Search engine optimization has come a long way from keyword stuffing and HTML tags. Today it accounts not only for the information users are looking for, but how they look for it. This is where customer and user intent comes into play.


When searching for information on the internet, we want to find what we’re looking for in the first search. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. If someone is looking for science-based fitness information, they may use keywords like “diet,” “medical,” or “healthy.” But if these topics aren’t included in the SEO on the webpage, searchers are unlikely to find them. Customer intent looks beyond the keywords, to why and how we are searching.

What is User Intent and How Does it Affect SEO?

User intent is how people search for information rather than the information they’re looking for. The technology we use has advanced and adapted to our habits through elements such as auto-correct and talk-to-text. The data we input is now being used to determine what we’re looking for when we aren’t quite sure how to phrase it. This has forced SEO to change in response to less focused searches, based on intended meaning and natural speech patterns.


As the most used search engine in the world, Google tries to find and present users with the most relevant information for their searches. One of the most relevant ranking factors for a page’s SEO and content is how well it addresses the searcher’s intent. Rather than searching for exact keyword matches, Google now looks at the need that users are looking to meet when they execute a search.


Google ranks the results by the extent to which the content fulfills the need of a customer. This type of evaluation looks not only at the keywords used but at the content of the website, including its useability. As a result, understanding user intent will change not only SEO practices but website design.

How Do You Test for Customer Intent?

Knowing how intent affects SEO is only the first step in evaluating your website. Designing an experience that drives traffic and converts browsers to customers requires understanding what is helping and hindering users to find your site. A Search Engine Findability User Study (SEFUS) is one of the best tools to evaluate how your website lines up against the competition. This is like user experience testing but focuses on how users get to your website, rather than their experience navigating it.


SEFUS testing sets a task for the test participant — such as finding information on exercises to do without a gym — and records how they execute it. To understand how users select keywords, an audio recording of the tester narrating their thought process as they complete the task is included in the results. This provides insight into the intent and decision-making process when selecting keywords. Other forms of testing allow you to see which keywords help customers find you. SEFUS testing lets you see the keywords that don’t show your website but are related to your content. You can also find related keywords that show your competitors instead.

The 4 Search Categories

There are four categories that searches fall into:


  • Informational — Informational searches look for an answer to a specific question or about a topic. Users are focused on educating themselves.
  • Navigational — These searches look for a specific site to evaluate the company for a specific purpose. Users are researching more deeply into a topic or product that they have already identified sources for.
  • Transactional — Searches focused on purchasing and the intent to buy are considered transactional. Transactional searches focus on an immediate purchase.
  • Commercial Investigation — These searches are similar to navigational searches, but vary in scope. In commercial investigation searches, users focus on finding and comparing resources. This is preparation for a future buy, but they are not yet looking deeply into any one website.


Understanding the search process that is bringing users to your site is the first step. Once you have this information, you can base changes to your SEO and design around improving these results. But how do you put this data to work?

How Do You Design for User Intent?

Designing an SEO-friendly website is now tied to building a simple, easy-to-use website. Having too many pages can hurt your SEO standing. Extra pages create a complex structure which lowers interaction. Similarly, keyword stuffing can lower your SEO ranking. Customers should be able to find the information they are looking for in under three clicks. To do this, you need to design each of your pages to be simple, optimized, and focused.

Easy Navigation

Elements like consistent headers and navigation bars not only make the page easier for customers to use, build even better SEO. Utilizing accurate, SEO-focused headings will rank higher in Google’s increasingly intent-focused SEO evaluations. HTML tags also improve SEO by providing vital backend information about elements.

Using Tags

Using tags to define metadata, section headings, and topic tags all establish vital information about content, focus, and intent. By making these elements clear and easily defined, Google can index the pages and present them to users based on intent. Calls to Action (CTA) and linking to relevant sources is another way to enhance user experience and SEO.

Calls to Action

CTAs may be an invitation to sign up for newsletters, take part in a special offer, or a link to a specific product. CTAs help enhance your conversion rate and increase conversions. They can also raise your SEO score by indicating that users who have searched for your website are having their intent satisfied. CTAs can be put at the front of your website interaction, as well as after a customer purchase or sign up is completed. Both of these indicate that the website has satisfied the intent associated with the user’s search.

Relevant Links

Linking out from a page of your website enhances SEO and helps to satisfy user intent. As you develop content that is well-researched, error-free, and informative, make sure to create focused content as well. Ensure the website that you are linking out to relates directly to your company’s focus or a specific product. Investigating the intent of consumers who find your website will help you focus your marketing initiatives.

What Does This Mean for Your SEO?

SEO is shifting focus from keywords to the intent, method, and purpose of any given search. Take advantage of SEFUS testing to understand what brings users to your site, and the route that brings them. Evaluating user intent to build a website that will retain more customers and build brand recognition.

Luke Smith

Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but technology and digital marketing topics are his favorite. When he isn't writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.

1 Comment

SEO Smoothie · March 8, 2021 at 11:43 pm

I would say that the “Commercial Investigation” search is more similar to “Informational” than to “Transactional” because the client is still too far from the immediate purchase.
The truth is that it is difficult to decide what exactly the intention is and more when the client uses short keywords.
Imagine someone just typed “SEO”. What is the intention?
This example actually reminds me of a possible situation where the person knows exactly what they want, but due to lack of specific terminology, they cannot express it in the correct way …
Referring to specific layout based on user intent, we should see that difference in Product vs Blog post pages, for example…
Something else, I’m a bit surprised that I couldn’t see a link pointing to some service.
Nice reading anyway.

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