site links (related site links displayed below the main result).

Reliablesoft query results on the search engine

Another option is the grouping of results from the same domain.

Gymshark results on search engine

Links to important sites are good indicators of brand intent. Multiple blue links for the same term clearly indicate brand intent.

9. Fragmented Intent

When we see signs that there are more than one type of query intent, it means “fragmented intent” for Google.

These ambiguous queries are often difficult to categorize. It is more difficult to position yourself on this type of request, because too many elements are offered to the user by Google.

The goal for the search engine is to offer the minimum to satisfy each potential intention. This doesn't leave much room for performance, as this type of query can have elements of all of the other types listed above.

To find out more, we advise you to read the article by Kevin Indig on this subject, or the excellent There's A Better Way To Classify Search Intent.

In conclusion, Google's search is now more effortlessly attuned to users' needs. Search intent becomes a dominant factor in multiple types of search results. Embrace this more human-first approach to create content that ranks well.

So how do you go the extra mile to have intent-driven keywords?

You should treat keywords are topic markers. When looking for new keywords, don't rely on a single keyword research tool. You should explore Google Autocomplete, YouTube, Exploding Topics, and many more. 

You should also contextualize search volume. It is not your main indicator of a strong search intent. Many SEO tools are busy catching up to search engines and search engines are busy catching up to humans. Google has made it very clear: it faces at least 15% of new searches regularly. 

To know more about this topic, check out MajesticSEO's interview of Olga Zarzeczna

How do you go the extra mile when it comes to creating useful content?

The best way to generate sustainable organic traffic is to make sure that your content is relevant and up-to-date. Successful content strategies aren't hyper focused on stuffing content with target keywords. Search engine optimization is the art of making sure your content gets crawled, indexed and ranked. You won't be able to rank if your content doesn't satisfy the identified user intent. More and more pages get dropped from Google's index every day. Google will consider if a reader is likely to leave your site to seek more information elsewhere. You need to make sure your content is valuable and doesn't leave people wanting. 

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