How & Why Does Your Customer Search?

As a business owner, you know your customer better than anybody else. In most cases, from a business standpoint you have a general idea of who your customer type is, what they tend to like and dislike, what they buy, as well as why and when they buy.

Now here’s my question to you: Do you know what they intend to find when they use a search engine to search for relevant websites like yours to visit?

Search Intent

Understanding and predicting the underlying intent of your potential online customers (user intent) is a challenge. In fact, chances are, you will probably never understand it completely nor predict it with 100% accuracy because as market trends change, search trends change as well.

So our goal here is by no means to conduct full-out detailed research at this point, but rather to help you discover some core insights that will help you narrow down the scope of the keyword research you will later do when researching new keywords to target. (Believe me, you will thank me later for saving you a lot of time, effort and hair-pulling.)

A great way to start to determine user intent is to ask yourself a few questions:

Navigational, Transactional, or Informational?

All online searches are classified as either navigational searches, transactional searches, or informational searches. This determination of the user’s search intent is based on the characteristics of the search query (the wording as well as structure of the keyword phrase used by people when they perform a search).

Navigational Searches
The first type of search, navigational, we will not worry about in this article. These search queries are initiated by people who use the web search box as a navigational tool to reach websites they already know about. For example, typing, “” into Google’s search box instead of their browser’s URL address bar with the intent of simply visiting would be a navigational search.

Transactional Searches
If you’re selling products or services through your website, you’ll want to focus on targeting transactional searches. These searches are initiated by potential customers who are much deeper in the buying cycle because they know what they want and they’re ready to buy it. Transactional searches contain, in addition to the core keyword, a keyword modifier which indicates and supports an intent to purchase.

For example, if one of your core keywords is “foreclosures”, adding a keyword modifier such as “for sale” to make it “foreclosures for sale” would strengthen its transactional intent and thereby increasing the chance for the search to convert into a sale (higher conversion rate). Other examples of transactional modifiers include action keywords like, “buy”, “signup”, “download”, etc. Words that describe a product such as colors, sizes (e.g. “red leather boots”), model numbers, product numbers, SKU numbers also indicate a transactional search.

Informational Searches
Finally, the third type are informational searches which typically yield relevant search engine organic results that are made up of pages from content sites, news sites, and blogs. With that in mind, if your goal is to optimize any one of those 3 types of websites, set your SEO marketing efforts on improving your site’s relevancy for informational search keyword phrases.

But unlike transactional searches, the keyword modifiers here are usually question words such as, “how to”, “what is”, “ways to”, “list of”, “where to”, etc. So, if the core keyword is again “foreclosures”, appending the informational modifier “what are” to precede the core keyword, making it “what are foreclosures”, would further strengthen the informational nature of the search. I’ll discuss how you can create highly-relevant content pages with these SEO insights in mind, but for now please bear with me and move on to the next question for yourself.

Sales or Leads?

In most cases, depending on the nature of your business, the main goal of your website will be to either sell your products and services directly online (e.g. online store, web-based service, etc.), or generate a lead to later contact the prospect to close the sale online, over the phone, or in person (e.g. mortgage loans, real estate agent service, technical services, etc.)

If you’re selling directly online, typically you will want to target transactional searches as we previously discussed above for reasons that are now obvious to you.

However, in many cases, and depending on your specific type of product or service, websites that focus on lead generation would also benefit from targeting informational searches. Searches initially driven by informational intent are converted into a sales transactions all the time. For example, you can offer to send a free home value report in exchange for their contact information they provided to you via a web form on your page users found by searching, “what is my home value” in the search engine.

Brand or Generic?

This one applies primarily to retail online store websites. Chances are, some of the products you sell on your site will have popular brand names. If this is your case, whenever possible, it is best to optimize your product pages for those specific brand names. Of course, for products that don’t carry a brand name, simply optimize for generic keyword terms. There are 2 reasons for doing this. First, branded searches tend to convert better than generic searches. People that explicitly search for a brand name typically know what they want already. Second, because generic searches target a broader audience, they are inherently more competitive keywords which means more investment of time and effort for equal or lesser ROI as branded keyword searches.


As you probably already know, in search, the more keywords in the search phrase, the more specific the search results will be in most cases. Unlike national and global searches, local search phrases carry what we call a GEO modifier in addition to the core phrase. The GEO modifier is usually a city name, city name and state, ZIP code, street name, or any combination of these GEO modifiers. Often, the word, “in” is also used, but not always. Local search phrase examples: “restaurants los angeles”, “foreclosures in 90210”, “los angeles restaurants”, and the like.

This means that if you’re a business that is aiming to target one or more specific local audiences, you must focus on optimizing your website for searches containing the respective GEO modifiers paired up with your core keywords. Local businesses should do this for all their pages on their site, while national or global businesses should create dedicated sections or pages for each geographical area they seek to target.

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