For years now we have been talking about search intent, considered the main factor to center and optimize content to try to get visibility on the search engine; more precisely, however, You have to try to understand what are also the micro intentions that underlie the queries of people on Google, because the growing algorithms’ understanding ability will make it increasingly accurate to search for answers on the Web.

The value of search intent

This is the thesis of Mark Traphagen, who on Search Engine Journal invites you to overcome the (always fundamental) search intent to learn to grasp what defines micro intention, that is a more specific definition of the needs of the users of the search engine.

The expert recalls that in recent years SEO priorities have shifted “from a focus on keywords to a more content-focused approach“, which has rightly led to an increase in the popularity of the topic of search intents. Today, most SEO professionals agree that content built for particular user intents is not only more useful for visitors, but also that it can more easily rank on search engines appropriately.

And indeed the Search Engines, and Google in particular, are investing a lot to improve the ability to understand the search intent of a given query, because they understood that “users are more satisfied when the content not only corresponds to a keyword, but directs the intention of their search”.

The article recalls the example of the Google BERT project, the AI engine for natural language processing that discerns the intent of a search query and ensures a better match of the intention: As we know, this algorithm now affects almost 100% of search queries in English, and so it’s time to “reckon” with the evolution taking place.

Traditional categories of search intent

Classically, the definition of search intent was referred to some rather broad categories of intent, with a list that usually includes searches:

  • Informative: the user searches for information on a topic. They are usually distinguished by queries relating to who / what / when / where / why / how, although it is not said that these terms should be included.
  • Navigational: the user wishes to access a specific site or page. Typically this user has a particular task in mind or knows / suspects the location of the information he is looking for.
  • Transactional: the user wants to buy something, but the transaction is not necessarily monetary. It is a user ready to act.
  • Local: the user is looking for a resource geographically close to his current location (or a declared location).

These traditional categories have been useful to us since they “clearly summarize the main reasons why someone turns to a search engine (at least in general terms)”, says Traphagen, and “help SEO professionals and content managers to plan and create content that is more likely to be useful to certain users and therefore more valuable to search engines”.

Micro intentions, a more accurate definition of user needs

But users are sharpening more and more their search capabilities and increasingly they try different and more specific queries if the first one did not give the desired results; at the same time, as we said, even algorithms have made huge strides to better understand people’s needs. For these reasons, the expert suggests, we must succeed in dividing classical macro-intents into “smaller” intentions, so to work more precisely.

For him, it is highly likely that “machine learning tools like BERT allow search engines to go deeper than traditional categories of user intent and to discern what we might call micro-intentions”.

The Google’s zero moment of truth for marketing

In fact, Google had already spoken of “the usefulness of increasing the granularity of broad categories in other contexts”, introducing the concept of micro-moments, which represent an improvement of the traditional understanding of customer journey and go beyond the traditional categories of funnel. In the online world, “consumers often have many small steps on multiple devices that influence their final purchase decision” and it becomes crucial the so-called “zero moment of truth” of Google, an addition to the traditional marketing path.

This zero moment of truth consists of “all the interactions that a consumer could have on numerous devices over time which, together, influence his final purchase decision“.

Lo zero moment of truth di Google

Why to study micro intentions

We can therefore apply a similar model to develop the concept of “micro intentions”: the smallest and multiple search intentions that a person might have within the broader categories of traditional search intent.

According to Traphagen, the act of “optimizing for research is an attempt to provide the most authoritative and pertinent answer to a query in the most intuitive way possible”.

Micro intentions help precisely in terms of authority / pertinence / usability, because they “refine the relevance of content to particular user needs to a more distinct level than the one possible with only four large traditional categories of intentions”.

Some possible examples of micro intentions

The concept developed by the SEO expert is especially useful for certain types of queries – for example, he says, for “the navigational and the intention of the local user the number of micro intentions corresponds to the diversity of the queries, as the micro intent is inherent to the query itself“.

It is instead in informative and transactional queries that micro intentions can make a difference, and those who understand them can give a boost to their pages.

So, here is an overview of the micro-search intent hypothesized by Traphagen.

  1. Informative micro intents

Within the broader category of informational intent it is possible to identify some more specific micro intentions.

Educational (educational). The user wants to find out more than a quick response or a particular fact on a topic. The educational content is created for the user who wants to expand their knowledge on a topic and that, at the end of the reading, “will know much more than before he made the query”. Therefore, it is generally “longer than most other forms of information content”.

  • Educational. The user wants to find out more than a quick response or a particular fact on a topic. The educational content is created for the user who wants to expand their knowledge on a topic and that, at the end of the reading, “will know much more than before he made the query”. Therefore, it is generally “longer than most other forms of information content”.
  • Factual. The user wishes to know or verify a specific fact.
  • Instructional. User wants to know how to do.
  • Expansional. The user wants related topics or expansion areas on a basic topic.
  • Aggregational. The user wishes to see a variety of thoughts or opinions on a topic.

Each of these micro intent recalls a specific type of content and offers a “precious context that informational alone does not give”.

  1. Transactional micro intents

Many transactional queries are autonomous micro-intentions, similar to the operation of queries on local and navigation purposes: that is, “they contain the micro-intent within themselves“, as in the case of the search “buy a Nikon d5600 digital camera”.

But there are also real micro-intentions for less specific transactional queries:

  • Categorical. The user wants to “buy a type of object, but does not necessarily care which of that type will buy”, because they are primarily interested in seeing a display of options, and then perform their choice from there.

It may seem like an informative query, but it is not (for research purposes) because the user is ready to purchase and is not interested as a first priority in seeking more information before purchasing.

  • Locational. An excellent example of how the four big intentions can merge into each other: in this case, the user is ready to purchase and just wants to know where The “where” is not necessarily a physical place, but are still at stake elements of informative and local intent, and the goal for a site is to “be the best option in any way possible”.
  • Generic. This user does not care which brand he buys, because he just wants to buy what he needs. Information on a landing page for this micro intent must go beyond available brands to focus on other differentiating factors (price, features and so on).

How to exploit micro intents in the content production strategy

The concept of micro intents is particularly useful “for SEO professionals and content strategists who seek to increase the traffic and revenue of the site by expanding the range of queries for which it is positioned”.

After optimizing pages for all major high volume terms for their own market, the author says, “further growth can only take place by digging deeper into long tail queries“, and it is here that content design by micro intentions can produce better results than simply relying on “traditional four big intentions”.

It is important to remember that “Google is actively trying to improve its ability to match user queries to the content that corresponds more exactly to their intentions”, and “with BERT-style technology it is very likely that they are doing it at a much more granular level than the four big intents”.

According to Traphagen, this “means that there is significant traffic at stake to sites that can create the most content targeted to micro intentions”.

To be able to discover these intentions, you can use the “People also ask” box to identify which micro-intentional categories people are looking for in our thematic areas and use specific questions made by people as useful clues.

In the United States, Google has also activated a tool called the Google Question Hub, a platform that collects unanswered search queries for content creators, publishers and journalists.

In addition – we add – our intent search tools such as search intent tool (to analyze the intentions of each keyword, especially in the editorial planning phase) and the URL search intent tool (to analyze whether an already published URL has centered the intent) are designed precisely to optimize these aspects and are therefore also useful to respond to “micro” intentions.

Lastly, it is always helpful to listen to our customers, talk to sales representatives and customer service and analyze internal search analyses of our site, to look for other clues on micro-intentions in our market.


Call to action