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Low-intent Vs. High-intent Keywords

This is an article by David Campbell.

One word can have different meanings in different contexts. For instance, “right” could mean “correct” or “opposite of left.” However, the search intent behind the keyword — “right” — is what search engines analyze to deliver the most relevant results to the searcher.

So to rank on Google, you need to create content and optimize it for more than just the SEO basics — title tags, keyword optimization, links, and other classic SEO factors.

RankBrain, a component of Google’s core algorithm, changed SEO as we know it. Now, search engines can use topical relevance to identify a user’s true intent, even without using the exact term.

Now we’re SEO practitioners, content marketers, and search marketers. We can’t understand search queries the way Google does. But in this post I’ll take a human perspective on search queries and how you can leverage them. Here we go.

Nine Kinds of User Intents for Understanding a Search Query

While a keyword is a word (or a group of words) associated with a topic, a search query is a phrase or a combination of keywords entered into a search engine to find information of interest. They each play crucial — though different — roles in understanding a user’s intent.

Search queries are real-world applications of keywords people use to find information online. Search engines interpret these queries based on the keyword combination used.

Here’s a quick illustration:

Different search queries based on the keyword "leather wristwatch".

As you can see, the keyword “leather wristwatch” produced different search queries with different intents. There’s the query with high commercial intent (“leather wristwatch for sale”) and others that reflect an informational intent (“leather wristwatch designer”).

A study published by IBM’s Andrei Broder in 2002 proposes the following web search taxonomy:

  • Navigational queries: Searches that help locate a specific website or brand product. Most navigational keywords indicate a direction, such as “where to find soccer pitches.”
  • Informational queries: These are searches that supply answers to questions with informational intent. Most informational queries answer “how”, “why”, or “what”.
  • Transactional queries: These are searches with a “buy now” intent, including searches for prices, sales, or discounts.

A 2007 study revealed that 80 percent of web queries carry an informational intent. However, search engines and their algorithms have evolved drastically since.


Because most of the keyword research methods could target wrong intents based on incorrect assumptions of a searcher query.

For instance, following the IBM classification, you can tell that the query “best iPhone deals” carries a transactional intent. What if the said user wanted iPhone reviews from third-party tech websites, making it an informational intent? Or, they’d wanted to find their way to Apple’s website to see if they were offering any deals, making that query a navigational intent.

In such cases, Google tends to bring out all three intent types. These overlaps happen often and could affect your overall content optimization strategy.

One search keyword can indicate different search intent types.

However, search queries have evolved. I have a classification of nine intent types below to help you understand a search query (as Content Harmony recommends).

1. Transactional Intent

Queries with a true transactional intent show clear tell-tale signs on the SERP. Google answers such queries with shopping boxes or other sale-intent features. The keywords in this category will have a high commercial intent depicted with words such as “buy”, “deals”, “shopping”, and “book”.

An example of transactional intent.

You can also determine transactional keywords if you find eCommerce product pages, page schema markup, and product ratings in SERPs.

2. Branded Intent

Branded intent queries contain relevant keywords that signify users are searching for a specific brand or product. Thus, a brand’s homepage results with site links dominate the SERPs for these queries. See below:

An example of branded intent with related site links.

Other times, branded queries may produce domain clusters from a single domain.

Word image 54838 5

You get these results when the search query includes a relevant keyword for a known brand entity. You can also use branded search intent to direct users to your product pages when they’re already aware of your product and are just searching for more information about it.

3. Local Intent

Users with a local search intent want to see geographically relevant search results.You can identify local intent from keyword queries that show a combination of geographic markers such as maps or local packs. An example of local intent.

Ideally, the local-3 map pack at the top of search results and in knowledge panels are solid indicators of local intent.

4. Research Intent

Queries with a research intent usually mirror results that provide in-depth information to users. Research queries are often searched terms or phrases — rather than specific questions. However, it signals that the user desires insight.

An example of research intent.

You can detect research intent queries from organic search result pages (SERPs) that show a mix of scholarly articles, Wikipedia pages, long-form articles, and sometimes knowledge graphs.

5. Answer Intent

Answer intent queries vary slightly from research because there’s zero ambiguity. The users here require specific answers to specific questions or phrases and would rather have it come up as a quick answer in the SERPs.

For example, “how many calories are in a cucumber?” produces this result: An example of answer intent.

The above query leaves no room for ambiguity and delivers a clear answer. You can identify answer intent queries from definition and answer boxes, sports box scores, and non-featured snippets such as “people also ask” boxes.

6. Video Intent

Organic search results with video thumbnails, carousels, or video-featured snippets in the SERPs, are strong indicators of video intent.

An example of video intent.

Given that video intent-associated queries are skyrocketing and Google prefers showing YouTube videos in its SERPs, it should be a part of your content strategy.

7. Visual Intent

Keywords with a visual intent often have image packs and thumbnails, making these queries easier to spot. The associated query will have prominent image packs in the top 100 SERP results.

Word image 54838 10

For instance, the keyword “minimalist home decor ideas” indicates that the user is looking for design inspiration for their home. Google also sorts images according to room, source (such as Pinterest), or aesthetic.

Related: Infographics vs. Content

8. News Intent

News intent queries often revolve around recent dates — day, month, or year — in the Top Stories SERP boxes. Sometimes, these queries may also trigger a “Recent Tweets” result.

An example of news intent.

You can infer from the keywords used in news queries that they’re related to a newsworthy event or entity, which pulls a lot of user interaction with recent results.

9. Split Intent

Split intent happens when there is an intent overlap. At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that a search engine could interpret one query in multiple ways. So you may get two or three entirely different answers targeting multiple search intents. While the user can wing the results, a keyword researcher won’t have as much success.

Here’s a great example of split intent:

An example of split intent.

You can see that the query for “snow” produces overlapping search results. A knowledge graph box and Wikipedia results signify research intent. Images and video packs could mean both video and visual intent.

What I find most intriguing, though, is the presence of the “Top stories” SERP entity on a scroll that signals a news intent: Word image 54838 13

If you encounter queries with signs of multiple potential intents, label it a split intent and move on to the next. The goal isn’t to understand intent the way search engines do.

Instead, you need to identify the content format Google might serve for such queries so you can optimize and deliver satisfying content for users.

Why Is User Intent Important in SEO?

User intent influences every aspect of SEO, from content creation to website optimization. By understanding the user’s goal behind their search query, you can create relevant content for them and rank in the top spots in search engines.

This can increase your website visibility, brand awareness, and organic traffic — ultimately driving sales.

The intent varies — and could even change — in a user’s buying journey. For example, a search for “minimalist home decor” could indicate visual intent when a user is looking for design inspirations but change to transactional intent when the user starts clicking on online stores that carry minimalist furniture.

Your content type must target several queries based on their intent and where they are on their buyer’s journey to keep up with changes in search intent.

Low-intent Keywords Vs. High-intent Keywords

Based on the user’s location in the customer journey, their search query could have low or high transactional intent. A high intent keyword has a transactional or commercial intent that often depicts a desire to purchase. The users with such intent need a little convincing from you to press the “buy” button.

However, low intent keywords indicate a user is probably still in the research stage. They need more information about how to solve a problem they are facing and on the products that solve them.

While targeting high intent keywords can produce significantly better conversion rates, you must target both (and at different frequencies) depending on your industry. Targeting high intent keywords lets you focus on users with a higher chance of conversions. On the other hand, targeting low intent keywords allows you to reach out to users still on the fence.

For example, an educational hub page at On The Map Marketing targeting the keyword “SEO for law firms “ is having an informational intent. . Word image 54838 14

And there’s another service landing page targeting the keyword “law firm SEO agency” (which has a high purchase intent):

Word image 54838 15 So, how do you determine which query has a low intent and which one is high intent?

How to Find the Right Keywords (with Commercial Intent)

Developing a digital marketing strategy with buying intent keywords can directly impact your bottom line. Here’s how you can target relevant keywords with commercial intent.

1. Use a Keyword Research Tool

With a simple approach, keyword research tools like SurferSEO, Ahrefs, and SEMRush can quickly generate a list of keywords with high purchase intent. Typically keywords with a high CPC have a high purchase intent. For instance, Ahrefs shows a cost per click (CPC) of $7 for the keyword “bathroom remodeling miami.”

Word image 54838 16

However a foolproof way to discern intent is to:

2. Look at the SERPs

Every SERP entity holds a clue to the preferred content format that search engines like to deliver. So understand the keyword intent that triggers specific content formats and optimize your content for those keywords.

For example, the query “buy microwave oven” produced organic listings of various website category pages that sell microwave ovens.

Organic search results for the keyword "buy microwave oven".

There were also structured data-rich results that showed the “Top 24 Microwaves” by price and brands, which signals a high purchase intent. Structured results for "buy microwave oven", indicating purchase intent.

It’s apparent from these SERPs results that the above query has a transactional intent. While other query variations may not produce the same results, you must examine the SERPs to determine which relevant keyword variation attracts ready buyers, then optimize for them.

3. Consumer surveys

During onboarding, you can use surveys to understand the pain points of your consumers and identify content gaps you can fill. Emails are additionally a great way to send out surveys as users are more likely to take their time answering them. Ensure you use email tracking tools to make interacting and receiving feedback easier.

The data you gather from these surveys can help you determine search intent, whether it’s for research, news, or purchase. Getting the user’s email address also allows the business to send marketing emails that address their intent and generate traffic back to the site.

While time-consuming, getting feedback from site visitors helps you identify consumer pain points in their own words. Take note of the questions your prospects often ask and create valuable content targeting these pain points with relevant answers.


When you create new content, you want to attract people looking to buy from you — else, you’ll simply increase your page visits.

As a website owner, aim for high-quality traffic — even if it’s few people — with a chance to convert. Don’t shoot for high-quantity traffic from people who are not inclined to buy. Knowing the difference between high intent and low intent keywords will help you determine the type of content that will attract your desired audience.

I hope the article helps you in leveraging keyword intent to your advantage. If you’re looking for SEO services from an established digital marketing agency, don’t hesitate to contact us. We’ll do a free SEO audit for your website that you can use to grow your business.

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Author bio: David Campbell is a digital marketing specialist at Ramp Ventures. He helps manage the content marketing team at Right Inbox. When not working, he enjoys traveling and learning Spanish.

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