Understanding Searcher Intent: How to Use It to Boost SEO Rankings
SEO is no longer about selecting the keyword terms with the highest search volumes. To satisfy a user’s query, you also need to understand the intent behind the term used.
When you pick out target keywords for your SEO campaign, you will be tending towards the ones with the highest search volumes. However, a smart SEO strategy is going to be much more than a numbers game. You are not only going to try to rank for a highly relevant term, but you want to make sure that you understand the intent behind the given keyword. That way, the content you deliver will also be able to satisfy the user’s query in a more comprehensive way.
Search intent (or searcher intent) is characterized as the reason behind a specific query. Are people conducting this search when they want to buy something? Or are they looking for an answer to a certain question? Or maybe it’s neither and they are actually using this specific keyword phrase to search for a specific website?
Google’s aim is to provide users with the most useful content that comprehensively matches their search phrases. Its algorithms are becoming increasingly better at identifying the user intent behind queries. In order to improve the browsing experience, the search engine is going to reward higher rankings to the pages that not only fit a specific search term, but also the intent behind it.
That is why understanding searcher intent – and using that understanding to optimize your content – is a vital aspect of a smart SEO strategy.
The 3 Categories of Searcher Intent
To develop a better understanding of the search intent behind keywords, we first need to distinguish its different types. These are:
1. Navigational Intent
Navigational queries are those performed with the intent of going to a specific site or even a specific page of a certain site.
Because Google, as well as other search engines, has enabled search directly from the address bar, people do not have to include the “www” and “.com” when searching for a website. So for example, if you want to go to the SEMRush Academy page, you will just type “semrush academy” into the address bar.
Ranking high for a navigational term will obviously bring high-value traffic – but only if your site is the one that people are actually searching for. That is, if you meet the search intent. Using the previous example, let’s say that you somehow manage to rank for “semrush academy” – although you will appear in the search results, you are not going to get any traction from this because your page is simply not what people are looking for.
2. Informational Intent
Volumes and volumes of Internet searches are people looking for information. In the case of informational queries, people have a specific question or they are looking for more information on a certain topic – for example, the topic of boosting Google rankings or getting in shape.
These queries are top-of-the-funnel in regards to volume, and there is an overwhelming amount of content marketing opportunities here. As a business, you will strive to identify the queries related to your product/service and use it to create content that puts you in front of your target audience. You can use existing customer data and data pertaining to the visits to your site driven by informational queries in order to gain a better understanding of what your audience is generally looking for.
3. Transactional Intent and Commercial Investigation
As the name suggests, transactional intent refers to queries people search when they are looking to buy something.
These types of queries are related to conversions, and the type of conversion – or the action you want your prospects to take – is going to vary. The transaction is a desirable action for your business, so apart from a purchase, it could also be signing up for your newsletter or a free trial.
Under the scope of transactional intent are the searches that people perform when they are planning to buy something in the future and researching their options. We refer to this as commercial investigation, and it is an extremely important aspect to consider because it is where you need to be convincing and exhibit a thorough understanding of your target consumer.
What about Ambiguous Keywords?
Searcher intent is not always crystal-clear in terms of categorization, and it is entirely unclear when people use broad and ambiguous keywords. For example, if a user searches “content marketing”, we have very little idea about what they are searching for. Their end goal could be a content marketing guide for beginners, finding content marketing professionals, or a number of other more specific queries. Most likely, they are just beginning to research the topic and they are not entirely sure what they need to be looking for as well.
In this case, Google will deliver results that cover a wider spectrum of relevance, along with some personalization based on the user’s browsing habits or previous queries.
Using Searcher Intent to Build Strategic Keyword Lists
Less ambiguous searches will include words that give us insight into the user intent. For example, you will identify informational intent in searches that include phrases such as “how to”, “best way to”, “how can I”, etc. Queries that include “buy”, “deal”, and the like, clearly point to transactional intent.
By understanding searcher intent, you will be able to determine the best way to target a certain keyword. You will also be able to position that keyword within your overall SEO strategy so that you can boost your content marketing efforts with more strategic keyword lists.
The best way to approach this is by adding a searcher intent column to your keyword research spreadsheet, right beside the search volume column. Label every keyword by intent – navigational, informational, or transactional. Then you can identify opportunities and more easily determine the value of each keyword.
For example, if a certain phrase shows a desirable search volume and navigational intent, it will be extremely valuable – unless the intent is not actually directed at your business, in which case this phrase is rendered almost useless. You could try to target it to build brand awareness and potentially even steal some clicks from your competitor, if you think you are able to offer a truly useful alternative in regards to searcher intent.
Optimizing Your Content and Avoiding Misinterpretations
As we have previously said, you are not always going to be able to clearly categorize searcher intent. You can easily make a mistake when classifying keywords and mix up commercial intent with navigational because people will often exclude the key commercial terms when looking for companies.
To avoid misinterpretation when determining intent and building our keyword lists, we need to double-check every time by searching each given keyword and reviewing the search results. You want to be clear on what Google determines as the actual intent so that you are not trying to rank the wrong kind of content. That way, you will avoid a situation where you are trying to rank your homepage for an informational keyword, which would certainly be a struggle to gain any traction.
Likewise, if a search query points to transactional intent, you want to make sure that you grasp the opportunity. You definitely do not want to present users with blog posts and informational articles when they are just asking to be led to your shop. That being said, you want to optimize your product pages for commercial-driven keywords, which will include the words “buy”, “best”, “discount”, etc.
One thing you could always do to gain a better understanding of searcher intent is to simply ask your consumer base. A short survey on your site asking people about search intent can give you a lot of valuable insights to inform your strategy.
Understanding keyword intent will not only make your content more valuable, but it will also simplify the entire SEO process. You will be on the right path, determining the most appropriate keywords and ranking content whose message matches the intent of the users’ search.
Keep in mind, however, that just like the rest of your SEO strategy, this part is not a set-and-forget kind of deal either. Search intent and Google’s results may easily change as queries are affected by current events and relevant trends. You have to always be on your toes, but with focus and dedication, you will boost your SEO rankings step by step.