When you create content on the internet, you create it for both users and search engines. While primarily it is the users who will consume it, it is the work of search engines to ensure that they deliver relevant and useful content.
Achieving this delicate balance is no mean feat. However, on the other hand, striking this balance could see your content soar, ranking high on search engine results while delivering value to your users.
One way to nail it for both users and search engines is understanding search intent. In this article, we will define intent, its importance, the various types, and how to determine your user’s intent.
What is user search intent?
A simple way to understand intent is why the user looks something up. It is the goal that they intend to achieve. Note that intent is not only relevant on search engines, but also on social media platforms, your site and literally anywhere where there is content.
User search intent can also be referred to as google intent, custom intent, buyer intent, keyword intent, user intent, and intent-based search.
Determining user intent is not easy…
Intent-based search is a seemingly easy concept. However, this example will prove that it is not. A user keys in ‘Texas land’ on Google for example. What do you think their intent is?
It could be that they/(want to):
- Know the price of land in Texas because they want to buy land
- Find agents selling land in the Texas as they are also looking to start an agency that sells land in that area
- Have a friend who owes them and they heard that they bought land in Texas, and they want to know how much they spent
- Have heard that there was a scam involving land in Texas
Price may seem to be the obvious intent, but it is not accurate in all situations.
Types of intent
The above example helps us identify various intent types. Let’s discuss them further:
Here, the user wants to make a transaction. It could be buying a product or hiring a service. Actions within the scope of ‘conversions’ fall in this category – email subscription, following your blog or site on social media, sharing your post, or calling your business to ask about a service or product.
The user wants specific information. They are interested in a particular topic or subject and need to understand it better. As we have seen from our example, it could even be information about competitors.
Such users might also be on the lookout for resources, for example, reports, studies, and ebooks. If some of the resources require a purchase, for example, subscribing in order to read more content, then the intent here cannot be said to be purely transaction-based, even if it results in a transaction. The initial intent here was to get information.
Users here are headed elsewhere. An example is when users key in ‘LinkedIn’ or ‘Twitter’ on Google. The user is highly likely to be ‘finding their way’ to LinkedIn or Twitter.
Why is it important to understand intent-based search?
Why then should a content marketer want to bother themselves with this seemingly difficult thing – trying to get to the root of why someone is searching for something? Here are a few reasons why:
Relevance is one of the signals that Google uses for ranking
Google uses a combination of over 200 factors to rank content on search engines. Relevance is one of the important ones. If you take care of user intent, you end up creating highly relevant content for your users. Search engine algorithms are able to ‘see’ this as well, and reward you with a higher rank on search results.
But, why are such results such a big deal? The higher your content is on Google, the higher people are likely to click on it. This click-through rate study by Backlinko tells it all:
- The first result has a click-through rate of 31.7% (this simply means that there at least a third of the people who will see the result will actually click on it)
- The tenth result is 10 times less likely to even get a click
- Moving up one result higher on Google’s results sees a 30.8 increase in click-through rate
Users spend more time engaging with content that meets their intent
If users find that your content meets their intent, they will spend more time engaging with it. They will want to read or watch more of your content too. This is also a positive signal for relevance for search engines. It will, therefore, contribute to your content ranking high on search results.
Users will convert
When users find content that helps them achieve the goal that they have in mind, they will take action. They could buy from you, share your content, recommend your business to a friend, write a review, or subscribe to your mailing list, depending on the actions that you will ask them to take.
This could translate to revenue, increased readership or viewership of your content, increased reach, subscribers and even the authority of your content. Content authority is also a ranking factor on Google.
Related article: The Psychology of Search Intent in Driving Smart SEO
How then do you determine search intent?
Here are a few ways to determine intent:
Inferring from user search queries
Fortunately, users leave clues about their intent in the phrases that they use to look something up. For example, if a user keys in ‘buy land in Texas’, you are able to infer from the search phrase that their query intent is buying, therefore transactional.
Doing keyword research
Keyword research will give you insights into users’ intent. Often, you will find a list of keywords with several intents. You will find people who want to understand the process of buying land in Texas, for example, those who want to know the agencies to contact, those who are following up on recent occurrences. Since it is not possible to meet all the different intent types using one piece of content, you need to determine which intent to go for.
Understand your audience
Having a clear understanding of your audience will help you narrow down their intent. If your audience is students currently in university or college, they are less likely to be interested in buying land. They may want to know the process towards acquiring land as a future investment though.
Look out for specific words in search queries
If some words are used by users in a search query, they are likely to denote the intent type. A person who uses words like how-to, what, guide, tutorial, examples, and learn is likely to be looking for information.
All in all
The importance of understanding user search intent cannot be overemphasized. It is your secret sauce for creating great content. Have you started using it yet?