Search Intent: The Key To Successful PPC Campaigns


As digital marketers, we recognize how essential it is to know where our target market hangs out online.  You can’t effectively sell your product or service if you’re putting it in front of the wrong people – that’s marketing common sense!  

But knowing where your target market spends their time is only half the story.  As a search marketer, you probably read numerous articles that say the same thing about the importance of keyword research and how to do it.  Only a few of those articles will mention the most vital and often overseen part of keyword research – search intent.

Search intent is the other half of the story that many search marketers don’t pay enough attention to while doing keyword research.  Simply put, search intent is the “why” behind the search. The search process always starts with a question and search engines are used to find those answers.

Google search intent is essential for PPC success.

Why is Search Intent the Key to Successful PPC Campaigns?  

The answer is simple and can be narrowed down to one word: alignment.

Every time someone acts online, or anywhere for the matter, there is an expectation of a result. A good search marketer can look beyond a search query, see it as an individual thought process, and strategize a way to align their campaign with the expectations of the searcher.  

When your campaigns are aligned with the search intent, you’ll find that everything clicks. You’ll start seeing the performance you’ve only dreamt of finally taking place. 

There is more that goes into campaign alignment than just understanding search intent, but that’s where the magic begins. If you don’t have the foundations correct, the whole thing will collapse.

Plus, if you spend time understanding the “why” behind a search and figure out a way to have your campaigns match it, the searcher’s experience will be positive. Advertising is not advertising when you’re merely providing information and answering questions.  The tricky part, once you have a solid grasp on the search intent for a keyword, is then aligning your campaigns to meet those expectations.  

Also, alignment doesn’t stop at the search intent for a keyword.  As the great Kendrick Lamar would say, “Its levels to it, you and I know.” Similar to whatever he was talking about, there are levels to reaching campaign alignment. Search intent is the first one. The typical campaign alignment process looks something like this:

Search Query > Keyword > Ad Copy > Landing Page

In this article, we’ll just be touching upon the first part of the process where you’re beginning to form the foundation of your campaigns.  

Are you ready to bring your PPC campaigns to the next level? Let’s get started!

Determining Search Intent

Search intent can be divided into three basic categories: informational, navigational, and transactional.  In the following sections, I will go over the basics of each group and give you a few indicators you can use to determine what the search intent is.

Listed below are the four main things we will look at as indicators for determining keyword intent (in no particular order):

  • SERP Features
  • Organic Rankings
  • Number of Ads
  • Keyword Data

To put it simply, all you have to do is look at the SERP to know what the search intent is. Google’s whole business is centered around answering peoples questions and showing the most relevant results for a search.  We have a search intent tool that has millions of dollars invested in it, and it’s 100% free!

Informational Intent

Informational intent searches are where the user is looking for a specific fact, topic, or piece of information.  These kinds of searches make up the vast majority of all searches and are comprised of generic keywords.

If we place informational intent keywords in the marketing funnel, they would be as top of the funnel as you can get.

Let’s take a look at the SERP for an informational intent keyword.

Screenshot of ways to utilize search intent for PPC campaigns.

Going down the list of the four things we use as intent indicators, we can see there are two SERP features: in-depth articles and a knowledge panel.  Often with informational intent keywords, Google will include non-Google Ads SERP features like these to provide people with quick access to more information.  Some other features to keep an eye out for are related questions and featured snippets.

One of the most significant indicators of intent can be found by looking at the top organically ranked pages.  For informational intent searches, look for pages that address the typical “what is” and “how to” questions.  

You’ll often see Wikipedia, definitions or news/blog publications in the top results for these.  In the example above, we have Wikipedia ranked #1, a news site as #2, and a definition as #3.

The next thing we notice is there is only one ad showing.  This tells us that Google believes there is not much purchase intent behind this search.  I’ll go more into detail about this when we get to transactional intent keywords.

The last thing we look at is the keyword data. More often than not, informational intent keywords have high search volume, low CPC, and competition.  For this example, the data shows that the average search volume is 590 a month, $6.84 CPC, and 0.22 competition. The low CPC and competition indicate that this keyword is not being targeted by other advertisers which means we can assume that it’s not a valued keyword in the space.

Navigational Intent

Navigational intent searches are those searches where the user is looking for a specific website. The keywords for these kinds of searches are semi-generic, very straightforward, and the easiest to identify.  Navigational intent searches will either be a particular website or a brand name.

Below is an example of a navigational intent search for “New York Times.”


Screenshot of navigational search intent in the SERP.

The two things we’re looking for in identifying navigational intent searches is a brand name or a website. It’s difficult to know precisely where navigational intent searches fall within the marketing funnel, but if I had to place them somewhere, it would be in the middle of the funnel.

Transactional Intent

Transactional intent searches are where the user looks for information related to buying a specific product or service. The audience has already gone through informational stages of researching what they need and are now looking for a solution to do what they need.

Let’s look at some SERP indicators for a transactional intent keyword!

Screenshot of transactional search intent in the SERP.

There are three primary indicators for a transactional intent keyword. The first and most obvious one is keyword data. Transactional intent keywords have high CPC and high levels of competition. In the example above, we’re looking at a competition level of 0.92 and a CPC of $59, which is a good indication in itself to say that this search has a transactional intent.

Now if we look at the number of ads that appear, we see that there are four of them.  This is called a “4-pack” and is Google telling us that there is a high chance there is transactional intent behind the search. Research has been done that found that transactional intent searches are six times more likely to display four ads. If you see a 4-pack ad, the chances are that there is transactional intent behind it! 

Look for review sites or articles about comparisons when you’re trying to identify transactional intent keywords. It’s a strong indication that a keyword has transactional intent if there are review sites like Capterra or Software Advice showing up in the organic results.

If you take a step back and think about what those sites are, it makes sense.  They are peer review sites! The fact that Google has them in the top organic rankings tells us that the searcher is in the consideration phase. This means they’re most likely looking to compare and research what other buyers are saying about a product or service.

Focus on Campaign Alignment

Finally, the main takeaway here is to be aware of the crucial aspect of aligning your campaigns with search intent. If you’re targeting keywords that have an informational purpose, offer the searcher something that compliments the stage they are in, such as a relevant whitepaper or eBook.  If you’re targeting transactional intent keywords, provide your audience a free trial, demo, etc.

Mix informational and transactional offers up, and you may find yourself trying to fit a square peg into a circle hole – it just won’t work! It’s all a matter of giving people what they’re looking for and being consistent. You can pull as many levers as you want to get someone to convert, but when there is a misalignment in your campaigns, the performance is going to reflect that.


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