Understanding and Using Search Intent to Your Advantage

Why do we search for stuff on Google? Looking beyond the use of keywords, search intent (sometimes called “keyword intent”) answers this question. It’s all about why you do what you do. As you can imagine, determining search intent is more nuanced and complicated than merely looking at a list of keywords.

As search engine optimizers, we have a pretty solid weapon at our disposal: we are ultimately users of the very product we seek to understand (Google). So let’s start by thinking about our own search activities to understand search intent.

Let’s say we’re planning a wedding, which is only slightly more optimistic than planning an apocalypse or something like that. We’d look up some stuff, such as local venues and vendors. Today, we’ll look for a florist:

Some terms we might look up are “florist St. Louis” or “florist near me” or “wedding flowers St. Louis.” We’re looking up flowers, but our intention is to include flowers in our wedding celebration.

Let’s Put On Our Finest Floral Hats Because Flowers

Florist Working On Bouquet In Shop

Where the hell did we put that bonnet?!

Now let’s think about this from the florist’s point of view, who might remind you of yourself (a small business owner) or a client of yours (if you’re a marketer).

If the florist has been in business for a while, they likely understand their industry and local market on a level a search engine optimizer can not. Lots of SEO “experts” ignore this niche experience, and that’s a mistake. It’s a critical error to ignore search intent since businesses know their customers well.

A local florist, for example, might know when the high school’s proms are approaching, or that couples from a larger nearby city like to order from them because their prices are lower. That can and should inform content, keywords, and keyword research.

This information can also help with advertising. If a user is searching for weddings and then flowers, ad services are getting smart enough to connect the dots. Businesses should consider this when advertising online.

Two Paths to Search Intent

There are typically two paths to search intent. The first is all about finding something specific, and the user curates the search based upon that. These usually end up being search phrases or long-tail keywords. If the user is interested in purchasing a product, they are likely at the end of their buyer journey and are seriously considering a purchase. If you’re a fan of Marvel’s Loki, for example, you might search for something specific, like “Loki action figure from first Thor movie.” That’s pretty specific, right?

Loki from the Marvel Universe

The second path is for general information. Let’s say you’re a comic book movie fan, and you just learned about a new Marvel series on Netflix. In this case, your search terms might be general, such as “Loki Netflix show.”

Mobile Search and Search Intent

Smartphone holding in female hands for text message

Ack. Facebook crashed again.

Many searchers now use Google on their phones. While this is especially relevant in the international spectrum, it’s vital for local businesses, too. People want “grocery store near me,” not general information about a grocery store’s headquarters. It’s important to consider this when creating content that is focused on search intent: for example, naming your business location in the post can help Google connect the dots.

Mobile search is so crucial that Google lowers the ranking of sites that aren’t mobile friendly.

When Is Search Intent Most Crucial?

Matured attentive businessman is sitting on sofa. He using his phone

Hmm. What IS my search intent?

“Know queries:” These queries are about things people need to know right away. Can’t name all the actors who appeared in “The Breakfast Club?” No problem. Google can help. (And don’t you forget about me…) Need to know when President Taft served? That’s another trivia-related search intent. Know queries are about more than fun and games, though. Other questions are just as timely and essential:

  • Recipe conversions (how many ounces in a cup?)
  • Transportation schedules
  • Lodging with vacancy
  • Local delivery services

What do these queries have in common? They seek information quickly.

If your content or business covers one of these categories, timely search intent is crucial. Think about what you look up when you’re looking for a bus schedule.

If you’re trying to rank for a “know query,” you could end up with a featured snippet, also known as position 0. That’s useful because users find your response first, and you appear above other content. But you also need to entice users to click on your link after they see the answer to their query. And it goes without saying, the snippet has to immediately answer the query to rank there in the first place. That takes some real focus in the first few sentences of copy.

“Go queries” are also relevant: these are precise search terms. If a user is searching for something specific, again maybe the latest Marvel movie, it’s not helpful for the search results to return a website for the competition’s DC movie instead. The most useful result is a link to the movie’s official site. If the movie is playing in theatres, perhaps a list of showtimes would also help.

Remember, Google’s goal is to help the user, not to deliver website traffic to you. The user comes first. That means we need to heavily consider search intent, especially when we talk about digital advertising and PPC (pay per click) ads.

Google Business listings are also relevant for “go queries.” Is your business accurately listed on Google? Do your business location, hours, phone number, and website come up immediately when a local user searches for it? If not, this is one of the first things you should fix. While you’re at it, go ahead and standardize the information across your websites and social media accounts for improved SEO. Google lets users click on results to navigate directly to locations, which means your address must be accurate to bring foot traffic through the door.

Re: Voice Search Intent

Amazon's Alexa

“Hey, Alexa. No, just saying hi.”

“Hey, Alexa. What are the Olive Garden’s hours today?”

“Siri: please book me a hair appointment at Great Clips for 9 a.m. on Monday.”

“Google: find a local pet salon. Yes, call it.”

These are three voice search queries. In some instances, users even search in the car or while they’re getting ready to go out. Talk about an impending buyer decision.

This urgency means your content needs to be findable. For the first query, Alexa needs to search and pull up a local restaurant’s hours. For the second, Siri’s new assistant will automatically call a salon and book the appointment, then report back. And in the third, Google locates a business and then calls it at your request. None of these queries could receive accurate results without proper business listings.

Does the Content Match Search Intent?

Hand drawing Lead Generation Business Funnel concept with white chalk on blackboard.

Funnel this, friendos.

As we mentioned, Google likes to serve the searcher. Matching the searcher’s intent can do several things for your website and business:

  • Bring narrow, end-of-funnel traffic prepared to make buying decisions
  • Increase time on page, as the user is interested in thoroughly reading about your niche and topic
  • Increase opt-ins for drip marketing or email subscriptions
  • Get optimal clicks for ad retargeting

Search Intent for the Buyer’s Journey

Three excited friends buying a trip on line with a credit card and a laptop sitting on a couch in the living room at home

We genuinely hope all of your customers are this (almost inappropriately) pumped for your services.

Let’s be real: sales funnels can feel pretty jargony. Setting aside the jingoistic behavior of marketing gurus, though, it’s still helpful to think about a sales funnel when creating content around search intent.

Let’s say you’re selling winter coats. It’s fall, and you’re a retailer in a moderate climate. Folks are ready to think about buying a heavy winter coat, but they might not be prepared to commit while the temperatures aren’t too cold. They still have time, and they might be living paycheck to paycheck. However, they’re all about preparation, and they know winter’s coming, and they’re starting to book travel to visit family far away. That means it’s time to do research.

At this stage, your prospective customers are looking up winter coat options and comparing costs and features. The content you create about winter coats (maybe “5 essential winter coat features for the tech-savvy traveler”) should touch on those needs and address general pain points. That way, your prospects will remember your brand when they’re ready to pull out the credit card.

If the buyer is ready to make a purchase, credit card in hand, their search might look different. They probably want something they can order online ASAP, or they may want to find a store where they can make the purchase in person. Either way, your SEO needs to be on point to capture these customers, and it’s all about the inbound content. This content should include:

  • Branded keywords: You should show up in search results for your brand. so people find you when they Google your product.
  • Specific descriptors and unique product descriptions: Using a manufacturer’s product description? So is everyone else. Aside from being duplicate content that Google hates, you’ll get no advantage versus any competitor selling the same thing. Write (or talk to us about creating) some unique product descriptions hitting on the key features of the product.

How Do You Optimize for Search Intent?

When it comes to those informational queries, make sure you make the best use of your page titles, meta tags, and meta descriptions.

For transactional queries from people who are ready to buy, set them up for success. Send those mid-funnel friends into a newsletter or put a “buy now” call to action (CYA) for those ready to make a purchase immediately. In short, write to convert.

Ready to Harness the Power of Search Intent?

At Dominate With SEO, we create a content strategy with search intent in mind. Whether we are working with local businesses or online retailers, we know that SEO is about more than simple keyword research. Let us help you craft a successful strategy that will set up your site for sales success.

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