The psychology of search intent: Converting moments that matter

Nineteen years ago, the company that is now called Alphabet Inc. launched Google Web Search, which would quickly become the most widely used internet search engine in the world.

That search engine, which at first relied primarily on text data and backlinks to determine search priority ranking, has become increasingly sophisticated where its myriad features are concerned. Users can now search images, social, video content, equations, geographic locations and much more, and each of these things impact a brand’s search ranking over all, for better or worse.

But perhaps even more impressive, and particularly relevant to marketers, is the continuous improvement of Google’s understanding of user intent.

Beyond matching keywords alone, Google has parsed its massive stores of data to better understand the phrases, search history and other elements of query to better understand user priorities and states of mind when using the web search platform. As a result, they have optimized their search ranking algorithm and user experience to better align with what data says users really want.

By recognizing how Google and other search engines understand user intent, marketers can poise themselves to put themselves along the route of customer trains of thought. Below, find a breakdown of Google’s intent-recognition methodology–and strategic recommendations for those who want to take advantage of them.
Micro-Moments: How Google understands user priorities

On mobile—which has increasingly become the focus of search marketers after disrupting the way we access information and shop on the go—as well as on desktop, users use a range of terms, exhibit a range of behaviors, and seek out a range of answer-types that, according to Google, develop a profile of the user’s intent. These intent profiles, conveniently articulated by Google as “micro-moments”, are said to be the critical micro-moments at which users are most likely to be swayed by search results.
“I want to know.”

These are the types of searches people launch when they are seeking “information or inspiration”. Users who signify this search intent typically ask questions like “what did the president talk about today”, “what’s the phone number to the chamber of commerce”, and “how much money does a data analyst make?”
“I want to go.”

These are location-based searches that signal an intent to travel to a location whether that be international, regional, local or hyperlocal. Users who signify this search intent increasingly input queries like “restaurants near me”, “directions to the University” and “lodging in North Lake Tahoe.” Searches like these make localization an important question for marketers to be thinking about; how are you reaching people in specific—rather than general—markets?
“I want to do.”

When people want to know how to do something, they turn to action-oriented “I want to do searches”. This search intent is signaled by queries that inquire after methodology like, “How do I get my passport?”, “How do I train my dog?”, and “How to lose weight.”