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How People Search Online: Understanding User Intent for Improved SEO Content

Connor Wilkins
Connor Wilkins

CMO, Direction.com

Understanding User Intent for improved SEO content creation
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Understanding the intent behind the keywords driving visitors to your content allows you to satisfy their needs and expectations, driving higher engagement and conversions.

What is User Intent?

User intent refers to the motivation and goal behind a search query when someone uses a search engine like Google. Understanding user intent is crucial for creating effective SEO content and optimization strategies.

There are 3 Types of User Intent

1. Navigational intent

Navigational intent refers to search queries where the user is trying to navigate to a specific website or webpage that they already have in mind. For example:

  • Searching for “youtube” when wanting to directly access the YouTube website
  • Looking for a brand’s website, like “amazon” or “walmart”
  • Trying to find the homepage of a newspaper or media site

The intent is to land on that one explicit destination to access, rather than needing information about or wanting to purchase something more generically. The goal is navigation rather than research, shopping, or other needs.

Optimizing for navigational intent requires ensuring your domain and branding is clear and consistent across the web so that searchers can easily find the official site or page they seek directly. It also may involve search engine verification and inclusion in directory listings connect branded terms to specific sites.

The key differentiator from other intents is that the searcher already knows where they want to go – they just need the search engine to facilitate getting to that one website or page efficiently. Identifying and meeting navigational intent results in higher click-through and lower bounce rates as visitors more seamlessly reach their desired online destination.

An Example of Navigational Search Intent
An example of navigational search intent

2. Informational intent

Informational intent refers to search queries where the user is seeking to research, learn about, or gather information or news on a topic. Some examples include:

  • “Who was the first woman in space?”
  • “How do solar panels work?”
  • “What is the capital of Australia?”
  • “When did WW2 start?”

The intent is to find answers, education, background, explanations, or other declarative knowledge. The goal is to discover, understand, or satisfy curiosity. The need is self-directed research rather than transactions or access to a certain website/page.

Optimizing for informational intent requires providing comprehensive, accurate, clearly formatted information to fully address the knowledge needs of searchers. Useful informational content features FAQs, lists, statistics, history, definitions, visual aids like charts/graphs, step-by-step explanations, and other educational elements.

Meeting informational intent keeps visitors on site longer consuming content, builds trust through expertise, and establishes thought leadership. A strong understanding of searcher motivations and knowledge gaps allows you to create content filling those needs. Identifying and directly addressing informational intent leads to lower bounce rates, more pages viewed per session, and boosts authority overtime.

An Example of Informational Search Intent
An example of informational search intent

3. Transactional intent

Transactional intent refers to search queries where the user intends to complete a commercial transaction of some kind. This includes:

  • Product or Service Purchases
    • “Buy laptop”
    • “Cheap airline tickets”
    • “Order pizza online”
  • Other conversions
    • “Download ebook”
    • “Sign up for newsletter”
    • “Play game demo”

The intent is to exchange money for goods/services, share contact information, install applications, or otherwise engage with brands, products, media, or tools instead of just researching or passively consuming information.

Optimizing for transactional intent requires facilitating the path-to-purchase through content focused on enabling conversions versus informational support alone. Useful transactional content will include product specs and comparisons, pricing lists, calls-to-action, free trials or samples, convenient contact forms, prominent account creation/log-in, clickable UI elements over just text.

Meeting transactional intent removes friction from research-to-conversion by anticipating shopper hesitation and guides visitors through funnel with persistence messaging optimized for conversions over informational support alone. Identifying and addressing transactional intent improves business metrics like account sign-ups, lead generation, cart additions, purchases, and more.

An example of transactional search intent
An example of transactional search intent

Why Do You Need to Cater to User Intent?

Understanding your audience’s intent and providing them with relevant information that aligns with their search query can help drive traffic to your website and keep potential customers engaged.

In this section, we’ll discuss why understanding user intent is essential for inbound marketing success and the benefits of aligning your marketing efforts with your audience’s intent.

  1. Improved User Experience: By providing content that matches the user’s search intent, you create a seamless user experience that keeps potential customers engaged and on your website for a longer period.
  2. Better Search Engine Rankings: Search engines like Google appreciate websites that provide relevant and helpful content to users. By creating content that matches user intent, you’re more likely to improve your search engine rankings, leading to increased visibility and traffic to your site.
  3. Increased Conversion Rates: When you cater to user intent, you’re more likely to attract qualified leads who are already interested in what you have to offer. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of conversions, and ultimately boosts your revenue.
  4. Higher Engagement Rates: By creating targeted and engaging content, you’ll be able to keep potential customers on your website for longer periods, reducing bounce rates, and increasing engagement rates.
  5. Better ROI: By creating content that caters to user intent, you’ll be able to achieve better returns on your investment in content marketing. Instead of creating generic content that doesn’t resonate with your target audience, you can create highly targeted content that leads to more conversions and revenue.
  6. Improved Brand Credibility: By creating content that caters to user intent, you’ll be seen as a trusted and credible source of information in your industry. This, in turn, can attract more customers to your website and grow your brand reputation in the market.
  7. Competitive Advantage: By creating content that’s tailored to user intent, you set yourself apart from your competitors who may be creating generic content. This gives you a competitive advantage in the market, making your website more attractive to potential customers.

Evaluating Search Intent in Keywords

When conducting keyword research and analysis for SEO content planning, one of the most important tasks is assessing the likely user intent behind keyword phrases. The specific words used in a phrase can provide clues into the searcher’s motivation and goals.

Start by closely reviewing the vocabulary and semantics used in your target keywords. Words implying information-gathering like “how,” “what,” “why” often indicate informational intent. Navigation-based words like branded names usually signify navigational searches. Action words like “buy,” “download,” “purchase” typically mean transactional intent.

In many cases, the assumed intent is fairly unambiguous. For example, keywords like “buy shoes online,” “download software update,” or “restaurant locations near me” clearly signal a transactional, navigational or informational need respectively on the surface.

However, search queries can be much more nuanced. Keywords may not neatly fit into just one bucket of intent. Phrases like “best laptop for college students” seem informational, but could have subtle transactional undertones. The apparent intent may also shift based on other factors like geography, seasonality, current events, and more.

Determining the true motivation means going beyond the keywords themselves for wider context through analytics of similar searches, consumer research, and thought into potential variations of need. This deeper evaluation of intent leads to content better optimized for all searcher pathways.

The goal is to not just look at keywords, but to interpret them within full user journeys to uncovered the layered intents at play for quality content targeting.

Researching Intent for Top Keywords

Conducting thorough keyword research should provide visibility into the top terms driving relevant traffic to your site and competitors. Analyze this set of high-value keywords to derive insights into user intent.

Leverage keyword research software and Google Analytics to identify current top-funnel and conversion-based keywords based on volume and impact. Tools like Google Trends, SEMrush, and Ahrefs provide historical search data and classification capabilities to help segment keywords by likely intent markers.

From there, review keyword groupings and classification schema within research tools to determine relative distribution of informational, navigational and transactional search intents. This analysis highlights common use cases that might be underserved content-wise. It also illuminates key differences in presence across types of keywords that impact performance.

Expanding parameters to include seasonal shifts, geo-located differences and device trends paints a more robust picture of user intent variations for the same base keyword. What motivates a search query in one context changes in others. Incorporating these factors into research ensures optimized content for all iterations of a keyword across the full buyer journey.

Matching Content to Searcher Intent

The research into understanding user intent for keywords pays dividends when creating optimized content.

Shape content to directly meet the likely intent behind keyword searches which drive visitors to that post. If the keyword signals an informational need, draft comprehensive guides, FAQs, and articles. Transactional keywords call for product specs, comparisons, pricing details and calls-to-action.

Optimize Informational Content

  • Scannable formatting
    • Bold section headers
    • Bulleted/numbered lists
    • Tables of contents
  • Visual elements
    • Infographics
    • Charts/graphs
    • Photos
    • Interactive elements

Focus Transactional Content on Conversion

  • Full product/service descriptions
  • Specifications/Sizing Guides
  • Customer reviews and testimonials
  • Pricing stated up front
  • Supporting calculator tools
  • Persistent CTAs above and below fold

9 Ways to Leverage User Intent

  1. Keyword Mapping: Conduct thorough keyword research to identify the keywords and search terms that your target audience is using to search for topics related to your business. Use tools like Google Keyword Planner, Ubersuggest, or SEMrush to find those keywords and optimize your content accordingly.
  2. Content Creation: Create high-quality, informative, and engaging content that addresses the questions and interests of your target audience. Tailor your content to match the type of user intent – informational, navigational or transactional – to meet your target audience where they are at in their customer journey.
  3. On-Page Optimization: Optimize your website content and metadata, including headings, titles, descriptions, and internal links to ensure they align with your target audience’s search intent. This will help search engines understand the relevance of your content, and help you rank higher in search results.
  4. Site Structure Optimization: Create a logical site structure with clear navigation paths and URLs that match common search queries related to your target audience’s interests. This will help search engines understand the organization and context of your content and help you surface in relevant search results.
  5. Analytics and Tracking: Track and analyze user behavior, engagement, and conversion rates on your website to better understand how you can adjust your content, metadata, and site structure to match user intent and improve your inbound lead generation efforts.
  6. Creating Targeted Content: Create content that specifically targets the user’s search intent. This means tailoring content to meet their needs based on user context, such as the user’s location, demographics, and previous search behavior.
  7. Personalizing Content: Use the data you collect on users to personalize your content across all stages of the customer’s journey to increase engagement and drive more conversions. This includes personalized homepage greetings, recommended content, or product recommendations based on previous searches and purchases.
  8. Mobile Optimization: With mobile having surpassed desktop traffic, it’s critical that your website is optimized for mobile. This includes designing mobile-first and ensuring the design is suitable for mobile users, ensuring page speeds are fast, and deploying responsive designs across all your website pages, as well as ensuring information is easily accessible and digital interactions, like button clicks, are functional.
  9. Optimizing for Voice Searches: As the use of voice assistants and smart speakers continues to grow, optimizing your website for voice searches can help you capture more qualified leads; especially for informational and transactional search queries.

How Do You Know If Your Website Content Is Missing the Mark?

There are a few signals you can track in Google Analytics to determine if your website is optimized for user intent. 

By measuring the following, you can gain a better understanding on whether the tactics and strategies we’ll provide below are necessary.

  1. High Bounce Rates: A high bounce rate could indicate that users aren’t finding the content they are looking for or that the website design is not user-friendly. Additionally, a high bounce rate might indicate that your SERP presence is misleading — for instance, a user is expecting to find guidance on a topic but instead lands on a page that is strictly selling a product or service.
  2. Low Average Time on Site: If users are leaving your website quickly, it may suggest that the site isn’t providing the content or information users are looking for. It could indicate you need to adjust your content to better meet user needs.
  3. Low Pages per Session: If users are not navigating through the website, it may suggest that the site isn’t easy to navigate or that users are not finding the content they need.
  4. Low Conversion Rates: If users are not converting after visiting your site, it may suggest that users are not finding what they are looking for or that the site may not be providing enough information about the product or service.
  5. Poor Engagement Metrics: If your engagement metrics, such as form fills, are low, it may suggest that you’re not creating content that is educating users and helping them make informed purchasing decisions.

Elevate Your Inbound Lead Strategy

In conclusion, understanding user intent is essential to creating successful inbound lead generation strategies. Optimizing your content, website, and marketing efforts to match user intent can lead to higher search engine rankings, increased engagement, and ultimately more conversions and revenue for your business.

It’s important to keep in mind that user intent can vary depending on the stage of the customer journey, and it’s crucial to tailor your content and marketing efforts accordingly.

By continually analyzing user behavior and data, you can adjust your inbound lead generation strategies and ensure you’re providing your target audience with the information, products, and services they’re looking for.

We have a proven track record in this field, so if you’re looking for sound guidance or a team of expert SEOs to energize your marketing efforts, get in touch. 

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