Understanding User Intent and Its Impact on SEO

21/02/2019 | Digital Marketing | 10 minutes

At its inception, the developers behind Google Search likely had understanding user intent at the bottom of their list of priorities. Today, Google Search is a more complex beast, designed to go beyond keywords and establish the intention behind a particular search query.

What do we mean by user intent?

Google refers to user intent as a goal that you’re trying to accomplish by typing or speaking a query. Let’s say you’re looking for an SEO agency near your location. To find this you may use a search query like “seo”, but…

It’s not clear what you’re looking for with this search query, so in this instance Google will return a mixed bag of results.

However, if you’re more specific you make your intent much clearer to Google. A search query like “seo agency near me” would return much more relevant results (see below).

SEO Agency near me

How does Google understand user intent?


Google honed in on user intent in a big way in 2013. The year saw the launch of Google’s Hummingbird algorithm. The update focused on how humans use natural language to search Google and how this language should be interpreted to display the most relevant search results.


In 2015, Google once again focused its efforts on user intent, with the launch of machine learning algorithm update, RankBrain. Like Hummingbird, RankBrain focused on the use of natural language, whilst learning over time about what users are looking for from particular search queries.

Google Search Quality Raters

Then there’s the human element. Google hires over 10,000 search quality raters to manually evaluate search results following 200 pages of strict guidelines. The data gathered from these ratings is fed back into Google’s algorithm, improving search engine results pages over time.

The different types of Google search query

Before optimising your pages for certain keywords, think about what users are looking for when they use a particular search query. Google outlines 4 different types of search query…


Google Search for Brexit

How does this impact SEO?

Simply put, you should be focusing on your users. They are the lifeblood of your website, just as they’re the lifeblood of Google Search. To optimise your website to match user intent be mindful of the SERP that is triggered by your keywords. Don’t over optimise, take pointers from high ranking pages and deliver an experience that helps your users achieve their goals.

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