Michelle Abdow is the president and founder of Market Mentors, a full-service marketing and advertising agency.
Have you ever used a few words to search for something on Google and received exactly what you were looking for at the top of the results? While it may feel like Google can magically read your mind, the reality is far more nuanced than that.
When it comes to unpaid search results, also known as organic search, search engines bring up the most relevant pieces of information for queries by determining a user’s “search intent.” A fancy term for a simple concept, search intent is what a user is trying to find when they type a word or phrase into a search bar.
Harnessing the power of search intent is a critical aspect of increasing traffic to a website, and, in turn, sales and brand awareness. However, it’s not enough to just take popular keywords, place them haphazardly throughout your site, and hope that SEO will do the rest — keyword stuffing can hurt your chances of ranking higher on search results. A user’s search intent says a lot about what they’re looking for, so creating content that speaks to these desires is how to make your pages rank higher on organic results.
The Four Types of Search Intent
Before implementing a plan to use search intent for SEO purposes, it’s important to fully understand the four main categories that search intent can fall under:
• Informational: A user looking to learn more about a topic conducts an informational search. While these types of queries often come as a question (“What is a French press?”) they can also be simple searches that are more open-ended but still made with the intent of learning (“coffee cone”).
• Transactional: Users who are looking to buy a specific product or service perform a transactional search. These involve phrases that indicate someone is ready to purchase something (“Keurig K-Supreme Plus sale”).
• Commercial: Browsers conduct a commercial search when they are researching a product or service. People who make these searches have yet to settle on exactly what they’re looking to purchase (“top coffee makers”).
• Navigational: When a person wants to find a specific website, they perform a navigational search (“order Starbucks”). They could just type in the URL for the website, but it may be easier to just have the search engine do the heavy lifting.
Why Focus on Search Intent?
The more optimized your website content is to account for each type of search intent, the more likely your site will be picked up and placed high in organic search results. You will help people find the information they are looking for and benefit in the process.
Each type of search intent represents a stage in the customer journey, and targeting methods between them all differ. Informational searches are at the top of the marketing funnel (awareness), where people are looking to learn about a product, service or topic. This type of search intent presents an opportunity for you to answer common questions through content — increasing brand awareness, audience reach, and credibility in the process.
For example, if you sell coffee makers, a blog about what features to look for in a coffee maker would be of interest to a searcher seeking information. The more optimized your content is for this intent, the more people may consider you to be a thought leader in the field, eventually leading to more hits on your site.
The next step in the funnel (interest) is where you’ll find searchers with commercial intent. Something like a listicle featuring the “top five coffee makers” will attract those browsers. As the customer becomes more educated and travels through the last two stages of the sales funnel (decision and action), they will conduct transactional searches. Focusing on “sales” or “discounts” may help to attract consumers looking to buy a coffee maker.
Writing about a specific service or product by using target keywords can help more people navigate to your site. This supplemental content helps signal to a search engine that your business is an authority on a topic, increasing your website’s search rankings overall.
Search Intent Optimization 101
So, once you have a topic with clear search intent, how do you optimize your content to appear higher on search results?
The first course of action is to uncover what pain points you are trying to help solve for the searcher. In the coffee maker scenario, this could mean that you are trying to educate someone about what a coffee maker is (informational search intent).
Once this is determined, you will already have a primary keyword phrase, “what is a coffee maker?” Find secondary keywords with relatively high volume (at least 100 searches a month) and a low keyword difficulty (between 10 and 20) using tools such as SEMrush. Adding primary and secondary keywords will create more robust content that helps solve user pain points, increasing the likelihood you will rank higher in search results.
Analyze the search engine results when searching for keywords to determine if some pages rank higher more consistently than others. Investigate why some pages rank higher over time for specific search intent. Ask yourself:
• What types of content do all the top pages have in common?
• What formats do most of the top-ranked web pages use to present their content?
• What approaches do the highest-ranking sites use to garner the public’s attention? In other words, what’s their angle?
By positing your content to follow these trends, you have a better chance of ranking higher for specific search intent. Over time, properly targeting search intent can earn your site backlinks from other credible websites, signaling to the search engine that your website is an authoritative source and increasing your rankings in the process.
Organic search marketing is an art and science that continues to evolve, so it is important for brands to partner with firms that specialize in this field to get improved and consistent results.