If you look up the term “search intent” on your favorite search engine, you will likely see a list of results on the first two or three search engine results pages (SERPs). Headlines will claim search intent is the future of SEO, the secret to attracting the right traffic, and the ticket to more engagement, among other things. Those headlines are not just catchy copy designed to get your attention. User search intent has become an essential signal for search engine ranking factors and should be at the top of your list of marketing and SEO priorities.
The obvious question is this: how can a user metric that is fluid, dynamic, and almost impossible to measure accurately considered so vital to marketing facets like traffic and lead generation, engagement and conversions, or keyword research and other SEO practices? You could also wonder how search engines can use an indefinable measurement as part of their process of defining content placement on SERPs.
What is user search intent? Before you can get a grasp on how search intent makes an impact on all those marketing and SEO aspects listed above, as well as many others, you need to understand what it is. The most basic definition states that search intent is the reason that someone is searching for something on a search engine. Search intent has become more important to search engines because their primary purpose is to provide the highest quality user experience possible by delivering the most useful, informative, and relevant results in response to a search query.
While the words or phrases used in search query might be a good indicator of what the user is looking for, that is not always the case. Search engines have begun trying to understand the reason behind the query, or what the user is looking for when they use certain words or phrases to start their search. For example, a user might input “United States president important speech” but be looking for the most recent State of the Union speech, the Emancipation Proclamation, one of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, or just a list of presidential speeches that are considered significant in some way.
What effect does user intent have on SEO, especially keyword research? SEO best practices have evolved over the past few years to emphasize the importance of keyword research and selection. Generic and vague keywords or phrases gave way to long-tail keywords, natural language phrases, and geo-targeted information. This evolution has contributed to improving the overall user experience through the development and delivery of content that is hyper-relevant to a user’s wants or needs.
While the general practices of SEO remain vital to every aspect of search ranking, marketing, and content optimization, user intent has forced search engines and marketers alike to re-evaluate the role of practical keyword usage in online content. When choosing keywords and phrases as part of your content optimization efforts, you face the challenge of picking those that would or should most closely match the words and phrases used by your target audience. If your content does not appear to be highly relevant to the queries of search users, search engines will not provide you with the optimal positioning on SERPs for which you are hoping.
How can keyword research and selection activities more effectively align with user intent? Establishing keyword research and selection procedures that help you choose the words and phrases that match a user’s wants or needs as closely as possible might sound like an impossible challenge. In reality, it isn’t nearly as hard as you think. Keyword research or selection, both closely tied to content optimization, have long been primary components of SEO, which means you should already be doing them as part of your regular SEO efforts. Another aspect of SEO that you should already have in place is optimizing your online presence with the goal of delivering the highest quality user experience possible.
If you are already performing those tasks, the only thing you need to do to shift your focus more toward user intent is to understand more fully how people are searching for your content. That doesn’t mean what tools, devices, or search engines they are using to do so, but instead, the words and phrases they are using. Because search engines have become far more intuitive regarding extrapolating user intent from a variety of search input variables or parameters, searchers are now using natural and more conversational language when posing their queries. The key to keyword research in the age of user experience optimization replies on your ability to translate user intent into specific and relevant keywords that match, as carefully as possible, the user’s search query input.
User search intent is just one of many dynamic factors that make up the overall user experience. As search engine algorithms become more finely tuned to provide users with the highest quality experiences through the most relevant search results, search intent plays an even more critical role in active and successful SEO. Continually changing variables like search intent can make SEO and content optimization efforts seem even more challenging, but that doesn’t have to be the case. You can dramatically simplify the processes involved by making a continued effort to know and understand the wants, needs, motivations, and behaviors of your target audience – the users themselves.