SEO Relevance: Importance of User Intent

Austin Mahaffey
By Austin Mahaffey

Search engine optimization, or SEO, has many moving parts. All of them need to be moving together to ensure you are visible on Google’s Search Engine Results Page and that users can find you.

One of these parts is user intent. But what exactly is user intent, and how does it affect the content you’re creating and the offers you’re putting out there to potential customers?

What Is User Intent?

User intent is what a user is searching for when looking on a search engine. It goes beyond the keywords used and tries to discover the specific answer the user wants to find to his or her inquiry.

Over the years, Google has become increasingly adept at finding the meaning behind user intent. For instance, they penalized content creators for using too many keywords and creating spammy content through their Penguin update in 2012.

Google unleashed this algorithm because user intent was often not being met, and it was hurting the search engine’s reputation.

Now, Google ranks you well if you not only employ SEO tactics, but also produce high-quality content.

What Are the Types of User Intent?

The various types of user intent include:

  • Transactional: The user wants to buy a product or perform another very specific deed.
  • Informational: The user needs information about a certain subject.
  • Navigational: The user wants to visit a specific website.

If you can figure out your user’s intent, you will have an easier time getting him or her into the sales funnel and eventually buying your products and services.

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For example, let’s say you sell all types of bed sheets, and you determine that many of your users are searching for “The best kinds of sheets for sensitive skin.”

If you sell these, you could create a guide around this topic, optimized with great text, images, and other resources, as well as relevant keywords.  Once the user finds your content, you can collect his or her email address, deliver discounts and deals, and hopefully make a sale down the line.

Do you want to figure out the questions users are asking, and what the user intent is surrounding your product or service? Then you’ll need to use the best tools out there.

Tools for Discovering User Intent

You can determine search intent using the simple Google search tool, or get into more complicated platforms. Here are a few to dive into:

  • Google’s People Also Ask: After searching for your key term, scroll down to Google’s People Also Ask function. You can see the top questions and do deeper research into related questions.
  • Google’s Searches Related To: Scroll to the bottom of the SERP and you’ll see related searches that may also give you insight into the user intent.
  • Answer the Public: Visit Answer the Public, type in a term related to your company, and then see the who, what, when, and how questions people are asking around this topic.
  • Keyword Tool: Go to KeywordTool.io, type in the term you want to target, and then see the search volume and competition. With the pro version, you can also asking the questions people ask about the subject.
  • Mention. Mention monitors your brand mentions anywhere online. If you see the content people are creating around your brand and the questions they are asking, you can then answer them.

Strategies for Finding User Intent

Aside from using the above tools, there are other ways to go about matching user intent. You can:

  • Scour your social media pages. Look on your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and other pages to see what kinds of questions users are asking, and then create the content that answers them.
  • Hold polls and focus groups. Ask people what their pain points are and what would help them during the sales process. Figure out what would motivate them to stick with your company.
  • Listen to customer service and client sale calls. Again, listen to recorded calls and see what the customers are praising and what they are complaining about.
  • Put a chatbot on your website. An automated chat bot can handle simple questions people may be asking, and then turn it over to a real person at your company if it becomes too complicated. These conversations are valuable and rich with information about your customers.
  • Think about what your customer would want. What kind of journey would you take if you were searching for a certain product, service, or piece of content? Where would you start? It’s good to pretend you’re a customer and try to go on a sales journey with your company, starting at the SERP page and ending up in your shopping cart.

Analyze Where You Stand

Before you create your user intent content, see which keywords are top performers on your website, and what kind of content you already have around that. You can use Google Analytics or Moz’s Keyword Explorer to identify your high-ranking keywords.

Let’s say you are ranking high for “best bed sheets under $50,” but that search term leads users to a blog post about the cheapest and most expensive bed sheet materials. It doesn’t match the user’s intent, which is transactional.

Or, the reverse might be true. Let’s say you rank at the top for “types of bed sheets for people with allergies,” and one of your silk bed sheet product pages comes up. The user, at that point, wanted information, not a sales pitch. Maybe the user wants natural cotton bed sheets instead. He or she would click off and find that information elsewhere.

Instead, you have to match the user intent to the stage of the sales funnel they are in.

What Kind of Content to Create for User Intent

User intent is going to change as your prospective customers go through the sales funnel. You need to use sales funnel tools to track where your customers are in each cycle and what kind of content to create for them/offers to deliver to them.

Two of the best sales tools are Salesforce and HubSpot Sales. You can utilize them to track buyers through the sales funnel, which includes:

  • Top of the Funnel: This is the awareness stage where people are searching for answers, education, and data. The type of content for this stage includes ebooks, white papers, blog posts, videos, and an educational webinar. This correlates with informational search intent. These searches are going to be more general. At the bottom of this content should be a call to action that encourages them to sign up for information about your product or service (via an email newsletter or desktop notifications, for instance) or learn more.
  • Middle of the Funnel: This is the evaluation stage, where people are considering whether or not they will do business with your company. You can schedule a product demonstration with them, send them a demo webinar, and show them a FAQ sheet about your company. They may specifically search for your company on Google, so this strategy could help with navigational user intent. At the bottom of this content should be a CTA that encourages users to sign up for a free demonstration of your product or a call with a sales professional.
  • Bottom of the Funnel. This is when people are getting ready to purchase from you, and go along with the transactional user intent searches. You could provide coupons and discounts, free trials of your product, and live demonstrations at this stage. These searches may contain words like “buy,” “purchase,” “discount,” “on sale,” or “cheap.” They are also going to be way more specific than an informational search. At the bottom of this content should be a CTA that encourages them to purchase, like a “Buy” or “Get Started Now” button.

Additional User Intent Considerations

There are other facts that will contribute to your success with user intent. They include:

  • Ensuring that your website is intuitive, easy to navigate, loads quickly, and looks great on mobile.
  • You are optimizing for voice search, since Google is putting more emphasis on it now and in the future.
  • Your informational content isn’t salesy, and your transactional content isn’t too soft.
  • Keeping up to date with Google algorithms, since they are constantly changing.
  • Creating high-quality content no matter what, and practicing other good SEO strategies like using H2s and meta descriptions.
  • Making sure your product pages look beautiful.
  • Doing constant research, since keyword competition changes; one minute you may be at the top of the SERP, and the next, you’ll be on page two.

Getting Started with User Intent

You want your prospective customers to be able to find you on the SERP. By researching user intent, you can answer their questions and deliver the content, products, and services they need, no matter what stage they are at in the sales funnel. Remember that you’re here to help your customers above all else, so keep that in mind as you employ this incredibly effective and critical SEO strategy.

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Austin is an SEO project manager and account manager who has been with PDM since 2015. Austin has a passion for entrepreneurship, which he received a bachelor's degree in from Point Loma Nazarene University. Using his passion for business development, Austin focuses on leveraging a strong Organic traffic to help sustain overall business growth. Austin is also known as the best ping pong player in the office as he easily defeats his coworkers on a daily basis.