The Changing Intent of Search Queries

What do people mean when they perform certain search queries? Google and other search engines have spent years trying to unlock this mystery with the aid of AI and machine learning. But a lot has happened in the past year, and the intent of search queries is changing accordingly.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is the intention of a user’s search query, or the reason why a user performs a search online. Users have a goal in mind every time they perform a search query, an expectation of the type of information they will find.

Understanding a user’s search intent helps businesses develop content to match the user’s expectations. When content does this successfully, it has the potential to rank higher in search engine results, reach a larger audience, and direct more traffic to the business website.

Yet the dramatic changes of the past year have proven the intent of some search queries have shifted along with the times.

Examples of Search Queries with New Intent

In the beginning of 2020 in the U.S., the query “movies to watch” would have displayed movie theaters in search results. Nowadays, that same search query yields the following results:

What users mean when they search this term has changed. More people are intending to watch movies at home rather than in the theater, and the results reflect it. And it’s not the only example. Healthcare, wellness, food, travel, education, and fitness search results have also shifted with the tide.

For example, the term “buy groceries” now serves up search results for online grocery shopping and delivery services:

The first page of search results for the query “what to wear to a meeting” indicates the shift to more of these activities happening in the home rather than in the office:

Why Should You Care about Changes in Search Intent?

As the intent of search queries changes, it may no longer match the original purpose of your content. By making updates to reflect these new intentions, you can help improve the outcomes of your optimized content and traffic to your website.

Take a look at your existing content this year, consider whether people may be searching in a different way or with other expectations, and make adjustments to meet your audience where they are right now.

To get started, read about intent research for SEO and uncover the reasons why people search the way they do.

Reach out with any questions you might have regarding how RSO can help you with your digital marketing.

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