What would it mean for your business if every visitor that came to your website from Google found exactly what they were looking for?
Whenever a customer needed your product or service, even if they didn’t realise it was you they were looking for; there you’d be. Introducing Search Intent Optimisation.
Your website would be getting the exact types of visitors you want.
And, you’d be giving your visitors the exact content they want, when they want it.
Surely it’s every marketer’s dream?
Providing highly relevant content to visitors that are ready to engage with your brand.
Visitors that will convert into customers.
Well, with Search Intent, that dream can be a reality.
In this article, we’ll give you an in-depth guide to Search Intent; from what it is, why it’s essential to your business and how you can implement it into your digital strategies.
Don’t be put off by all the detail and tech-y language. Search Intent isn’t rocket science. In fact, once you get stuck into it you’ll see it’s all just common sense really.
And, to help with the SEO jargon, we’ve compiled a handy glossary of all the key terms we mention throughout.
If there’s a specific area of Search Intent you’re interested in, use our handy table of contents to jump to the right section.
Or, keep scrolling to get the complete guide to everything you need to know about Search Intent, from start to finish.
- Search IntentWhy your business needs to be using a Search Intent Strategy
- Chapter 1The Essence of Search Intent
- Chapter 2Why Businesses Need to be Using Search Intent
- Chapter 3How Search Engines use Search Intent
- Chapter 4The Five Key Types of Search Intent
- Chapter 5Search Intent in Context
- Chapter 6How to Segment your Customers
- Chapter 7How to Know What Keywords to Target
- Chapter 8Focus on Content
- Chapter 9Future Shifts in Searching
- Chapter 10Voice Search
- Chapter 11BERT Brings in Big Change for Google
- Chapter 12Other Search Intent Considerations
- Chapter 13Glossary
The Essence of Search Intent
Every search made on Google indicates an intent.
From an intention to learn more, to seeking a specific website or to find a particular product; each user is searching in Google for a reason.
The words that these searchers use in their Google queries reveal their intentions and the type of content they’re hoping to be presented with.
For businesses, the whole point of understanding Search Intent is to be able to provide specific, relevant information and answers to searchers around their particular request.
Basically, searchers want to find a site that gives them the exact content they need.
And, you want to be the site giving that information to the searchers within your target audience.
The fundamental principle is that, through analysing the language of your target customer's search engine requests, you can know their Search Intent.
Once you’ve got that nailed, you can start presenting users with content that’s relevant to their bespoke searches.
But, what's all that going to do for you and your business?
Why Businesses Need to be Using Search Intent Strategies
When you target your content to specific search terms that are relevant to your audience's purpose, they’ll engage with your business. And, as a result, Google will reward you because you're helping it to reach its goal of delivering the right solution to the searcher, fast.
You’ll climb the rankings for the specific keywords that relate to your content. And, most importantly, you’ll bag audiences at the right point in their search journey.
The point where they’re ready to engage with your content.
But, if Google sees people arriving at a site for a particular search term, and then bouncing off and going somewhere else because that site doesn’t satisfy their needs, Google will learn from that too.
They'll start to drop those sites down on the results page, replacing them with web pages that people stay on; because those sites align with, and satisfy, the searcher's intent.
It is easy to become obsessed with getting your website to rank high for as many terms as possible. But, when businesses do that, they forget about the searcher. This mistake often leads to a gulf between the searcher's intent and the website’s content.
And that’s bad news for everyone.
Being able to provide your audience with exactly what they’re looking for is every marketer’s dream. Because, inevitably, it will lead to a higher position on the results page and drive highly relevant traffic to your website.
When you give your audience quality, precise content that satisfies their needs, you give them confidence in your site and your brand.
And, when you provide other related content that is just as high quality, it can lead to users spending more time within your site.
Clicking from page to page, consuming more and more of your content and, ultimately, converting into customers.
How Search Engines use Search Intent
Search engines are smart. And they're only getting smarter.
They're now at the point where they understand what users are trying to achieve when they search; their Search Intent.
Google knows that to maintain its position as the most popular search engine, they need to be delivering the most relevant search results to users more efficiently than anyone else.
They want to provide accurate results fast and without friction.
Understanding and responding to user intent is one fundamental way that Google achieves this.
And actually, it’s not that new.
Before Search Intent became the keyphrase of the moment, we all knew it as ‘semantics’; the meaning behind a word or phrase.
Pre-2013, Google’s search algorithm was driven primarily by connecting keywords in the searcher’s request to the text on a web page.
This led to the questionable practice of Keyword Stuffing; planting loads of keywords on a web page to influence the rankings on Google, meaning irrelevant content climbed the results pages.
But, when Google released the Hummingbird update in the Autumn of 2013, things began to change.
Both Hummingbird and, later on the RankBrain update, dramatically improved Google’s ability to determine the user intention behind their searches.
Volume of keywords was no longer a determining factor in ranking content.
The ability to satisfy the user’s needs quickly and efficiently became the most important thing to Google.
And, with each subsequent update to it’s algorithm over recent years, Google has implemented more and more advanced tools for recognising and understanding the meaning behind the words used in search requests.
They’re great at it already, and they’re only going to get better.
So, the goal with Search Intent is to align Google's goals with your own. Then you can begin to produce content targeted to the search intentions and keywords that will have the most relevance to our audience.
The Five Key Types of Search Intent
While, of course, each user will have their own unique motivations for making a particular search request; generally, motivations can be categorised into five key types of intention.
As we’ve already touched on, when a user makes a search, the words they include in their request reveals their intent. That is, the reason they’re making the search and, most importantly, what they hope to get out of it.
Broadly, the user intention behind their searches can be classified as informational, transactional, commercial investigation focussed, navigational or location based.
Whether it’s the answer to a simple request or something that requires a more detailed explanation; a search with an informational intention reveals that the user is seeking, obviously, information.
Informational intentions are the most frequently expressed Search Intent by users. Research found that 80% of user queries are informational in nature.
‘Who’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘when’ are all words that indicate an informational intention. However, not all informational searches are made in the form of a question.
For example, a search for ‘UK Prime Minister’ tells you that the searcher wants to know about the current UK Prime Minister, despite the searcher not inputting a question.
Transactional intentions are exhibited when the user is looking to make a purchase. Examples of transactional searches would be; ‘cheap iPhone’, ‘buy accounting software’, ‘Tony & Guy coupon’. These searches show that the user is at the purchasing stage of their buyer journey.
Usually at this point the user already knows what they want to buy, they’re just looking for a place to make their purchase or a deal to make their purchase cheaper.
Commercial investigation intentions are shown when the searcher is looking to make a purchase but isn’t 100% committed to a specific product or service.
This intention may be expressed in the form of a comparison, i.e. ‘Mac vs PC’ or a ranking, i.e. ‘best foundation for dry skin’ or ‘best accounting software for independent businesses’.
As they’re still weighing their options, these searchers are looking for additional information, reviews and comparisons to inform their purchase.
Navigational intentions indicate that the user already knows where they want to go, they either can’t be bothered to fill in the URL or don’t know the exact URL. Simple examples of these are ‘Facebook’ or ‘Netflix login’.
Location based searches are requests that are qualified by a specific place or area; indicating that the searcher wants the results to be tailored to a certain location. For example, ‘hairdresser near me’, ‘McDonald’s Coventry’, ‘Local Chartered Accountant or ‘dog friendly beaches in Cornwall’.
These location qualifiers indicate to Google that the searcher only wants information relating to that specific location; there would be no point showing the searcher looking for ‘dog friendly beaches in Cornwall’ a list of dog friendly beaches in Western Super-Mare.
Including the location in the search request reveals the user’s need for information relevant to that specified place.
Check out this video from SEMrush that breaks down four of the major types of search intent:
Understanding how users express these key intentions in their search requests, and how to target content to them, is vital to creating a strong Search Intent strategy.
If you’re struggling to see how to target content to these intentions, don’t worry; let’s look at them in context…
Search Intent in Context
The search engine results page can be used as an indicator of the intent of a particular search. Because Google wants to satisfy the user’s query fast and with the most relevant content, the results page will be filled with the type of content that is closest to what the majority of searchers making that query want to see.
Say you're a business selling boxing gloves. The obvious keywords to target would be ‘boxing gloves’, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Because it’s such a broad term, with no identifying intentions in the word choice, it’s nearly impossible to know precisely what that user was hoping to see when they entered ‘boxing gloves’ into the search bar.
Google can’t pinpoint the intention either, so it displays a range of information to the user; in the hopes that something on the page is right for that user’s needs.
Google can recognise that a large portion of users will most likely be searching with a transactional intention; to purchase a pair of boxing gloves. So, they offer a shopping bar along the top of the page; displaying options to purchase pairs of gloves from various retailers.
However, the search engine also knows that not every user will be wanting to purchase a pair of gloves.
Some will be searching with informational or commercial investigation intentions. That’s why, as well as the shopping suggestions, Google also offers users the ‘People also ask’ suggestions.
The ‘People also ask’ feature works to refine a user’s search for them based on an analysis of the search habits of previous users who have made the same, or similar journey as this user.
Remember, users want quality content with relevant information to solve a particular problem; and Google wants to do all it can to give their users the information they want.
A boxing glove retailer could struggle to get a good conversion rate from content targeted at this broad search term. That’s because, like Google, you can’t know why the user is searching.
If you don’t know their intent, you can’t provide what they want.
And, unless you have an unlimited marketing budget, you can waste time and money trying.
That time and energy would be better spent targeting your content to a more niche keyword that reveals a stronger intention, one aligned to your solution.
It’s when customers start to get more granular with their searches that they start to reveal their Search Intent.
Think back to our five core consumer intentions.
There are certain additional words that people add to their searches which reveal their intentions.
And, you’ve almost definitely used them yourself.
Additional keywords tell us what problem the searcher has. And, whether your content will be relevant.
So, for the user who entered ‘boxing gloves’ into Google and was inundated with irrelevant results, their next step would be to add more detail to the search request; to try and produce the results they were looking for.
There’s no hard and fast rule here; but, there are certain additional words that reveal the intention of the searcher.
If a user searches for ‘boxing gloves history’, they’re indicating an informational intent behind their search. The search results page will change from very broad results to very specific.
Google will prioritise sites which provide information based content relating to the history of boxing gloves. These types of searches usually feature sites like Wikipedia high on the results page due to its large database of information.
For you, our hypothetical boxing glove retailer, you could use content targeted at these types of searches to grow your brand authority. Proving your knowledge of your product and industry expertise by producing a blog post or page on your site that explores the history of the boxing glove.
Because Google can recognise the intention behind this user search, they highlight a website which contains information they have determined to be most likely to satisfy the user’s needs.
A detailed preview of the site’s content, called a paragraph featured snippet, shows users that the information within the site will be relevant to their request.
These paragraph featured snippets are like the Holy Grail of SEO.
Any web page ranking in the top 10 Google search results can achieve a featured snippet, also known as the #0 spot, but to get there you have to jump through a few hoops.
However, while you’d assume that getting one of these #0 featured snippet results would mean a huge boost to the traffic coming to your site, research by AHrefs found that wasn’t necessarily the case.
Their research uncovered that when there is a featured snippet on the Google results page, it only gets on average 8.6% of clicks, while the result directly below it will receive on average 19.6% of clicks.
Compare this to a regular results page with no featured snippet and the top result will get on average 26% of clicks.
However, while getting the #0 position is not as beneficial as securing the #1 position in terms of click through rates, it is much easier for a lower ranking (i.e. #6-10) site to achieve a featured snippet than to fight their way up to the #1 position.
Click through rate also varies depending on which intent is being expressed. The chart below shows the organic click-through rates for searches that express a certain intent versus searches that do not.
The click through rate was calculated for data coming from 1,550,524 keywords and 33,105 websites.
For the purposes of this chart, a commercial intent (in purple)was defined as having the following words in the keyword: buy, purchase, cheap, pricing, etc.
An informational intent (in brown) was defined as having the following words in the keyword: what, when, where, how, restaurant, hotel, flight, news, etc.
And a location intent (in yellow) was defined as having the following words in the keyword: near, nearby, from, directions, airport, route, maps, etc.
When a user searches for ‘buy boxing gloves’, their intention is clear.
It’s a transactional search that reveals to both Google and you, our boxing glove retailer, that the user is ready to make a purchase.
For you, our hypothetical retailer, this is the place to be targeting your product pages. You know the user is ready to buy, so show them what you sell.
You can go even deeper by targeting specific product related search terms, such as ‘buy womens boxing gloves’ or ‘buy sparring gloves’. You can see from these more specific searches how many results are filtered out.
The original search term ‘boxing gloves’ had a results volume of over a billion results, ‘buy boxing gloves’ then filtered those results down to 37.9 million. When you clarify that search further to ‘buy womens boxing gloves’, the results are narrowed down even further to 14.3 million results.
For businesses trying to get content in front of qualified customers, narrowing your focus to specific keywords with a smaller results volume means there is more chance of the right users engaging with your content and ultimately converting into customers.
Words like ‘best’, ‘what’ and ‘which’ reveal the user is searching with a commercial investigation intent.
The results are still very informational, similar to the ‘boxing gloves history’ results pages. However, there is a distinct difference in the connotations of the words the user has included in their search.
These additional words show that, yes, the user is looking for information about boxing gloves. But they also reveal that this search for more information is serving a purpose beyond general curiosity.
That purpose is usually to inform a future purchase.
This user could be seeking more information about the various types of glove available, the right glove for a certain style of boxing or reviews of the top gloves on the market.
They’re not ready to make a purchase yet, so are looking for more information before they commit. This is the perfect place for you, our boxing glove retailer, to place content from your blog.
For example, if you have a blog post explaining what type of glove a consumer would need for different styles of boxing or a ranking of the pros and cons of different styles of glove.
This sort of content builds your brand’s authority and places you on the radar of users early on in their search journey.
Meaning that, when the user is ready to make a purchase, because your brand has already proven its authority by providing quality content that has satisfied their previous needs, they’ll be more likely to return to your brand to complete their purchase.
Entering a location into the search request reveals the user is searching with a location based intention. They specifically are looking for boxing gloves in Glasgow, so content not relevant to Glasgow will be of no use to our searcher.
For you, our boxing glove retailer, if you are based in this location, then ‘Glasgow’ is a prime keyword to target your content to. However, if you have no connection to Glasgow there is no point targeting content to this search term.
Location based intentions are perhaps the simplest to interpret and utilise as, generally, you only need to be targeting the locations that your business services or is based in.
Users who search with a navigational intention already know the website they wish to visit, they are simply entering a search request as a means to get to this specific site.
The search request ‘boxing gloves Sports Direct’ tells us that the user is searching specifically for that retailer’s website.
Because Sports Direct is a market leader for discount price sports goods, they have masses of brand authority and will rank highly on Google due to their trusted status by customers.
How to Segment your Customers
Understanding Search Intent doesn’t just help your customers reach relevant content faster, it also helps you to qualify the visitors you get to your site.
To know where to begin with researching relevant keywords to target, you first need a thorough understanding of your audience.
You need to know, for certain, who it is that’s engaging with your content. Not just an assumption based on who you aspire to attract, or who you think might be interested in your content.
The best thing you can do for your business to get your Search Intent strategy spot on, is to segment your customers.
You will have a pretty good idea of who your existing customers are; their average age, their spending habits, their purchase cycle.
By looking really closely at your different types of customers and grouping them based on their similarities; you’ll end up with small groups of audiences who share characteristics in common.
For you, our hypothetical boxing glove retailer, your audience could be segmented based on a range of superficial factors including gender and age as well as more detailed aspects such as:
- Their budget
- Their experience level
- If they’re only interested in training
- If they’re looking to compete
- Whether they come from a white-collar background
- If they are less affluent.
From these segments you can construct a buyer persona.
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer, constructed from the aspects identified in your segmentation.
So, a buyer persona for a customer looking to purchase from your boxing glove retail business could look something like this;
A female in her late twenties who has just taken up boxing as a form of exercise. She comes from a white-collar, middle-class background and is used to having high-quality equipment for her various hobbies and activities.
As well as detailed buyer personas, you also need to categorise your audience segments by where they are in their buyer journey. Customers at different stages of their buyer journey will be receptive to different types of content.
There are loads of different frameworks that have been used to examine the buyer journey over the years. Most are variations on the same principle, that there are key stages the consumer follows when making a purchase.
In the AIDA model, one of the most well-known frameworks, these stages are; Attention, Interest, Desire and Action.
So, for the female customer taking up boxing as exercise, they could be at the early stages of their buyer journey, looking for their first pair of boxing gloves for training. To draw this customer towards your brand, you would want to catch their attention and interest with your content.
Blog posts would work well at this stage as they are not far along enough in their journey to be ready to make a decision or commit to an action; they still need to be convinced by your content to continue their purchase journey to completion.
Once you’ve grouped your consumers into segments, you can begin to research and understand the types of searches that each segment makes at each stage of their buyer journey.
When you understand the language being used by your target customers, you can know which specific intentions are fueling their searches.
Meaning you can create a strategy specifically to satisfy each need and intention your target customer segments are exhibiting.
How to Know What Keywords to Target
You’ll probably already have a general idea of what keywords to target.
There will be certain words that relate to your brand, product or service. Words that are core to your specific customer base or brand identity.
Simply brainstorming words related to your business can be a great way to start.
But, once that list starts to dry-up and you need a little help to get the keywords flowing, these techniques can help.
We’ve already spoken about how broad, generic keywords don’t necessarily engage with the audience you want. So, it’s important to be more specific with the keywords you focus on.
And, with your thorough understanding of the intentions behind the types of user search requests, you should be able to identify worthwhile keywords in a much more precise way.
Simply searching for target keywords in Google yourself can reveal a huge amount.
A good rule to keep in mind is, if Google is suggesting a keyword, it’s because it’s getting search traffic.
‘Sparring Boxing Gloves’ is still a pretty broad term with no clear intent being exhibited, but let’s take a look at how Google reveals what else users frequently search for; and how this can help you to find more targeted keywords.
Google gives you a helping hand right from the start with its Suggest feature; that’s the list of searches that begin to come up as suggestions when you enter a request into the search bar.
If you were our boxing glove retailer, this can tell you a lot about what your customers are looking for in their searches. The suggested searches are all recent, high-volume search terms.
So, if they are relevant to you and your consumer, these would be a good place to start with targeting content.
Once you enter your completed search term, the next thing to analyse is what type of content is currently promoted to the top of the results page.
Looking at this top-ranking content can tell you what Google has prioritised as most important, relevant and useful to the searcher.
Google has determined that this is predominantly a transactional search request, so has promoted the product page of a retailer’s site; Geezers Boxing.
Competitor analysis is a key part of any marketing strategy, and Search Intent is no different.
Looking in depth at the competitor’s page that is ranking would give you a good insight into what they’re doing to indicate to Google that their content is most relevant to the searcher.
And, how you can create content that challenges theirs for the top position.
We can also utilise the ‘people also ask’ to help define our target keywords further.
Google has recognised that not all users will be searching with a transactional intent, and may not be satisfied by the content initially provided by the results page. They have, therefore, provided a shortcut for users to find other informational content that may satisfy their needs better.
These questions, asked by a high-volume of searchers, further reveal the type of content they’re looking for related to sparring gloves.
If you were our boxing glove retailer, you could use this feature to find keywords to target your informational content towards; for example a blog post explaining what sparring gloves are.
Again, researching the content that has already been targeted to these keywords will reveal the competition you’re up against. And, how you can go above and beyond what’s already available to provide better content for the visitor.
Another great tool from Google is the ‘searches related to’ feature located at the bottom of the results page.
These suggested searches, again, offer an idea of popular keywords to target.
The suggestions in this feature can be an endless source of keyword ideas. Click on one search term and scroll to the bottom to find more related searches. Then simply repeat the process over and over to build up your bank of keywords.
These methods should help you to compile a comprehensive list of keywords that are pulling in traffic and are relevant to your business and your target customers.
However, this is only half the job.
Once you have this list, you can plot them into a spreadsheet and begin analysing the value of each keyword for your brand’s individual goals.
A good place to start is by ranking the keywords by their search volume; the higher the monthly search volume, the better. There are plenty of easy to use online tools to help you do this, such as SEMrush and Google Adwords.
Next, you’d need to look at whether your competitors are using these keywords and, if they are, how hard it would be for you to compete and start to rank for them instead.
SEO analytics tools, such as AHRefs, can analyse the pages of your and your competitor’s websites to find the keywords present and provide details for each keyword, including the volume of searches, traffic drawn in, difficulty to target.
If the keyword difficulty is too high, even if it’s highly relevant to your brand and consumer, you’re usually better off focussing on an easier to target keyword where you can have more impact.
The next stage of analysing the value of your keywords is to identify the user intent behind it.
We’ve already spoken about how certain additional words reveal user’s intents in their searches. Use your growing understanding of consumer intent to assign preliminary intents to your keywords.
Categorising your keywords by their Search Intent helps you to know when to use them and what content to attach to these keywords.
This is all vital information for your business.
Knowing the keywords your competitors are using, how difficult they will be to target, and how much traffic they could bring to your site helps you to know which keywords to prioritise and which to disregard.
All of this detailed research will leave you with a list of keywords which are ranked by their monthly search volume, their difficulty to target and their user intent.
Once you’ve got this, you can begin creating highly specific content target to these high value keywords. Content that satisfies your audience’s needs and leads them to convert into customers.
Focus on Content
We’ve already broadly looked at which types of content best suit the five key intentions.
Informational? Write a blog post. Transactional? Show them your product page. Commercial investigation? Give them a review. Location based? Show them where you are. Navigational? Take them straight to the site.
There’s no more guessing, assuming or hoping that your content is relevant to a customer’s needs; with Search Intent you know the needs your users are expressing, and can tailor your content to satisfy it.
But, these five key categories are way too broad. You can’t just blindly shove any old blog post at your customers because you’ve recognised that they’re exhibiting an informational intent.
You need to know the type of content they’re looking for, what it is they want to know and what format that content should be presented in.
To do this, you need to look at what is already out there and how you can improve on it.
Once again, competitor analysis is invaluable.
You need to put yourself in your target consumers’ shoes.
Make the searches they would make. Consume the content that is already available as if you were a prospective customer; not a competitor with an ulterior motive.
Does the competitor content satisfy the user’s needs? Is it engaging? Is it in a digestible format? Is it taking a unique approach or unusual angle?
Knowing what is already available to your audiences and what is ranking well on Google can inform your content creation processes.
Whether you fill a gap you’ve spotted in the market or use the Skyscraper technique to build upon pre-existing content from your competitors to overtake them on the rankings; knowing the content landscape is essential.
A good way to analyse the content already available is to identify three key aspects of the content; the type, the format and the angle of the content.
Type refers to the broad kinds of content in the search results. Common content types are blog posts, product pages, category pages or landing pages.
Understanding what type of content is common for your chosen keywords will help to inform the kind of content you produce. If the majority of results for your target keywords are blog posts, common sense would say it’s probably not the place to be targeting your product page.
Format is the way in which the content is presented. This could be in the form of i.e. ‘how to...’ guides, list posts, reviews or opinion pieces.
Format usually relates to searches for keywords with an informational or commercial investigation intent, as these types of searches usually see blog posts and articles ranking well.
Content targeting transactional intentions are pretty straightforward as they’re generally product pages or category pages. In these cases, the content format aligns directly with the content type.
The format of the top ranking search results indicate what structures work well for audiences of that particular search term. For example, a user looking for how to wrap their hands in boxing will predominantly see results offering blog posts with ‘how to...’ guides and step-by-step tutorials.
Future Shifts in Searching
This is just the start for Search Intent.
Search engines are only going to get smarter, faster and more thorough with their machine learning.
Search engine experts are predicting three major shifts in search in the next 20 years, as reported by Dawn Anderson in a lecture at We Love SEO 2019.
They expect to see a move from predominantly text based to visual information. Visual information is easier for users to process and provides greater entertainment and provokes more emotion than text and audio based content.
Research shows that people spend on average 2.6 times longer on pages with video content than pages without. This shift to visually presented information represents a move to a more accessible and user friendly user experience.
Other predicted shifts in search experience are expected to move search from answer to journey and query to query-less searches.
Individual queries are difficult for search engines to understand in isolation, they need context to be able to provide the most accurate possible information to users. Contextual searches would take into consideration the time, location, device, task and user’s previous habits to provide a truly tailored search result.
This predicted shift in search would see the user’s needs become the query. With contextual searches the query they enter would only be an element in a wider calculation of what content would best satisfy the user’s needs.
This is where we would see the move from answer to journey. Search engines would be able to understand that not every query is made in isolation, they are part of an ongoing user journey where each search has been informed by the searches that have come before it.
These shifts represent a huge reconfiguration of the way search engines conduct their operations and will reshape the way content is produced online. But, at the core of these changes is a focus on the user, and their Search Intent.
So, understanding that is vital to survival in the changing search landscape.
One area of the digital landscape that we’re already seeing massive growth and change in is voice search. Systems such as Alexa, Google Home and Siri are rapidly driving our understanding of Search Intent forward.
The development of voice search technologies has changed the way users are searching in two key ways; search requests are longer and they’re more conversational.
When a user makes a search with a smart speaker or Intelligent Personal Assistant, they tend to use complete sentences; framed as full questions.
Rather than typing ‘weather today’ into a search engine, a voice request is more likely to be made as ‘what is the weather like today?’.
And, it’s not just the way searches are worded that voice search has changed.
When a user makes a voice search request to a smart speaker, they’re not looking for a website or a search results page. They want a direct answer. The specific information that they’ve asked for.
The result for a voice search is, usually, delivered in 30 words or less. So, to appeal to voice searches, your content needs to answer questions and deliver information concisely.
The conversational nature of user’s voice search requests means the way you target content for voice search optimisation is different to traditional search optimisation. Natural language is the priority with voice search optimisation compared to the keyword focus of traditional SEO.
Catering to both styles in your content positions you well to succeed on both fronts.
Search engines operating voice searches recognise this change in search habits and have adapted in response. This has helped search engines’ understanding of search intent grow exponentially.
BERT Brings in Big Change for Google
We’re seeing this already with Google’s recent release of a model for natural language processing called the Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, or BERT for short.
The basic principle of BERT is that by applying it to the models that determine the ranking of search results and selection of featured snippets in Google, users will receive much more useful information.
With BERT, the search engine is much more able to grasp the nuance of context within user queries; context that reveals the user’s intent.
BERT models should allow users to enter search queries using much more natural language than they have done previously.
Which is great news for brand’s trying to get their content to rank for particular keywords or phrases.
Often, when trying to embed keywords in content marketing, unnatural and ‘clunky’ phrases are used to match the search queries that users are making.
Because search engines have previously only had a lower level of natural language processing, users have had to use unnatural, keyword focussed language in their queries.
These requests often lacked a full question and instead focussed on the main informational keywords in the hope that the search engine would figure out what they wanted.
Google have even given the language of these types of queries a name; ‘keyword-ese’.
However, if BERT models begin to be used to understand the contextual intent of a user’s search when they use more conversational language, then there should be a growth in high value keywords that are more natural and conversational.
Meaning, when your brand comes to producing content targeted to your relevant keywords for a particular search intent, you will be able to do so in a much more natural and conversational way.
Understanding, and catering to the conversational nature of user requests with your SEO strategies is essential to succeed in the changing digital landscape.
Other Search Intent Considerations
By incorporating Search Intent into your digital strategies, you put your business at a massive advantage in the fight to place your content in front of the right customers fastest.
A good Search Intent strategy is vital if you want to target the right customers at the right point in their consumer journey. You need to understand what need is motivating your customers to search for a specific term so that you can know how your content can satisfy it.
By indicating, through your targeted keywords, what information your site contains and then backing this up by actually providing this relevant information; Google can direct audiences to your content faster and more efficiently.
For Google, your strong Search Intent strategy means the search engine can satisfy its goal of being the fastest, easiest way for users to solve their problems.
And, as we know, Google will reward your slick Search Intent strategy by boosting you up the Search Engine Results Page.
Ultimately it comes down to this…
If someone makes a search and you give them what they want, when they want it; Google will reward you with a higher results page position.
AIDA model - a model for categorising the buyer journey, from Attention to Interest to Desire to Action.
Buyer journey - the stages a consumer follows when engaging with a brand, from awareness to completion of the purchase.
Buyer persona - a semi-fictional character constructed from the key characteristics of a brand’s consumers.
Commercial investigation - a search intent expressed when users are looking for information about a certain product or service before committing to a purchase. Usually expressed in the form of a review or comparison.
Content - output in the form of (i.e.) text, audio, video, product pages, landing pages, that brands produce for customers to consume.
Hummingbird - a 2013 Google algorithm update which prioritised ‘human’ search interactions, moving away from the previous keyword focussed system.
Informational intent - a user search intent which reveals the user is seeking information about a certain topic. Usually but not exclusively expressed in the form of a question.
Intelligent Personal Assistant - software such as Alexa and Siri that has been designed to help people with basic tasks by providing information in conversational language.
Keyword stuffing - a questionable SEO technique where pages were filled with irrelevant keywords to influence the rankings on Google.
Location based intent - search requests that include a specific location or ‘near me’ intended to deliver results relevant to that particular location.
Navigational intent - searches that indicate an intention to visit a particular website or page within a site. Often used when a searcher doesn’t know or doesn’t want to fill in the full URL.
Paragraph featured snippet - selected search results featured by Google as being particularly relevant to a searcher’s request. Google will preview a paragraph of the content from that site.
RankBrain - another Google algorithm update which uses machine learning to determine the most relevant results for user searches. With this update, Google’s algorithm further prioritised user intent.
Results page - the list of relevant websites displayed by the search engines when a user makes a request.
Search engine request - the questions or words that a user types into a search engine to find specific information.
Search intent - the reason behind a user’s search request to satisfy their particular need.
Semantics - the meaning behind words. Before Search Intent, semantics was how user intent was known in digital marketing.
Smart speaker - an internet enabled device which responds to spoken commands from users to provide information and carry out tasks.
Transactional intent - searches that indicate the user is at the purchasing stage of their journey; they know what they want to buy, they’re just looking for a place to make their purchase.
Voice search - speech recognition technology that allows users to enter search queries with their voice rather than typing.