Search intent has long been a part of sales and marketing. It helps us understand how someone uses search at different stages of the buyer journey, and what kinds of results they expect to see.
Micro intents take that a step further, sub-categorising intents for a more granular understanding of user needs. By understanding micro intents, you gain better knowledge of potential customers and can provide more relevant content for them. Do this successfully, and you are likely to see better conversion rates, a higher level of website traffic, and more returning customers.
Google Search’s ultimate goal is to satisfy search queries, so it’s within their interest (and yours) to provide users with exactly what they’re looking for, as quickly and effectively as possible. Analysing micro intents is an important step towards this.
Table of Contents
What is search intent?
Traditional search intent is generally divided into four categories:
Informational: Users are looking for an answer to a question, which could be very specific or cover a broader topic.
Navigational: Users are usually looking for a specific page of a particular website. For example, they could be looking for instructions for how to use a specific product, details on a service, or contact information.
Commercial: Users are considering making a purchase but are seeking further details to help them decide which item or service would be best for them.
Transactional: Users are actively looking to buy and are now in the final stages of making a purchase. Their searches will often include names of specific products.
These are still important, but now are widely considered to be too broad. Micro intents get more specific, divide searchers into more focused categories, and allow website owners to really fine-tune their content for the best results.
What are micro intents?
Micro intents divide traditional search intents into smaller, more focused categories.
Informational micro intents
Entertainment: Users are looking to pass the time with easily-digestible content. Short videos and memes are often the result and are often found on social media sites such as TikTok and Facebook.
Definition: Brief answers to simple questions such as what is the tallest mountain in England. Google will often present these as a rich snippet directly on search, so users with this micro intent don’t even have to click through to another website. You can aim to get your own content in these snippets by creating an FAQ on a relevant page that answers simple questions clearly and succinctly.
Expansional: Users are looking for further information on a topic. After learning that the tallest mountain in England is Scafell Pike, they might want to discover more complex information about it, such as location and how it was formed. This micro intent is often answered by way of so-called pillar pages – one page that links to multiple sub-pages about a topic – or by single landing pages that cover a topic in full. Expansional content should generally be unbiased and provide as many perspectives as possible.
Enablement: Users want to do something for themselves, such as hiking Scafell Pike. They might therefore be looking for detailed step-by-step instructions and directions.
Overview or aggregation: This intent falls somewhere between definition and expansional in that a user is looking for additional information, but in a more digestible format. A simple listicle naming the tallest mountains in England by size, or all the Lake District mountains, for example.
Navigational micro intents
Support: A user may have bought a product but needs help on how to use it. They will be looking for instructional articles and videos, FAQs, troubleshooting guides, or contact details.
Location: Users are looking for a real-life location. If they’ve found a great pair of hiking boots online, but want to try them on before purchasing, they want to know where to find your physical store.
Website: Similar to the location micro intent, but for your website. Users might be trying to locate a blog that they read previously about hiking Scafell Pike. You can help them find this by properly optimising for search, but also by ensuring your website is easy to navigate.
Commercial and transactional micro intents
Though users are in different stages of the purchasing journey when using commercial or transactional events, the micro intents tend to overlap.
Comparison or orientation: Users think that they want to buy something, but need more information before making a decision. They have an idea of what’s important to them, but may not have considered certain aspects, or don’t yet know what’s out there to support that need. They are looking for content that compares multiple products, such as listicles or ranked products.
Such content should be as unbiased as possible and should highlight the features that are likely to be most important to the user. An article about the best footwear for climbing a mountain, for example, could compare types of shoes, materials and support.
Category or selection: The user now has a better idea of what they would like to buy, and more clarity on their own requirements. Shop category pages fulfil this need well, with filters that are most useful to the user, but review and comparison pages can also be helpful. For example, our user has found that they would like waterproof hiking boots, so they are looking to compare products within that specific category.
Service or product: The user now more-or-less knows exactly what they want and so is doing some final checks before making a purchase. Information such as delivery details, postage costs, price and guarantee will be useful to them here. Individual product pages can provide all this information in detail.
Brand: Brand is sometimes referred to as a traditional intent rather than a micro intent. It allows users to build trust in a brand, therefore encouraging them to make a purchase. Testimonial pages, case studies and environmental policies are some examples of what users would be looking for.
User journey and micro intents
User journey – the steps a user takes in order to make a purchase – and micro intents are closely linked. It’s not really possible to utilise one well without the other.
But it’s also worth noting that user journeys aren’t linear. Especially in the middle of the journey, where a user is aware of a need, but hasn’t yet made a decision, there’s a lot of research involved. And how they go about this research will depend on what’s most important to them.
One user will be primarily motivated by price, so will look at that earlier than they look at features. Another will want to ensure their product is ethically manufactured so may look at brand before they look at product. Some may skip the research stage already and purchase solely on a friend’s recommendation.
As a website owner you should understand micro intents so that you can provide all the information a potential customer could want, no matter where they are in their purchase journey. If you help them out early on, in the research stage, they may stick with you until they’re ready to buy. Or you could capture them just before they buy because you have one item of important (to the user) information on your website that your competitors don’t.
How to optimise for micro intents
SEO is all about improving user experience, and optimising for micro intents is just the same.
Keyword and competitor research
Keyword research is a good place to start optimising. What are users in your niche searching for? What kind of questions are they asking? Look both at which phrases your content is currently ranking for, and related phrases that aren’t yet ranking.
Where it’s not ranking, you may find a gap in your content. Are you missing vital information that users want? In that case, you need to create content, or to expand on existing content.
If you’re already ranking, find out which competitor sites are ranking higher by searching Google with those search terms. Analyse these pages and see what information they share that you don’t. Does it make sense to add this information to your own site? And, if so, how can you improve it so that your content is better than your competitor’s? Can you add more information? Can you demonstrate better expertise? Would a different format work better – for example, creating a video to complement written content?
Know your audience
Understanding user behaviour and your audience specifically is also important. Speak to your customers and gather feedback, analyse user behaviour on your website, and understand patterns and trends in your industry.
Optimise your whole site
Adding excellent content isn’t enough on its own. Your whole site also needs to be healthy from an SEO perspective. If you have lots of incredibly useful content, but your website is painfully slow to load, then you’re unlikely to rank well. Read through my beginner’s guide to optimising for search and steps for a basic SEO audit to check your site’s health.
Traditional search intents are still useful but are now generally considered too broad to be wholly effective. Micro intents take a more granular look at user needs, therefore helping website owners better serve customers. By understanding micro intents, and ensuring you provide all the information that users are seeking, at the relevant stage of their purchase journey, you can expect a boost in website traffic and sales.