How to Find “Buyer Intent” Keywords

Keywords are, literally, a key component to a successful marketing strategy. Many SEOs (myself included) begin every campaign with deep research into identifying and qualifying the best target keywords for our clients. Admittedly, it used to be much easier in the past. All we really had to do was fire up our favorite keyword tool, enter a specific head term, and thousands of suggestions would pop up, to which we simply had to select the top few that had over a certain amount of search volume or under a certain keyword difficulty and consider the job done.

Not anymore.

Keywords are not as simplistic as we give them credit for. Each keyword variation can mean something completely different, some words have a double or triple meaning, along with the fact that new phrases, brands and combinations are added to our collective lexicon on a daily basis. Search engines have reacted accordingly, accommodating phrases with additional SERP features depending on the assumed intent of the user. But how exactly do the search engines know the intent for each phrase? And more importantly, how can we leverage this data for the benefit of our sites and our users?

While we do know that there are at least 3 types of searches (informational, navigational, transactional), apart from a few obvious terms, there is no magic bullet to decipher which is which. Sometimes, it’s not even clear from a long tail phrase whether someone is looking to purchase a product, or simply doing some light research into it for any alternative reason.

For example, the following intent is relatively clear for their respective phrases:

  • “when is the latest iPhone being released” (informational)
  • “Apple store in Glendale, CA” (navigational)
  • “buy iPhone XR” (transactional)

Yet, there are many instances where intent is ambiguous, and could match any of the three aforementioned categories of intent. In these cases, what are we to do? As SEOs, we must ensure we are targeting the keywords that have the intent we want. After all, we do NOT want to match our commercial webpages to a term that is only used for informational or navigational purposes. Not only will we not get any sales, but the page would not even appear in the SERPs.

If we want more customers to purchase from, say, our eCommerce site, we need to drill down our keyword list to only those that match transactional (buyer) intent. Easier said than done, but it is possible:

1. Analyze The SERP

By simply observing the search engine results pages, we can determine from the list of webpages provided what the user desires to accomplish with their search. If almost every result is an article or blog post, it is clear the base intent for that keyword is informational. Search engines have a firm grasp on intent based on their internal data and feedback, thus are able to respond to a query with greater accuracy.

Analyzing each keyword for their commercial viability is one way to determine buyer intent. If we observe mainly eCommerce or commercial offers, we can be confident in targeting such keywords. This may be the most thorough way to identify what our users want. On the downside, when we have thousands of keywords to pick from in any category, it becomes tedious and inefficient to analyze the SERP for all of them. Since this is a manual process, the amount of time and effort it should take becomes substantial and potentially counterproductive to our workflow and productivity.

2. Filter by Modifier

Adding a certain prefix or suffix to any keyword is a proven way to alter the SERPs a great deal. Some terms, assuredly, move the keyword from obscure intent to a clear transactional one. They would include words like:

  • buy
  • purchase
  • price
  • deals
  • discount
  • coupon

While there are many more, a sample list of transactional modifiers (such as the above) allows us to include a few extra terms to our list of keywords we intend to target.

3. Filter by SERP Feature

Many keyword tools are advanced enough to the point where they allow us to filter results based on SERP features. The most common SERP features include instant answers, knowledge panels, carousels, local packs, top news stories and frequently asked questions. The one we would want to filter by, though, is the shopping ads feature. Shopping ads tend to appear on top or in the middle of each SERP, with a selection of related items for sale as part of their ad network which advertisers pay for whenever a user clicks on their ad.

The obvious reason to target these types of keywords is because they have already been determined by the search engines to be a phrase with buyer intent, hence the inclusion of shopping ads for those terms. This is a quick way to harvest a number of keywords to target, but unfortunately there are many more phrases that would still fall through the cracks, since shopping ads are not found on every transactional keyword SERP (at least not yet).

FYI, we use the SEMrush keyword magic tool, which can filter up to 22 different SERP features.

4. Niche Keyword Tools

Of all solutions, a keyword tool that displayed buyer intent would perhaps be the most useful and efficient. While there doesn’t seem to be any tools out there specifically made to analyze and identify this specific need, one company that claims to have successfully done so is known as GetKeywords. Using a “super powerful” machine learning model that has been trained on millions of keywords to identify keyword intent, it appears to be a bloom in the desert for SEOs like you and I who are in need of this very feature.

There is almost no doubt that new keyword tools will emerge with this capability, if the established keyword research tools are not working on this already.

Final Thought

Identifying intent, even with the assistance of sophisticated AI and machine learning, is no easy problem to solve. Search engines still face the struggle of organizing keywords with dual or unclear intent. The best way to find the right keywords for buyer intent, at the moment, would be a complimentary combination of all aforementioned solutions. It may take some time and effort, but it will allow you to be in the best possible position to rank for terms that people actually use to find (and purchase from) you.

About the author

Sebastian Hovv

Sebastian is the founder of SEO 101, a SEO agency for startups. He is also the author of "The Little White Book of SEO" and curates a weekly marketing newsletter just for fun.