What is Your Audience Really Searching For? A Guide to Search Intent
Google has built its brand and reputation on providing the most relevant search results. Of course, that involves understanding the intent behind a search — something that isn’t always straightforward for Google’s sophisticated algorithms, let alone content creators.
One of the best SEO practices is to take a similar approach to Google: Make it your goal to completely satisfy your audience’s search intent. Doing so will not only vastly improve your content’s quality, but it can also boost organic traffic and enhance your SEO efforts.
If your content doesn’t align with search intent, there’s little chance it will rank in the SERPs. That’s why it’s so important to consider search intent when performing keyword research, creating new content and optimizing your existing content.
What is Search Intent?
Search intent (sometimes referred to as user intent) is the reason why someone began their search. If someone searched for “blonde hair,” what would you assume their search intent is? To find photos of different shades of blonde hair? To find a local salon? To purchase hair bleach? With so many vague search queries like this one, it can be difficult to tell what a searcher’s intent truly is.
Gaining a better understanding of search intent is all about following context clues and adopting a methodical approach. But don’t stress — many searches are straightforward and can easily be categorized by type of intent.
Types of Search Intent
There are four major types of search intent. While many searches fall into one of the four categories below, it’s important to note that keywords can have multiple intents.
The searcher is looking to supplement their knowledge. These queries are sometimes in the form of a question, but not always. As the name implies, searchers expect to find content with helpful information.
Searchers with navigational intent are searching for a specific website or page. The searcher already knows that the page exists, but they may not know the URL. They might even find it easier to search Google than typing in the URL directly.
The searcher has identified a problem, and they want a solution — usually by purchasing a product or service. With this type of intent, users are often looking for reviews or testimonials, or details about different products and comparisons.
Many local searches are commercial. For example, a searcher looking for the “best Thai food in Boston” has identified their problem: They want Thai food (who doesn’t). The solution: Find the best local Thai food.
The searcher is ready to make a purchase. Most often, they know what product or service they want to purchase but may not know where or from whom to purchase. Searchers may also be looking to price something or searching for the best deal.
Why Does Search Intent Matter?
Google has built its brand and reputation on providing the most relevant search results. If Google doesn’t believe your content is relevant to a searcher’s query or doesn’t satisfy their intent, you’re not going to rank for that keyword in the SERPs.
Creating relevant content that aligns with search intent is key to landing a coveted spot on the SERPs. Google had this to say about search intent, “People respond to brands that understand their needs. So, it’s important to optimize your media for both relevance to the consumer and lifetime value for the brand.”
Besides generally improving SEO and the quality of your content, there are many other benefits of optimizing content for search intent:
- Reduced bounce rates: If your content satisfies search intent, users are more likely to explore more than one page on your site.
- Higher page views: Google rewards content that satisfies search intent. The higher the position in the SERPs for a given keyword, the greater the number of page views you’re like to have.
- Increase in brand awareness: As users see and interact with your content more often, the better brand awareness.
- More qualified traffic: By creating content that accounts for search intent, your brand should see more targeted users interacting with your content.
How to Analyze Search Intent
In many cases, search intent is obvious and can be easily classified into one of the four categories. However, some cases require further examination.
Look for Keyword Modifiers
Keyword modifiers can signify search intent. By analyzing the language used in the query, we can classify the search intent into one of the four categories.
For example, the intent behind the query “best blonde hair dye” is to compare different dye products (commercial intent). The intent behind “candle making tutorial” is to learn how to make candles (informational intent).
Not all queries will have modifiers, and looking at the modifiers alone won’t give you as much information about intent as combining it with other methods.
Look to SERP Features
Google shows a SERP feature at the top of the page for many keywords. Types of SERP features include featured snippets, Google Ads, knowledge cards and Twitter boxes. By analyzing the class of SERP feature and the language used in that feature, you can get a much better sense of search intent.
The type of feature can usually show you what type of intent category the query falls under. Note that some features can fall under multiple categories:
If your term is ambiguous or could have multiple intents, looking at the SERP feature is a great way to get clarification.
For example, I really want to know the intent behind this ambiguous query: “clean stone.” I’m not sure if this is referring to cleaning an engagement ring or how to clean granite countertops or something else entirely.
I search Google and find this featured snippet:
The featured snippet is a guide to cleaning stones surfaces, such as marble floors. I now know that this query has informational intent and I know what types of stone people are looking to clean.
Look at the Top-Ranking Pages
Looking at the top-ranking pages for search intent can reveal a wealth of information and expand your knowledge of search intent.
Coming back to the “clean stone” example, we can see that the top-ranking pages all reference “natural stone” and “surfaces.” That’s important to note, and my content should have a similar angle. We can also see that the top pages are primarily how-tos, guides and listicles. That’s the type of content format that searchers clearly prefer.
Write down everything you can infer from the top-ranking results, from keywords used on the page, title tag and meta description, to format, intent category and angle. Also, make note of how you would improve the top-ranking pages to make your content even more useful to searchers.
How Search Intent Fits Into a Content Marketing Strategy
Accounting for search intent is key to a successful content marketing strategy. You’ll not only improve the quality of your content, but you can also enhance your keyword research, simplify the content creation process and streamline your SEO efforts.
Keyword research is a great time to focus on search intent. Here’s how to incorporate search intent into your process:
- Make a list of keywords relevant to your industry and business. Tools like Google Keyword Planner, Answer the Public and Ahrefs can help with the keyword ideation process. Google’s People Also Ask and Related Search boxes can also be a goldmine.
- Group your keywords by intent type by looking at the modifiers, top-ranking pages and SERP features.
- Analyze which keywords to pursue, taking into consideration competition, keyword difficulty and search volume.
From there, take a deeper dive into your chosen keywords by determining the best format and angle to pursue.
Content Format and Angle
Search intent can suggest the best format for your content. In general, knowing the intent type can tell you which format is best:
- Informational: Blog posts, FAQs, how-tos, ultimate guides, tutorials, listicles
- Navigational: Product and services pages, About Us page, the home page. Optimize the target pages by placing the product, service or brand name in the HTML headers, meta description and title tag.
- Commercial: Landing pages, reviews and product pages.
- Transactional: Product pages, eCommerce category pages. Make sure your pages have a strong CTA where users can convert or make a purchase.
If you’re unsure which format to choose, look at the top-ranking pages for your keyword. You should also evaluate the top pages for trends in language and tone to pursue a winning content angle. It’s okay to take a new approach (especially if you find the content in the top pages to be lacking) but it would be unwise to ignore a proven approach.
Optimize Existing Content for Search Intent
If your current pages aren’t performing as well as you’d hope, it’s a good idea to determine if the content aligns with search intent.
Update your keyword research using the method described above and determine search intent for your chosen terms. Next, look at the top-ranking pages for those keywords and determine if the format or angle should be adjusted. Most importantly, see if your content could be more useful than the top results. Look at the Related Search and People Also Ask boxes to see if your content could be relevant to those queries too.
Understanding search intent is vital to creating an effective content marketing strategy. Choosing a content writer that understands search intent is key to ensuring that your brand is creating high-quality, targeted content. Google recognizes the importance of search intent, and so should your brand.
About the Author
This post was written by nDash community member Jessica Riva. To learn more about Jessica, check out her nDash profile.