So often, I see SEOs, content writers and marketers take the wrong approach to keyword research. But it’s not what they do that’s the problem. Most of them follow a well-defined keyword research process, after all.
It’s what they fail to include in this process that matters – understanding their users’ intent.
It’s in understanding the reasons why someone conducts a search that delivers the highest return from any SEO campaign. Unless your page matches the user intent, you’re not going to win the visibility you’re after.
Everyone in the industry agrees. Moz, Ahrefs and many of our other colleagues previously wrote about the effect of intent on search visibility.
But they miss a critical aspect of user intent – how to uncover and understand it at scale.
Good news: we don’t.
Before I tell you more about it, let’s cover the basics to make sure we are on the same page.
What is User Intent?
The term user intent (often referred to searcher intent or keyword intent as well) refers to the reason why someone performs a search in Google or another search engine. It’s the ultimate goal they have in conducting the search.
It could be to find an answer to whatever question they have or advice on how to achieve the desired goal. Maybe the person wants to find a place to buy a product they want. Or, maybe they’re just looking for a specific website and just forgot its URL.
In each of the above examples, they exhibit an intent.
Google Hummingbird, with its ability to understand search queries better, and RankBrain, its machine learning algorithm to sort the search results, allow the search engine to interpret queries better, discern that intent and deliver results a person expects to find.
What’s more, the search engine updates the SERPs based on the changes in user intent and does it in real-time, too.
The reason why users search for particular information can change depending on many factors. Seasonality is one. Although customers might use a specific keyword to find information for most of the year, they’d use it with the intention to buy over a specific time period.
A shift in the type of information users seek about a topic is another example. Consider the phrase, “iPhone 5.” I can imagine that in 2012 when the device launched, most customers searched the phrase with the intent to purchase the new phone.
Today, however, user intent behind the query is more informational. For example, to fix whatever problems they might have with the device, or install the latest operating system, or to find out historic data about it.
What Are the Types of User Intent?
We search with one of the four intents, typically:
Informational Intent, or intent to know, helps us obtain specific information, research a particular topic or learn something new. Sometimes informational intent is also intent to do, like when asking Google for advice on completing a task or suggestions on gifts for a special occasion.
Navigational Intent, or intent to go, defines a desire to go somewhere and interact with the physical world or to a specific online location. Often categorized as Local Intent, many of these searches aim to discover a particular business in the user’s vicinity, a physical destination.
And, finally, Transactional Intent, or intent to buy, is when the user looks for a place to conduct a transaction – purchase a product, hire a service, exchange funds – hence the term, transactional.
Often, we also refer to the act of searching with those intents as micro-moments.
Why is User Intent so Important?
Let’s start by discussing what happens when you do not target the right intent. Let’s assume you’ve created a transactional page for a keyword with informational intent.
It simply won’t rank. Well, at least not at the top of the SERPs. And, it definitely isn’t helping the user if you have the wrong content based on the intent of their search.
Why is this the case? First of all, the focus is on delivering the best search experience for the user to help them through their buyer’s journey. If they land on a page that doesn’t answer their intent, they will bounce and head back to the SERP for another results.
Next, about Google: RankBrain will recognize that it doesn’t deliver the information a searcher expects to find.
Having informational intent, they seek advice or answers. They do not want to learn more about a product, let alone buy it. At least, not yet.
And that’s the incredible power of the user intent. It helps deliver on possibly the most critical factor in today’s SEO – relevance.
I disagree, however, with their suggestions on how to discover users’ intent.
How to Discover User Intent at Scale
Many other articles written about user intent recommend a rudimentary way to identify the searcher’s intent.
Their advice is to search for the target keyword and observe what results Google returns. In particular, which Search Features show up.
If Google Maps displays in the results, the phrase, most likely, has a local intent.
If you see an answer box or featured snippets, however, you can assume that it has the informational intent, and so on.
Another method my colleagues recommend is to analyze search modifiers - words in the search query that describe the person’s intent.
For example, if a query includes phrases like “how to,” “how do I,” or “what,” for example, then its intent is, most likely, informational.
If your target phrase includes “review” or “compare,” it exhibits a commercial intent.
Transactional queries, on the other hand, will include words and phrases like “buy,” “cost,” “affordable [product name or category],” and so on.
However, the above method doesn’t always work. Searching for “affordable surface pro” doesn’t return transactional pages at all. Google offers advice, telling me what alternatives I have for Microsoft’s device, instead.
And that’s not the only problem with it.
Both methods above, for example, fail to consider several factors:
- Who is ranking for a particular keyword?
- What information do those pages include?
- What is the language of the search query?
For each of these you analyze the intent based on the SERPs alone, without considering the content in those search results. As a result, you fail to get a deeper understanding of the information Google promotes within SERPs for the keyword.
Not to mention that both methods don’t work at scale. I admit that they are both useful when you analyze a small keyword set. I can’t imagine going through the process to uncover user intent behind thousands of phrases or more.
At seoClarity, we overcome all of those challenges, bringing you the first, AI-powered way to identify user intent at a scale.
By analyzing every URL, every SERP feature and every detail of the keyword using our AI algorithms, we are able to accurately categorize the hundreds of millions of keywords in our Research Grid into their respective user intent.
For instance, a search for the term balloons shows transactional intent (PLA ads, dominance of PPC ads, etc) with a fair mix of informational intent. In order to be an authority for the term balloons, this tells that we need both informational and transactional content to gain search visibility for this topic.
- We show nearly 50% of keywords related to balloons actually have informational intent
- Another portion of the keywords have transactional intent
- And, this even includes some local intent (but less even though Google shows the local listings high in the SERP)
Final Word: How to Prioritize Content Production Based on the User Intent
There’s an issue regarding the searcher’s intent that I hear about often. Many customers ask me and our Client Success team how to know which user intent to focus on first. Should they start with informational or transactional content? Or maybe something else altogether?
Here’s what I recommend. First, realize that the most effective way to win search visibility is by building authority in your topic cluster. This means creating content covering all of its aspects and what goes with it, all user intents.
The first step to achieve it, however, is by identifying how much coverage you have already. Conduct a thorough content audit to find out. You’ll realize what content’s missing in your strategy quickly.
From then on, I recommend you focus on the transactional intent first. By doing so, you’ll provide immediate ROI from your efforts. And with that, you’ll find it easier to target the top of the funnel customers with the informational intent.
User intent helps define what content to publish to a.) accompany customers along their buyer’s journey, b.) offer relevant information that can bring them closer to the brand, and c.) increase rankings and SERP conversion rate.
When researching keywords, therefore, you must also consider and identify user intent behind those search queries, and then match it to content types and topics you want to target.