Content marketing can be impressively effective. It doesn’t just widen your audience reach, boost website authority, and drive conversions. On top of all that, it can also help you position your business as the best possible answer to consumer needs in your industry.
But, as always, there’s a catch. Publishing content just for the sake of having it on your site won’t do much. In fact, such an approach could hurt your business in the long run.
So, to truly reap the results of your hard work, you have to focus your attention on developing a content marketing strategy that checks all the boxes. And that means writing for SEO, optimizing pages for conversions, and (perhaps most importantly) meeting user search intent.
What Is Search Intent?
Search intent, otherwise known as user intent or query intent, refers to the intention an internet user has when they type in a keyword into their preferred search engine. In other words, search intent refers to the reason an internet user chooses a specific keyword and the type of result they expect to receive.
The significance of search intent for brands and marketers is that it determines the sort of value that needs to be provided when ranking for targeted keywords.
Supply that value, and you’ll see a consistent increase in organic traffic, the number of leads captured, and conversions made on your website. Moreover, you’ll see a hike to your online authority and a decreased need to pay for traffic, seeing how your content will rank higher on SERPs.
But what happens when brands fail to produce the sought-after value?
Well, when a piece of content is not optimized for user intent, it still might rank high on Google. But only for a while.
As people click on the result and close the tab (because they realize that it is not what they were looking for), there will be two main types of consequences:
1. Immediate – Due to the high bounce rates, website conversion rates will decrease. This means losing business and hurting brand authority among the people whose expectations were let down.
2. Long-term – After a while of poor landing page performance, Google rankings will start to suffer. This results in a lower likelihood of the brand’s website winning the top SERP positions and minimizes its chances of future success.
So how can you avoid the pitfalls of not meeting search intent? The best thing you can do is learn why people use search engines in the first place.
Different Types of Search Intent
Depending on what internet users (and your potential clients) are looking to find when entering a keyword into Google, there are four different types of possible user aims.
When a person’s query intent is navigational, they are, essentially, searching for a specific website. Navigational searches are almost always branded. For example, a web user who wants to visit a brand website may not enter that brand’s site address into their browser’s navigation bar. They may just enter the name of the brand then click on the correct result.
Another type of query intent is when an internet user is seeking information by entering a keyword into the search bar. The thing about informational intent is that it envelops a wide variety of results. So, a person may be trying to read an in-depth article about a topic, fact-check data, or even just find a quick definition or summary. Most of the time, informational queries start with words such as “how,” “why,” “who,” “where,” “what,” etc. Alternatively, they may not include these words but will be phrased (or possibly interpreted) as questions.
This type of search intent applies when a person is looking to make an immediate purchase, whether online or at a physical location. For example, if they want to buy a laptop, they’re likely to type a specific model into their search bar. Then, they will click on a result that allows them to make the purchase online.
Finally, commercial intent refers to the research phase consumers go through before making a purchase. Before they know they want to buy a particular laptop model, web users may do a search for “best budget laptop 2021” to find out about the different products available in the category. Or, they may add the term “review” to their query to check whether their intended product choice will meet their demands.
Now, these different types of search intent may seem straightforward at first glance. But, when looking to use intent to direct your content marketing strategy, the matter becomes a bit more complicated than it appears at first glance.
For one, content marketers often make the mistake of choosing a target keyword based on search volume. Then, they try to find ways to optimize for that keyword. But the thing is, if the piece of content that results from those efforts doesn’t answer consumer search intent, then it’s all a waste of resources.
Secondly, some keywords pose the problem of being ambiguous.
For example, if a person is using the keyword “apple” to perform a Google search, the engine has to determine whether they’re referring to the fruit or the company. If the internet user’s past online behavior shows that they are, indeed, looking for Apple (the company), then there’s one more question to answer. Are they looking for information about the company (its history or performance on the stock market)? Or are they looking for a particular product made by Apple?
Considering all this, brands must consider how effective they are at meeting search intent.
Are they producing the correct type of content to answer consumer needs? And, more importantly, are they matching user intent in a way that aids SEO? Or are they, basically, shooting themselves in the leg by investing in content that’s predestined to fail?
While these problems may seem complicated, the fortunate thing is that they’re relatively simple to fix. All it takes is some research.
How to Determine User Intent
When it comes to identifying the preferred search intent for the keyword of your choice, there are two methods you can choose to apply.
Perform Google Searches
The simpler way of figuring out what consumers look for when using a specific keyword is to do a Google search for that keyword. Depending on the results you get, you’ll be able to identify the type of user intent you should target, then optimize your content accordingly.
Most of the time, you’ll be shown one of four result types:
When the top results for your keyword search come back in the form of paid advertising, you can be certain that the user intent you want to target is transactional. As you can see from the result below, the keyword “asana premium pricing” brings up a paid ad. It leads to the company’s website and four different landing pages, all of which are optimized to have the web user convert into a customer.
When your chosen keyword brings up a variety of Google answer boxes, your best bet will be to optimize for informational search intent. For example, the Featured snippet and People also ask boxes from the screenshot below show that people searching for “how to verify Instagram account” want to learn the process of getting a blue checkmark next to their username on the social media platform.
URLs, Wiki pages, Google Maps.
When people’s main objective is to find an address (physical or digital), their searches are likely to bring up specific destinations. As you can see, for the keyword “new york pad thai,” Google identifies the preferred search intent as navigational. Therefore, it shows a mix of ads (with phone numbers) and maps locations.
Finally, SEPR pages won’t always show a single type of result. Sometimes you’ll get a mixed bag. In this case, you can assume that the target search intent for your content might be commercial. That is, your best bet would be to optimize it for people who intend to make a purchase but not immediately (people who are in the evaluation stage of the sales funnel).
Try googling the keyword “t-shirt material.” You’ll get this type of result, with informational and commercial overlap. If you check out the top result – an article by RealThread – you’ll see that the brand does an excellent job of optimizing for commercial intent, all the while answering informational searches as well. Essentially, that’s why it wins the top position and manages to beat both Etsy and Amazon.
Put Yourself in Your Target Audience’s Shoes
Performing Google searches makes for a pretty straightforward way to determine user intent. However, it’s important to understand that it’s not the only method.
Sometimes, the best way of figuring out search intent is to change your point of view. Imagine if you were a person doing a particular Google search. What are you looking to find?
For some keywords, this is easy to do. A person searching for “buy baby Yoda plush toy” is likely looking to purchase a squishy doll right away (their intent is transactional). Therefore, optimizing a product page to look something like this one from Disney works great.
Or, if a person is searching for the keyword “best mattress for side sleepers,” you can be fairly certain that their intent is commercial. That is, they’re planning on making a purchase in the future. However, while the intent is commercial, the person is still likely in the research phase and not looking to land on a page for a specific product.
Sleep site Eachnight takes the right approach in setting up a comparison page for multiple products. It addresses the web user’s current problem, then presents them with a solution. In other words, it makes the content page about the user, not about the product or a specific company.
But what if your target keyword is something a bit more complicated?
Recipe Fairy, for example, has an article that’s optimized for the keyword “foods that start with N.” And while a Google search reveals that the best-performing results tend to be optimized for informational search intent, it’s not a bad idea to go a bit deeper into the reason a person would be Googling that particular keyword.
Are they playing a game? Learning English? Are they looking for a way to make learning the ABC more fun for kids? Are they searching for recipes because they thought it would be entertaining to create a diner menu consisting only of “N foods?” The possibilities are endless.
However, the person probably won’t be requiring in-depth preparation instructions. More likely, they’ll want to get a list of items, possibly with some basic info about each of the foods listed.
Optimizing Content for Search Intent
As you can see, the two methods for discovering user intent related to specific keywords aren’t that difficult. Moreover, they can produce amazing results when they’re properly combined.
Are you looking to improve your content creation process by including search intent optimization in the process? Do you already have a substantial amount of content, which could use a performance boost in terms of SEO?
If that’s the position you find yourself in, you’ve got a whole lot of work cut out for you. Fortunately, though, your plan of action should be straightforward.
Do the research
Before you start writing (or re-writing), do keyword research for your posts, paying special attention to user intent.
Don’t fall into the trap of optimizing for terms with a high search volume. Those won’t necessarily be the ideal search terms for your business. Instead, go on Google and check out the type of content that’s ranking for your targeted terms.
If it’s in line with what you can produce, then it’s a good choice. If it’s not, move on and don’t waste your time.
Explore formats and value
What type of post will you be competing with for the top SERP positions?
By taking a simple look at what’s already performing well, you can get a great idea of the format and value that work with your target audience.
For example, the keyword “how to build a gaming pc” shows that the targeted intent needs to be informational. But, a Google search also reveals that two types of posts perform well with users. Written guides, such as this one from Intel and video guides, like the one published on Austin Evans’ YouTube channel.
Do better than your competition
Once you have your keyword, search intent, and format, it’s time to start the production process.
Here, your main goal should be to create the absolute best post you can. If it’s well-written, includes attractive visuals, is optimized for SEO, and offers real value, it’s got a great chance of performing well. But make something average or poorly optimized, and you’ve just wasted your time and money on fluff content that won’t do anything for your brand.
Know what to do when there’s search intent overlap
Last but not least, prepare for the possibility that the search intent for your selected keyword won’t be 100% straightforward. In these cases, your best course of action will be to answer both possible user intents.
LFA Capsule Fillers does this particularly well on their empty capsules product page. Visitors not only get to purchase empty capsules but can also learn everything they need to about the process of making supplements at home.
Over to You
Now that you have all the information you could ask for about search intent, it’s time to start optimizing for it. After all, it’s one of the main contributors to well-performing SEO content that doesn’t just rank but inspires conversions as well.
Once you’ve got the hang of it, you’ll see that it’s a super-simple way of ensuring that your content marketing strategy yields results. And, if you’re ready to take things a step further, you can also start applying the same optimization rules to your paid advertising. That way, you’ll ensure that every dollar you spend on marketing yields the highest possible ROI.
Investing in bootstrapped small businesses. Big fan of lifestyle businesses, profit over revenue, and a focusing on a high quality of life.
Founder of a dozen small companies, with 2 meaningful exits. Also a longtime search engine nerd.