How many times a day do we turn to Google for information? We’re checking the weather forecast and getting traffic directions on Google maps. We key random words and phrases into a field, and Google somehow understands and delivers results. Think about the Local Pack. I was in Athens for the month of May, and Google found me the perfect neighborhood café with WiFi – great pastry and coffee and lovely people. Think about that – it’s a pretty tall order, but Google delivered because it perfectly understood my intent.
In this article, we will review search intent as a key component of content optimization and how a search-intent strategy is really about mapping intent to the traditional sales funnel. Let’s start by looking at the four basic kinds of search intent.
1. Informational Intent
Google’s understanding of intent transcends information about a specific term. It’s gotten so much smarter over the years that it now understands nuances. It knows that people looking for swimsuits and sun hats also may be looking for hotels and flip flops and a vacation in the sun. Informational keywords often include opinion pieces, “how-to” guides, presentations, guides and listicles. Informational intent can be the who, how, where and why queries. Informational intent is all about sharing information with our audience in the same way that a newspaper article efficiently answers these who, what, when, where, why questions in the first paragraph.
2. Navigational Intent
Be the first result when someone searches for your company name. People with this navigational intent want to visit a specific website. If we key in 49ers, we want to access the 49ers’ website. Make sure that your website can be found when someone searches for the name of your company. If your site isn’t showing up, start troubleshooting. Start with rebooting, then try another browser. Clear your cache and delete cookies. Check to see if it’s a DNS server issue, where a DNS server converts the address to a numeric IP address that directs it to your actual website.
There’s also the possibility that the problem lies with whomever is hosting your site. Call whomever is hosting your site and find out if there is an outage. Servers are just computers, and they’re subject to the same forces of nature as our own computers. Storms, electrical outages, etc. — all can impact normal functioning.
3. Transactional Intent
Transactional intent has a conversion focus. This is the point where we’re ready to buy. We often know exactly what we want to buy and want to get to that product page right away. Keywords with transactional intent will often contain words like buy, deal and discount. It may include the brand names of products. If your blogpost has transactional intent, you’re targeting a consumer who’s ready to make a purchase. For more transactional-specific keywords, use a keyword research tool such as Ahrefs or Google’s Keyword Planner.
4. Commercial Intent
Sometimes we search the web for research. What’s the best espresso machine? Should I buy a Nespresso machine, instead? What are the best machines in each price range for each category? For commercial intent we need more time and convincing. For this intent, we often see listicles – a list of products that’s comparing their features, quality and pricing. These listicles provide enough information for us to make a decision.
Matching Your Landing Pages to the Search Intent of Your Audience
The keywords in our search queries provide insight into intent. This works the other way around as well. By identifying keywords with intent-specific words we can increase our chances of being seen by people with matching search intent. How to optimize content for search intent? If you’re launching a new product, you’ll want to deploy several kinds of landing pages, and informational intent is going to be an important component of your marketing strategy.
Think about whom you’re trying to reach as you’re crafting your landing pages, social media posts and other media, including print collateral. Each will have a different focus, depending on which phase of the sales funnel you’re targeting.
Get Comfortable With Long-Form Content
I frequently have this discussion with my clients. There’s a trend towards minimizing the amount of content on a webpage because “no one will read” more. While that may be true, what if someone wants more information, and you’ve provided a few vapid sentences? Don’t they deserve more?
More importantly, Google needs content in order to properly index pages. It needs words in order to go to work, specifically, keywords. The solution is to provide comprehensive, well-written content with well-researched keywords. Frontload this great content, with the most important information in the first few paragraphs for those who don’t want to read more.
Do We Write for People or Google . . . or Both?
By ranking high on Google, we’ll attract more people to our websites, which leads to more sales and returning visitors. To accomplish that, we need to optimize our content for our keywords. By tailoring our content to the kind of response we’re trying to elicit, the content should map to the stages of the sales funnel: Awareness, Discovery, Evaluation, Intent, Purchase and Brand Loyalty. Intent is our online user journey through those stages of the sales funnel.
Google updates its algorithm some 500 times yearly. It does this to stay on top of the kinds of queries we’re keying into our searches, which are increasingly complex. Google’s ability to understand the relationships among words and the current subtle nuances is an example of its growth and maturation over the years.
Customizing a Landing Page
Search intent is key to the success of every landing page and should be taken into consideration when building every page of your website. If you’re struggling with this, step back and pretend this is someone else’s site and it’s your customer journey. If it’s a product with which you’re not familiar and you’re seeking more information, think about what a page with informational intent is going to look like.
If you’re savvy and understand the product, but would like one last look at a few products at different price points, create a page with commercial intent. Include images of each product with key features and price points. Wrap it up with a snappy conclusion or recommendation that encapsulates the overview so the user can quickly decide which item to buy – completing his/her buyer journey.
The benefits to Identifying Search Intent
• More site visitors, more sales. Understanding search intent helps you create content that will generate organic traffic—those who are ready to take action on your well-designed landing page.
• Relevant content means that your bounce rates will go down. Visitors should also spend more time drilling down through the information on your website.
• More engaged users. More interactivity and interest in your site. Generate better content ideas. Knowing audience interests/goals will help you customize topic and content type. To compare products, use a listicle.
• Find warm leads. There’s always a sales cycle, but using keywords mapped to user intent will drive traffic to your site. Make sure you’re using a keyword tool like Ahrefs or Google’s Keyword Planner to find the words that have the highest impact.
• Get higher rankings. More Google activity is always a good thing. This will directly and positively impact your content’s keyword rankings.
What’s the Best Way To Optimize Content?
Run some searches and study the results pages (SERPs). You’ll start to see patterns and begin to understand why some words appear at the top of the page and others end up on page two or three in no-man’s land. Pay attention to the kinds of information that appear in the descriptions. Remember that this is all about words.
…And the Best Way To Raise Your Own Content Level?
Identify your keywords and make sure they’re included in your H1 and H2 tags. Then take a good look at your metadescription—the two lines of text that show up under the website link on a SERP. These should be customized for every page, and they act like mini-sales pitches. A metadescription may not have a direct relationship to your search engine optimization (SEO), but there is a relationship among the metadescription, your potential audience and your website. You have 150-160 characters to entice the user to click on the link to your website, so it’s up to you to make this message as enticing as possible.
Other things To Consider
• Your audience. Is it time to create or review the audience you’re trying to reach? I created a persona, or customer profile, a few years ago, and I recently updated it. I know exactly what my target customer looks like, what she does for a living and how she spends her money. It’s important to understand socioeconomic information for this effort so you really understand this target customer.
• Could you be displaying information more effectively? Using subheads and bulleted lists makes information more accessible than if it’s in a paragraph. More fundamentally, are you breaking up long paragraphs into short paragraphs that can be easily read?
• This is all about ranking. Are you ranking for keywords with a high keyword difficulty? While some of our keywords are going to be at the high end of the scale, it’s important to find some at the lower end as well. There should be some search activity and a lower price point.
There are four phases of the customer journey that map to the traditional sales funnel—starting with Awareness and ending with Purchase and the Loyalty of a returning customer. There are four stages of intent: Informational, Navigational, Transactional and Commercial. Each phase is a step on the buyer journey. As business owners and marketers, we need to stand back and determine the kind of content we want our customers to be reading at each place on this continuum.