How Search Engines View User Intent through Their Algorithms
Satisfying users’ search intent is Google’s primary goal. Optimizing your website to meet the search intent of online visitors is the long play you need to make. A page that will match well for user intent can outperform those that optimize primarily for search engines — in search and after the click.
How Google Defines Search Intent
Google has been striving to automate the aspect of understanding the search intent of its users. This is essential to returning useful search results. Subsequently, this is also the key to maintaining and growing its search market share.
The search intent can be divided into three big categories of queries:
- Informational — Learn something (e.g. how to bike tire).
- Transactional — Buy something (e.g. buy cycling helm).
- Navigational — Go to a specific location (e.g. cycling events).
Studies in the past have shown that 80% of queries are informational, with the remainder split equally between transactional and navigational.
The resulting effect of satisfying user search intent can be categorized as follows:
- Know: Whenever a user wants to find information on a topic, it is typical of a “know” query.
- Do: The intent of a “Do” query is to achieve a goal or engage in an activity. The goal or activity may be to download, to buy, to be entertained by or to interact with a website.
- Website: This is generally a clear intent of finding a specific website or webpage. Some user might know the brand but don’t know the exact website address.
- Visit-in-person: Some queries clearly ‘ask’ for nearby information or nearby results (e.g. businesses, stores and other nearby places).
Active and Passive Intent
Active intent is explicitly described by the actual search query. However this is not the only intent of the query, as to satisfy users, you need to think of passive intent as well.
Passive intent is implied in the query. In order to identify the passive intent you should ask yourself what the user would search for next. For example, the query “bike trails around Boston” asks explicitly (i.e. active intent) for a list of bike trails. It also implicitly asks (i.e. passive intent) for other information like maps, trail reviews and photos.
Satisfying passive intent is essential for user engagement and conversion. If active intent brings in users at the top of the funnel, passive intent engages and converts them.