Search engines are get­ting more sophis­ti­cat­ed at mea­sur­ing how well a page match­es intent so here are some tips on how to build a bet­ter strat­e­gy for it.

Search is an excit­ing, ever-chang­ing chan­nel.

Algo­rithm updates from Google, inno­va­tions in the way we search (mobile, voice search, etc.), and evolv­ing user behav­ior all keep us on our toes as SEOs. The dynam­ic nature of our indus­try requires adapt­able strate­gies and ongo­ing learn­ing to be suc­cess­ful. How­ev­er, we can’t become so wrapped up in chas­ing new strate­gies and advanced tac­tics that we over­look fun­da­men­tal SEO prin­ci­ples.

Recent­ly, I’ve noticed a com­mon thread of ques­tion­ing com­ing from our clients and prospects around searcher intent, and I think it’s some­thing worth revis­it­ing here. In fact, searcher intent is such a com­plex top­ic it’s spawned mul­ti­ple sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies (PDF) and research (PDF).

How­ev­er, you might not have your own inter­nal research team, leav­ing you to ana­lyze intent and the impact it has on your SEO strat­e­gy on your own. Today, I want to share a process we go through with clients at Page One Pow­er to help them bet­ter under­stand the intent behind the key­words they tar­get for SEO.

Two ques­tions we always ask when clients bring us a list of tar­get key­words and phras­es are:

  1. Should your site or page rank there?
  2. What will these rank­ings accom­plish?

These ques­tions dri­ve at intent and force us, and our clients, to ana­lyze audi­ence and searcher behav­ior before tar­get­ing spe­cif­ic key­words and themes for their SEO strat­e­gy.

The basis for any suc­cess­ful SEO strat­e­gy is a firm under­stand­ing of searcher intent.

Types of searcher intent

Searcher intent refers to the “why” behind a giv­en search query — what is the searcher hop­ing to achieve? Searcher intent can be cat­e­go­rized in four ways:

  • Infor­ma­tion­al
  • Nav­i­ga­tion­al
  • Com­mer­cial
  • Trans­ac­tion­al

Cat­e­go­riz­ing queries into these four seg­ments will help you bet­ter under­stand what types of pages searchers are look­ing for.

Informational intent

Peo­ple enter­ing infor­ma­tion­al queries seek to learn infor­ma­tion about a sub­ject or top­ic. These are the most com­mon types of search­es and typ­i­cal­ly have the largest search vol­umes.

Infor­ma­tion­al search­es also exist at the top of the mar­ket­ing fun­nel, dur­ing the dis­cov­ery phase where vis­i­tors are much less like­ly to con­vert direct­ly into cus­tomers. These searchers want con­tent-rich pages that answer their ques­tions quick­ly and clear­ly, and the search results asso­ci­at­ed with these search­es will reflect that.

Navigational intent

Searchers with nav­i­ga­tion­al intent already know which com­pa­ny or brand they are look­ing for, but they need help with nav­i­ga­tion to their desired page or web­site. These search­es often involve queries that fea­ture brand names or spe­cif­ic prod­ucts or ser­vices.

These SERPs typ­i­cal­ly fea­ture home­pages, or spe­cif­ic prod­uct or ser­vice pages. They might also fea­ture main­stream news cov­er­age of a brand.

Commercial intent

Com­mer­cial queries exist as a sort of hybrid intent — a mix of infor­ma­tion­al and trans­ac­tion­al.

These search­es have trans­ac­tion­al intent. The searcher is look­ing to make a pur­chase, but they are also look­ing for infor­ma­tion­al pages to help them make their deci­sion. The results asso­ci­at­ed with com­mer­cial intent usu­al­ly have a mix of infor­ma­tion­al pages and prod­uct or ser­vice pages.

Transactional intent

Trans­ac­tion­al queries have the most com­mer­cial intent as these are searchers look­ing to make a pur­chase. Com­mon words asso­ci­at­ed with trans­ac­tion­al search­es include [price] or [sale].

Trans­ac­tion­al SERPs are typ­i­cal­ly 100 per­cent com­mer­cial pages (prod­ucts, ser­vices and sub­scrip­tion pages).

Cat­e­go­riz­ing key­words and search queries into these four areas makes it eas­i­er to under­stand what searchers want, inform­ing page cre­ation and opti­miza­tion.

Optimizing for intent: Should my page rank there?

With a clear under­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ent types of intent, we can dive into opti­miz­ing for intent.

When we get a set of tar­get key­words from a client, the first thing we ask is, “Should your web­site be rank­ing in these search results?”

Ask­ing this ques­tion leads to oth­er impor­tant ques­tions:

  • What is the intent of these search­es?
  • What does Google believe the intent is?
  • What type of result are peo­ple search­ing for?

Before you can opti­mize your pages for spe­cif­ic key­words and themes, you need to opti­mize them for intent.

The best place to start your research is the results them­selves. Sim­ply ana­lyz­ing the cur­rent rank­ing pages will answer your ques­tions about intent. Are the results blog posts? Reviews or “Top 10” lists? Prod­uct pages?

If you scan the results for a giv­en query and all you see is in-depth guides and resources, the chances that you’ll be able to rank your prod­uct page there are slim to none. Con­verse­ly, if you see com­peti­tor prod­uct pages crop­ping up, you know you have legit­i­mate oppor­tu­ni­ty to rank your prod­uct page with prop­er opti­miza­tion.

Google wants to show pages that answer searcher intent, so you want to make sure your page does the best job of help­ing searchers achieve what­ev­er they set out to do when they typed in their query. On-page opti­miza­tion and links are impor­tant, but you’ll nev­er be able to com­pete in search with­out first address­ing intent.

This research also informs con­tent cre­ation strat­e­gy. To rank, you will need a page that is at least com­pa­ra­ble to the cur­rent results. If you don’t have a page like that you will need to cre­ate one.

You can also find (a few) oppor­tu­ni­ties where the results cur­rent­ly don’t do a great job of answer­ing searcher intent, and you could com­pete quick­ly by cre­at­ing a more focused page. You can even take it a lay­er deep­er and con­sid­er link­ing intent — is there an oppor­tu­ni­ty here to build a page that can act as a resource and attract links? Ana­lyz­ing intent will inform the oth­er aspects of your SEO cam­paign.

Ask­ing your­self if your cur­rent or hypo­thet­i­cal page should rank in each SERP will help you iden­ti­fy — and opti­mize for — searcher intent.

Answering intent: What will this accomplish?

A key fol­low-up ques­tion we also ask is, “What will rank­ing accom­plish?”

The sim­pli­fied answer we typ­i­cal­ly get is “more traf­fic.” But what does that real­ly mean?

Depend­ing on the intent asso­ci­at­ed with a giv­en key­word, that traf­fic could lead to brand dis­cov­ery, author­i­ty build­ing, or direct con­ver­sions. You need to con­sid­er intent when you set expec­ta­tions and assign KPIs.

Keep in mind that not all traf­fic needs to con­vert. A bal­anced SEO strat­e­gy will tar­get mul­ti­ple stages of the mar­ket­ing fun­nel to ensure all your poten­tial cus­tomers can find you — build­ing brand affin­i­ty is an impor­tant part of earn­ing traf­fic in the first place, with brand recog­ni­tion impact­ing click-through-rate by +2–3x! Seg­ment­ing tar­get key­words and phras­es based on intent will help you iden­ti­fy and fill any gaps in your key­word tar­get­ing.

Ask your­self what rank­ing for poten­tial tar­get key­words could accom­plish for your busi­ness, and how that aligns with your over­all mar­ket­ing goals. This exer­cise will force you to drill down and real­ly focus on the oppor­tu­ni­ties (and SERPs) that can make the most impact.

Searcher intent informs SEO

Search engine opti­miza­tion should start with opti­miz­ing for intent. Search engines con­tin­ue to become more sophis­ti­cat­ed and bet­ter at mea­sur­ing how well a page match­es intent, and pages that rank well are pages that best answer the query posed by searchers.

To help our clients at Page One Pow­er refo­cus on intent, we ask them the fol­low­ing ques­tions:

  1. Should your site or page rank there?
  2. What will these rank­ings accom­plish?

Ask your­self these same ques­tions as you tar­get key­words and phras­es for your own SEO cam­paign to ensure you’re account­ing for searcher intent.

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