Optimising For User Intent

When you next use Google or any other search engine, ask yourself why.

When you next use Google or any other search engine, ask yourself why.

That may sound like a pretty obvious question, but it’s not.

Google’s search quality rating guidelines rank the success of its search results on a scale from Fully Meets (FullyM) to Fails to Meet (FailsM).

How often are your search needs fully met? Part of the reason that many searches are not fully met is that websites are not being optimised for user intent.

So what is user intent?

User intent – or search intent – is the reason someone conducts a specific search. The original motive that a person has for carrying out a query through a search engine.

In recent years, Google has become increasingly able to identify user intent. The way people search for answers has evolved and changed over the years. And for most people, Internet searching is now an integrated and seamless part of our lifestyle and day to day needs.

In parallel with this. Google’s algorithms are being continually adjusted to return the most relevant results for those evolving searches. It is in Google’s best interest to keep becoming better at answering queries. It is using AI to increase its understanding of the interaction between search queries, analysis of past searches and predictions on future searches.

So Google now returns results that not only fit the search term but also the perceived search intent of each specific query. This means that whereas SEO success used to be built on algorithms based purely on keywords, it is now evolving to be based on what the user is trying to accomplish.

Put simply, your SEO strategy should no longer be created for robots and algorithms, but for people.

Why do people search?

Let’s come back to our original question. When we search, why are we doing it?

Interestingly, it is estimated that around 50-80% of all searches are “informational”. Informational intent means that people are searching because they have a question and want a quick answer to that question; perhaps something as simple as directions, contact details or the latest news or sports.

Informational searches can also evolve to be the top of the marketing funnel. They are part of the initial discovery phase. They may be potential customers but they are not yet ready to buy what you are selling. At this stage they are looking for content-rich pages that can answer their questions quickly and clearly. Whilst this type of traffic does not convert immediately, it can help to build your brand. This means that when those potential customers are ready to buy, your brand is likely to be uppermost in their mind.

But many informational searches can now be satisfied without the user having to click on a website at all. Recent research by Sparktoro in 2018 found that around 62% of mobile searches and 34% of desktop searches resulted in no click on a website. This is because Google is getting much better at giving a direct answer. Since 2012, Google has been adding key information into its SERP pages, meaning that a user can often see the answer to their question without having to click through from that SERP page. Ultimately, Google is becoming better at predicting intent.

Whilst informational intent is the most common types of search there are also others, as illustrated in the Google image below.

The four types of intent represented in Google’s micro moments could be categorised into:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Transactional
  • Commercial

The key question is that how do you attract searchers to your site if Google is now displaying key information anyway on its SERP pages? We have already seen that Google’s growing expertise in identifying and responding to user intent is reducing click-throughs and therefore impacting organic search results. So how can you maintain organic search results in the new landscape of user intent?

How to optimise for user intent

As we have already seen, Google increasingly aims to show pages that fully meet user intent. So your job is to ensure that your page enables searchers to achieve whatever it is they set out to do when they typed in their query. Let’s look at five ways you can do this:

Ask the audience
One way to do this is to ask your audience. For example you could create a small survey that pops up on your website to find out more about what people were searching for. This can be an effective way of gaining insight into the search intent of your audience, and will enable you to make sure that your landing page is exactly what people are hoping to find.

As part of this, it is also essential to include reviews on your website as this is a good way of satisfying user intent by giving searchers an unbiased view. Also be aware that consumers are increasingly turning to Youtube and social media for reviews of products before they make up their mind to purchase. So find every opportunity to engage with your target audience in the ways that they are likely to be looking for you.

Tailor your content
It’s also important to ensure that the content you’re writing fits not just the likely keyword terms that people are searching for, but also the search intent of your audience. For example you can make your post or page informational, if that is what people are likely to be looking for. But you can then use that to lead people to your sales pages if they may be more open to buying one of your products.

The key thing is to begin thinking carefully about the likely characteristics of typical search queries, and the potential psychology behind that particular search. That will then help you to understand what type of content might best meet the searcher intent, and create content that achieves that objective.

Keyword research
Keyword research is still an essential building block of this process. Effective keyword research can provide valuable insights into customer problems, needs and desires. The key thing is then to apply those keywords effectively into the context of the likely intent with which they are being used.

For example, someone searching for any kind of health or well-being provider – be it a gym, hairdresser, nail bar – is likely to be interested in such a facility in their local area. So engaging in a local SEO strategy for this keyword and creating local landing pages to meet that intent is likely to be more effective than just optimising for the general keyword.

At all times, think about the intent of someone using the words you’re including and try to use them accordingly.

Risking unranked keywords
It can be worth taking a risk on keywords that are not currently ranking but should be. One key factor here is to take into account different variants to language – for example between the UK and the US, where words such as diary/calendar and appointment/schedule may have slightly different meanings.

If you want to begin targeting one market as well as the other then you will need to use both keywords, even if one is not currently ranking. Again, it’s a case of knowing your audience and second guessing their intent.

Inquisitive words
When you are optimising for search intent, be aware that many searchers will use inquisitive words in their search query such as:

  • What
  • Who
  • Where
  • When
  • How
  • Why

So make sure that your content directly answers the kind of questions that they are likely to be asking using the above words.

Interestingly this is also useful for voice search, which again needs to be more conversational. See our recent article on voice search for more information.

So, the key takeaway here is that it is no longer sufficient to optimise your website using traditional SEO keyword methodology. You now need to be aware of user intent and increasingly evolve to meet the anticipated needs of those users in order to achieve the results you want from organic search results.