Maximise Content Engagement with Search Intent
Imagine if every user who came to your website found precisely what they want, right when they need it. That’s the dream, no?
Simply put, a search engine’s goal in the grand scheme of things is effective Search Intent. Matching user requirements with the most relevant results and giving them the content they are actually looking for so that they can engage with content at a greater depth.
By optimising your website for Search Intent, you ensure that visitors get what they need, whether that’s a product, service or information. This maximises brand engagement and makes it easier to bridge the gap between intrigue and conversions, lots of conversions."If you don’t give users exactly what they need, your competitors will be more than happy to do so while reaping the rewards."
"If you don’t give users exactly what they need, your competitors will be more than happy to do so while reaping the rewards."
In this article, we’ll give you an in-depth guide to Searcher Intent, from what it is, why it’s essential to your business and how you can implement it into your digital strategies.
Anticipate the Search Intent of Your Users
Every search made on Google indicates intent. Searchers want to find a site with the information they need. Be that site.
Let’s start with an example. You’re planning a last-minute gathering with friends and fancy a few simple cocktails, so you enter ‘easy cocktail recipes’ into a search engine.
The first two results consist of great recipes, but they’re better suited to someone with more advanced expertise and a lot more time on their hands. No good, next!
However, the next site you look at is full of quick and easy recipes that require minimal time and effort. Bingo! You got what you needed from the specific query you entered. Problem solved.
Now imagine potential clients embarking on the same journey. What will they find while roaming around your website?
When you offer highly relevant content to suit their needs accurately, you’re already ahead of competitors and maximising your chances of success. You are anticipating the search intent of your users and reacting accordingly to make their user experience positive and fulfilling.
In its essence, Search Intent optimisation is an exercise of supply and demand.
You supply relevant content to meet the demands (searches) of your target audience. Your target audience gets exactly what they need, and your business ensures the supply and demand of products and services.
This helps to maximise content engagement as the wishes and goals of your users are being fulfilled by your website, encouraging them to stay on site longer and go even deeper than the original page they landed on.
By analysing your target customer’s search engine query, you can learn about their Search Intent.
When you know their Search Intent, you know which type of content will suit them best and help you to convert. Understanding their search intent is the easiest way to ensure content engagement, increasing user interest, making their experience more positive and lowering bounce rates.
As you can see, Search Intent isn’t rocket science, but it most definitely is something that requires some insight to fully understand and put to good use. If you can anticipate the search intent of your users, you are well on your way to becoming a valuable resource for the searches you are targeting.
Search Intent Quality vs Ranking Quantity
When you target your content to specific and relevant search queries, your audience engages with your website.
By targeting your content to satisfy the intent of your visitors, you are doing Google a huge favour, which will be rewarded in kind.
Ensuring that your content appears in searches for specific and relevant terms enhances the quality and reliability of Google searches, helping them achieve their goal of providing the most effective results for users. The higher the quality of your search intent optimisation, the higher you’ll be in the rankings as you will have proven yourself to be a trustworthy and powerful source of information. You won’t have just plugged your content full of keywords.
The reward allows you to climb the rankings for specific keywords that relate to your product or service. But the most critical factor is you’ll be catching visitors at the perfect moment, the moment where they need your content.
Anticipating a user’s search intent is vital to success and you also want to be making sure you’re anticipating the correct stage of their journey to ensure your content is aligned properly to their requirements.
You’ll also be nearer to the top of the SERPs which means that you’ll be first in line to be clicked on when a user is searching a query, giving you a bigger chance to prove your value and climb even higher up the rankings.
It’s a trap!
Don’t create a gulf between Search Intent and your content.
While ranking higher for search terms relating to your business is essential, it’s an aspect of SEO that marketers and businesses can get a bit head-over-heels for these days — leading them to make a common mistake.
If you don’t anticipate the search intent of your users, you’ll hit the wrong part of the user’s journey. People will arrive at your site for a specific search term and then ‘bounce’ off elsewhere because your content doesn’t satisfy their needs, Google learns from the action.
They may drop your site down on the results page and replace you with web pages that people actually stay on; because those sites align with, and satisfy, the searcher’s intent.
It’s a classic case of quality over quantity.
Businesses who get obsessed with ranking for as many search terms as possible naturally neglect Search Intent. They are anticipating rankings and visibility over anticipating search intent and end up with high bounce rates as users are not finding what they’re looking for and are thus not engaging with their content.
Providing consumers with precisely what they need, right when they need it, is a marketer’s dream.
This dream can be a reality if you opt to focus on the quality and relevancy of your content rather than obsessing over high quantities of search terms. The quality of the search intent is a lot more important than the quantity of keywords and the subsequent ranking. You are writing for people not algorithms.
It’s as simple as this. High-quality, relevant content encourages users to do all of the following:
- Stay on your website for longer
- Spend time exploring multiple pages
- Learn more about your products/services
- Engage with your brand
- Get what they need to spend money confidently
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? ?
Whether you’re looking to optimise your website or a client’s site, you should always keep Search Intent in mind. It’s not just another trend or marketing trick. It’s giving users what they want when they need it most. And it makes your job a whole lot easier.
Google’s Ability to Predict Search Intent
Search engines are now so advanced they understand what a user is trying to achieve while searching. What their search intent is.
Technology is evolving every day, and in the process, becomes more and more in tune with the people using it. When it comes to search engines, Google’s understanding and application of Search Intent allows them to maintain the ‘top dog’ status by providing users with quick, relevant search results with minimal friction.
Although many may believe that Search Intent is a brand new idea that the geniuses at Google cooked up in the lab, it’s really not that new.
Yes, it's a trending key phrase used by fellow marketers, but it’s something we knew as ‘semantics’ — the meaning behind a word or phrase.
So, if Search Intent isn’t a new idea, how did it come about?
Before 2013, Google’s search algorithm was driven primarily by connecting keywords in the searcher’s request to the text on a web page. This lead to the practice of Keyword Stuffing (eww!), implementing lots of keywords on websites to influence Google rankings.
2013 - 2015
In Autumn 2013, Google released the Hummingbird update, and the search landscape began to shift. RankBrain followed this in 2015, which provided Google with the means to determine user intention through machine learning (the ability of machines to teach themselves from data).
And just like that… the volume of keywords was no longer the critical factor in ranking content — now, what Google values most is your content’s ability to satisfy their user’s needs and offer a valuable source of information.
Most Recent Updates
Although the 2013 and 2015 updates played a considerable role in the current search landscape and how businesses (and marketers, of course) should be looking at content, Google had no plans to sit back and relax.
Subsequent updates and the implementation of more advanced tools have helped Google better understand the actual meaning and intent behind the words we enter into search engines. Rather than simply matching keywords to content, Google has the ability to predict search intent in order to give users the most fulfilling experience possible.
Google is fantastic at what they do, and they’re only going to get better.
If your content doesn’t suit your target audience’s needs, it will soon drop down the rankings or not appear in the first place.
The goal of Search Intent is to align Google’s objectives with your own. With this in mind, you can (and should) produce content targeted to the search intentions and keywords that have the most relevance to your audience. This way when Google predicts search intent, your content will turn up in the subsequent SERP.
Types of Search Intent for Commercial Queries
Although every person and their search intentions are unique, Search Intent types can usually be categorised into five groups for you to target with your keywords.
As we’ve discussed above, the words people use when they input a search reveals their motivation or ‘intent’. These words tell search engines two vital things — why a user is searching in the first place, but most importantly, what they hope to achieve.
When considering Search Intent in your own content or that of a client, it’s essential to recognise the five key types of Search Intent if you want to achieve your goals. These are informational, transactional, commercial investigation, navigational or location-based.
Understanding how users express their intentions in search requests and establishing an effective way to target content is vital to create a strong Search Intent strategy. It creates a search intent with tangible results, helping users along their commercial journey and encouraging, as always, a level of engagement that turns clicks into leads.
Using SERPs to Establish Search Intent
You can use search engine result pages (SERPs) to indicate the intent of a particular search. This covers every part of the journey from your initial research into a user’s search intent to the end product where the user benefits from said research and acquires the perfect SERP for their query.
We’ve established that Google strives to satisfy user queries with the most relevant content as quickly as possible. Meaning that result pages are full of content reflecting what most of the searchers making a query will be looking for… most of them.
Therefore, you may assume that the best course of action is to try to rank for the most obvious keywords that suit your needs. For example, if you are a boxing glove retailer, you may think the best keywords to target would be ‘boxing gloves’. This isn’t necessarily the case.
Broad terms such as this have no identifying intentions in the word choice, and it’s impossible to know what a user’s intention is when they type in a keyword such as 'boxing gloves'. Google doesn’t know either, it’s a very clever search engine, but it’s not yet developed psychic abilities.
Because they can’t pinpoint the exact Search Intent, Google provides a vast array of content to cover all bases. With keywords such as ‘boxing gloves’ there’s the assumption that a user has transactional intent, but it’s not guaranteed, so Google does their due diligence by offering a range of content.
This is why it’s important to use all the tools at your disposal to get the most out of search intent. Using the SERPs and analysing Google’s various features is a great way to learn what kind of queries users search so you can garner a better idea of their search intent and refine your own content accordingly.
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.
Users want quality content with relevant information to solve a particular problem.
Google wants to do all it can to give its users the information they want.
To better understand the context of Search Intent, let’s look back at our types of Search Intent and how the use of additional keywords will help you solidify the intent of your content. Since we have already used ‘boxing gloves’ as an example, let’s stick with it for this exercise.
Below, we’ll implement additional keywords to ‘boxing gloves’ to demonstrate how you can focus on Search Intent when it comes to your own campaigns.
Regardless of your goals, Search Intent is a crucial factor across the board. Every type of Search Intent and the context in which you use it has enormous advantages for marketing a business.
- Informational intent demonstrates your knowledge and increases your brand reputation.
- Transactional intent sends customers where they need to be when they need to be there (£££!).
- Commercial investigation intent informs potential customers and allows them to make a more informed purchase (you).
- Location-based intent is vital for local SEO and local business in general. When users in your area need a product or service you offer, Search Intent helps connect customers with your business.
Search Intent in Relation to the Buyer’s Persona
Search Intent doesn’t just help customers reach relevant content faster, it also helps you to better understand their needs and motivations. The customer should be at the forefront of everything that you do to make sure your content is as valuable as possible.
As we learnt from our previous chapter, context is essential when it comes to researching the best keywords. To get your Search Intent campaign spot on you need to have a clear understanding of who your audience are, what they need and use this information to segment them to suit your marketing goals.
This is where the buyer’s persona comes in. To make sure you are targeting the right people, it is always a good idea to build a persona from the ground up, the perfect person who would be interested in your website.
While you will have a decent idea about who your target audience is (their age, spending habits, job, etc.), you should never make assumptions about the type of people who are engaged by your content. Because if you miss the mark it will hinder the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. By segmenting users into customer groups based on their similarities, you have the foundations of a buyer persona! Defining factors such as these often include the following:
- Buying habits
However, these are just a few examples of the type of basic information that can be used to create marketing personas. Depending on the nature of your Search Intent campaign and your goals, the information you collect may well be significantly more detailed.
Buyer personas are a fictional representation of a business’s ideal customer, created using the traits and characteristics discovered when you segment your audience. So, a buyer persona for a customer looking to purchase from your boxing glove retail business could look something like this:
With this information, you are much better equipped to understand your target audience and provide exactly what they need at every stage of the buyer journey. From our example persona we know that she purchases high-quality equipment, which means she has a good budget that she’s willing to invest in boxing gloves.
This is essential knowledge for marketers as it tells them more about the style of approach that could be most successful. Blog content such as 'Best Boxing Gloves for Beginners', for example, as the customer isn’t at the decision-making stage yet, and with some persuasive content in front of them, you could change that.
Search Intent is critical at this stage as it offers multiple avenues of creativity when it comes to how you approach content. In this case, a customer will be searching with commercial-investigation intent, but we also know that she has only just taken up boxing, so informational content about boxing tips for newbies could also be hugely beneficial for engagement.
When you group consumers into segments, you soon develop a clearer understanding of the types of searches they make at each stage of their buyer journey. This teaches you a lot about the language being used by your ideal customers and also their specific intentions.
With this in mind, you have the blueprint for creating relevant, efficient strategies to satisfy customer needs throughout your newfound segments. Your users are always evolving throughout their journeys and so your buyer persona needs to do the same. Reflect the target audience at each stage of their buyer journey and you will be able to make your content worthy of attention and increase engagement.
Choosing the Right Keywords for the Search Intent
Choosing the right keywords is a critical factor for the success or failure of your Search Intent campaign. So it’s always a good idea to utilise every tool at your disposal in order to make your content as powerful as possible.
You’ll already have a general idea about the type of keywords, as these will revolve around your industry, products, service or company — you know, the words that mean something to your customer base and brand identity.
Below, we’ll highlight a few different ways to establish which keywords will work best for your Search Intent strategy.
This is all vital information for your business.
Using all of the advice in this chapter will tell you the following:
- Which keywords your competitors are using
- How difficult they are to target
- How much traffic they will bring to your site
- The keywords you should prioritise and disregard
This leaves you with a list of keywords ranked by their monthly search volume, their difficulty to target and their user intent — all based on detailed research!
Now for the fun part! It’s time to create some content. Using your newly established list of high-value keywords, you can begin to create highly specific content to satisfy your audience’s needs and increase your chances of converting them into customers.
Using Competitor Analysis to Improve Search Intent Optimisation
Once you have target keywords, you can focus on creating high-quality content based on solid research of your competitors who are targeting the same audience as you.
One of the most efficient ways of missing the mark with content is guessing, assuming or simply hoping that it will resonate with your intended audience. With Search Intent, you can identify the needs your users express and can tailor your content to satisfy them.
- 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.
However, these five distinct categories are still way too broad.
If a user is expressing informational intent, it doesn’t mean you can just write a blog post and hope for the best. It just doesn’t work like that. You need to know exactly what type of content they are looking for, what they want to know, and what type of content format will be successful.
To achieve this, you need to revisit competitor analysis, but this time, from a content perspective.
What’s already out there? How can you improve on it? What are they doing that you’re not? What are their strengths and weaknesses compared to yours?
Carrying out competitor analysis is a great way to find out what’s already working and then identify their flaws so that your content can skyrocket.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Make searches they would make.
Consume the already available content as if you were a prospective customer rather than a competitor doing analysis.
Ask yourself the following:
- Does the competitor content satisfy the user’s needs?
- Is it engaging?
- Is it in a digestible format?
- Does it adopt a unique approach or take an unusual angle?
Ask yourself these questions again once you have completed your content. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — write it down for later!
Knowing what is already available to your audience and what ranks well on Google informs your content creation processes. You may spot a gap in the market that needs to be filled or use the Skyscraper Technique to build on pre-existing competitor content — giving you the edge to overtake them on the rankings by knowing the content landscape.
Analysing Competitor Content
An effective way to analyse already available content is to identify three crucial aspects — the type, format and angle of the content.
Type of Content
This refers to the broad range of content you’ll find in search results.
Examples of which include blog posts, product pages, services pages, category pages and landing pages.
Understanding the commonly-used types of content for your chosen keywords informs you of which style of content will best suit your needs. For example, if the majority of your target keywords are blog posts, it tells you that it’s likely not the best idea to produce a product page using those keywords.
A simple spot of competitor analysis will soon clue you in to whether their content types and their keywords are matching. If they’re not? Great news for you! That is a hole you can fill to prove yourself amongst the high numbers of competitors in your field.
The format is the way you present a piece of content to your audience. This can be in the form of ‘how to’ guides, list articles, reviews, or opinion pieces.
Format tends to relate to searches for keywords with informational or commercial investigation intent, as these types of searches help blog posts and articles appeal to audiences.
Content targeting transactional intentions is pretty straightforward as they’re generally product pages or category pages, meaning the content format aligns directly with the content type.
Analyse the format of top-ranking search results to discover what structure works well for audiences using a particular search term. For example, if a user wants to know how to wrap their hands before boxing, they will predominantly see results with guide-style blog posts and tutorials.
The type of information in the screenshot below tells you a lot about what customers look for in searches. The suggested searches are all relatively high-volume search terms. So, if they are relevant to you and your consumer, these would be an excellent place to start with targeting content.
Take a look at your competitors. How are they handling the format for their content? Is there a particular style that is prevalent in the SERPs? If everyone on the first page is doing a listicle for boxing gloves, take a look at how many items are in their list and see how much depth they go into. If they have ten items on their list, why not go for twenty? If they only do a sentence or two, write a paragraph or two. There’s always room for more information and the more in-depth your content is, the more useful and important it will be to the reader.
Next, you’ll want to analyse the types of content that appear at the top of results pages when you enter a completed search term.
The top-ranked content tells you what Google prioritises as most important, relevant and valuable to the searcher. If they determine that it is predominantly a transactional search request, they promote the relevant websites’ product pages.
Competitor analysis is a vital part of any marketing strategy, and Search Intent is no different.
Examine the pages of your competitor’s websites that rank well and are in-depth. This gives you a good insight into what they do to indicate to Google that their content is most relevant to the searcher — providing you with precisely what you need to create content that challenges for the top positions.
If you want to define your target keywords further, you can always utilise the ‘people also ask’ feature.
A User Friendly Experience: The Future of Search Intent
Everything we have talked about so far concerning search intent is just the start. Times change, as does technology and the people using it and search engines are only going to get bigger and better, becoming more advanced in order to create the ultimate user friendly experience.
We’d love to be able to tell you that by reading this guide, you’ll know everything you’ll ever need to know about Search Intent. But the truth is that search engines continue to advance and evolve — becoming more clever, faster and thorough learning machines.
Search engine experts predict three significant shifts in search in the next 20 years, as reported by Dawn Anderson in a lecture at We Love SEO.
What’s already out there? How can you improve on it?
Experts expect to see movement from predominantly text-based to visual information. Visual information is easier to process, it’s more entertaining, and it provokes more emotion when compared to text and audio-based content.
Research shows that people spend on average 2.6 times longer on pages with video content.
This shift to visually presented information represents a move to a more accessible and user-friendly experience.
Shift from Query to 'Queryless'
Another prediction is a shift from search from answer to journey. Individual queries are more difficult for search engines to understand in isolation. They need context to provide the most accurate possible information to users.
Contextual searches would consider the time, location, device, task and user’s previous habits to offer a truly tailored search result. A search engine process that feels personal and individual will help make each individual SERP more valuable to a user than it has ever felt before, creating a user-friendly experience that allows searchers to engage from the word ‘go’.
This would see the user’s needs become the query. With contextual searches, the query they enter would only be an element in the broader calculation of what content would best satisfy the user’s needs.
Shift from Answer to Journey
This is where we would see a move from answer to journey. Search engines would understand that not every query is isolated. They are an aspect of an ongoing user journey where the previous searches inform new searches.
Shifts such as this represent a massive reconfiguration of how search engines conduct operations and reshape how we produce content online.
The core of these changes is a focus on the user and their Search Intent.
Understanding that is vital to survive and embrace the changing search landscape.
There is a drive for search intent and the user’s journey to feel more natural and conversational and less like a transaction. This helps to validate the time a user spends searching on Google, creating an experience that means something beyond the simple binary question-and-answer.
Voice Search is Revolutionising Search Intent
We’ve mentioned the future shifts in search, but we already see massive growth and evolution in one particular area of the digital landscape — voice search.
Alexa, Google Home, Siri and other systems rapidly enhance our understanding of Search Intent. Voice search technologies have changed the way users search in two key ways; search requests are longer, and they’re more conversational.
When a user searches with a Smart Speaker or Intelligent Personal Assistant, they tend to use complete sentences, a whole question.
"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 we word searches that have changed things. 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 tends to be 30 words or less. So, to appeal to voice searches, your content needs to answer questions and deliver information concisely.
The conversational nature of a user’s voice search requests means the way you target content for voice search optimisation differs from traditional search optimisation. The search intent is for quick, easy answers to a query for a person whose life is lived on the go. Perhaps they’re on the bus or walking down the street. They don’t have time to sit down and type so they speak instead. Voice search optimisation is all about accommodating this faster way of imparting information.
Natural language is the key to successful 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. You don’t want users to be ‘umming’ or ‘ahhing’ as they try to figure out the right words for a query. Natural language makes it easier for people to communicate so it only makes sense that search engines would be making this development as well.
Search engines are highly adaptable, always moving forward with the modern trends. The impact of voice searches on search intent is just one of many ways search engines can enhance their understanding of search and ensure that search intent grows exponentially.
The Impact of BERT on Search Intent
Developments in search engine technology have led to a more natural and organic way to input queries into Google, modernising search engine technology and creating a more enjoyable experience for users.
What is BERT?
‘BERT’ stands for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, a natural language processing (NLP) model from Google.
With BERT, a search engine can more efficiently grasp the nuance of the context within user queries, the context that reveals user intent. BERT models allow users to enter search queries using much more natural language than they have done previously, offering a more organic search experience.
By applying BERT to the models that determine the ranking of search results and a selection of featured snippets, users receive much more helpful information.
How BERT Benefits Search?
The introduction of BERT was fantastic news for brands who want to rank content for specific keywords or phrases. It will allow users to use much more natural language than they would have previously been able to.
Search engines have previously only had a lower level of natural language processing. Meaning users have had to use unnatural keyword-focused language in their queries. For content marketers, this would require you to embed unnatural, clunky phrases within your content to match user search queries.
These requests often lack complete questions and instead focus on the main informational keywords, hoping the search engine figures out what they want. Google describes the language of these types of queries as ‘keyword-ese’.
Are you someone who has ever written content or overseen the production of content? If so, you’ll know how painful it can be at times to sacrifice natural wording to suit the needs of particularly unnatural keywords.
Suppose BERT models are used to understand the contextual intent of user searches when they use more conversational language. In that case, there should be a growth in high-value, natural and conversational keywords. Meaning that you can do so in an equally natural and conversational manner when you produce content targeted to relevant keywords for specific search intent.
In a shifting digital landscape, it’s essential to understand and cater to the conversational nature of user requests. BERT is the typer’s answer to voice search, showcasing the ever shifting and evolving nature of search engines to ensure a smooth and consistent experience for all types of users.
The Advantage of Having a Search Intent Strategy
Incorporating Search Intent into digital strategies gives you a massive advantage in the fight to place content in front of the right customers faster than your competitors.
A high-quality Search Intent strategy is vital to target the right customers at the right point in their consumer journey. Understanding what motivates customers to search for specific terms provides you with a clearer idea about tailoring content to satisfy their needs.
It also gives your content a more deliberate focus, making your website more concise and targeted which enables you to become a more reliable and powerful source of information, sharply honed to suit the customer.
By using targeted keywords, you indicate to Google and users what information your site contains. Then back this up by actually providing relevant information. The result? Google directs audiences to your content faster and more efficiently.
A strong Search Intent strategy benefits Google greatly by helping them achieve their goal of being the fastest and easiest way for users to solve problems. And as we mentioned previously in this content, Google rewards your Search intent efforts by boosting you up the SERPs.
If someone uses a search engine and you give them exactly what they need, when they want it, Google rewards you with a higher results page position.
Also, we know that she has just taken up boxing, which means she may be someone who is not yet ready to purchase and, at this point, requires suitable content to nudge her in the right direction.
This is essential knowledge for marketers as it tells them more about the style of approach that could be most successful. Blog content, for example, as the customer isn’t at the decision-making stage yet, and with some persuasive content in front of them, you could change that.
Make sure to always have a strong search intent strategy in order to give you a boost over your competitors and keep in mind that the strongest strategy may very well incorporate everything you have learned in this guide.