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Searcher intent, also called user intent, is the primary goal a user has when entering a query into a search engine.
Some traditional (read: outdated) SEO wisdom dictates that content marketing efforts should be focused on simply maximizing the use of high-priority keywords. The logic is that this will lead to higher search rankings. However, keyword stuffing is not only ineffective — it can actually lead to search engines deprioritizing your content, jettisoning your chances of securing page one results.
Instead, SEOs should look beyond keywords and to the true heart of every online search; they should be focused on intent.
“Searcher intent,” also called “user intent,” is the primary goal a user has when entering a query into a search engine. Over the years, search engine algorithms have gotten increasingly sophisticated when it comes to anticipating user intent. This has had a dramatic impact on search engine user expectations and behaviors.
For instance, if you type the term “pizza delivery” into Google, would you expect to be given a definition of that phrase in the search results? Or a series of historical articles on the thrilling story of Chef Raffaele Esposito making the very first pizza delivery to Queen Margherita of Savoy in the late 19th century?
Of course not! You’d expect to be informed about local pizza joints that offer delivery, and that’s precisely the type of results you’ll get when you perform that search.
This is an example of how search engine algorithms can anticipate your needs based on the phrasing of your query, and serve the most relevant results possible. This leads to happier users. Ultimately, content that makes users happy makes search engine algorithms happy — domains hosting content that satisfies searcher intent will have greater chances of ranking higher on the SERPs.
Given that search engines work in this way, it’s important to plan out your content marketing efforts with the searcher intent of your target audience in mind. This article will discuss different types of search intent you may need to satisfy and go over how you can shape your SEO efforts to optimize your content to best serve user needs.
Each piece of content you produce for your website should have a clear purpose, and that purpose should be defined by the user intent associated with the page. Different intents are typically indicative of where your target audience currently sits in the marketing funnel. Further, searches are not restricted to a single intent; ambiguous or very general searches can result in SERPs with a range of content from multiple categories.
With that said, there are four types of searcher intent: informational, navigational, transactional, and commercial investigation. Let’s dive into what each of these categories entails.
When a search engine user is looking for an answer to a question — even if the query is not phrased as a question per se — they may perform an informational search. Here are some examples of informational queries:
The specificity and length of content optimized for informational searches should largely be dictated by the nature of the question. Ideal search results for such queries can range from simple answers based on historical or scientific data (such as “When did WWII end?”) to complex issues that require extensive analysis to gain an adequate understanding of (such as “Is the US criminal justice system fair?”).
Top-funnel content looking to satisfy such queries should be focused on providing clear answers to the question at hand and, whenever applicable, providing further information and actionable advice to users who may have follow-up questions. Including videos and images that provide in-depth analysis of the topic can be an effective way of adding value for the user.
Ranking well for keywords related to informational queries can greatly improve your site’s visibility and authority. It can also help you to earn new visitors. These readers may then be guided to additional supporting content and converting pages through internal links.
If search engine users know that they need a product or service, but haven’t yet made a purchase decision, they may perform commercial investigation searches to compare their options. A few examples of commercial investigation queries are:
Mid-funnel content can be optimized for such queries by providing information that can help readers decide which options are right for them. It’s vital for this content to focus on providing useful information about products and services — not merely pester the reader with incessant calls to action. Doing so is likely to result in readers viewing your content as purely advertorial, which will lead to diminished trust and engagement. Further, overly advertorial content is unlikely to generate many natural links, which can hamper attempts to build a decent link profile.
As with informational content, ranking well for commercial investigation content can lead to improved visibility for your site and help you direct traffic to additional pages. Given that the readership for this content is lower in the marketing funnel, they will be more likely to convert, which may lead to increased sales.
Many searches are done in order to facilitate purchases. When users have a specific brand they want to purchase from or a specific product/service they want to buy, they may perform a transactional search. Examples of transactional queries include
Bottom-funnel content, such as product pages and other converting content, should be streamlined. The act of making a purchase should be as simple as possible. Such content should provide quick answers to any common questions from buyers and offer links to additional products or supporting content that may lead to additional sales.
The benefits of ranking well for transactional queries is fairly straightforward — it can lead to increased sales and, ideally, help your brand develop a relationship with consumers going forward.
Need to go to a site, but don’t quite remember the web address? Or do you want to go back to that one article you didn’t have time to finish reading yesterday? Users in these circumstances may perform navigational searches.
In these searches, users are simply leveraging search engines as a middleman to get to their desired web destination — there’s usually very little ambiguity about the desired search result they are looking for.
Some examples of navigational queries are:
Ranking well for navigational queries is typically only possible if your site is the search result the user was already looking for. When creating a keyword seed list, it’s important to identify probable navigational queries early on, as you are unlikely to rank well for these, regardless of how much effort you put in, if your site is not the desired search result.
With the above information in mind, there are some key tips to remember for your own SEO efforts. These include:
If you can’t determine searcher intent, ask: It can sometimes be difficult to understand the intent of your site visitors. Using social media to “listen in” on the needs of your audience is a viable tactic. You can also provide users with a coupon code or some other incentive for answering a brief questionnaire on this topic. This can provide valuable insights that you can use in future revisions and in fresh content.