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Understanding Search Intent To Improve Your SEO Campaign

Author Justin Smith
by Justin Smith, CEO
Updated June 20, 2019

What is Search Intent?

Choosing a set of keywords to target is one of the first steps of an SEO campaign. In other words, if your goal is to improve your website's organic visibility in Google and other search engines, you need to know what words and phrases you want your site to show up when plugged into a Google search. More importantly, you need to understand the intent of those searching for the keywords you plan on targeting. 

In the early days of search engine algorithms, search engines didn't read much into the actual intent of the searcher's keyword; their focus was mostly on the term itself. It wasn't that search engine developers didn't care about the intention of the searcher; there just wasn't a practical way to algorithmically determine search intent.

As we approach the 2020s, things sure have changed. Today, with search engines powered by artificial intelligence and leveraging newer language analysis techniques like Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), search intent is an increasingly important part of SEO. Search engine bots analyze several variables, including historical search data, the searcher's demographic, location and previous search queries, etc., to make an educated guess on what goals the searcher wishes to achieve as a result of their search query.

For more about the algorithms that help Google determine search intent, read up on Google Hummingbird and Google RankBrain algorithms.

Most keywords can be categorized into these distinct search intent types:

  • Local: a user is looking to find information about or patronize a local entity in some capacity. E.g., "water parks near me."
  • Informational: A user is looking to obtain information and learn about a particular topic or subject. E.g. "how to eat spaghetti." A user could also be looking for information about a product or service, e.g., "fender stratocaster reviews."
  • Navigational: A user is looking to navigate to a predetermined website. E.g. "ebay.com." Yes, people search on Google for "ebay.com." About 1.3 million times per month!
  • Transactional: A user is ready to buy a product or service right now. Often keywords with this intent will include qualifiers like "buy" or "for sale." E.g., "buy Gibson Les Paul ebony fingerboard." This example includes "buy," but the addition of "ebony fingerboard" could be a clue for even more transactional intent since the user has a more specific product in mind.
  • Investigative - A user is looking to investigate a product, service, location, entity, for some potential commercial relationship in the future.

Of course, the above types are not set in stone. For example, a different kind of keyword not mentioned above would be people looking for a free product or service, often qualifying their search by including the word "free" in their query.

Qualifiers in Keywords

By including "qualifiers" like "buy," "deal," or "discount," users often deliberately take steps to help search engines better understand their or "qualify" their search.. When performing keyword research for a website, always think about qualifiers that could be unique to your business objectives to help you refine your keyword list to be comprised of keywords with the highest chance of driving conversions. The foundation of a solid ecommerce SEO campaign is targeting keywords that show ecommerce intent.


How To Target People With Search Intent

To best target search engine users, you need a holistic understanding of your website's conversion points and your target market's needs and tendencies.

Let's say that you run an ecommerce site called Imaginary Animals For Sale.

On your site, you have a Unicorn product page on your ecommerce site that ranks #2 for two hypothetical keywords.

  • "free unicorns" (currently drives about 500 organic visitors to your ecommerce store each month)
  • "unicorns for sale" (currently drives about 50 organic visitors to your ecommerce store each month)


Remember that the page title tags on your website are some of the most overlooked SEO elements you have at your disposal. By writing keyword-optimized title tags for each page on your website, you can directly tell Google what your page is about and should rank for from your perspective.

Let's say that your existing Unicorn product page's title is:
Unicorns | The Imaginary Animal Store

So, while reviewing your keyword rankings, you realize you want to try tweaking your Unicorn product page's title to target one of the two keywords mentioned above more aggressively.

Let's imagine that by moving each keyword up from #2 to #1 that traffic would double. Would you rather see 1000 visitors to your website looking for free unicorns, or 100 qualified searchers that are ready to buy a unicorn?.

Should the Imaginary Animal Store owner choose "free unicorns" or "unicorns for sale"? Hopefully, you find this to be a rhetorical question.

While it makes complete sense that the ecommerce store should target the ecommerce qualified keyword, the decision is thus clearly a function of the website's business goals and objectives.

Search Intent That Suits Your Goals

There are plenty of hypothetical websites out there that may benefit from ranking for a keyword like "free unicorns." Imagine a blog that describes how to get a unicorn without paying for it! It could actually be quite popular. The website could monetize that traffic with advertisements and banners. They could even become an affiliate advertiser for the Imaginary Animal Store! Realize that one person's garbage is another's treasure, especially with keywords.

But this logic of tweaking your web page to better target the keywords that display appropriate search intent extends far beyond title tags. You expand this strategy throughout the copy of the product page. You then find other related topics and keywords that help serve to fulfill your primary goals. You do more keyword research and see what people are searching for before they even realize they need a unicorn, like "what are the best imaginary animals you can buy online." Then you write a blog about that! This is a high-level overview of how you can use your understanding of search intent to improve your keyword research and discover the most qualified keywords for your objectives.


How Google Breaks Down Search Intent

  • Rankbrain: AI algorithm updates such as Rankbrain help Google "learn" about a keyword based on historical data. It can then learn that certain types of people may use identical keywords in different ways, and make a judgment about search intent with no additional context. For example, if a searcher that has demonstrated a previous interest in music searches for "what does flat mean," Google is more likely to "guess" that this searcher is asking about music notes being flat and sharp, and not looking for the typical definition of the word "flat."
  • Showing diverse results: Offering many types of results for a given search term and then taking note of what searchers click on helps Google determine search intent. More on this below.
  • Context clues and Qualifiers: For example, including a term like "buy" or "for sale" helps Google immediately know there is ecommerce intent.
  • Location: Based on your location, Google will serve you different results. If you are near the mountains, you'll be more likely to be searching for skiing and snowboarding than someone in Florida, so if you search for "skiing" you may get water skiing results in Florida and snow skiing results in Colorado. 

Showing Diverse Results

Take a look at the results for "star was rise of skywalker" and you can see all of the options based on that search term. As Google pays attention to what people click the most, they can continue to refine the results until it's completely optimal.



You can see that Google offers tons of relevant information about the new Star Wars movie, including related videos and images, cast member info, release date, music composer, and tons more! Google will notice what the average searcher clicks on from this results page and continue to refine the page down until it is an ideal representation of what people might be looking for for that specific keyword.

 

You can also learn a lot form releated questions that pop up in the search results, and use those for your on-page optimization or for potential blog topics.

How to Find Intent of Search Query With Its Result

One easy way to get an idea of Google's perceived search intent for a given keyword is to simply search for the keyword and observe the search results. If the search results are full of online stores, you've likely found a keyword with ecommerce intent. If most of the results are blog articles, you're probably dealing with an "informational" type of keyword. This is one of the best ways you can assess the intent of a keyword.

 

Next Steps

Hopefully, you've got a clearer understanding of what search intent is, how Google and other search engines use artificial intelligence and context clues to determine it, and how to leverage search intent to drive more qualified traffic to your website. If your ready to take your SEO campaign to the next level, it's time to talk to OuterBox. Click Talk To Us Today below to schedule a time to discuss your project.

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