How to optimise for search intent

Search intent John Kramer Marketing

Google owns 87.16 percent of the search engine market share.

According to their website, their mission statement is ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.’

In short, Google exists to answer questions.

When someone has a query, they often turn to the internet for an answer. And Google is the gatekeeper of that information.

For a business, then, it’s critical that their information, that their website, is the one to provide that answer. But to do this well, a business must optimise their online presence for ‘search intent’.

What is search intent?

Google is becoming more human.

It can now understand that when you search for ‘Obama’, it knows you mean ‘Barack Obama’, the 44th President of the United States (or Michelle, of course).

Search intent is the process of connecting the dots between what a user searches and what results they’re actually given.

This is extremely important for businesses.

For example, if someone searches for ‘black trainers’ on Google, it’s likely that the person searching is in-market and ready to make a purchase. As a result, Google will use this assumption (or ‘intent’) to prioritise websites that directly sell black trainers (instead of showing, let’s say, pictures of black trainers).

Back in 2006 – when search intent was in its early stages – a study (PDF download) conducted by the University of Hong Kong found that search intent can be segmented into two search goals:

  1. That a user is specifically looking for information relating to the keywords used.
  2. That they’re looking for more general information about a topic.

In 2013, Google developed Hummingbird, their algorithm that took search away from keywords and into the realms of ‘intent’.  Hummingbird is the reason you’re able to type ‘Who sang Born in the USA’ and get the answer without having to use the singer’s name as a keyword.

Understanding search intent

Understanding and predicting user intent is the key to marketing success. Mobile devices and intent-rich moments have completely redefined the traditional marketing funnel.

There is no linear path to conversion any longer. People are choosing when and how to engage with brands. They demand instant answers across all platforms, at all times.

Brands that can be personal, helpful and relevant are the ones that succeed. 

A recent study by Google has found just that. Examining thousands of users’ click stream data they discovered;

“We found that no two journeys are exactly alike, and in fact, most journeys don’t resemble a funnel at all. They look like pyramids, diamonds, hourglasses, and more. Digital technology and mobile devices have put people in control. We all now expect an immediate answer in the moments we want to know, go, do, and buy. And all of these intent-rich moments are creating journey shapes as unique as each of us.”

Think with Google -September 2018

The four types of search intent

There are four types of search intent to consider:

1. Informational intent

Lots of people use Google to find out more information about something. ‘Who acted in this…’ and ‘what’s the definition of that…’ etc.

When it comes to informational intent, searchers have a specific question that they want answering, and it’s up to Google to provide as accurate an answer as possible.

Where this gets interesting is with local SEO. When someone searches ‘pubs near me’ or even something as simple as ‘what’s the weather’, Google relies on local SEO to make these results as accurate as possible. There’s no point searching ‘what’s the weather’ if it shows you the weather in Hawaii when you live in London.

2. Navigational intent

Navigational intent is about trying to find a specific website.

When someone searches for ‘Facebook’, they’re normally en route to the Facebook website.

It’s only beneficial to your business to rank for navigational intent if your website is the website people are looking for.

If your website ranks best for ‘Google Analytics’, for example, you’ll likely still fail to drive organic traffic.

That’s because people searching for ‘Google Analytics’ are often searching for the Google Analytics dashboard. Your website is not what they wanted.

3. Transactional intent

People buy stuff on the internet. Shoes, books, holidays… You name it, you can buy it on the web. Transactional intent is about serving people that intend to make a purchase.

Like our example earlier, people searching for ‘black trainers’ are more than likely looking to buy, well, black trainers. Google would be failing if it showed only green trainers.

4. Commercial investigation

Lots of people use Google as a way of gathering research. Whether it’s for the purchase of a holiday or buying a new car, Google becomes a place to gather information about a certain product or experience.

This search intent is where inbound marketing becomes its own. Many people aren’t necessarily in-market and ready to make a purchasing decision at this stage, but if the research they’re gathering is from your website, it often puts your company in a good position to be the place people buy from.

Optimising for search intent

Optimising for search intent is not a difficult thing to do.

It comes down to creating pages that directly answer the visitor’s questions or that fulfils an intended transaction.

Much like optimising for featured snippets, it requires you to understand how Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) work and conducting a few technical checks to ensure your SEO is as good as it can be.

  1. Turn to Google Search Console

Google Search Console is an excellent source for understanding what your target customers are searching for and how they are landing on your site.

In a nutshell 

  • Go to the performance tab. Take a three or six-month window and filter by impressions.
  • Look for queries that are a) related to what you do. Think intent – do you want to rank for these terms? and b) could perform better.
  • I generally focus on queries that have a high number of impressions but are sitting just on page 2.  These are queries that have potential.
  • If you spot valuable queries with high impressions, good average positions but low traffic, focus on click-through-rates instead.

Understand what is ranking well for your keywords

Go to Google and search for something that your target customer is looking for. The top results that show are what you’re competing for.
Examine the SERP (Search Engine Results Pages) landscape.

If all of these results are blogs tailored to commercial investigation, you can deduce that Google prioritises that type of content for your intended search.

The goal, then, is to produce something similar to your competitors, but that’s even more helpful and research-focused.

If all the articles are listicles or contain videos, make sure your content contains the same, and then some.

It’s about taking what works and doing it better so that Google will reward you.

  • Conduct on-page SEO

Now you know what sort of content you need to be producing for your target customers, make sure that that content is optimised for Google. This means conducting on-page SEO.

From writing SEO-focused meta descriptions to ensuring your heading tags are optimised, it’s critical that, to rank well in the SERPs, your content is easy-to-read for the Googlebot. SEO guru Neil Patel has put together this excellent on-page SEO cheat sheet

  • Test, measure and iterate

Optimising for search intent isn’t a destination.

It’s about maintaining a constant state of improvement, so you aren’t outcompeted by competitor blogs. Your goal is to win featured snippets, increase your website traffic and consequently, close more sales.

It’s about constantly finding new keywords to rank for and producing the right type of content for searchers.

For more information about search intent, and to find out how my business can help you, check out my blog or contact me here.

About John Kramer

My name is John Kramer, and I am a Malaga-based SEO fanatic. Marketing is my passion. With over 15 years of experience in digital, I am constantly energised by the ever-changing landscape of search. A seasoned marketer with a passion for helping small and mid-sized businesses succeed in the digital age. Proud father, husband, and outdoor enthusiast.