Are you a solopreneur content-marketer struggling to increase organic traffic to your site? This number of 677 percent traffic growth should be making your eyes goggle!
I’m not making up this number. Joshua Hardwick, Head of Content at Ahrefs has shown a graph that’s soaring heaven-wards … and written:
“That’s a 677 percent increase in organic traffic to one of our core landing pages in just six months! How did we do this? We made a small change to the page to bring it in line with search intent.”
Search intent is one of those words a lot of SEO experts in Content & Traffic Generation talk about. You may even have understood its meaning somewhat. But after you know what it is, how do you use it to get 677 percent more traffic – or even more?
Wouldn’t you like to know? I did.
That’s why I researched and wrote this article, because I too am a solopreneur like you. I too want more traffic (it’s never enough!). And I too wanted to be able to achieve this without hiring expensive SEO help.
I haven’t yet hit the 677 percent growth goal, but I sure am speeding towards it everyday. Search intent seems like a small thing. But it does delivers some unbelievable results.
Read on if you want to see what the search intent hoo-ha is about. See how you too can use it like I am doing. Create some new tall spikes if your site’s traffic graph is too flat-looking.
What exactly is search intent?
Till recently, content marketers were looking for “what” keywords searchers were using. Now, it appears, we have to look for “why” users are using their specific search keywords. We have to unearth the “intent” behind the searches of our audiences.
- Are they searching because they have a question and want an answer?
- Are they searching for a specific website or page?
- Are they searching because they are looking to take some actions online?
- Or, are they searching because they want to buy something?
For example, let’s say someone has searched in Google for “content creator”. Is the person looking for a content creator? Does he want to become one? Does he want to know what it takes to become one? Or is he looking for a tool that helps in content creation?
Why is search intent becoming so important to content marketing? One reason is that we’d all like to write good answers that match searcher queries. That’s when they will click on our Google listings to visit our sites and read.
But search intent is also getting more important because Google now looks at it with hawk eyes. Its Hummingbird and RankBrain algorithms have made search intent very important to Google.
Google wants to serve up perfect and satisfying answer pages and posts to user searches. Google also wants to highlight the best answers to match search intent. It does this through rich snippet results like the Answer Box and Knowledge Panel.
If earlier we were all focused on getting to Page #1 of the Google SERPs, that’s not enough any more. Now there are people pipping us by being in the rich snippet areas atop of Page #1.
If we too don’t deep-dive into search intent before writing posts, we won’t gain as much by being on that Google Page #1. There will be other guys sitting above us in exclusive boxes. They’ll get all the visibility and the clicks, while we’ll become part of page’s landscape.
That’s today’s truth.
The SEO benefits of search intent targeting
For our created content to align with search intent, “2-way relevance” is the key. Our content must become more relevant to our audiences. Better intent optimization must also bring in more relevant traffic to our websites.
This means 6 benefits to us in SEO terms:
- We get traffic boosts to our informational pages … via more clickthroughs on our listings.
- We get improved conversion on our transactional pages …which match what customers need.
- Our bounce rates get reduced … people stay on our pages longer when they get what they want.
- We get more page views … since meeting users’ intent makes them engage with more of our websites.
- Our content may get selected for Google’s “featured snippets” … this is also known and coveted as Position 0 or the very first result.
- We can get wider audience reach … Google may show our content for several keywords with nearly-same searcher intent.
All these are reasons why intent optimization is now so powerful.
If our content is intent optimized, we will see much more qualified traffic. That is far more precious than notching up a huge quantity of mismatched traffic.
The resolution of search queries with multiple meanings
A hint of how Google views search intent
A good question many marketers ask is what to do when search intent in not clear enough. What does Google do? What does Google expect us to do?
Google’s Paul Haahr gave a presentation in 2016 on Google’s methods of ranking. The gist of what he explained goes somewhat like this. Google seems to return results for search queries using a proprietary scale.
The scale works on the basis of “needs met” between queries and webpages. The scale ranges from Fully Meets (FullyM) to Fails to Meet (FailsM). There may be in-between points like “Highly Meets” or “Doesn’t Quite Meet”. With some improvement of content, posts that only partially meet search intent can hope to scale up.
Conundrums that can perplex even Google
The problem arises when a search query is such that it cannot ever expect to be in the Fully Meets end of the scale. This happen when we have query words with several meanings. Or query words without some related words that hint at their meaning.
For example take the word “mercury”. Does a searcher mean the planet or the metal? Or take the word “apple”. Does the searcher mean the company that makes the iPhone or the fruit?
If there are some extra words related to the query that help Google understand better, it helps. For instance “apple recipes” would suggest the searcher intended the fruit. Whereas “apple watch” may mean the searcher intended the company. Both Google and marketers would find it easier to decipher intent.
But then again consider this term with two words “apple jobs”. Does the searcher mean jobs available at Apple, or does he mean Apple’s founder Steve Jobs? Sometimes even the extra word doesn’t seem to help place the actual search intent.
In such cases, you may find that a perplexed Google throws up a medley of answers for all possibilities. It’s safer for marketers not to write posts for such queries that even Google cannot quite fathom.
About LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing
Related words (or semantic words) help Google understand the main keyword’s search intent. That’s why this concept called LSI (or Latent Semantic Indexing) is gaining ground.
The more semantic (related) words you use in your content, the more Google is able to confirm your match to the query. That’s when your article scores high on rankings.
For example if the search was “apple recipes”, Google would rank you high if you used many related words. You’d do well to pepper your article with “apple”, “nutrition”, “recipes”, “calories” and “health”. All these words reinforce Google’s feeling that you are really scoping the topic thoroughly – and thus best answering the search intent.
The importance of queries as questions
Search queries are most clear to us and to Google when they are questions. For example, if someone searched for “apple jobs” we’d have less clarity on the intent. But if the query was “How to apply for jobs at Apple?” there would be no ambiguity.
Questions are the clearest form of search intent. When in doubt, go for a question query you can answer, instead of typical “keyword terms”. This is fail-proof!
The 4 main types of search intent explained
Search intent usually gets reflected as 4 types – KNOW-GO-DO-BUY. Let’s look at each type in a bit of detail.
Informational intent: the need to know more about something
Lots of searches online are of people looking for information. Searches are generally broad-based if people are in an exploratory phase. Wheras, if people know what they are looking for, search queries may be for more specific information.
For example, a general query could look like these:
- “HTML 5”
- “bounce rate”
- “sports injuries”
As people progress on buying journeys the exploration gives way to gathering specifics. They may then be looking for topics like these:
- “types of mutual funds”
- “what is content marketing”
- “KWFinder review”
This still doesn’t show an intention to act or buy. But it definitely shows that people seek narrower targeted information as their search progresses.
Navigational intent: the need to go somewhere online
People may want to get to a particular website or brand page online. It is common for them to type in a brand name or a site name. Examples could look like these …
- “ahrefs content explorer”
- “beginners guide to SEO Neil Patel”
- “Twitter login”
- “Moz blog”
Such queries show, without doubt, that the searchers are very clear and specific. They know their navigational needs. It would only be fair to show them web pages of the sites they want to visit, right? Or, as experts say, there will be user dissatisfaction.
But notice here that there are some competitive sites that may use this search intent to attract attention to themselves. And Google allows that.
For example, let’s say a user types “Ubersuggest” to get to the SEO tool called “Ubersuggest”. We also find that Google has allowed a competitor to rank second on the page. This listing says “Ubersuggest alternative: Get 2Z More Keywords Faster!” The site that says this is KeywordTool.io, a competitor of Ubersuggest.
Ubersuggest has a popularity of 165,000/mo. It’s no wonder that a competitor finds it great to piggyback off this popularity. It’s as easy as referring to himself as the “Ubersuggest alternative”. By using the word “Ubersuggest in his title he has found a listing on the same page.
But why would Google allow the competitor a listing on a specific navigational query?
It could be that Google thinks: “Someone here may be looking for “SEO tools” as his deeper intent. He may be spelling out his navigational intent as “Ubersuggest”. But it would be good to also show him the alternative to serve his deeper underlying intent.” In a way Google is serving what it sees as the “true intent”.
The moral of this story is this. When your brand becomes popular enough, competitors may use your popularity against you. But all’s fair in love and SEO!
Transactional intent : the need to take some specific action
Certain types of search queries show a user intent to take some action. The user may not be quite ready to buy something online, but he may want to take some other forms of action.
It could be an email signup, a lead generation form submission, a store visit or a phone call. It could also be a search for comparative buying information.
Some transactional queries are straightforward. They are usually articulated like these examples:
- “CMI newsletter”
- “GMAT test trial”
- “time converter”
Some people word transactional queries like these:
- “office supplies deals”
- “best IQ test”
- “dishwasher prices”
Notice here that some queries may look like people are ready to buy or take final action. But in fact they may be still “exploring taking action”, but may not be quite ready to actually buy. This could be a precursor step to the final buying – if the search turns up results that are worth it.
Marketers make mistakes in decoding and writing for transactional intent queries like these. They think the customer is ready to buy and tend to push their own product.
The ideal content to give people who may be toying with buying is to give enough information to tip the scales. You need a bit of psychology study here.
If a person is querying about “office supply deals” you can assume he intends to buy at some point. He is exploring different deals to see which is best for him.
Marketers should offer honest answers to be very effective. Name all competitors and give their prices. But then also give solid reasons why you are better. The searcher will be thankful that your brand has saved him a lot of searching time.
Think how you would deal in real life with someone who asked you for your opinion on “the best IQ test to take”. You wouldn’t directly say “I have a test. Take mine. It costs just $50.” You’d give them a few different options, but then recommend the best one (yours!). That’s the ideal type of answer content to give transactional queries.
Commercial intent : the need to buy a product
Marketers rush to answer commercial queries in the hope of making quick sales. That why a lot of commercial intent queries are becoming fiercely competitive. But they’re still worth the effort, if you have the absolute right product or answer to fit the bill.
Commercial queries are easy to spot. They are usually articulated like this:
- “buy macbook pro”
- “sainsbury discount coupon”
- “samsung galaxy s10 cheap”
- “lastpass premium price”
Below is another type of commercial query, but you’d better give it a pass (unless you have a matching lead magnet on your site):
- “free weight-loss ebook”
Some commercial queries are also about store location, like this:
- “clarks shoes store on oxford street”
- “24-hour medical store near me”
The intent to go and buy is clear. It’s also easy to answer. The answer has to be to the point. But there are ways to make the answer more valuable.
For example, let’s say you want to answer the query on “24-hour medical store near me”. Do give the requested information in full detail. But, why not also give the names of hospitals nearby with 24-hour outpatient facilities? The person with the medical problem may need extra help than a pharmacist could give.
Or you could supply a list of car companies the person could call to get to the nearby store. You could also show a Google map with location marked. Or if the store has home-delivery you could offer to place the order for instant delivery.
When you understand search intent, you can serve people beyond expectation. That’s where your brand can score … by showing your understanding, and being far more forthcoming than what the searcher was expecting.
Search intent and its correlation with the purchase funnel
The purchase funnel is a diagram that traces the 4 stages people go through before they buy anything. Content marketers are often advised to ensure their content matches the stages of the purchase funnel.
As the diagram above shows, the 4 search intent types are also good matches for the 4 purchase funnel stages. See how search queries can suggest the intent at different stages of purchase.
How to confirm search intent with certainty?
Why the Google SERP is the best indicator of search intent
By far the best way to sense the search intent behind a query is to check out the Google SERP for the query. Look at the results that Google has chosen as answers to the query. You will get an instant feel of how Google is reading searcher intent.
Make your content follows along the same lines, but try to be far superior in value to the other content on that SERP. You’ll raise your chances of belonging on that SERP.
Google tests relentlessly till it get search intent right
Don’t look at the keywords to judge intent by yourself. Seeing the Google SERP shows you the way Google is thinking. Only if you follow Google do you have a chance of ranking. Between you and Google, both trying to decipher intent, Google will win hands down.
Why is this so? Google actually studies searcher’s behavior over time for any query. Google watches signals like “pogo-sticking”.
What is “pogo-sticking”? Pogo-sticking occurs when a user performs a search and clicks on a result. Very quickly, he then clicks back to the search result page, and clicks on a different result on the same page … or makes a new search query. The user is signalling that the results did not meet his intent.
When Google sees behavior like this, it alters what it shows next time for the same search query. It keeps experimenting and adjusting its answers, till it finds the answer most searchers find worthwhile to visit. It also watches if the searchers are on the answer page for a length of time. This suggests to Google that readers may have found what they wanted.
See how Google shows you its reading of search intent
As marketers we can never do the repeated testing that Google does to discover search intent. That’s why it’s better to just follow Google.
Shown here are two examples of SERPs I want you to see. The first screen shot is of the Google SERP for the keyword “content marketing strategy”. The query is easy to decipher – and all Google results point in the same direction.
Now see this other Google SERP for the keyword “content creator”. It’s not a clear intent. Are people looking for “content creators to hire”? Are they looking for “content creator jobs”? Do they want to know “how to become a content creator”?
See how the SERP has a medley of answers to all these different possibilities. But also see how Google has chosen one “featured snippet” atop of the page. It answers to the query with a post titled: “What is a content creator and why do I need one?”
This is a signal that Google sees this answer as the best match to the query “content creator”, based on its testing. The query intent is confusing, for sure. That’s why many other types of answers are on the SERP too. But the best match according to Google, from its testing so far, is the one right on top. That is our cue to the searcher intent we must write for.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content & Traffic Generation”: