Optimize your content for search intent

Contributors

@paul-boag


Business Benefits

Improve your website’s findability by answering users’ intended questions.


Search your target keywords on Google and record the search intent that the engine seems to assign to them, using one of the four types of intent.

Classify each as one of Google’s latest Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines’ types of intent:

  • Know. “The intent of a Know query is to find information on a topic. Users want to know more about something.”
  • Do. “The intent of a Do query is to accomplish a goal or engage in an activity on a phone. The goal or activity may be to download, to buy, to obtain, to be entertained by, or to interact with a website or app.”
  • **Website. “**The intent of a Website query is to locate a specific website or webpage that users have requested.”
  • Visit-in-person. “Some queries clearly ask for nearby information or nearby results like businesses, organizations, and other nearby places.”

Also consider these two sub-types:

  • Know Simple. “Know Simple queries seek a very specific answer, like a fact ordiagram. This answer has to be correct and complete and displayed in a relatively small amount of space: the size of a mobile phone screen. As a rule of thumb, if most people would agree on a correct answer, and it would fit in 1–2 sentences or a short list of items, the query can be called a Know Simple query.”
  • Device Action. “Device Action queries are a special kind of Do query. Users are asking their phone to do something for them. Users giving Device Action queries may be using phones in the hands-free mode, for example, while in a car [. . .] A Device Action query usually has a clear action word and intent.”

In search engine result pages (SERPs), Google shows its hand. Top-ranking search results are ample evidence of what users want:

  • Which types of sites rank highly? Individual sites? Aggregators? Blogs? Government and university sites?
  • What type of content is on those pages? Long-form articles? Short explanations? Images? Videos?
  • What is the first question answered? What text is offset or included in headers? What subtopics are or aren’t covered?

For example, the SERP for “best restaurants richmond va” tries to satisfy two different intents:

  • Local map listings with tons of five-star Google reviews. For searchers in Richmond who want to call or visit a local restaurant.
  • Blue links of aggregator sites with “Best Restaurants” lists. For searchers anywhere who want to browse options.

Use your keywords and search intent data to map the pages in your sales funnel, to stages in your buyer personas’ journey, from ‘never heard of you’ to ‘loyal customer’.

For example, for a shaving product company, the buyer journey might look like this:

  • Awareness: User realizes he needs to shave.
  • Research: User searches for the best way to shave.
  • Comparison: User found a method that fits his needs, shave, and now compares different brands.
  • Decision: User decided for a product and now looks for the cheapest price or best delivery.
  • Post-sales: User bought and used product and now wants to buy complementary products.

Search intent at each stage of the buyer journey might look like this:

  • Awareness: “How to make a good impression at work” - Know Simple (tutorial).
  • Research: “Best shaving method” - Know.
  • Comparison: “BrandX vs BrandY” - Know (reviews).
  • Decision: “Buy X fast delivery” - Do (buy).
  • Post-sales: “Best shaving cream for X” - Do (buy).

Then map that journey and search intent to the content in your sales funnel: does the content answer the search intent?

Identify content gaps with competitor research, using tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs to conduct keyword-based domain comparisons.

You can enter your domain and several competitor domains. Then, filter for keyword modifiers that you’ve mapped to intent. For example, Ahrefs and Moz are outperforming SEMRush for several informational “how to” queries:

Competitor analysis identifies keywords for which your site might reasonably rank. A blue-sky approach to keyword research often yields queries that you’d like to rank for, but for which Google perceives an alternative intent, for example, displays aggregators when you’re an individual site or vice versa.

Track rankings based on search intent rather than by topic.

Instead of reporting on keywords by topic like “We rank well for Product X but not Product Y”, you can measure performance in the context of your marketing funnel. For example, you may do well for bottom-of-funnel queries across several products, but struggle to rank for top-of-funnel informational content.

Add content to answer active and passive search intent for your keywords.

You may need to expand content on an existing page. Or you may want to create new pages to address unfulfilled user intent. The Expand vs. Create decision often hinges on search volume. If the subtopic has search volume, create a new page; if it doesn’t, expand the current one.

Briggs offers a framework for ongoing page development: “One method we’ve used is to write a broad, robust article first while trying to cover several aspects of the topic. We wait for it to start ranking well, then mine Google Search Console for the keywords where we’re 6 through 15. These are typically good candidates for longtail, specific follow-up posts.”

Larger sites, may succeed by targeting high-volume, highly competitive terms first. Smaller sites, in contrast, benefit by targeting several long-tail queries, then attacking a top-level keyword after they’ve built topical authority.

Google’s Knowledge Cards, Kohn offers, are a perfect example of aggregating intent - answering a query and providing valuable context. A restaurant name query, for example, answers so many more questions, like what type of restaurant is it? Is it expensive? Where is it? How do I get there? What’s their phone number? Can I make a reservation? What’s on the menu? Is the food good? Is it open now? What alternatives are nearby?

Tailor content to win more clicks in the SERPs by optimizing for featured snippets, and writing page titles and meta descriptions to answer search intent rather than SEO.

Google’s definition of a Know Simple query hints at several guidelines for featured snippets:

  • 1–2 sentences in length.
  • Short lists.
  • “Correct and complete” responses.
  • Fit neatly within a mobile phone screen.

Warning: If the search intent is to get a quick answer and not click any link, optimizing for featured snippets may satisfy users, and Google, but ultimately erode organic traffic for all sites; a Prisoner’s Dilemma, according to Rand Fishkin.

If you can get to the bottom of Page 1, a page title and meta description written for humans, rather than search engines, could help differentiate your site, earn more clicks, and probably send positive signals back to search engines.

Design pages to satisfy active intent first, then ensure that passive search intent answers are easy to scan through and find.

For SEO, page design has two imperatives:

  • Answer active intent clearly and immediately.
  • Provide a logical hierarchy of information to satisfy passive intent.

Answer these search intent optimization questions for each page:

  • For Know queries, is the answer clearly visible via header tags, larger font, or an offset block?
  • Are follow-up questions answered with subheadings?
  • For Transactional queries, is the next click clear and easy to find?