What is Search Intent?
Search intent — sometimes referred to as keyword intent — is the goal that the user hopes to achieve by conducting a search on Google — or any other search engine, for that matter.
Thanks to the Google RankBrain and Google Hummingbird algorithms, search intent can be recognized by the search engine who then displays results in order of relevance to the desired goal.
Results that are most relevant to the user’s search intent will be displayed in snippet results such as the Knowledge Panel and Answer Box.
Keyword intent can also be used to describe keywords used by visitors, leads, and customers who are at different stages of your conversion funnel.
People will respond to search results in different ways depending on their end goal. Understanding this fact and optimizing your content in accordance to it is paramount to maintaining an effective digital marketing strategy — for both SEO and conversion-based tactics.
Types of User Intent
One type of user intent is navigation — typically labeled “go” intent. This form of intent is seen when a user wants to get to a specific page or website. Common examples are someone searching for “Facebook” or “Amazon” with the goal of navigating to the site without typing the URL.
The second form of intent is the “know” intent. When a user searches the web with this intent, it means that they are looking for an answer to a specific question. People who search with the “know” intent will dominantly use terms like “why do”, “where is”, “what is”, and of course, “how to.”
The final form of intent is the “do” intent. Users searching with the “do” intent are browsing the web with the aim of completing an action. The first thing that comes to mind is a purchase but it could be anything from an email signup to a customer service query.
Okay, I know I said that “do” was the final form of search intent, sue me but there’s one more, albeit less significant, form of intent known as “freebie keywords.”
Users searching with freebie keywords such as “free SSL” or “trial games” are often looking for products or services that are available free of charge. Catering to this audience is not beneficial in most situations but could become useful if you’re offering a free trial to a service with the hope of later converting the prospect into a paying customer.
Here are three queries that, while similar, have different search intents behind them:
- New PS4 Amazon
- How to use PS4
- New PS4 deals
Despite the fact that all three searches are on the same topic — PS4s — each user will have different expectations and reactions upon viewing the search results.
Keeping Things Above the Fold
“Above the fold”, or sometimes “above the scroll”, is a term used by journalists and web designers alike. Unless you’re going to be publishing a newspaper, you don’t need to know about its traditional meaning, just the modern one.
In web design lingo, above the fold refers to anything that a visitor can immediately see upon arriving on a webpage — without having to scroll lower.
This might include contact forms, text, or images. The fold varies depending on device type and screen size but you don’t need to worry about that. What you should be focusing on are the elements that you want people to see as soon as they land on your page.
Having everything significant immediately available above the fold is paramount to optimizing UX and increasing your conversion rate.
Match Keywords to Intent
It’s crucial that you match keywords to intent so you can attract the right audience type at the right time. If you’re trying to target buyers then don’t target informational keywords like “how to.”
Here are two possible page titles:
- How to buy a new iPhone 7
- iPhone 7 best deals
The second is more likely to convert buyers while the first will attract those simply looking for information. On the flipside, if your website aims to provide information, don’t target keywords like “for sale.”
Divide and Conquer
You might be wondering how it’s even possible to get everything above the fold — especially when everyone wants something different. The answer is, you don’t. The easiest way to appeal to everyone is by creating separate pages for different audiences. This will ensure that people only see information that is relevant to them.
Having different pages for people at different stages of the conversion cycle will help you tailor each element to the right audience. While buyers may need an add-to-cart button or contact form, first-time visitors would prefer a tab leading to your blog or about us page.
Targeting Transactional Search Terms
Traditionally, most marketers have focused on targeting search terms that are most likely to convert, and for good reason! These search terms are most likely to give you a decent return on investment.
When targeting transactional search terms, there a few things that you need to check if you hope to optimize your conversion rate:
- Is the add-to-cart button visible and accessible?
- Are your call-to-actions compelling?
- Does your website have sufficient information for a user to make a decision?
- Is the copy on your website persuasive?
Instead of trying to manipulate Google’s search algorithms, just ensure that your page is the best result for a specific search term.
No matter how hard you try to trick Google, the webpage that is most likely to fulfill the user’s goal will be the page that ranks highest.
Targeting Informational Search Terms
While targeting transactional search terms is important, you mustn't neglect informational search terms. You might be wondering why you’d want to spend time catering to this audience only to give away information for free.
However, it is that very giving of free information that could benefit your business. Here are some ways that catering to informational search terms can be of use:
Providing Value Earlier in the Consumer Buying Process
Just because someone is looking for information, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t also planning on making a purchase. This seemingly useless visitor may actually be researching a product to decide whether or not they should buy it.
Providing informative content that answers all their questions will establish your brand as a reputable company and influence their decision when it comes time to make the purchase.
Even if the visitor does not make a purchase, they may still share your content on social media, blogs, and websites if it is reader-worthy and informative. All these backlinks will help increase your website’s authority and improve your rankings for transactional search terms. It’s basically digital karma.
To fully utilize search intent, you can’t cherry pick. You have to incorporate everything into your marketing strategy so that your efforts will be effective from all angles. While transactional search terms provide the highest ROI, it’s important to remember that every form of search intent provides a potential win for your business.
Here’s a summarized list of how each form of intent could benefit your business:
- Navigational: navigational search terms are the easiest ones to appeal to. Be sure to optimize your title tags, meta descriptions, and headings so that Google knows which way to steer your incoming traffic. On-page SEO elements are like digital road signs that help algorithms understand where everything is and what it means.
- Informational: informational searches are the most common type of search conducted on Google. Appealing to these searches is one of the best ways to acquire leads, establish your brand, and increase product awareness.
- Transactional: transactional links are the moneymakers. Make sure landing pages that target transactional search terms are optimized for conversion. Contact forms, add-to-cart buttons, and compelling copy are absolute must-haves for these types of pages.
- Freebies: if you have any free offers, be sure to create pages that target freebie searches. While these visitors may not make you any money, they can spread the word about your company through social media and word of mouth. Remember, even if someone doesn’t plan on buying, one of their friends might.
Search Intent for SEO
Algorithms emphasize search intent when deciding which organic results are most relevant and display-worthy. There are many ways that paying attention to search intent can boost your SEO, including:
- Reduced bounce rates: since each page is targeting a specific audience, your visitors are more likely to engage with your website instead of leaving without performing a single action. This reduction in bounce rate will help you rank higher.
- More page views: since visitors will consider your website relevant, they are more likely to continue browsing through other pages.
- More Answer Boxes: your content will be deemed so relevant that it will appear on Google’s Answer Boxes — above the first organic search result. Take a second to think about that, you’ll be ranking at position zero.
- Wider audience reach: Google has the ability to categorize multiple searches for the same intent and topic. This means that if your page appeals to one search term, it could also appeal to other terms under the same category which will widen the reach of your content — effectively optimizing it for numerous search terms simultaneously.
All these benefits are what makes search intent optimization such a powerful tool. If you execute it properly, you could reach larger audiences, bring in more targeted traffic, and increase the engagement of your content.
Start Sooner Rather than Later
If you haven’t been optimizing your pages with search intent in mind, it’s time to turn over a new leaf. Utilize analytics to see what content already appeals to user intent and what doesn’t. Remember, every problem has a solution, and the easiest way to appeal to people is to be that solution.