Search intent is what a user expects and wants to get out of a particular Web search.
Focusing your content marketing strategy solely on keywords is a poor strategy. Google factors it's users search intent into every SERP it serves up. It's time to adjust your strategy to include a users intent.
All searches are associated with keywords, but the story doesn’t end there. Unless you come to grips with search intent, you can have a perfectly optimized page that still annoys the heck out of your audience – because it simply doesn’t lead them where they want to go.
An Example of Search Intent Gone Wrong
Let’s look at what’s probably the most egregious and widespread case today: “Near me.”
Searches that end with near me have become ubiquitous in the era of mobile. Their intent is simple: A person using a mobile device wants options, including directions or reviews, for every example of a certain type of business that’s – wait for it – near them.
Because the sheer volume of these searches exploded overnight, lots of companies decided this was SEO real estate they needed to stake out to stay competitive. That resulted in a lot of blogs and other random content pages with awkward formations like this:
- “If you’re wondering about the best dentist near me ...”
- “Don’t search for steakhouses near me, come to ...”
- “The best chiropractor near me is a common question ...”
This is a classic case of ignoring search intent in favor of any old traffic. It discards the meaning behind the search. In this case, it captures people who might be interested in your service but probably aren’t in a position to visit you. In short, this is non-converting traffic.
This particular example is so bad, even people who don’t know anything at all about SEO or digital marketing will notice it. And if your website simply sounds weird because of something you’ve done for marketing purposes, you’re headed in the wrong direction!
Google has done a terrific job of actually honing in on its users intent, and now serving up relevant results... NOT based on keywords.
The Different Kinds of Search Intent
There are three main motivations that drive people to search:
People are looking to get background information, answer a question, or solve a specific problem. They might use question words such as “how” and “why” to get their point across. As they gather info, they’re more likely to phrase searches in the form of a natural language question.
Searches where people are looking for a specific website. Many brand name searches fall into this category. When the navigation or search function of a given website sucks, you’ll often find users typing things like “pay credit card bill online” directly into Google to find the right page.
These searches usually mean that people are in the last stages of consideration and ready to make a choice – or they’ve already made the choice and they want to execute on it. Specific brand names and product types make a search more likely to be transactional.
Remember: Search Terms Get More Specific Over Time
The big problem: Many search terms are ambiguous on their own.
Without context, it’s often easy to mistake one search intent for another.
Luckily, search intent becomes clearer over time as the user gathers facts and establishes buying criteria.
Let’s take an example based on how it works in the real world:
- things to do in Amsterdam – the user is planning a trip and wants to know about the city.
- Amsterdam weather in June – the user needs input to decide how to spend their time.
- Amsterdam walking tours – the user wants to explore all the options for a walking tour.
- best Amsterdam walking tour – the user wants to compare options for the “best” tour.
- Oranje Umbrella walking tours – the user has picked a vendor and wants to see their site.
- book Oranje Umbrella walking tour Amsterdam – the user is ready to book the tour.
That’s six different searches – and the search intent evolves every time. Even though a person could absorb all that information is as little as half an hour, he or she still absorbs a tremendous amount of context about a trip to Amsterdam. Each answer influences future buying decisions.
Without Search Intent, You’re Missing the Mark – and Your Market
Search intent corresponds closely with the steps of the buyers journey.
Although it’s easiest to see this in B2C, the same principle is in action for B2B buyers.
The challenge for businesses and digital marketers: Pay close attention to the clues users offer you and provide them with the content they really want. Ensure that simpler (and vaguer) queries lead to general content that moves the user seamlessly toward more specific pieces as needed.
And, no matter how tempting it is, never ignore user intent to twist a keyword’s meaning. You might raise your search visibility for a while, but most of the traffic you get will go straight to your bounce rate. That means aggravated users and an undermined content strategy.