The key to any successful marketing strategy is understanding your target audience. What are their needs? How can you help them? What do they want from you?
Understanding the intention behind the words your prospective customers type into the search bar can give you a glimpse into their state of mind and even help you rank better in search engine result pages (SERPs).
Over the past few years, Google has made substantial progress in developing the ability to better understand search queries, not just the literal meaning of the words but also the intent behind them. Now, if you want to rank well in search, your SEO strategy must be focused both on targeting the right keywords and matching the content to the searcher’s intent.
Otherwise, you risk falling behind better-optimized competitors in the SERPs and missing out on potential customers.
What Is Search Intent?
Search intent is simply the reason why someone is conducting a specific search. When a user enters keywords into Google, they do so with a particular goal in mind. They might be seeking an answer to a question, looking for a specific website, or intending to buy a product or service.
Why Is Search Intent Important?
Content marketers must understand search intent related to their products, company, and industry as a whole. You can then use this knowledge to help clients find what they need from you faster, stand out via higher search rankings, and attract new customers.
Google’s place as the top search engine in the world is dependent on providing value to its users. To stay on top, the company needs to develop ways to consistently and reliably deliver the results its users are looking for.
Search intent represents a fundamental shift in the way that Google interprets queries and how it ranks content. With late 2019’s BERT algorithm update, Google has been putting a concerted effort to better understand search intent using natural language processing (NLP).
BERT stands for “bidirectional encoder representations from transformers.” This sounds complex, but the simple explanation is that BERT enhances Google’s ability to determine a word’s meaning based on what follows and precedes it. It helps the algorithm to understand the context, sentiment, and intent of a search, not just the keywords being used.
For content marketers, this means thinking beyond keyword optimization to fully understand search intent and create valuable content.
By doing that, you’ll also reduce bounce rates and improve dwell time (which are also important ranking factors) as users spend more time on your site engaging with content that is relevant to them.
The Types Of Search Intent
There are four types of search intent, each of which represents a different type of content that a searcher may be looking for.
This is one of the most common and easy-to-understand search intents. Informational searches take place when a user searches for the answer to a question, facts about an important person or event, instructions for performing a task, and so on.
Users may phrase an informational search as a question. For example, they may search “How do I tie a square knot?” However, it doesn’t have to be phrased as a question. If someone searches for the “square knot,” they are probably looking for the same general information.
Before someone makes a purchase, they will often research companies and products. They will compare several factors to determine which brand or product is right for them.
One example of a commercial investigation search intent would be, “Front loading washing machines or top loading?” People who have this search intent aren’t necessarily ready to purchase but are conducting searches to find the information they need to take action later on.
Transactional searchers know what they want and are ready to buy—either online or in person. They may have already done their research or heard about a product or brand from a friend, family, or influencer. Whatever the case, they’re usually searching branded keywords associated with a product, store, or company.
Along with these branded terms, other keywords that often signal transactional intent include:
Navigational searchers are looking for an easy way to get to a specific website or web page. They’re either unsure of the exact URL, or they just find it easier to type a few keywords into the search bar than to type out the full URL. For example, someone who enters the phrase “Disney World Facebook” is probably looking for the company’s Facebook page.
How To Optimize For Search Intent
Google has gone to extensive lengths to accomplish one goal: to match search intent to search results. When someone types a search query into Google, they should get the exact information they expect to find.
Imagine that a potential client conducts a transactional search. They enter the phrase, “Where to buy acme brake pads for my truck.” If you sell acme brake pads, you want that prospect to land on your product page, not a general blog post about installing brake pads on pickup trucks.
However, sometimes the process of optimizing for search intent can be more complicated and requires deeper analysis to create the exact content your customers are searching for.
To learn more about your audience’s search intent, you should review search results using a process known as SERP analysis. SERP analysis can show you how your business and your competitors rank under different types of searches, giving you insight for improving your results for certain types of queries.
A SERP analysis starts with keyword research. You’ll need to determine which keywords you want to rank for and examining the top-ranked search results. These are the pages that Google has determined to be most relevant to the intent, so taking a close look at these results will give you insight into the intent behind those keywords.
Using your knowledge of the types of search intent, try to determine whether the pages are predominantly informational, preferential, transactional, or navigational.
In addition to the content of the pages, the format may also give you a clue as to the dominant search intent for that keyword. For example, a SERP with links to YouTube videos, images, and blog pages is more likely to indicate informational intent or commercial investigation than transactional.
Finally, after you have a better idea of the dominant search intent, compare that to your current content. Do you have content that would fit in with the SERP listings you are seeing? Is that content in the proper format?
If so, you can begin conducting more specific queries using long-tail keywords to figure out how to improve your content for more detailed searches. You can also use the results to generate some new content ideas to fill in gaps where you aren’t currently likely to rank.
Intent-Based Content Creation
Any company can use its blog as a tool to further its SEO marketing strategy by publishing content to boost reputation and build authority.
Focus on writing content that is both relevant to the most common queries in your industry and compliant with Google’s E-A-T guidelines (expertise, authority, trustworthiness) to increase the likelihood of ranking for relevant search keywords.
Keep in mind, Google not only wants results to be relevant to user intent but also present reliable, factual information. That’s why your content marketing strategy should not only focus on intent, but also quality.
To develop content with E-A-T as the focus, take a look at Google’s Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines, and use these as a touchstone when you create new content for your website. Some general best practices for creating E-A-T-compliant content include:
- Reaching out to experts and trusted influencers to review content and add endorsements or quotes
- Including contributor bios for writers, company executives, and industry experts
- Sharing case studies involving your products and any claims you make about them
- Focusing on proven, data-backed content
- Citing reliable statistics and information from reputable sources
However, if you already have a library of content, you don’t need to start from scratch to develop better quality content. You can refresh your existing content with E-A-T in mind.
To do that, start by auditing your content for pages that may have a high bounce rate or low dwell time. These are indicators that the content doesn’t match search intent or doesn’t fully answer the searcher’s query.
Once you’ve identified those pages, there are a few steps you can take to improve your content for intent and E-A-T:
- Edit content changes based on updated keyword research.
- Increase the word count of thin content to make it more extensive and informative.
- Combine related thin content to create more comprehensive pages.
- Add links to authority sites.
- Include digital assets such as infographics and tools.
Optimized Search Intent is Good For Business
Try to think back to the last time you conducted a Google search and struggled to find the information you needed. Remember the frustration of bouncing between web pages, skimming page after page of irrelevant content?
That’s exactly what Google wants to avoid. Remember that Google has improved, and continues to improve, its ability to discern search intent.
By publishing content that answers your target customer’s questions and ranks under relevant searches, you’ll be rewarded with more traffic to your website and improved search engine rankings. Brands that refuse to keep up with Google’s improvements risk losing ground to the competition.