By Ronell Smith
06 Sep 2019

Be the Best Answer: Applying Search Intent Insights

BestAnswer-TwitterSearch intent is the latest SEO buzzword, and for good reason. If, as content creators, we can understand what content Google is looking to reward for a given search query, we stand a much better chance of being rewarded with higher rankings in the SERPs, and earning the click.

In 2018, we all learned to read the tea leaves —  er, SERPs — using them as a guide from Google regarding the content type it'll most easily reward for a given set of keywords. The learnings were illuminating and, in some cases, inspiring.

Things don’t always pan out as planned.

For example, an informational query you were hoping to nail with an in-depth, middle-of-the-funnel guide might never show up as planned because Google saw the query as a bottom-of-the-funnel, action query for web searchers ready to buy. But at least you didn't waste your time creating content that was never going to reach the intended audience.

But all was not lost, given your experimentation has yielded deep, rich clues to what Google and web searchers are looking for. Now all you have to do is create the types of content both parties are looking for, and, voila, the rankings, traffic, and conversions should flow in like waters from the Nile.

Or so the thinking goes.

Understanding what Google and web searchers want is only part of the battle; the devil is in the details, which highlights a problem: execution.

We also need to know the best means of creating these ideal types of content, an element that covers more of the how than the what of content creation. The good news is, as skilled content creators (writers, strategists, specialists, etc.) we're uniquely qualified to ace this area and bridge the gap.

Nailing search intent is the starting point, not the goal for your content. As a dyed-in-the-wool content guy, helping businesses create the types of content that get them found in the SERPs and chosen via a click is important to me. What I too often see, however, is content that is done well, but that does not meet the threshold of truly nailing intent.

Why? It's simple: We tend to look at the SERPs and think we only need to create something “better” than what's already ranking.

For example, we may see an informational query and automatically think, "Let me create a better list, or paragraph, or graph than what's already ranking.” That logic is not entirely off. However, it's a step you’ll take prior to beginning a process I call ASA, short for: answer quickly, support thoroughly and anticipate additional questions.

We'll explore each of these in detail to help you formulate a plan to create winning content that serves intent. Give yourself the best chance of success by stealing these journalistic tips.

Answer the intent of the search query immediately.

Get to the answer, already. Don't beat around the bush. Show me that you know what I want and that you're the brand I should do business with by answering my question right away and thoroughly. Don't waste words; tell me right away what you think I need to know in the few sentences on the page. By doing so, you capture and hold my attention and make it apparent that you know my needs more intimately than the competition.

I was a business journalist for several years after college, so I became well-versed in what's called the inverted pyramid. This is a model whereby the most relevant information is shared first, with less immediately relevant details right below. The details placed lower on the page aren’t necessarily less important, but they aren't as essential or as expected at the top of the page.

For example, a travel brand hoping to answer the query for "cheap family vacations to Florida" would have locations, likely via a list, highest on the page, with prices lower on the pages, and activities even lower. In this way, the brand would answer what the web searchers were looking for immediately before inviting them lower on the page.

The same process can be applied for any query. The key is to attempt to answer the question in as succinct a fashion as possible. (This process works well regardless of the position of your page in the SERPs.)

Don't drop the ball with the supporting details.

Once you've nailed the active intent — answered the primary question associated with the search query — it's time to drive home the fact that your brand is the definitive resource in the space.

This is the place for supporting data that helps make your point. People love numbers, especially if they help tell a more complete story or provide a unique perspective. For example, the travel site's content might include sections broken up by price and location, with that content positioned as something along the lines of "five-day vacations for under 2,000-dollars for a family of four." This type of data personalizes the information and makes site visitors feel you've invested the time to get to know their needs.

What's more, it's the type of next-step, specific information they'll expect as they dig deeper for details regarding the trip. What this means for your brand is, even if they're still in the informational stage of the process, they're likely to bookmark the page and return to it as the time for booking a trip draws near.

Another element worth considering is the addition of a subject-matter expert to add supporting details, depth, and nuance to your information. When you add a quote for details from a person who has experience in the topical area you're covering, you not only buttress the main points, but you aid trust and uniqueness as well. People can more easily envision experiences through the eyes of others, and the expert's perspective is not one they'll encounter elsewhere, at least not in the exact likeness.

Think about what else web visitors might need to know.

In journalism, information placed lowest on the page is of the more generic variety. It's valuable, but not important or entirely necessary. As marketers, the details we share near the bottom of the page might include an additional resources list, with links to where readers can learn more about the topic onsite and offsite. It's also the ideal space to answer any potentially lingering questions a searcher might have on the topic.

For the travel brand mentioned above, the lower-page content might include a comparison chart, the best value menu for frugal vacationers, or a next-steps section for those who need a nudge.

The main point is to consider, "What else might they need to know?"

No matter what you include here, however, a call to action has to be a part of the mix. Too often, we create a strong piece of content and then leave it to chance that a web visitor will behave in the way that you'd hope. Don't leave this all-important step to chance — be explicit.

Whether you'd prefer them to answer a question in the comments, contact you via phone or email, or simply dig deeper on your site, make it as easy and clear as possible for them to do so. At the very least, make certain CTA buttons are clearly labeled and easy to read.

Be the Best Answer.

The next step in the evolution of using search intent successfully for your brand is to focus on being the best answer on the web.

This means you must think beyond content type and format, focusing on thoroughness, or density, as well. This means you must pull yourself away from thinking of word counts (or audio or video lengths) and attempt to answer the question/query in as thorough a manner as possible.

This is not as difficult as it sounds, however.

Take a page from some of the most successful content marketers, who pull ideas from throughout the business as they set about creating content. From the sales team, they glean objections; from the customer success team, they learn of sticking points; and from their analytics, they discern what content is performing well.

Insights in hand, the content marketing team can set about addressing these elements in their content. Yes, it’s an iterative process, so there will be hits and misses, but as you get better at listening and learning, you can expect to see increases in traffic to the site, positive comments left with the customer success team and fewer objections via the sales team. This means your content is effectively working for your brand.

That’s the goal, right?

When you combine your knowledge of content creation with a journalist's acumen for depth, nuance, and detail, you have a winning combination.

Ronell Smith

Ronell Smith is a digital content strategist helping brands do amazing things with content, including grow their audience, increase qualified web traffic to their websites and outwit the competition. He has extensive experience with enterprise and small business content strategy, having worked with household names, including ESPN, Moz, HubSpot, and numerous others. Currently, he’s on a mission to help brands recognize the value of creating a best-in-class content experience, one that creates trust, authority and customer love.