The Key to SEO & Content Marketing Success: Understanding Search Intent

Tips for Understanding Search Intent

From changes in how people search thanks to technological innovations such as voice assistants, to changes in how search engine algorithms identify searcher needs, smart SEO is now rooted in understanding and matching the intent behind search queries.

When we marketers understand search intent, we can create new content and/or optimize existing content to be more tailored to their audience’s specific needs, problems, and questions—helping gain SERP visibility in the increasingly crowded content landscape, and attract more qualified traffic and build trust with those visitors (who will hopefully feel like you “get” them and their needs).

At TopRank Marketing, we call this SEO and content strategy striving to be the best answer for your audiences—wherever and whenever they’re searching. But where do you start?

It starts by understanding there are different types of intent. From there, there are steps you can take to create a more data- and intent-informed SEO and content marketing strategy.

Below, we dive into the different categories of search intent, as well as provide some starting steps for strategically mapping your content to what your audience is really asking for.

When marketers understand #searchintent, we can create #content more tailored to our audience’s specific needs, problems, and questions—helping gain visibility, attract more qualified traffic, & build trust. @annieleuman Click To Tweet

The Four Types of Search Intent

Whether you want to book a flight to Las Vegas or you’re looking to get a crash-course in underwater basket weaving, we all search for content that helps us achieve something. And generally speaking, there are four core types of search intent: informational (know), navigational (go), transactional (do), and commercial (do + know)—all of which manifest at different stages throughout the customer or buyer journey.

#1 – Informational

This type of search intent is all about learning; searchers are seeking knowledge. Searchers here want to learn more about a topic, are asking questions, and seek answers. Generally speaking, this is the most popular type of search intent—but queries can range from simple questions or phrases (broader queries with lots of search volume) to more complex queries (long-tail queries with more complicated answers and lower search volume.)

Typically, informational queries occur early in the funnel. Searchers have a problem and they’re looking for a solution. They’re going to take some nurturing before they will be ready to convert and are more interested in getting their questions answered quickly than sticking around and making a purchase.

Stage: Top

#2 – Navigational

Navigational intent is all about location. The searcher knows what they need and want, they just don’t know how to find it. Here, searchers often use branded keywords along with specific products and services to find the exact webpage they need. For example, a navigational search might be “L.L. Bean Winter Boots” or “Intel Cloud Computing.” As a result, the SERP typically contains products and service pages as well as brand-related news coverage.

Stage: Middle

#3 – Commercial

Searchers with commercial intent are ready to make a purchase, but they want additional information first—hence the “do + know” designation. They have additional questions that they want answered to help them inform their buying decisions. For instance, they might be trying to decide between two different products and services. They know they need one or the other, but just need an additional resource or guide to help them decide.

Stage: Middle + Bottom

#4 – Transactional

As the name implies, transactional intent is all about the purchase. Searchers are ready to convert and just need to find the correct page or place to convert. Keywords here are very specific as they’re in the bottom of the funnel and often include transactional terms like “buy,” “sale,” or “price.”

Stage: Bottom

We all search for #content that helps us achieve something. @annieleuman #ContentMarketing #SEO Click To Tweet

3 Steps for Building Search Intent into Your SEO & Content Strategy

Now that you’re able to look at your SEO and content strategy under the lens of search intent, the three steps below are a great starting point to leverage that knowledge to make strategic decisions.

Step 1: Take Stock of Your Performance

Unsurprisingly, you need to understand where your content stands before you can make informed decisions on where and what to optimize. Take a look at your current keyword map, and what queries you’re ranking for and where in the SERPs you’re ranking.

Use Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, or the same offering from another search engine for this task. Take a peek at your ranking content to determine what characteristics are contributing to your search position. (e.g. How is your content structured? Are you providing a specific answer to the query? Does your target keyword match the queries your ranking for?) Using the data, you should be able to draw some solid insights about the type of intent your existing content is serving, as well as where you may have some opportunities to fill gaps.

To gain some addition perspective, consider doing some internal recon to get more qualitative insight on your customers or buying audiences. Ask your sales team what they’re hearing from customers or review contact forms you’re receiving to see what real customers/buyers are looking for—or better yet, ask current customers directly how they found you and what problem you helped solve. Finally, work with your analysts to learn what queries are coming through on internal site searchers. All of this can add some additional perspective when analyzing the hard data.

The end goal here is to understand your current state, as well as surface additional opportunities where you can create best-answer content to match with audience search intent. Document your findings and move onto taking a deeper dive into the search results in the next step.

Step 2: Evaluate the Competition

Chances are, your content isn’t dominating Page 1 search results across the board; you have competition. So, you need to take the time to analyze the content topping search result pages for your top priority keywords and topics. This will help you can gain a deeper understanding of how search engines have determined intent and why they’ve identified your competition (indirect or direct) as the best match.

Some things to consider as you review results are:

  • Do my initial assumptions about search intent ring true? (e.g. Does my content fit the mold here?)
  • What types of results are on the SERP? (e.g. Are you up against other similar brands? Or are you competing with third-party sites such as Wikipedia? Or is there a variety of seemingly different types of content displayed?)
  • How detailed are the top-ranking pages? (e.g. what’s the length of the content)
  • How is the content structured on those top pages? (e.g. Are there short snackable paragraphs? Is there a strong use of header tags throughout? What CTAs or cross-links are present?)
  • Do I have an opportunity to do better? (How can I optimize my own content to leapfrog other results? Or what other gaps can I fill?)

These are important questions to ask as they can help you see how you measure up. As an example, if one of your target keywords has informational intent and your find top search results are made up of several in-depth, rich blog posts, you’ll know that you need to create an even stronger, media-rich resource to challenge the competition for a better position. (The competition on the SERP is already strong and matches well with the search intent, meaning you’ll have a tougher climb.)

Step 3: Optimize. Create. Iterate.

You’ve taken stock of your own positioning, you understand what you’re up against for increasing your visibility, and you’ve collected more definitive information on search intent. Now, it’s time to put insights into action.

Start with the low-hanging fruit. Through your analysis, you’ve hopefully found opportunities to improve existing content by making updates to align with the intent behind a specific target keyword query or topical cluster, as well as adding relevant crosslinks.

In addition, document, organize, and prioritize additional opportunities as a part of your content strategy so you can execute and track performance. In fact, you may consider adding the type of search intent, the state of the SERP, and how well you match to intent as categories to your keyword maps, glossaries, and other important SEO documents. These documents should be updated as you make improvements to your content, making it easier for you to track changes, measure performance, and do further optimization based on the results you’re seeing.

Searching High and Low

When you take steps to understand the intent behind your audience’s queries, you have the opportunity to not only optimize for your audience’s needs, but also show them you get them and what they’re looking for.

Good old fashioned keyword research and competitive scores paint the outlines of a picture. Search intent adds the color to make your content a work of art. So, start by identifying the type of search intent for your target keywords as you review SERPs. Once you know where you stand and where the competition may be winning, prioritize and execute on opportunities within your strategy to help move the needle.

Good old fashioned keyword research and competitive scores paint the outlines of a picture. #SearchIntent adds the color to make your #content a work of art. @annieleuman Click To Tweet

Matching search intent will be even more critical in 2019. But what other SEO trends do you need to keep an eye on? Check out our list top SEO trends and predictions to watch in 2019.

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