When marketing to your audience online, it’s crucial to engage with your audience with as much relevance as possible to their search query – whether that is answering a question filling a need or educating them this can help lead them to the next stage in their journey and closer to the final hurdle: the transaction or enquiry.
As a business that operates online, you’ll want to rank for search terms relevant to or the same as those which your target audience are searching for. This means being found when people are searching keywords related to your product or service – at the time that the user needs you.
If you can provide the user with the specific content they’re looking for at the time of their search, i.e. a product page, or informative blog post, they are more likely to engage with your website, and end their journey there.
Google will learn from this engagement and reward you, by moving your website up the SERPs and make it easier for people to find your business.
To do this, you need to identify your customer’s search intent. So that you can create content that supports the user’s query.
How does Google utilise search intent?
The words surrounding the product or service in a query are what indicate the type of search intent and where the user is at in relation to making that next step, i.e: a purchase or enquiry.
The types of search intent are:
- Commercial investigation
For example, when searching for a cafe that serves vegan food, a user might search something like ‘vegan cafe Bristol’, which would indicate that the user wants to find a cafe that is vegan-friendly and also wants the results to be specific to a certain location. This would be a location-based search.
Similarly, we can reasonably assume that someone searching for ‘affordable skincare’ is looking to make a purchase given that they’ve implied some sort of idea about how much money they’re willing to spend. This type of intent would be transactional.
Google uses this information to improve the value of the content that is delivered to the searcher, and there is a good reason for this.
Before the Google Hummingbird update in 2013, Google’s algorithm worked by connecting various keywords to the content on a page. This inspired the questionable trend of ‘keyword stuffing,’ which essentially means throwing keywords around like confetti in an effort to climb to the top of search engine results pages. But this meant that a ton of irrelevant content made it to the top.
Google now measures UX (user experience) and uses this to determine how smooth a website is to navigate. It takes into account factors such as loading time and how often users experience unexpected changes or errors when interacting with visual elements on a page.
These ongoing improvements to Google’s algorithm aim to make the quality of the content that is delivered to the user as high as possible. Combined with Google’s understanding of search intent, it is now more crucial than ever to ensure the overall quality of your website is good enough to be seen by your desired audience.
Targeting the right keywords
Knowing what keywords to target is everything to do with search intent. They tell you what your audience is looking for and, crucially, what you need to be able to offer.
To use search intent in your keyword research, begin by brainstorming a few words related to your business. But then be more specific, to really figure out what your audience wants and start narrowing down your criteria. You can do this just by entering keywords (or phrases) into Google and taking note of the suggested search terms.
Google’s ‘People also ask’ feature provides answers to other questions within the realm of the topic, as it understands that not all users will be initially satisfied with the answers to their query. But it also helps by opening up other subtopics and giving you even more to work with.
Creating content that converts
You’ll be able to see what kind of content overall performs well for a particular search term at first glance.
If you searched for ‘how to poach an egg’ and among the top results was the image panel showing various infographics; that would tell you people are looking for something visual, or that visual content tends to be where users end up.
Likewise: if the top-ranking pages for one of your keywords are mostly product pages, it might make sense to follow suit and shy away from blog posts.
Now that you have an insight into what your audience wants and how they want it, you can start thinking about how to tailor your content accordingly. When you know the type of search intent behind the things your audience is searching for, you can allow for that to guide your content strategy.
If their queries are informational, you might want to write a blog post. If it’s transactional, you might want to work on optimising your product pages’ meta descriptions and titles and ensuring that they’re super user friendly.
Keyword research lays the groundwork for content, but this is where you have to think a bit more deeply about the motivation behind them. For example, a search for ‘how to make banana bread’ mainly generates results for blog posts on banana bread recipes that contain words like ‘easy’, or ‘simple’ in the title tags.
This small detail suggests that when people are searching for banana bread recipes, they’re doing so because they want to bake something that doesn’t require a lot of steps or ingredients. With this in mind, you might create a piece of content along the lines of ‘The Simplest No-Fuss Banana Bread Ever (Just 3 Ingredients)’, as an example.
To go above and beyond, you can pair this with the Skyscraper Technique, taking your favourite bits from the top-ranking content, forming your own unique take, and outranking your competitors.
The format is especially important, as this will factor into how much time is spent on your page. The end goal is for the user to spend the longest amount of time on your page, and for their journey to end there. A list of how-to format, for example, tends to be easier for people to digest and, so long as the information is useful and relevant, they won’t have to spend so much time looking elsewhere.
Search intent reigns supreme
By taking the time to implement a search intent strategy, you’re cooperating with Google and helping it to help you. It’s all about timing, and demonstrating to Google that your site is a valuable resource and can help it achieve its goal of delivering the most relevant and useful content to its users – fast.
Just as sites that are rewarded for satisfying the searcher’s needs by being ranked higher, if you don’t deliver on content – by having all the keywords without the substance to match, or really relevant content that is somewhat difficult to digest – your site’s position will drop. From there, it’s an uphill battle.
The essence of search intent is about taking proactive steps towards landing in front of your customers before your competitors do; getting them to spend more time getting to know your product or service and making them more confident about investing in it. In 2021, amidst ongoing updates to Google’s algorithm, the need for a search intent strategy is more vital than ever.