« Back to Glossary Index
Reading Time: 5 minutes -

Search Intent: What do users really want to find when browsing Google?

What is Search Intent? A definition

You would be forgiven for assuming that search intent has a simple definition. To make matters worse, different but similar names are used to mean the same thing, e.g.

User Intent, Keyword Intent and Query Intent

What is the difference between Search Intent and User Intent?

Search intent and user intent essentially mean the same thing.

When a user asks a question while browsing Google, they want an answer, keeping things as plain as possible.

In reality, as with so many matters concerning SEO, things are slightly more complicated. To flourish in the world of SEO, your site will need to marry search intent with keyword research (more on this here).

Of all Google’s many and varied algorithm updates over recent years, 2015’s RankBrain has been one of the most prominent.

RankBrain started to grade – and rank – websites based on their ability to meet user intent.

By this, we mean that a website was promoted correctly in search results where it accurately answered a user’s query. This took precedent over other factors that were previously assumed to be most significant.

This has taken on a new dimension since the arrival of the E-A-T algorithm. Now, Google is placing more and more emphasis on the user’s intent as well as the publisher’s Expertise, Authority and Trustworthiness.

This means that what the user is really looking to achieve by clicking on a link is being taken into greater consideration. Simply matching content to keywords in a search term is no longer sufficient on its own.

What is a user really looking for when they search?

Assume that a user is browsing Google and enters the term, “how do I bake a loaf of bread in my oven?”

Browsing google with search intent

Browsing Google is rarely a passive experience – most users have a specific search in mind

This suggests the user wishes to bake bread at home and are looking for instructions as to how to do so.

Now, look at the table below to see how two different websites may tackle this query.

Website A Website B
100-word introduction, using essential keywords 500-word introduction that discusses the author’s favourite breads, how their spouse is allergic to poppy seeds, and reminiscing about the first time they baked bread
Heading – Ingredients Required to Bake Bread in Your Oven

A bulleted list of ingredients the user will need

Heading – Different Types of Bread

Descriptions of the endless different types of bread that can be baked in an oven

Heading – How to Bake Bread in an Oven

Bulleted instructions on the process, broken up with images

Heading – Is it Easy to Bake Bread in an Oven?

Discussion about the common pitfalls associated with this task

100-word conclusion that once again uses essential keywords relating to the search intent Heading – Does Oven-Baked Bread Taste Better Than Shop-Bought?

Discussion about baking your own bread versus purchasing from a supermarket

Heading – How to Bake Bread in an Oven

Bulleted instructions on the process, broken up with images

300-word conclusion discussing how delicious the loaf bread the author made tasted, and how it was sold at a church bake sale


Which site do you think best matches the user intent in this scenario?

It’s most likely that Website A will rank higher and achieve greater SEO results. This is because it matches the user’s expectation in terms of search intent by staying relevant and answering the question clearly and concisely. This ensures that the user will leave the site having achieved their aim. The user wanted to know how to bake a loaf of bread in their home oven. No more, no less.

Website A provides an answer this question using relevant keywords to attract attention. Website B does the same eventually, but it meanders off-topic first, burying SEO terms amidst thin content1 and failing to satisfy a user’s primary intent. What’s more, the vast expanse of irrelevant content on Website B would make mobile browsing a frustrating experience.

Website A married search intent with SEO by following this simple formula:

  • Understanding what question the user is asking
  • Making it clear that the website can answer this question
  • Demonstrating authority on the subject at hand
  • Providing simple instructions to answer the question

Users are interested in having their needs met quickly and efficiently. Most visitors to a website will lack the patience to wade through hundreds of words of irrelevant content. This will lead to a high bounce rate. As user behaviour is playing an ever more significant role in Google rankings2, a website will be penalised for this.

Why is search intent important to SEO?

We previously discussed Google’s recent E-A-T algorithm update. Your SEO needs to match these criteria to achieve a high ranking3.

Demonstrate e-a-t (expertise, authority and trust)

Users are relying on you to provide expertise, negating the need for hours of painstaking research


Think first about user intent and focus your keyword research around what the user is actually looking for when going to Google. Your user wants a fast and authoritative answer to their query without having to search for it or click through multiple pages. Keeping everything clear and on a single page should help to improve your rankings and chances of being found.

How does this impact your keywords, content and other SEO activities?

When building your keyword research, content and other SEO activities to ensure they meet search intent, you will need you to consider the following questions:

  • What is the user searching for?
  • How can you make it clear that you can resolve the user’s query?
  • What is the most efficient way to meet the user’s needs?
  • How does the user want these needs to be met?
  • How can you best communicate your answer (e.g. using text, images and video)?

Refer back to our example above. Website B still makes use of keywords. Arguably, it uses more keywords than Website A. Unfortunately, these are buried and it goes off on tangents.

Some users, for example, will be looking for a video over written instructions. The same applies to images and infographics – which, lest we forget, can also be used to create high-authority backlinks.

Conclusion: How to improve your SEO by considering Search Intent

It is easy – and often tempting – to find yourself side-tracked when creating content for a website. This must be avoided, so train yourself to think first and foremost about the end-user.

To achieve superior SEO results, ensure that the content of your site matches your visitor’s search intent.

Remember the golden rule of SEO – you must answer your user’s question, as concisely and efficiently as possible. Anything else, even if intended to provide added value, may have the opposite effect.

If you need further assistance in understanding search intent, SEO or building your website’s content around this, get in touch with Opace.

Our expert team are waiting to help.

References and further reading

  1. yoast.com/what-is-thin-content
  2. neilpatel.com/blog/the-advanced-guide-to-user-behavior-data-and-how-it-affects-search-rankings
  3. moz.com/blog/google-e-a-t


Image Credits – www.pexels.com/Pixabay; www.pexels.com/Pixabay


« Back to Glossary Index

Latest Posts