The Ultimate Guide to Keyword Intent: What Keywords Tell Your Customers

If there is one thing that keyword research doesn’t, it is to be even more complicated. Yet, that is exactly what it has become in recent years. It isn’t enough to corner a market share in Google searches for a specific key-phrase anymore. There are many other factors to consider, due both to Google’s changing algorithms and the greater number of competing websites… not to mention social media influence on search results, which is pretty intense.

So, what else is holding marketers and business owners back when it comes to keywords these days? Probably the biggest (yet often unknown) mistake is using the wrong kind of keywords to target their customers. Not the wrong keywords themselves, but the wrong category.

You see, what keywords you use really tell your customers a lot about your site. What searches your customers do really tell you about their intentions. How you use this information changes the way your website converts traffic and may be completely undoing all of your efforts if you are failing to learn from that data.

Keywords are not created equal: They can actually talk. Behind every keyword there’s an actual human being typing them in a search box and intending to perform some action. Understanding that human being intent is the key to your organic presence.

The Importance of Targeting Commercial Search Traffic

First, you should know that your search traffic is targeting different types of potential customers. The ones that you want to put your primary focus on are going to be those who are looking for commercial-intent keywords.

A commercial-intent keyword or phrase is one that is aimed at conversion rather than information seeking. The person using it intends to buy a product or a service. They want to be able to find what they are looking for at the end of their search, which is on your website.

Keywords related to this kind of search are those that are actionable, not just informational. They result in high conversions and directly affect your bottom line.

These types of keywords will be direct as far as intent goes, for instance, someone searching for [best product to clean pet stains from carpet] or [product name coupon code] intend to buy.

How About Information Based Searches?

Information keywords are ones that people will look for when they are seeking information specifically. So using the examples above, they will search for something like [how to remove pet stains from carpet]. Notice how there is nothing there indicating a need for a specific product. They don’t want a recommendation for a carpet cleaner. They just want tips that lead them to an answer.

To find them you want to discover the problems that your potential customers are looking to solve and then provide them with the answer by cornering those related key phrases.

A nice way to find more of these informational-intent queries is to research niche questions. Here are a few tools to help:

Answer The Public (Free)

I first came across this tool about six months ago and fell in love. Sure, the irritable looking old man waiting for your question is a bit intimidating but the information is awesome. I also use this one for content marketing ideas, so you could do what I do and kill two birds with one stone if you choose to.

BuzzSumo Question Analyzer (Starts at $79 per month )

Not a purely keyword research tool, BuzzSumo lets you search discussion boards and Q&A databases to retrieve popular questions people discuss in your niche:

Now, you can use these to convert? All you have to do is push them to content that offers them information that they are looking for (answering their need), then provides them with an additional, must-have product or service that you can provide.

Why You Need to Target Both (And How to Do That)

The best method for keyword research is to aim somewhere between the middle of the two above strategies. This is called Transactional intent and it seeks to establish your brand as an authority that people can trust, while converting them into paying customers built on that trust.

One of my personal favorite examples of a brand that does this is Intuit. They have two blogs, one for Quickbooks and one (the better of the two) for Mint. The Mint Blog offers various financial and budgeting articles that are very informative and actionable.

They help users navigate the murky waters of investing, taxes and saving money. But the brand is not surrounding the blog, it is surrounding their various financial services, as provided by Intuit. They use their authority to sell their products and it merges seamlessly.

This is only one example but it is a very good one that shows you how it is possible to combine authority and conversion into one tactic if you use the right content strategy. Which, we all know, informs keyword marketing in a big way.Â

What About People Who Search My Brand Directly?

Another way people may look you up is via direct brand search, also known as navigational-intent queries. This is when someone is already aware of your brand or product and is looking for it via Google. This is – oddly enough – one of the more neglected of the keyword research tactics by many marketers who seem to see this as already locked down. After all, they are already looking for you, right?

But make no mistake, you don’t have the sale, yet. All this means is that the people doing the search are leads, albeit solid ones. They have not yet been converted and so you are not out of the woods. You still need to do whatever you can to attract them to your site to make that final purchase.

This is going to lead to product pages rather than content pages like most other keywords. There is no thought to authority because clearly it has already been established if they are searching your brand or product name.

So what you should be doing is making it as easy as possible to complete their transaction. That means lots of clear links, brand and product keywords, meta descriptions, tags, page images, etc. And double check that the path to your checkout and through to the confirmation are clear. No one wants to be foiled by last-minute errors.

You may also want to establish some deal site collaborations based on these keywords, such as coupon codes or special offers for first time customers. Think of sites and apps like RetailMeNot and CouponSherpa. They will give customers that additional little push they need.

The important factor behind navigational-intent queries is that they can influence your buyers’ perception of the brand even prior to them hitting “Search”. That is because Google will show those queries while they are typing your brand name in the search box:

That is why it’s so important to monitor those navigational queries and optimize for all of them. Try this free tool to see what gets suggested when users search for your brand:

How to Identify Keyword Intent?

Apart from your best judgment, use Google itself to get some ideas as to what people may be interested in when using your important keywords. Google’s search elements signal of different types of intent we discussed above:


Google’s search element
Which search intent it reflect
Related products “Shop for”
Commercial intent
“People also ask”
Informational intent
Knowledge graph
Navigational intent
Google images
Informational intent
Commercial intent

A good mix of the above elements signal of transactional intent.

There are tools that help you see those search elements without actually searching and even filter by a certain type or certain types. Ahrefs is a good example of one such tool:

More Helpful Tools For Keyword Research

Now you know what kind of keyword research you should be aiming for. Now how do you make the process easier? With keyword research tools, obviously. Every one of these on the list are tried and true tools that have become the highly sung heroes of the marketing world. Some of them you definitely know, some you might not.

  1. Google Keyword Planner – Yes, it is obvious but I will never not put Google Keyword Planner on a list of research tools. After all, it’s developed by Google itself. Plus, it is free. It deserves the top spot.
  2. Search Console – You may not have used Google’s Search Console before, but think of it as a way of further narrowing and perfecting the list you got from Keyword Planner. I personally use it as much as I do Google’s other keyword resources, maybe even more than Keyword Planner since I am focusing my scope by that point.
  3. SEMrush -  This is the darling of experts everywhere and it doesn’t matter who in the marketing world you ask, they will probably make SEMrush one of their primary recommendations. My only problem with them is their pricing, which is a bit steep (starting at $99 for their Pro account). But if you have the budget there is no denying the results this one brings to the table.
  4. Longtail Pro – This one is being recommended a lot lately and I haven’t personally done more than a couple of searches on someone else’s account but I will admit it was pretty cool. One of their primary features is checking the profitability of certain keywords, not just how hard it is to target it (though you can see that, too), which is pretty nifty.


Keyword research is a pain but there is no denying that it is effective and necessary. What you have to keep in mind is that there are various tasks that match different aims and without the right one you could end up wasting time and energy on less than stellar returns.

Find that balance! You want transactional keywords, not just informational or commercial ones. As for brand specific navigational keywords, make sure you are taking advantage of leads so they don’t fizzle out before they have the chance to convert.

Do you have some tips? Let us know in the comments.