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When people search online they expect results that are in line with their desires. That’s user intent. It’s the vision driving their end goal.
If someone searches for restaurant apps, he’s looking for apps. Not a restaurant to go to.
Perhaps he wants to build an app for his business. He’s looking at similar apps for inspiration. Or maybe it’s an entirely different intent.
Different user intents mask the same keyword.
When conducting a search, a person may want a few things:
Understanding these “wants” is important. Nailing user intent is key.
Because most sites tend to do a bad job at this. Their content marketing efforts aren’t balanced.
Their content swings too heavily to either answering transactional queries or to informational queries.
This comes at a heavy cost. All through, you’re losing people at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Nailing user intent plugs leaks in your funnel.
With a balanced approach you score better rankings, improved conversions and more opportunities to reach your target reader. You tell a complete story.
Keep your keyword research organized and ensure content is mapped to the correct user intent with this pair of simple Excel templates:
This term describes what a search engine user is attempting to accomplish when they enter a query.
Here are the three types of user intent you can capitalize on for this:
These queries have the searcher looking for information centered around a problem. The searcher is in an information gathering phase. They don’t know of products or solutions. In this phase they’re trying to understand all they can about their pain.
Navigational queries have the user searching for the brand name. Or using internal site search. The intent is to find relevant information from within the site.
Why is this important? Internal site search is one of the last things on your mind when you create a site. It only gets better from there. Being the underdog, there’s a lot of scope for optimizing results.
This helps you get better conversions.
Once research is done, the user is ready to buy services and products. He’s ready to key in credit card details and make the purchase.
A little bit more research on core features, on pricing and discounts later, you have a customer.
Terms like “best washing machines” or “washing machine discounts” mirror transactional queries. When you create content targeted for people at these stages you must remember that the right keywords can make or break your strategy.
Optimizing for intent begins with keyword research.
Don’t let anyone tell you that keywords are pointless. Google’s smart. But ranking your site is still old school. Want to rank for more terms? Add the right keywords.
The way keyword research is done right now leaves a lot to be desired. When someone researches keywords the general idea is to find buyers. That’s its biggest fallacy. Customers who are ready to buy comprise only a small fragment of the whole buyer’s journey.
If all you want to do is to quickly find leads and sell to them, you’re going to have a hard time. The strategy is flawed. Plus, sites that focus exclusively on bottom of the funnel leads are getting penalized left and right.
With keyword research, the goal is to find keywords for all stages of the buyer’s journey. Starting from the awareness stage. To do this, map queries to user intent. The queries give you insight on what prospects’ concerns and motivations are.
These queries tell you how they frame their searches when close to a purchase. It’s like peeking into their brains.
Ultimately, by publishing equal amounts of content that answer informational queries, navigational queries and bottom of the funnel transactional queries, you’ll achieve balance.
In this manner, you push content relevant to each stage of the buyer’s journey.
Now that’s settled, let’s go into more detail on each query type in the context of keyword research. Here’s how keyword research captures the essence of writing for user intent.
Informational queries have prospects trying to phrase their problem as best as they can. They embark on a journey. A journey sets them on a path to discovery. These are people who are only beginning to realize they have a problem.
Being on the brink of this realization, they respond by searching online. These searches are done with the intent of getting a better grasp at their problem.
They’re discovering. They haven’t yet begun to properly articulate their problem. They’re grasping at the fringes, trying to wrap their head around it.
This path takes them to a deeper understanding of their problems. They get to know about solutions too. A buyer’s journey consists of multiple moving parts with people present at all stages. And the earlier you’re able to make them part of your funnel the more chances you have of converting them.
When you create content for top-of-the-funnel queries, make it easy to read. Address problems with your content. Write for a beginner audience.
Most are looking for how to articles pertaining to issues or problems they’re facing.
They’re looking to troubleshoot. Say how to get rid of problems, how to start dieting and so on and so forth.
Here’s a list of keywords to give you an idea:
And here’s a sample spreadsheet that shows how to combine these keywords.
By appending the words you saw above to your target list of keywords you can generate a list of top-of-the-funnel queries your readers at that particular stage find useful.
So how to appeal to the information seeker?
A blog post that shares tips and ideas on an industry relevant topic is one way to create information rich articles. This article is targeted at people at the beginner stages.
Let’s say you’re a coach. Someone who wants to help others start a business. Create a list of tips say “10 Things You Must Know When Starting Your First Business”. It must list mistakes beginners make. Include anything a beginner might want to know.
Aim for a tutorial that has hundreds of words, graphics, screenshots, and templates that help anyone to be up and running within minutes of reading the guide.
Step-by-step guides with detailed screenshots is one of the better ways to approach informational content.
An alternative is a full-on video tutorial. Videos are a great way to provide information. Talk about the steps and show them in action. Say everything someone needs to do to create a blog. Such guides tend to attract lots of links and helps propel your site’s rankings.
Create a buyer’s guide. Not everyone (96%) visiting an eCommerce site wants to purchase stuff.
Look at BestBuy. They have tons of buyer’s guides. They’re clearly targeted at top-of-the-funnel prospects. The guides are easy to understand. They cover all relevant aspects from top to bottom. There are no product links. The guide is meant as a primer. As something that helps people understand the different types of microwaves or refrigerators or cooktops.
There’s no need to think outside the box. The goal’s to appear as a trustworthy and authoritative source of information. Don’t turn your guides into a sales pitch. No one’s interested in being sold to at this stage.
With these guides and tutorials you’re answering their questions.
The benefits? You build reputation. When they’re on the edge of conversion they might think of you.
Finally, skip over generic keywords. Here are few examples: “social media”, “apple”, “president” and so on.
It’s easy to be blindsided in your pursuit of keywords. So much so you unwittingly buzz past the thin line separating generic keywords and informational keywords.
There are a lot of generic keywords that look like informational keywords. The two are different.
Generic keywords don’t show strong intent.
They are way too general to be considered part of your strategy. You will be wasting a lot of time and effort with those keywords. And get nowhere.
So, what gives?
Long tail keywords. They have some more meat around intent. With long tails, intent is much more specific. By targeting and ranking for longtails, you may not get leads that are ready to convert just yet.
You have to wait. But you get lots of targeted leads who you can nurture.
The best strategy is to make a list of all the pain points your customers are experiencing. And create posts around them.
How am I so sure they will remember you when the time comes?
Whether you like it or not, most decisions are driven by emotions. We make decisions first and paint them with shades of logic later.
By appearing first in the buyer’s journey you’re allowing time for an emotional investment. Plus, you drive referrals. For example, 44% of podcast listeners start listening to a podcast because someone recommended it to them. With an emotional connection, you’re making a strong case for your brand to generate word of mouth.
There are two types of navigational queries. The first kind consists of searches for brand names happening on search engines. The second? Internally inside your site.
If you don’t own the brand getting ahead on navigational search queries is next to impossible.
For example, people searching for “Yahoo” most likely to want to go to Yahoo. It doesn’t matter whether you appear second or third for the query. The usual division of CTR by SERP positions doesn’t apply here. The first link gets all the traffic.
But, there are opportunities. Let’s say you write product reviews. Instead of typing product + review some might simply search for the product name. They want reviews on the product. Or news articles surrounding the product. There lies your opportunity.
The second kind of navigational queries happen inside your site. Let’s say you’re an eCommerce site. People are constantly searching for products on your site. Whether they choose to buy then or later is for another day. But the fact remains— they’re searching.
Lots of marketers never really look at their search function. Much less optimize it. It sits there gathering dust. Here’s why you shouldn’t ignore internal site search.
Up to 30% of ecommerce visitors use internal site search. People discovering products with internal search have higher conversion rates compared to people who drop by from search.
There are many opportunities hiding in plain sight with site search.
Here’s what you can do.
Look at the top searches happening inside your website.
Optimize search results for those top queries. How? By taking stock of commonly made searches and analyzing the links they return.
And then going deeper. If the landing pages that appear in response to the search have a high bounce rate that means there’s something you can fix.
People are leaving because they’re dissatisfied. They don’t find what they’re looking for.
Other than optimizing site search
Transactional queries reflect the intent of the buyer to purchase something. He knows about solutions. He’s ready to whip out his credit card as soon as he gets a handle on a couple more things.
At this stage he’s cost comparing different solutions. He’s poring over feature sets.
Soon-to-be consumers in the decision stage might key in queries like this:
Here’s a sheets file that shows the keywords.
The prospect is deciding if you’re the right choice. And if they should decide to go forward with you.
At this stage, there may be several things that may be top of their mind. Price for one. Or a certain feature.
They’re looking at competitors. If the product on their mind is too expensive, they’ll search for alternatives with similar feature sets. In this article on Coschedule, Mark Quadros cites the example of an article on “Slack alternatives”. That article is the number 1 source of leads for Chanty, which is unsurprisingly, a Slack alternative.
For Chanty it makes sense to write about Slack alternatives. For you too. Since you’re trying to break into the market, think about the tools you can replace. Prospects will make a beeline to your site at this stage if you can rank for such a post. Judging by the number of leads the post generates, it certainly seems like a great bottom-of-the-funnel query.
With transactional queries there’s also a certain segment that show high intent. This group searches for coupons and discounts for the product. Ensure that you’re ranking first for these terms. Disallow affiliates from taking away these sweet spots. Say coupon + product name
These are easy sales. Here’s an example.
While the keywords that get clubbed under the awareness stage are often generic in nature, that doesn’t mean you should go for highly competitive one word terms in the hope that you will able be to rank for them.
Keyword research tools and brainstorming template to follow. We saw different types of queries. Let’s go into how to create content.
Don’t be blindsided by myths around content length.
Everybody tells you to write 2000 word posts.
It’s also true… in certain cases. Know this— content length and user intent go hand in hand.
Before we try and understand why that’s important let’s understand what’s Google.
It’s a search engine. That much is obvious. They’re the biggest search engine. And in all likelihood the best.
We can at least try and agree that they do a pretty good job. That’s why around 80% of all searches happen on Google. Nowhere else.
For Google to thrive, to make its investors and shareholders more money they have to be good at what they do. This means they need to be consistently providing great customer experience. For Google, that comes on the back of satisfying user intent.
It’s a myth that long-form content ranks. And today I will be shaking that myth a little. Content that’s relevant and satisfies user intent has the best odds of ranking high.
So short content if it satisfies user intent can rank. Do not unnecessarily string paragraphs and balloon word count to stretch the length of your content.
For Matthew Woodward deleting a lot of content on his post on SEMrush review allowed him to take the number 1 position.
It sounds counterintuitive at first. And why wouldn’t it?
His review article checked all the boxes. It was in-depth. He wrote 26,083 freaking words. The post was wireframed with the perfect combination of detailed screenshots, videos and external links. It should have ranked. Except it didn’t.
With a few SEO tools he realized that his post had 85% more content than other posts on the first page. And made the connection that this was probably the culprit.
Everyone would tell you to write skyscraper content and to bloat word counts. Sometimes unnecessarily.
The content with its sheer size made it the odd one out. It stuck out like a sore thumb. As a result the post ranked way down on the first page.
This overnight jump was a result of:
When all was said and done, Matthew shaved off around 21799 words from the post.
The now 4000 word post just stood tall just by 1000 more words than most of the pages on the first page.
The next day? The position for the keyword for the page moved to number 1.
What if you’re the outlier and ranking well? Then, let it.
Follow plain common sense advice. Don’t fix what’s not broken.
For instance Brian Dean’s post on SEO tools is an outlier listing 190 tools (a year ago it was 180). Most other posts list 20 tools at best. Brian’s article is longer. It lists soo many tools. It has so many images. And yet it ranks well. In fact, it’s the first result.
Apply the band aid only when content isn’t living up to expectations.
If your search engine page makes a promise on Google’s results, fulfill that promise on the landing page.
The simplest way to do this?
Match the copy on SERP to the words on the landing page.
For Example: Let’s assume that you are looking for a CRM (I was). You’re still confused even after collecting all possible information about the product. You want a free trial.
To that end you will key in something like this: “CRM free trial”
And you expect to find a page that matches your query.
Ideally with the words free trial, get started for free, or register free.
Not a page that makes no mention of a free trial.
There will be a link to a software trial with the landing page talking all about the trial.
This is where the search query matches landing pages.
Brian Dean recently shared this case study where he described how living up to people’s expectations helped him rank better. A simple tweak resulted in 650% more traffic.
He wrote a post titled “SEO checklist”.
His post checked all the boxes. Within days of publishing, it accrued 200 backlinks.
If links are the currency of the web, the post accrued tons of them.
It got lots of comments. Proof of high engagement.
And organic social media shares to complement the links.
It started ranking on the first page.
But after the first few days of overwhelming interest, the page dragged itself to page 2. Traffic tanked. He got to digging. To find what tanked the page. The bounce rates were high. He figured the guide was way too complicated for people than it was supposed to be. Two, it lacked a checklist. The post didn’t deliver on what the headline promised.
Once he fixed the issues by introducing a checklist and 2. Simplifying the post to a level beginners would understand he regained his rankings and traffic.
I am summarizing the above two sections here:
To correctly nail expectations start by analyzing your industry’s search engine page results.
To sum up, here’s how to understand search intent.
If the word count is low, you may be able to rank your posts with similar word counts.
Once you know what the current standards are, you can create something a tad bit better to stand out.
When analyzing queries do them in incognito so the results aren’t biased by personalization and past search history.
A 2006 study by the University of Hong Kong found that search intent is in reality two distinct search goals.
A user is either looking to find information that’s extremely relevant to keywords they typed in. Or he’s looking for general information around a topic.
Sometimes the specificity of the request reveals intent. People searching for keywords with narrow intent don’t want anything else but exactly what they’re looking for. Broad intent guided searches are open to more options. Search engines are wrapping their spidy brains around all kinds of intent.
What Google sees in a search query and how it decides which result pops up first and second is more mysterious than women. But, you can find some hints on the Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines.
A lot of intent optimization boils down to commonsense. A person searching for a supermarket is fixated on local intent. He wants to know which are the nearby locations rather than the brand’s headquarters.
But Google wouldn’t be Google if the only thing it did was find answers to straightforward queries.
In the Search Quality Rating guidelines, there’s a section that speaks about ambiguous queries that can swing either way. The guidelines also state a specific example. The query ADA can either spell American Diabetes Association. Or American Dental Association.
Such cases represent instances where no one particular interpretation is mainstream.
There may be millions of searches where giving an accurate result isn’t easy.
In all those cases Google has a few strategies. Knowing this will help us better formulate our content so we can put out the best version of ourselves.
Many queries have more than one meaning. Something could be a brand name and also a popular travel spot.
Say Amazon for instance which sells everything under the sun. It’s also the largest rainforest in the world. It depends on the seeker’s intent. Interpretations help us understand what the searcher may want. When something has multiple interpretations, Google does one of two things:
When the intent is ambiguous the search engine page results line with the dominant answer.
Just look at what searching for Amazon turns up. The first page is filled with links to the retailer.
When the odds are equal Google displays both results.
For example, my search for Stanford is too thin a thread for Google to arrive at a definite answer. There’s not enough meat in my query to club it under any specific intent. So Google offers multiple interpretations. The university is the first choice.
Further down there’s the link to the Stanford golf course.
Or the keyword skyscraper. It’s a popular software and the name that Brian Dean gave to exceptional content. An example of Google including common interpretations.
And here’s the second interpretation. (Just below that)
Google wants to satisfy user intent in the best possible way.
To that end, with common interpretations, it may list a bit of everything ranging from informational to transactional SERPs. Even in the case of queries that have heavy transactional intent.
Now what I said before might start making more sense. The need to create content that answers all types of intent. To achieve a balance. So that you can appear more on the results. And drive more traffic.
I searched for dozens of transactional intent queries only to see the results page equally divided into transaction and informational intent.
Let me show you what I mean with examples. This illustrates the way Google has started to interpret search intent now.
Here are the results for mortgage loan. I’ve highlighted in red the results that present informational content. (Yes calculators are top of the funnel)
Here’s another example. The query is payday loan
As you can see, Google shows answers that revolve around multiple intents in response.
Google always attempts to show the most relevant results pertinent to a query. Ultimately even with queries painted in deep transactional intent the search engine resorts to keep a healthy mix of results. I think this is to provide the best user experience.
Google is much more evolved as a search engine. And I am not talking about the algorithmic tweaks baked in that penalize websites. Google is the closest thing we have to mind readers.
They predict intent. Day in day out they provide answers to billions of queries that are as close to what the searcher wants. That takes a breathtaking amount of complexity.
With this post I hold candle to user intent. User intent is quickly becoming the de facto criteria that Google ranks pages on for.
And nailing user intent is key to rankings, conversions and traffic. What do you think?
January 15, 2020
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