Search Intent Optimization: The Missing Piece of Your Marketing Puzzle
It’s a big ol’ Internet, with a gargantuan 4.2 billion webpages online at the beginning of 2021, and a whopping 63,000 Google searches occurring every second. With increasing web accessibility and over half a million new websites created worldwide every single day, that’s an awful lot of stuff to sort through to find a meatloaf recipe.
So, how do we manage to get the answers we want, instead of painstakingly typing out clarifying search terms or wading through pages of links for things like the history of meatloaf through the ages, or this playlist from the guy who will do anything for love?
The short answer: search intent.
What is Search Intent?
Search intent (or user intent) is what the user is trying to accomplish when they are using a search engine like Google. It’s the intended goal for the search, whether that is to find out how to spell a word correctly or to figure out which brand of tablet to purchase.
Search intent affects the user’s word choice and defines what the user expects or wants to see in the SERP (Search Engine Results Page).
Why Consider Search Intent?
Google is extremely adept at determining what users actually want to see for a given keyword, through sophisticated analysis of the keywords people tend to use for a certain purpose. When users don’t find what they’re looking for quickly, they run another search and Google takes note that the first set of results didn’t answer the original query. Google also notices when users consistently engage with a result that does answer their query, and that result moves up in rankings.
That’s why search intent is a crucial element in any effective SEO strategy. If you try to rank for keywords that misalign user intent to what your webpage actually offers to users, you’re going to be banished.
Okay, maybe not banished, but stuck in a barren void of obscurity isn’t out of the question. At any rate, it’s going to be difficult or impossible to rank for those keywords, and Google is always getting even better at anticipating what users expect to find.
Let’s take a look at some of the SEO benefits you get from aligning to user intent:
🛰️ Higher rankings and Wider Reach
When your page aligns with the intent for a target keyword, it aligns with what the user wants to see! Think about it: when you’re looking for something specific and come across something else instead, you’re not likely to even look at it – much less be ready to buy it. Besides that, Google has good reason to show results that make sense for what the user is asking – frustrated users who don’t find what they’re searching for would give up and spend less time using Google.
Because of this, Google goes to great lengths to determine what users are expecting to see so that the search engine can fulfill those expectations. Part of this effort includes semantic search, which uses continuously updated algorithms to determine the context of a keyword. That keyword – and your website, if you’re ranking for it – becomes associated with other relevant keywords.
In short: not only do you have a better chance of ranking for a target keyword that makes sense, you’ll ALSO rank for other keywords that Google associates with your target keyword.
🛰️ Reduced Bounce Rates
When your site appears where users are already primed by their intent, they’re far more likely to click through to your site – and to stay there. By contrast, if they’ve stumbled onto your site while they’re not in the mindset for it, they’re not only going to leave your site. They’re going to forget about it – or even worse, feel annoyed by getting directed there.
🛰️ More Effective Competitive Analysis
Assessing relevance to search intent requires you to analyze what your target audience wants so that you can appeal to it. This approach also has a built-in hack, though: when you optimize for search intent, you can also see how your competitors are already appealing to your target audience’s wants, and develop ways to do it better.
🛰️ Greater Brand Credibility
Targeting keywords without aligning to user intent can appear spammy or haphazard, rather than reflecting the effort you’ve put into a thoughtful marketing strategy. When your site ranks with contextual relevance to the keyword, your brand builds credibility and commands greater authority in your industry.
Additionally, if you hit page 1 in search results, your page becomes eligible to be featured in a SERP answer box, which can dramatically increase your brand’s authority and your website’s clickthrough rates.
Types of User Intent
There are four major types of search intent that drive search engine queries. Here we’ll take a look at them, and some search intent examples that illustrate how people search the web:
- Informational intent comes from a need for an answer to a question – how to do something, what the facts are about something, what the schedule is for an event, and so on.
- “how to add a formula in Excel”
- “is fish good for your brain”
- “Chicago bus routes”
- Navigational intent comes from a need to navigate to a website or specific webpage from the SERP.
- “YouTube videos”
- “Washington Post crossword”
- “gmail login”
- Transactional intent occurs with an intention to buy a particular product – the user usually already knows what they want to buy and wants to find a website or place to purchase the item or service.
- “buy Yeti cooler”
- “Sony smart tv for sale near me”
- “Brooks Brothers dress shirts”
- Commercial intent is sort of a hybrid between informational (finding out facts) and transactional (seeking to buy something) – the buyer knows what they want, but may still be undecided on the brand and probably isn’t sure where to buy it yet. This is also called commercial investigation, as the user is often comparing different product types and brands to best fit their needs.
- “best dress shirts for men”
- “Apple vs Android”
- “are zero turn mowers worth the money”
Optimizing for Search Intent to Rank for the Right Keywords
Targeting the right keywords for user intent takes a little reverse engineering: instead of choosing to target keywords you expect should be relevant to your site, you’ll have to find out and target the keywords your target audience expects should be relevant to your site.
As a marketer, you already know the importance of anticipating your prospective customers’ state of mind – but how can you accurately anticipate what keywords they use when searching for the solutions you offer? Thankfully, we can easily mine Google’s expertise for clues on how to assess and properly target keywords for their intent.
Deciding Whether to Try to Rank for a Keyword
Here are a few important steps for beefing up your keyword strategy:
👾 Assess Keyword Difficulty
Keywords with higher search volumes can be tempting to target because so many people are searching for them, but higher search volume comes with higher competition. It may be better to aim for page 1 with a lower-volume keyword than to get on page 7 for a high volume keyword.
Try Ahref’s free Keyword Difficulty Checker to see how attainable it is to rank for a certain keyword.
👾 Analyze the SERP generated for the keyword
What search intent does Google seem to be appealing to for the given keyword? If the majority of content shown implies an informational intent, chances are good that users aren’t interested in buying something when searching that keyword, and you’re better off to target a different search term for your sales pages.
That’s not to say you couldn’t target informational intent with other types of pages on your site – just be aware of which pages you match to the keyword.
A keyword may be associated with mixed intents too, so pay attention to which intent appears to be dominant in the SERP.
👾 Analyze the preferred media that Google is appealing to in the SERP
The type of media shown can provide clues to user intent; an informational query might return articles for a question of facts, a commercial query may show consumer reviews for a type of product, and so on.
This goes back to how Google anticipates what users are after – if your webpage isn’t showing the type of media that users have indicated they’re interested in, your site simply won’t rank as well for that term as sites that do.
For instance, if the SERP shows a majority of visual content for a given keyword, you’ll want to generate visual content to get a better chance of ranking for that keyword.
👾 Assess Competitors
Focus on competing with content that aligns with the same user intent that yours does. For example, if you run a dog-grooming business, you’ll want to prioritize competing with the websites of other successful dog groomers, rather than just trying to rank for pet care generally.
A good place to start would be to search a term directly relevant to your industry, and engage in trial-and-error until you notice contextual patterns among related keywords.
👾 Analyze related searches and “People Also Ask”
Assessing these sections helps develop an overall sense of the original keyword’s intent, since they usually have a high keyword similarity score and are generated through semantic search analysis – they’re related terms suggested in order to get the user closer to a specific answer.
Additionally, if it turns out the original keyword is a good fit for you to target, these sections can suggest other focus keywords to aim for.
Define, Align, and Refine Your Message
Now that you’re equipped to engage warp-speed on your rankings through search intent SEO, you can chart a clearer course for your marketing strategy.
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