Beyond Traditional User Intent: Why & How to Go Granular

Beyond Traditional User Intent: Why & How to Go Granular

As SEO preferences have shifted from a focus on keywords to a more content-focused approach, the popularity of the topic of user search intent has grown rapidly – and rightly so.

Today, most SEO professionals agree that content created for a particular user is not only more useful for visitors; It is more likely to rank in search engines when it matters the most.

Search engines (Google, in particular) have invested a lot in sniffing a user’s intent for a particular query, realizing that users are more satisfied when the content not only matches a keyword but their Addresses the purpose of the search.

For example, better intent matching is an element of Google’s BERT project (natural language processing AI engine that interprets search query intent).

BERT is now affecting almost 100% of search queries, it is time to dive deeper into the topic of user search intent.

Traditional User Intent Categories

As long as search intent has been a topic for SEO professionals and content marketers, we have relied on some relatively broad user intent categories.


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This list varies depending on whom you ask, but these often include:

  1. information: The user wants to gain knowledge about a topic. These are usually the who / what / when / where / why / how / how questions, although they do not need to include those words.
  2. Shipping: The user wants to visit some specific site or page. Usually this user has a specific task in mind or they know / suspect the location of the information they are seeking.
  3. Transactional: The user wants to buy something, although it is not necessary to be monetary in the transaction. This user is ready to take action.
  4. Local: The user is geographically searching for a resource close to its current location (or a specified location).

These traditional categories have served us well, as they provide great reasons why anyone moves to search engines (at least broadly).

They plan SEO professionals and content managers and create content that is likely to be particularly useful to users and, therefore, more valuable to search engines.

From broad to micro intentions

However, with any such broad categories, it can often be useful to break them further down.

For one thing, while we certain search engines can use some form of the traditional user intention categories listed above, it is possible that machine learning tools such as BERT enable them to go deeper, which we can make subtle intentions. Can say. .


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Google has talked about the utility of increasing granularity of broad categories in other contexts. A good example is the concept of subtle moments.

Micro-Moment is an improvement on the traditional understanding of the customer journey.

This concept goes beyond traditional funnel categories. In the online realm, consumers often have many small steps across multiple devices that influence their final purchasing decision. Studies on the subject underscored Google’s “zero moments of truth” concept in addition to the traditional marketing journey.

The “Zero Moment of Truth” (ZMOT) consists of all the interactions that a consumer may have on multiple devices that together influence their final purchasing decision.

We can apply a similar model to what I call “micro intentions” – smaller, multiple search intentions can occur to someone within more broad traditional user search intent categories.

Why micro intention

Remember that “O” in SEO means “optimization”.

The task of optimizing for search is probably a search to provide the most authoritative, relevant response to the query in the most user-friendly manner.

Subtle intentions fall into the middle of that authority / relevance / usability triad: they are particularly relevant to the content needs of the user with the “big four” traditional intention categories.

Winning searches with subtle intent can lead to significant wins over time, just as an SEO professional will work to increase authority by improving usability by obtaining better-targeted links or by making incremental turns in page speed.

Where Micro Intentions Are Useful

Clearly, subtle intentions have greater utility for some of the big four intentions than others.


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For navigational and local user intentions, the number of micro intentions corresponds to the variety of queries.

The subtle meaning lies in the query itself.

Someone searching for the “Microsoft website” clearly wants to visit, while someone searching for “Pizza North New Jersey” is searching for the best pizza on the planet, apparently.

My subtle intent concept is most useful for information and transaction questions, so let’s see what it looks like in those categories.

Some proposed micro intention

Research data regarding these subtle intentions does not yet exist, to my knowledge.

However, we can make some reasonable estimates for the informational and transaction categories.

Informational intent

I’ll start with Mordi Oberstein’s tweet Which inspired this article:


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I disagree slightly with Mordi.

I do not think that educational changes the intent of information; Rather, it is a subtle intention of the category of information intention.

Educational content is just one type, however, it is probably the largest subgroup of that category.

So how is the educational material More specific type Information content?

I think educational material is one that goes into great detail on a subject. It satisfies the user who has a desire for a quick answer or more than a particular fact.

Educational content is created for users who want to expand their knowledge on a subject; Before they enter their query, come away knowing more good thing about it. Therefore, it is generally higher than most other forms of informational content.

What are some other possible subtle intentions under the informational category?

  • Factual: The user wants to learn about or verify a particular fact.
  • Instructional: The user wants to know how to do something.
  • Expansional: The user base wants a related topic or area of ​​detail on the subject.
  • Aggregational: The user wants to see a variety of views or opinions about a topic.


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Can you see how each of these calls for a specific type of content?

This is valuable reference that “informative” alone does not give you.

To be the most relevant answer for specific groups of users, you need to think beyond the big four categories.

Transaction Intentions

Similar to how local and naval intent questions work, many transactional questions are self-contained subtle intentions.

That is, they have subtle intentions within themselves. An example would be “Buy Nikon d5600 Digital Camera.”

But there are true subtle intentions for less specific transactional queries.

Here are a few examples:


The user wants to buy one type of item but not necessarily take care of it Which which They will buy like that.

Users only want to see the display of options and will make their choice from there.

This may sound like an informational question, but it is not (for search purposes) because the user is ready to buy.

Getting more information before purchasing is not their top priority.


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This is a classic example of how the big four intentions can be flown over each other.

This user is ready to buy and just wants to know Where on to buy it.

Although “Jahan” does not have a physical location, there are elements of informational and local intent during play.

For this subtle intention, you want to be the best choice in every possible way.


This user does not care which brand they buy; They just want to buy what they need.

This subtle intent requires information on a landing page to go beyond the available brands to focus on other differentiating factors (price, features, etc.).

Micro Intent and Content Strategy

The concept of micro intentions is most useful for SEO professionals and content strategists looking to increase traffic and site revenue by expanding the category of queries.

At a certain point, after optimizing for all high-volume key words for your market, such growth can only come by digging deeper into long-tail searches.


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This is where designing content for subtle intentions is likely to produce better results than relying on the traditional big four intentions.

Remember that Google actively seeks to improve the user’s ability to match the content that exactly matches its intent. And with BERT-style technology, it is very likely that they are more granular on one level than the big four.

This means there is significant traffic for sites that can create the most content for the purpose of micro-intentions.

How do you search for those micro-intentional categories of people in your subject areas?

A great resource for less-than-informative questions, Google’s ‘Ask People too.’ Specific questions people ask can be clues to subtle intentions.

There may be another Google Question Hub (just opened to American publishers as I write this article).

Listening to your customers, talking to your sales and customer service representatives, and analyzing your internal site search analysis can also provide useful clues to the micro-intentions in your market.


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more resources:

Image credit

Screenshot taken by author, January 2021