Editor's Note: This post was originally published in 2020 and updated with the latest information and best practices in 2022.
As consumers and algorithms have become more sophisticated, so has the keyword research process that we perform here at Marketing Essentials as part of our SEO services. Keyword research is no longer something a tool can spit out. It's an evolving process that must be monitored and optimized based on behaviors and user intent.
Ten years ago, the folks at Google were saying their end goal was to create a Star Trek computer interface. You know the one: “Computer, how fast can we get to Vulcan?” Part of achieving that goal is analyzing and serving up content that isn’t just about what a user has typed in but what their intent was in typing it.
In this article, we will take a deeper dive into how to adjust your keyword research strategy to tap into search intent, and as a result -- earn more organic traffic (aka potential new customers).
What is Search Intent Optimization?
Search Intent Optimization is optimizing a page of online content to meet the needs of the person who has performed a specific search on a search engine. Search intent takes into consideration the reasons and purpose they are searching.
Search intent doesn't actually replace keyword research but takes optimizing a step further. Traditional “keyword optimization” would involve using the keyword in all the right places on the page and using related terms in the copy. Search intent uses keywords but also factors in intent -- meaning the page understands the purpose of the search and is supplying what the searcher wanted (even if they didn’t even know what they wanted).
How to Find Keyword Intent
Basic keyword intent is thought of in four types of search queries: informational, commercial, transactional and navigational. This can still be helpful to think about at a high level.
Some SEO tools will even identify this basic intent to help determine if your website would be a good fit to consider this keyword. SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool will label a search query with intent as shown below.
In this example, if I am researching assisted living terms, I can see that I should not go after “sunrise assisted living” because that intent has been identified as navigational, they are looking for a specific website called Sunrise Assisted Living. The searcher is likely not interested in watching a sunrise or learning more about sunrises and assisted living.
Here is a breakdown of these high-level types of search queries:
1)Informational: Users are researching specific topics to educate themselves about people, events, media, etc. They are generally asking “who, what, where, when, why” types of questions. Examples:
- What’s on Netflix
- Greta Gerwig
2) Commercial: Users doing research related to a purchase they want to make but haven’t yet decided on the specific brand or product they will purchase. These users are asking “best, top, review or comparison” types of questions. Examples:
- Best computer for gaming
- Highest rated restaurant near me
3) Transactional: Users have completed research or have a specific brand or product in mind that they want to purchase immediately. Questions from these users are often related to words like “price, buy, quote, coupon or order.” Examples:
- new book Harlan Coben
- Audubon red barn bird feeder
4) Navigational: Users typing in these queries are looking for a particular website or piece of content. These queries will often be highly specific, featuring brand and/or product names. Examples:
- Twitter login
- NYT article about guacamole peas
Great keyword intent research goes beyond these four buckets and involves strategic thinking and really understanding your customers and why they search for your products or services.
Google’s Algorithm and Search Intent
Google’s recent messaging around core algorithm updates has been consistent - and it largely revolves around meeting the searcher’s needs with high-quality content. Googlers almost always reference this article, which helps website owners understand Core Algorithm Updates. It also provides a nice checklist for a self-assessment of quality.
Two additional key questions this article also brings to light are:
- Does the content provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
- Does the content seem to be serving the genuine interests of visitors to the site or does it seem to exist solely by someone attempting to guess what might rank well in search engines?” (emphasis added!)
Search Intent Can Vary
It's also important to consider that not every searcher may have the same intent. If 5 people search the exact same term, it’s possible that each one could be looking for something slightly different.
For example, if I search “assisted living memory care,” I may be searching for a definition or explanation of what memory care is. Another may be looking for facilities that offer memory care at assisted living. Another may be looking for educational resources about the benefits of memory care at assisted living.
Google addresses this via advanced AI technology they call Mum. The software is designed to understand complex queries and what a user might search next. As a result, the search engine will provide search results that will better meet the searchers' needs, in fewer searches. If you aren’t considering the searcher’s needs/intent yet, it’s time to start!
Where to Start with Search Intent Optimization
It is still useful to do keyword research to determine relevant terms with high search volume. At Marketing Essentials, we are doing keyword research alongside search intent optimization. This means identifying which terms are most relevant and frequently searched for your business, then identifying the searchers' intent and building content around that. Here’s the step-by-step process.
- Find keywords that balance relevance and search volume.
- Think through the intent of those keywords as search terms.
- Search the term yourself and look at what type of results are already showing. Review the “People Also Ask” questions and related searches.
- SEO tools can help streamline this process, and I expect more developments in the coming months.
- Group keywords with similar intent.
- Create your content to meet the identified intent and publish the page.
- Monitor and revise.
Keyword and Intent Optimization is a Process - Not a Project!
Finally, remember that SEO is not a one-and-done project but instead requires ongoing maintenance. At Marketing Essentials, we are proud to be a Google-certified agency partner that has helped hundreds of companies rank higher in search engines to grow revenue.
Check out our SEO page to hear how we can use SEO to help your business grow.