How User Intent Will Forever Inform Successful Keyword Strategies


Did you know that Google changes its search algorithms between 500 and 600 times each year, and it experiments with over 10,000 changes in that same time?

Each change could signal one or more things that you need to improve in your SEO strategy. How can you possibly keep up?

The good news is in the common thread that every improvement Google makes is designed to provide a better user experience to searchers. That means your search results need to deliver where it matters most: high click-through rates, low bounce rates and long time-on-site.

You can only outperform in these areas when your keyword and content strategy is optimized for the real people behind the queries — and that means understanding the user intent.

The user intent of a keyword is the goal of the user typing the search query, and it typically falls into three categories: Do something, Know something, or Go somewhere. In fact, there’s often more than one intent per query.

Content written for user intent wins the day (and keeps those coveted high rankings). Here are a few ways to educate yourself about your the user intent behind your keywords.

Study SERPs Regularly

Carve out some time to regularly study the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) for your brand’s basic keywords. A thoughtful glance through the results on page one will help you begin to uncover what people are looking for when they type in the words and phrases you have been focused on.

Why study SERPs to understand people? Google’s results pages are perhaps the most finely tuned, tested and optimized pages online today. Google may not have it perfect (yet), but its search results are a strong indicator of what people are looking for because they reflect the content people engage with. (Google is the king of big data, after all.)

Consider a couple of examples. (If you want to play along at home, open an incognito window and type in the keywords with me.)

Let’s start with [bed bugs]. All but one of the results on the first page promises information on how to get rid of them:

User intent example 1

Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for [bed bugs]

That tells us that the primary user intent of a search for [bed bugs] is eradicating them. Users are looking for products and how-to information more than they are curious about entomology or even diagnosing bites. I’d record this user intent as:

  • Find information about how to eradicate bed bugs. (Know)

Now, let’s try [blonde hair]. Three of the first four results discuss various shades of blonde hair.

user intent example 2

Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for [blonde hair]

There are also some news results and blog posts about celebrities — but absolutely no how-to articles or salon listings on page one. Before the how-to articles, salon listings, and celebrity roll calls, users are looking for which shade of blonde they want. That gives us two intents:

  • Find information about and compare different shades of blonde hair. (Know)
  • Find news about celebrities with blonde hair. (Know)

As you can see, many queries have one or more Know user intents, but that isn’t always the case. A search for [Mario Tricoci salon] clearly has the intent: Go to the website/profile/driving directions of a Mario Tricoci salon near me (Go). And [blonde hair dye] is obviously: Buy blonde hair dye (Do).

It’s valuable to regularly play this Google Jeopardy with your organization’s top keywords. Look at the answers that Google gives you, and infer the questions. Are users looking for products? How-to instructions? General information?

Take regular notes, and then come back and play again in a month. Tracking user intent for your brand’s keywords over time will help you monitor – and eventually predict – trends in your industry. And it will allow you to provide the specific content that your buyers are looking for.

Study Customer Data

Search Engine Results Pages will tell you what’s happening in your industry or niche across the web; but, you can also dial into more specific data closer to home.

  • Help Center. If your website has a help center or community forum, look at the questions that are being asked. What information is searched for most often? Do you offer this information, written with the keywords your audience uses? (Pro tip: If you don’t have these resources on your own website, crawl through the help center on a competitor’s site.)
  • FAQs. What questions get asked so often that they make it to an FAQ list? Clearly, there’s an information gap there.
  • Sales. Talk to your sales team. What questions do they hear every day? Create a simple way for sales team members to submit their observations to marketing (you can even reward them for helping in this way).

If some of the popular phrases you have identified don’t turn up much on SERPs yet, it might mean that you are ahead of the game for those terms. You know your buyers are looking for them, but there may not be quality resources on the topic yet. Be the first to create content optimized for those new, long-tail keywords in your industry!

Write For Intent, Not Keyword

The Knowledge Vault is constantly expanding, and hundreds of new algorithms are translating that collection of information and data into human language and understanding.

Consider our previous search for [blonde hair]. Of the three “In-depth articles” that Google returned, only one of them actually uses the exact phrase “blonde hair” in the title or meta description:

user intent example 3

In-depth articles surfaced by Google for [blonde hair]

In fact, the phrase [blonde hair]never appears in the first article, although it is a detailed piece about bleaching someone’s hair. What does that mean?

Google is in your head.

It also means that Google is getting really good at discerning and ranking user intent. So if you’re creating content, the focus is shifting. Writing for the user is becoming a reality, and the keywords themselves are getting a new job description.

Just Google It

As Google continues to improve the user experience, algorithm changes continue to force content creators to do the same. Language is a tool that we use to communicate, and the Google data machine is finally getting big enough to decipher the meaning behind the characters we type.

Creating content to optimize for keywords isn’t a null and void strategy (not yet), but Google’s efforts to reach deeper into user intent means that this strategy is becoming less and less effective.

Fortunately, decoding user intent is not a difficult process, and you already have the tools you need. As with most problems and challenges these days, the easiest and best place to start is to just Google it.

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