Why it’s important to consider search intent for keyword research

Understanding search intent takes your content from delivering website traffic, to delivering new business.

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Taking time to consider the user intent behind searches allows you to better understand the context of the query, such as what the individual is looking for, how far along their journey they are, and even who is searching. This kind of insight should influence everything you write from this point onwards, from the direction of your content, to the tone and language used. 

Relevance over volume

Keyword research tools have a tendency to make us lazy. While they might provide you with data, they can’t do the thinking part for you. Rather than just working with the terms with the highest search volumes, there has to be some deeper thought to your keyword research around what kind of terms are likely to bring you the right kind of traffic, as well as be more likely to convert.

For example, if I was writing new content for the Browser Media website, I’ll obviously see that core terms like “SEO” and “search engine optimisation” have the highest search volume, but what I’d do well to remember is that a high percentage of these searches may be people looking for a definition of the term itself. A company owner or marketing head looking to outsource their digital activity is unlikely to simply type “search engine optimisation” if they’re ready to have discussions with an agency.

“SEO agency”, on the other hand, or better yet, “content-led SEO agency”, shows a completely different intent, and is much more closely aligned to our specialism, and therefore more likely to result in a real conversation. While we can’t make assumptions about the person searching, we can deduce that they are interested in content-led SEO agencies in some way, whether that’s because they are considering hiring one at some point in the future, or perhaps they’re looking to work at one – either way, that traffic would be of interest to us, so we’d take a hit on the lower search volume, for a better predicted outcome.

Uncovering clues in language

Sometimes the language in a search query can provide an obvious clue as to the intent behind it. For example, phrases like “What is SEO?”, or “How does SEO work?” are quite clearly informational searches, whilst anything with prefixes like “buy”, “purchase”, or even “best”, are clearly a lot further down the user journey.

It’s not always as black and white as that though. Personally, I know I never type “buy [product name]” into Google – perhaps because I know Google will provide me with product listings anyway, or perhaps it’s a generational thing. Either way, there are more subtle clues to be aware of, and that’s mostly seen in more detailed queries. If I was searching for some new white Adidas trainers, I might not type “white Adidas trainers”, but I might type “white Adidas Gazelle trainers, size 6”, which I think is as clear an indication as any, that I’m ready to buy – or at least in the market to be persuaded.

Drafting content with search intent in mind

Selecting a more intelligent and well thought-out group of keywords to optimise with is only half the battle though. The content you produce has to be written with all of the above in mind. Don’t simply fit your new keywords into whatever you had originally planned to write, but start it afresh based on the knowledge level of someone likely to be searching for this, and focus on what they want to find out.

Circling back to the SEO agency example, if I was looking to target “content-led SEO agency in Essex”, I probably wouldn’t waste too long explaining what SEO is, but I might go into some detail about how we see the relationship between content and SEO and how that shapes our approach. I might also share some results for local clients, given that this search has specified the location as being important.

Aside from the overall business impact, making sure user intent and content are closely aligned is also important from a rankings perspective, as satisfying search intent is a primary goal for Google, so if you’re trying to crowbar terms in that divert people to your content, chances are Google will see this and prioritise other, more relevant listings. When you’ve decided on what search terms you plan to prioritise, it’s worth typing them into Google yourself to see what is currently ranking well for these terms, as that will give you an idea of both what Google is looking for, and what the most common search intent behind this is.

Any content you write online has to perform for both real people and search engines, and understanding the user intent behind a search is key to achieving both. Essentially, understanding search intent takes your content from delivering website traffic, to delivering new business.

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