Beyond the 4 Types of Search Intent: Think Outside the Boxes

Improve organic traffic with search intent optimization. Learn why the traditional four types are limiting and why you should move beyond box-thinking.

Written by
SEO.AI's Content Team
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April 24, 2024

Understanding search intent is the cornerstone of successful keyword optimization and can significantly boost organic traffic. Traditionally, search intent has been categorized into four types: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial investigation.

However, what if I told you that there are not just four types, but millions of search intents?

Search intent refers to the underlying motive or purpose behind a user's search query. It goes beyond the words typed into a search engine, delving into the user's intention and what they hope to achieve by conducting a particular search.

By understanding search intent, SEO marketers can create content that aligns with user expectations, resulting in higher rankings and increased organic traffic.

The four types of search intent are supposed to help us by providing a direction for a given piece of content. The problem is that the traditional four types are an oversimplification of reality, and as such, they rarely offer any actual direction.

As Torbjørn Flensted, founder of puts it:

"The four common types of intent are so broad and all-encompassing that they have little to do with reality. They are not specific enough to use as any kind of guide for your content. In reality, there aren't four types; there are millions, and you need a complex understanding of intent to avoid creating generic content."

So, in this blog post, we'll go through why search intent is important, what the four common types are, and also dive into why it's problematic to lean too heavily on them.

Strap in - This is going to get nerdy!

Why is Search Intent Important for SEO?

At its core, search intent is the 'why' behind every search query. It is the underlying purpose that drives a user to type or voice out a search command.

Understanding search intent is crucial for SEO marketers because it allows them to align their content with what users are looking for. By optimizing for the different types of search intent, marketers can improve their organic rankings and attract more relevant traffic to their website.

Also, with advancements in AI, search engines are becoming increasingly adept at understanding and predicting this intent.

Read more: Impact of Generative AI on SEO: An uncomfortable truth

So let's take a look at what you can achieve with your content by understanding search intent.

At Search Engine Land Cory Morris was suddenly all over X (Twitter) with his take on Search Intent.

Tailoring Content to Meet User Needs

Understanding the intent behind searches, enables us to craft content that directly answers the searcher's question. Specialized knowledge isn't just a luxury anymore; it's a necessity. By tailoring content, we ensure that the user doesn't merely skim but engages and absorbs.

The Enhanced User Experience Is Non-Negotiable

A satisfied user is one who finds precisely what they're looking for without unnecessary hurdles. Catering to search intent means streamlining the user journey on a website. No more aimless navigation; just direct, relevant solutions.

Improved SEO and Organic Rankings

While AI plays a significant role in enhancing SERPs, understanding and aligning with search intent improves a website's SEO. When content matches intent, search engines take note.

The result? Higher organic rankings, a badge of authority and expertise in today's digital age.

Conversion: The Proverbial Golden Goose

At the end of the day, most websites have one goal: conversion. Whether it's a purchase, a sign-up, or another form of user action, aligning content with user intent significantly boosts conversion rates.

After all, when we provide users with exactly what they are looking for, they're more likely to take the desired action, and understanding search intent is vital to striking that cord just right.

Search Intent Matters More Now Than Ever

With technological advancements, the future promises even more refined search algorithms, further emphasizing intent over isolated keywords.

Google puts a more significant emphasis on intent than ever. Indeed, intent seems to be key to featuring in the AI-generated search results in both Bing and Google Search Generative Experience.

As we stand on this brink of change, understanding search intent isn't just 'good-to-have'; it's the backbone of a future-proof SEO strategy.

What are the 4 common types of search intent?

The idea behind the different types of search intent is that understanding them can help SEO marketers optimize their content to better meet users' needs and boost organic traffic.

The commonly used types are:

Search Intent Description & Examples
Informational Intent Users seek knowledge or answers.
Examples: "how to bake a cake", "capital of France."
Navigational Intent Searchers aim to visit a specific site.
Examples: "Facebook login", "OpenAI blog."
Transactional Intent Users intend to buy or act.
Examples: "order iPhone 13", "book flights to Tokyo."
Commercial Investigation Users compare options for future purchases.
Examples: "best DSLR cameras 2023", "top running shoes."

As you can see, they are quite broad, but we'll dive into each one below to clarify the meaning and provide a short guide to how you can use them.

1. Informational Intent:

Informational intent is when a user seeks information or answers to their questions. These queries typically start with words like "how," "what," "why," or "where."

For example, a user searching for "how to tie a tie" is looking for step-by-step instructions on tying a tie.

To target informational intent, create content that provides valuable information, such as tutorials, guides, or informative blog posts.

2. Navigational Intent:

Navigational intent occurs when a user is looking for a specific website or web page. These searches often include brand or domain names.

For instance, a user searching for "Facebook login" intends to find the login page for the social media platform.

Example from Cyrus Shepard on X (Twitter) of how to evaluate your site on search intent.

To optimize for navigational intent, ensure your website or web page is easily accessible, and consider targeting keywords related to your brand or domain.

3. Transactional Intent:

Transactional intent signifies that a user is ready to make a purchase or engage in a specific transaction. These queries often include terms like "buy," "order," or "coupon."

As an example, a user searching for "buy iPhone 12" is likely interested in purchasing the latest iPhone model.

Listen to the SEO Report-Podcast: Can AI-generated Content Rank on Google?

To optimize for transactional intent, focus on creating product pages, offering promotions or discounts, and providing clear calls to action.

4. Commercial Investigative Intent:

Commercial investigative intent occurs when a user is in the research phase of a purchase and is comparing different products or services. These queries often include terms like "best," "top," or "reviews."

For instance, a user searching for "best running shoes" is looking for recommendations and reviews to help them make an informed decision.

To target commercial investigative intent, create content that compares and reviews different products or services, highlight the features and benefits, and provide helpful insights.

Tip: If you want to find the search intent for all your keywords, you can use our free keyword intent checker.

People's Complex Intent Goes Beyond Four Categories

While the four intent categories can provide a helpful framework, it is important to recognize that people's intent is much more complex and diverse than can be contained within these four boxes.

So, let's explore the limitations of these common intent types and discuss how users' true intent often goes beyond these simplified categories.

The Intent Types are Too General

First of all, the four common intent types provide a generalized overview. As such they barely scratch the surface of the multifaceted nature of human inquiry.

Just as we don't fit people's personalities into four categories, why would we assume that the entirety of human curiosity, need, or intent can be distilled into such a limited scope?

We are inherently complex beings, driven by an array of emotions, needs, desires, and circumstances. Each search is a reflection of a unique moment, context, or quest for knowledge.

SEO expert and SEO Frontrunner Lily Ray created this expanded list of intents for MozCon 2023

The idea of "informational" intent could range from someone seeking an in-depth scholarly article on quantum physics to a quick fact-check on a historical event. Grouping both these searches under the same intent fails to capture the essence and depth of each user's need.

The Intent Types Create a Straitjacket for Content Creators

For content creators, the four-fold categorization becomes more restrictive than instructive. Aiming to address "transactional" intent? That could mean a user wanting to purchase a specific product, book an experience, or even make a charitable donation.

Without a nuanced understanding, creators risk crafting content that is generic and lacks precision.

Furthermore, if content is designed based on these broad categories, it might fail to resonate with users who don't fit neatly into these boxes. We run the risk of marginalizing or entirely missing out on addressing the specific needs of diverse user segments.

While it's unrealistic to design content for every single unique intent, it's crucial to move beyond the confines of the traditional quartet.

Advances in data analytics, machine learning, and user behavior patterns offer a more granular understanding of intent. Leveraging these tools, content creators can identify clusters of similar intents or emerging patterns, leading to content that's more aligned with real-world user needs.

Beyond the 4 Types of Search Intent: Think Outside the Boxes

This is an article written by:

The Content Team is comprised of several SEO.AI staff members, augmented by AI. We share a deep passion for all things AI, with a particular emphasis on SEO-related topics