Keyword research has long been heralded as a pillar of a proper SEO strategy. In fact, without proper keyword research, inbound marketing efforts can be misguided, budgets misspent, and strategies designed on a poor foundation. While any SEO professional worth their title knows how to conduct keyword research, many marketers tackling SEO still fail to consider a core component of keyword research: user intent.
'User intent' is a concept that’s known to most SEO professionals, but unfortunately, used by too few. I say unfortunately, because it’s the key to improving the very foundation of SEO campaigns, while driving content strategies that yield better conversion rates, clicks, leads, and sales.
User Intent: The Art of Detecting and Fulfilling a Need
In the commercial space, user intent has enormous value. But since it’s not immediately tangible in cyberspace, many SEOs don’t bother with it. However, user intent is one of the most important metrics that should inform the direction of your content strategy.
If you think about it, at the heart of every search on Google, there’s some kind of intention. A user wants answers, resources, information, reviews of a product, and much more. Content that is crafted to meet this expectation will connect with the user immediately. Content that makes only a passing reference to what the user is looking for, on the other hand, is much less likely to connect.
Understanding and measuring user intent is not just a way to increase conversions, trust, or clickthroughs; it’s also a consideration you need to make to get better at SEO and provide more value to your visitors. As is often the case with things like this, in the long run, it also helps to establish your brand as a trustworthy and reliable source of content your audience can rely on.
In this post, let's discuss several reasons why user intent is so valuable for SEO, and talk about the ways you can start evaluating user intent to inform your keyword research and content strategy.
1) User Intent Tells You What Users Are Looking For
When you begin to focus on user intent, you’re going to be looking at live examples of searches that people type into search engines like Google every day. This isn't just an indication of which keywords are being used; it's also about how they’re tied to questions or queries in Google.
For example, “iPhone cases under $20” and “iPhone case reviews” are two popular keywords. But “iPhone case reviews” only tells you that users are looking for reviews of any iPhone case. It isn’t particularly clear what type of a case the user is looking for. Generic content will be sufficient here, without too much focus on a particular type of case.
On the other hand, “iPhone cases under $20” is much more specific: you instantly know what the user’s intention is. He or she is looking for iPhone cases (obviously) that also happen to be inexpensive -- in this case, less than $20. Knowing this, you might want to create content designed around iPhone cases that fit this price point.
When evaluating user intent, look beyond popular search terms, and start looking more directly at what people are searching for. There are a number of ways to do this, but I recommend using a tool like the Keywords tool in the HubSpot software, or Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool.
It’s also important to note here that your content should be aligned with your business, industry, and ultimately, the products and services your company actually offers. So, if your company only sells accessories for Android devices, you probably shouldn't be creating content about iPhone cases that cost less than $20, no matter how high the search volume for that term is. This is misleading, confusing, and is can damage your brand image.
One of the best ways to learn about user intent as it relates to your particular audience -- and the people who are actually visiting your site -- is to look at your own marketing analytics. Using a keyword analytics tool like HubSpot's, investigate which keywords that are being used to find your website and, scanning through each one, search for elements of user intent. In doing so, you’ll learn about what your particular audience is looking for, and identify opportunities to create and deliver the types of content and resources they really want and need.
You can also use your own data to see if people are actually finding the resources they need once they arrive at your website. To do so, compare your organic search traffic keywords with the search terms people are using in your website’s own internal search tool. Do the search queries match up, or is there a discrepancy? Compare this data to identify information your audience is looking for but might not be readily available on your site. Understanding user intent begins with analyzing your data to see what your users are actually searching for -- both on and off your website.
2) User Intent Supplies Unique Keyword Suggestions
When conducting keyword research, many SEO professionals fail to capture high-value long-tail keywords with strong user intent. Why? Because when we’re guided by “keyword popularity,” we limit and reduce our ability to look beyond the shiny “search volume” count. When you shift your focus to “user intent,” you capture what users are actually inputting in the search field, and that means you’re thinking more like a user instead of an SEO.
For instance, it's no challenge to figure out that “how to get rid of bed bugs” is a very popular keyword. It’s got great search volume (33,100 local exact/month), and that’s where the average SEO professional ends their search for target keywords.
But what about the user who wants to figure out how to get of bed bugs without any help from a company? Or by using a pet-safe product? Or without having to purchase any new products at all? This user might search for “how to get rid of bed bugs without purchasing a product.” How’s that for user intent? Your article could even have that exact title and would probably yield a very high conversion rate, especially if you provide valuable, actionable advice that fits these parameters.
3) User Intent Highlights Clearer Demographics
In the world of mobile and local search, it’s often lucrative to cater to a particular demographic. Location-based keywords are clear indications of what the user seeks.
For instance, “cheap furniture in dallas” is a dead giveaway of user intent that is tagged with a location. This type of information makes it easy for you to design content, product positioning, marketing, and PR that’s aligned with this particular demographic information.
4) User Intent Helps You Craft Better Landing Pages and Increase Conversions
Optimizing landing pages with today’s SEO best practices in mind is a difficult, detail-oriented procedure that eats up a lot of time and resources. And the most important element of optimizing landing pages is conversion rate optimization.
When it comes to conversion rate optimization, there are plenty of variables that can be tested and optimized over time, but understanding user intent is also an extremely useful way to make your landing pages work harder for you. In other words, if you understand what the user wants, you can design your landing page to accommodate these very needs.
For example, think back to our example of the user who searched for “how to get rid of bed bugs without purchasing a product.” Let's say you're an exterminator, and you pulled together an ebook about various tricks and tactics for getting rid of bed bugs using things you already have lying around your house. The keyword-minded SEO professional would simply include that keyword phrase somewhere in the landing page copy and call it a day. But the user intent-focused SEO professional would craft copy that specifically highlights the fact that these tips require no purchase of a specific product. This could be done through page elements like bullet points, bolded text, a focused headline, or a relevant image.
5) User Intent Generates Better Overall Content Strategies
Content relevance, quality, and freshness have always been important for a successful SEO strategy. But if there’s one thing that matters above all else in an effective inbound marketing strategy, it’s creating content that appeals to the specific needs, interests, and problems of the audience(s) you're targeting. So when crafting your content strategy, start by figuring out what your target market is looking for. What are the long-tail keywords they are searching for, and what information can you glean from this? How can you craft your content strategy as a result of this information? Leverage what you know about user intent to strengthen your buyer personas so you can create content that is even more appealing to your target audience.
Creating an effective content strategy isn’t especially hard; it’s just that there’s a lot of work involved. But content strategies based on user intent are much easier to create and implement because the focus becomes sharper and a need is identified -- and thus, able to be fulfilled.
User Intent Emphasizes the Shift Toward User Experience Over SEO
While the concept of user intent is nothing new, it's starting to gain traction as a key focus metric for SEO professionals. With the rollout of Google’s algorithm updates like Panda and Penguin, SEOs are starting to understand the importance of optimizing for the user experience rather than focusing solely on search engines.
Remember: Understanding user intent involves truly getting into the minds of the searcher to understand what their needs are, and developing a content strategy that fulfills those needs. And by fulfilling these needs, an increase in clickthrough rates, traffic, conversion rates, leads, and sales is sure to follow.
Are you implementing user intent research into your keyword and content strategy? If so, have you seen positive results? Let us know in the comments!
This is a guest post written by Jayson DeMers. Jason is the founder and CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency, as well as Crackerize.com, a lyrics-humor website. You can contact him on LinkedIn, Google+, or Twitter.
Originally published Apr 10, 2013 2:13:00 PM, updated July 28 2017