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 search intent, you’re not going to earn the visibility in the SERP.
Everyone in the industry agrees – Moz, Ahrefs, and many others previously wrote about the effect of intent on search visibility.
But they miss a critical aspect of the user intent behind the search – how to uncover and understand it at scale.
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 as searcher intent or keyword intent) 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 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 that matches their intent for that query.
What’s more, the search engine updates the SERPs based on the changes in user intent, and does so in real-time.
What Are the Types of User Intent?
There are essentially four types of search intent (but do note that a query is not limited to just one).
1. Informational Intent
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.
You can identify the user intent for a particular search query based on what SERP features the search engine presents. Note: this method is not capable of uncovering intent at scale.
An informational search often presents an Answer Box that immediately answers the user's query. Take the following Google search, for example:
2. Navigational Intent
Navigational intent, or intent to go, defines a desire to go somewhere and interact with the physical world, or to a specific online location.
In the example below, the search query, "Apple," is matched with a navigational intent since the SERP immediately reveals the company's homepage – showing the need to find an online location.
3. Local Intent
Local intent is a navigational query that aims to discover a particular business in the user's vicinity, a physical destination in the real world.
Local intent is shown when a map and/or local pack presents itself, as seen in with the Google search below.
4. Transactional Intent
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.
Transactional intent keywords tend to show product listings ads (PLAs), as seen below. Product pages match this intent and are prioritized in the SERP when a query has the intent to purchase.
Often, Google refers to the act of searching based on those intents as micro-moments.
What Influences User Intent?
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, install the latest operating system or to find out historic data about it.
Why is User Intent So Important?
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 other results.
For example, 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.
Next, about Google: RankBrain will recognize that it doesn’t deliver the information a searcher expects to find.
If a query has 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). Your landing page must have content that matches the intent behind the query. In this instance, a blog post or guide would be relevant.
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.
The Problem at Hand: 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 – as demonstrated above.
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.
However, the above method doesn’t always work – and worse still, it's impossible to scale.
Enterprise companies track thousands (if not tens of thousands) of keywords, and this manual method is simply not feasible for a proper understanding of user intent across all of your content and pages to connect to your topics and keywords.
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 rudimentary methods, 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.
How to Track User Intent at Scale
At seoClarity, we overcome all of those challenges, bringing you the first, AI-powered way to identify user intent at scale – because truly, you need an SEO platform if you're looking to scale your efforts.
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 – the world's most competitive data set – into their respective user intent.
For instance, the search term "balloons" shows informational intent with a fair mix of transactional intent. In order to be an authority for the term balloons, this tells you that you need both informational and transactional content to gain search visibility for this topic.
- Nearly 50% of keywords related to balloons actually have informational intent.
- Another large portion of the keywords have transactional search intent.
- And, this even includes some local and navigational intent (but much less, even though Google shows the local listings high in the SERP).
(The keyword "balloons" has a mix between informational and transactional intent.)
With the Research Grid, you are also able to discover similar keywords based on the searched target keyword. For the main search term "balloons," here is the list of related words, as well as their respective user intent, average search volume, CPC, and search volume trend.
(Topic Explorer reveals related keywords and their user intent.)
How to Prioritize Content Production Based on 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 site 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's missing from your content 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.
Recommended Reading: Finally Reach Your Target Customers With Content Mapping
Creating Authoritative Content Based on Search Intent
After you have discovered what the user wants, and have done so at scale, it's time to create content that addresses that intent – an incredibly important step for your SEO strategy. However, in today's age of information overload, when everyone is putting out content and trying to have a say in the conversation, it's important to create holistic content that covers a topic in its entirety.
seoClarity's AI-enabled content writer, Content Fusion, lets you understand an entire topic and allows you to create credible content to expand your audience reach faster than ever (i.e. at scale).
Suppose we return to our example keyword "balloons."
Content Fusion too shows a keyword's user intent, which in this case, as we know, is informational.
(Content Fusion also reveals searcher intent for a given keyword.)
Then, integrate Content Fusion's recommended keywords into your writing to boosts its authoritativeness and to demonstrate your complete understanding of the topic.
Apply User Intent Easily in seoClarity
In 2019, we added keyword intent throughout the platform to make us the only SEO platform enabling content marketers to apply user intent across the entire content workflow - from keyword research all the way through to execution and content optimization.
We unleashed the power of our user intent capabilities, sharing that it reduces the time spent researching new keywords and content ideas while allowing marketing teams to understand an entire topic and create credible content that meets their users' demand. Additionally, marketers and SEOs can track and measure specific results as well as the impact of intent-driven optimized content.
Our company just completed the process to identify all of their content by intent. It's insane how we are able to segment Top/Middle/Bottom funnel and understand performance and progress for each segment. The entire team is amazed at the dashboards and how easy this process is moving forward within seoClarity." -- Mariam Jameel, SEO Consultant
User intent helps define what content to publish to a.) accompany customers along their buyer’s journey, b.) offer relevant content and 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.
For enterprise brands especially, you must look for ways to scale your efforts or you will never understand user intent in a way that allows you to create content to significantly boost search visibility and ROI.
This piece was originally published on March 28, 2019 and has been updated to reflect industry changes and updates to our SEO platform.