The importance of understanding intent for SEO

Google’s search engine is getting more and more sophisticated when it comes to measuring how closely a page matches intent, so here are our tips on how to build a better strategy for it.

Google is always updating their algorithms and there are constant innovations in the way we search (mobile, voice, etc), that and the evolving user behavior keep all of us SEO guys on our toes.
The dynamic nature of the industry requires us to continuously improve and learn new skills to keep ahead, or even just keep up for that matter. However, we can’t get to carried away worrying and chasing new strategies that we forget or overlook the fundamentals of SEO.

 

The two most important questions we always ask when clients bring us a list of target keywords and phrases are:

1. Should your site or page rank there?

2. What will we achieve by ranking for these?

This forces us, and our clients to analyse the audience and search behaviors before deciding on which keywords we are going to implement in the SEO strategy.
The basis for any successful SEO strategy is a firm understanding of searcher intent.

Types of searcher intent

Searcher intent refers to the “why” behind a given search query — what is the searcher hoping to find? Searcher intent can be categorised in four ways:

Informational
Navigational
Commercial
Transactional

Categorising queries into these four segments will help you better understand what types of pages searchers are looking for. 

Informational intent

People making informational searches are generally looking to learn about a certain subject or topic. These are the most common types of searches and usually, bring the most amount of search volume.

Informational searches also are a great way for your business to be found by a new audience. If you can provide these searchers with an answer to their question, you have a very good chance that they will turn to you in the future on a similar topic.

Navigational intent

Searchers with navigational intent already know which company or brand they are looking for, but they need help with navigation to their desired page or website. These searches often involve queries that feature brand names or specific products or services.

These SERPs typically feature homepages, or specific product or service pages. They might also feature mainstream news coverage of a brand.

Commercial intent

Commercial queries exist as a sort of hybrid intent — a mix of informational and transactional.

These searches have transactional intent. The searcher is looking to make a purchase, but they are also looking for informational pages to help them make their decision. The results associated with commercial intent usually have a mix of informational pages and product or service pages. 

Transactional intent

Transactional queries have the most commercial intent as these are searchers looking to make a purchase. Common words associated with transactional searches include [price] or [sale].

Transactional SERPs are typically 100 percent commercial pages (products, services and subscription pages or lead capturing pages).

Categorising keywords and search terms in these four areas makes it easier to optimise the landing page, understanding what searchers want and ensuring the information you are providing is relevant.

 

Optimising for intent: Should my page rank there?

With a clear understanding of the different types of intent, we can dive into optimisation.

As mentioned earlier, when a client comes to us with a set of target keywords, we like to ask them “Should your website be ranking for these search results?”

Asking this question leads to other important questions:

What is the intent of these searches?
What does Google believe the intent is?
What type of result are people searching for?

Before you can optimize your pages for specific keywords and themes, you need to optimize them for intent.

The best place to start your research is the results themselves. Simply analyzing the current ranking pages will answer your questions about intent. Are the results blog posts? Reviews or “Top 10” lists? Product pages?

Once you have had a look into the given search term and find that all of the results are in-depth articles and blogs, the chances of you ranking your product page are just about none. The opposite is also true if all the results are product pages, then don’t bother trying to rank an article. But what you can do, is optimise your pages to start showing up for the appropriate search terms now that you have gathered the necessary data.

Google always has the user first in mind, and will always (or do its best to) show pages that answer the searchers intent. So you want to make sure that you have optimised your page to help the searchers achieve whatever it is that they wanted to when they made that search. On-page optimisation and backlinks are important, but you’ll never be able to rank high if you don’t address intent.

Doing this research will also help inform content creators on what topics to write about. If you don’t have pages for your industries major topics, with comparable content to your competitors. You need to create one. While doing this research you will find a few opportunities where the current search results don’t do a great job of answering the searchers intent. You can easily capitalise on this and create that piece of content they are looking for.

Answering intent: What will this accomplish?

A key follow-up question we also ask is, “What will ranking accomplish?”

The simple answer we typically get is “more traffic.” But what does that really mean?

Depending on the intent associated with the given keyword, that traffic could lead to brand discovery, authority and trust building, or even direct conversion. When assigning KPI’s you need to consider intent and set your expectations accordingly.

One thing to keep in mind is that not all traffic has to convert. A balanced SEO strategy will target multiple stages of the buying journey. Building brand image is essential to any business success and we have seen it impacting click-through rates by 200% – 300%!

Where to from here?

Now that we know that answering search intent is a vital piece of the SEO puzzle, you need to make sure you use this knowledge to better your strategy. So start researching what people are searching for in relation to the business, make a list of the top 10 results and put them into their designated intent category. Whichever category comes out on top, make a piece of content or structure your page to reflect that certain intent.

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