Understanding Google Ads Keyword Intent

Google search ads is all about keywords.

Keywords determine which search results your ad can show up in. Choosing the right keywords (and even picking the right keyword match type) can directly impact the success of your campaigns, ranging from the number and quality of clicks to how much you spend on them.

A core part of choosing the right keywords ultimately comes down to really understanding their intent.

In this post, we’re going to discuss why search intent for keywords is so crucial and how you can tap into this understanding in order to choose stronger keywords (and leverage them better!).

What Is Search Intent?

Search intent is reason why users are searching for a certain keyphrase.

Are they looking for information?

Do they want to make a purchase?

Compare two products? Read reviews about a specific one?

While some keywords can have multiple search intents based on the user who is searching for them— especially with short-term keywords like “Google Ads”—, a combination of research, intuition, and context clues can help you to understand what users are looking for when entering different keywords.

This makes it easier for you to determine which keywords you should add to certain campaigns, what types of copy you should include, and how to optimize your campaigns accordingly.

“Commercial” vs “Informational” Intent Keywords: What’s the Difference?

One of the first elements of search intent that every business using Google Ads must understand is the difference between “commercial” and “informational” keywords.

Commercial keywords are those with sales or purchase intent. The user is conducting the search to research a potential buying decision in some way, whether it’s to learn more about a specific product or discover different solutions to a problem they need to solve.

Informational keywords are those used when someone is just looking for information. They aren’t interested in making a purchase (at least not at this point) and are looking for an answer to a question.

Sometimes there’s only a slight difference between two terms that takes them from informational to commercial, or vice versa.

If someone is searching for “curly hair stylist,” for example, they’re looking for an actual salon. They want to research different salons and stylists with experience cutting curly hair, almost certainly with the goal of making an appointment somewhere. They’re high intent.

search intent for curly hair salons

If, however, they’re searching for “curly hair styles,” they’re only looking for information. They may want inspirational pictures they can show a stylist or tutorials of how to do a fishtail braid. They aren’t actively looking to make a purchase. While it’s worth pointing out that using content marketing to capture these users and drive them to make a purchase is possible, purchasing is not their goal.

informational google search for "curly hair styles"

A few letters can make a world of difference, and sometimes Google may not even differentiate between the two if you’re using broad match keywords.

Why Understanding Google Ads Keyword Intent is Crucial

Knowing how to interpret the potential intent of different Google Ads keywords can be crucial to your success on the platform.

It can:

  • Help you target the right keywords that actually align with what high-intent users are searching for, and provide content that delivers on that search need
  • Yield higher Quality Scores, click-through rates, and conversion rates because your campaigns are more relevant
  • Identify and target high-value conversion keywords that are most likely to drive higher than average order values or lead quality
  • Create strong negative keyword lists that ensures you aren’t showing up in placements that you want to avoid as they’re less likely to convert

If you’re not correctly interpreting search intent, you could end up shelling out too much ad spend on keywords that may get a few clicks but are unlikely to convert. This is the last thing you want and can cause your campaigns to spiral while you figure out what the issue is.

How to Understand Google Ads Keyword Intent

Google Ads keyword intent is important… so how do you know exactly what users want when they’re searching for each individual keyword?

Some parts of Google Ads keyword intent come down to a bit of common sense and context analysis (we’ll look at this in a moment) but the right research strategies can make a world of difference, too.

To get started, create a list of potential keywords that you think are a fit for your brand. We go over how to do this in our Keyword Research Hub Chapter.

Search for the Keyword & See the Results

One of the fastest and most reliable ways to understand the general search intent behind a keyword is to go straight to the source and Google it yourself.

The results that it terms up and the types of content that show up will give you a solid idea of what people are looking for when they search.

When someone searches for gourmet chocolate truffles, they’ll immediately be hit with Shopping and text-based Search Ads selling chocolate truffles.

ads shown for "gourmet chocolate truffles"

The organic results also carry a commercial intent, with the top-ranking content showcasing “best chocolate” review guides.

informational google organic listings for "gourmet chocolate truffles"

These search results show that most users are looking for information about what to buy and who to buy from, meaning it has a high-value commercial intent.

If you searched for “homemade chocolate truffles,” on the other hand, you’ll get a long list of recipes. This is informational intent. You may have users willing to purchase dark chocolate from your site to make these homemade truffles, but they want to make the candy themselves.

Google Serp on Returning Data About Homemade Chocolate Truffles Cookie

As a crucial note— You must look at the organic search results, and not just the PPC results. That’s the best indication of what most users want to see, and it eliminates the issue of Google being a little too enthusiastic with interpretation on broad match keywords.

Most people are looking for in-home nursing care when they search for “home nursing,” but for some reason this search triggered an ad for an at-home, online nursing degree program. While uncommon, this can happen in Google Ads, but it’s much less likely to happen in Google’s organic results.

example of google ad for wrong search intention

Use Google’s Keyword Planner to Add Filters

Google’s Keyword Planner is a great (and free!) tool when it comes to keyword research.

One feature that you can use to discover possible search intent is their “Refine keywords filter,” found all the way over on the right hand size of the dashboard.

These filters will look a little different for each individual keyword, which can tell you a lot about the seed keyword you’re researching and the general intent behind it.

Here’s an example for the term “hiking shoes.” There are a variety of different keyword filters, including the option to find more keywords based on branded keywords, non-branded keywords, gendered keywords, product variant keywords around different types of shoe, and more. All of these product-focused filters indicate that there’s commercial intent.

Data wherein Google Ad Keywords are Stored

Now let’s look at another: “How to find the right size shoe.” This is a long-tail keyword, and the question-based keyword alone indicates that it’s likely an informational intent.

To check this, though, you can take a look at the keyword filters. There’s primarily non-branded keywords, and not any other significant product filters. This is clearly not a commercial intent keyword.

Data wherein Google Ad Keywords are Stored

As a quick note, you can also use this feature to identify new potential keywords or find irrelevant keywords and add them to a negative list.

Look at Cost & Competition

One keyword intent strategy that isn’t entirely foolproof but that definitely shouldn’t be written off is to look at the cost and competition levels of the individual keywords.

High-intent, valuable, commercial keywords are typically going to have higher bids than those with commercial intent. They’re particularly likely to have high bids at the low end of the range, because the minimum that advertisers are willing to pay goes up the more valuable the keyword is. Similarly, cost goes up when competition goes up.

keyword competition column in keyword tool

Google’s Keyword Planner will give you the number of monthly searches for each keywords, but the cost and competition are strictly focused on pay–per-click competition and cost. This is invaluable, because people are going to invest into different keywords for organic content marketing compared to PPC clicks.

As a reminder: Not every high-value, high-cost, commercial intent keyword will be right for your brand. Make sure that you’re watching keyword performance closely, even using this strategy.

Consider the Context

And now comes a personal favorite— using common sense and context clues to piece together what most users are searching for when they type a specific keyword into Google.

There is no hard and fast rule, after all, like “all long-tail keywords are information intent.”

There are some longtail keywords like “alternatives to hootsuite” or “best Hartford carpenter” that are high-intent even though they’re longer phrases. They can be leveraged well with appropriately targeted ads like the one below.

A Sample Ad for Hootsuite Alternatives on Google SERPs

Many question-based keywords may be informational, like “why should I use social media marketing software,” but there’s still some solid intent behind that. They’re in a consideration or research phase. That being said, a well-timed blog post would likely be a better option to capture and nurture some of these users instead of a sales-heavy landing page.

Think about why user would enter in a specific search, and what needs they might have. Overtime and with some practice, this gets easier to do more accurately.

4 Tips to Better Reach Relevant Audiences

Want to reach more relevant, higher-quality, higher-converting audiences with your new and improved search intent knowledge?

Here are four tips to take your keyword strategy to the next level:

  • Eliminate irrelevant keywords from your campaigns. When researching search intent, it’s only natural that you’ll end up finding a few that won’t be a fit for your campaigns. If they’re close to the keywords you are targeting or if you’re using broad match keywords, add them to a negative keyword list. This will keep low-intent or irrelevant searches away from your ads, and vice versa.
  • Stick to phrase match and exact match keywords. At least when your campaigns first launch, we recommend opting for phrase and exact match keywords. They can increase the likelihood that you’re reaching the right audience and placing for the right keywords.
    Once these campaigns are doing well, you can consider using a broad match campaign to discover more potential keywords, but keep a close eye on them.
  • Know that information-based keywords can be used elsewhere. Some keywords just won’t be a fit at all, because users aren’t looking for anything close to what you offer. If, however, you find great information-based keywords, they may be a perfect fit for a content marketing strategy or for your SEO campaigns. Just because they aren’t a fit for your Google Ads doesn’t mean they should be written off altogether.
  • Always test your theories. Testing is a crucial part of every aspect of Google Ads, and it’s no different here.
    Sometimes keywords surprise you; you may find great new ones with broad match that drive results, and other times even your best-researched keywords that you were so confident in just don’t do the trick.
    Look for signs of misaligned intent. If you have high clicks but low conversions, it could be a landing page issue, a targeting issue, or it could be a sign that the search intent isn’t quite lining up.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to think that any relevant keyword could be an asset to your Search Ad or Shopping Ad campaigns, but finding a curated list of relevant, high-intent keywords is the most effective way to drive stronger leads, more sales, and a better ROAS.

Remember to make use of both standard keyword lists and negative keyword lists, and opt for exact match or phrase match keywords when you’re testing new lists out to get a better idea of accurate performance.

Want to learn more about how to excel with keyword research? Check out our Keyword Resources for Search Ads.