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Content SEO

What is Searcher Intent? A Full-Picture Framework for Creating Relevant Content

 min read
February 13, 2020
Chase Lyne
Director of Seach Strategy

Searcher intent is a lot like SEO in general. Both can seem a bit mysterious on the surface, but when you dig deeper, there are tons of valuable insights at your fingertips. And just like SEO, searcher intent is becoming a lot more manageable thanks to evolving tools and resources developed to help you drill into your data on a granular level. That said, the way people are searching is changing, and how you look at searcher intent can inform your ultimate business goals.

We've broken down a few significant ways you can make the most of uncovering your visitors' intent to support your SEO and marketing funnels.

If intent is in the eye of the beholder, how can you capture it?

The way people search isn't black and white. While some might structure their queries with more detail, others may search with more ambiguity. Sometimes, a searcher might type a query in one way and then realize they meant to ask something else entirely when the results don't satisfy their need. No matter the query, there are often clues you can use to infer intent.

In general, queries fall into three main buckets.

  • Navigational: A search with the goal of finding a particular website or webpage. For example, typing in the URL (or searching the main part of the URL)
  • Informational: A search with the goal of learning about a topic. For example, "fun things to do in Mexico," "how many Air Jordans are sold a year," or "how to sand a floor."
  • Transactional: A search with the goal of buying a product or service. For example, "best snorkeling gear," "new Air Jordans," or "sanding supplies."

It's not uncommon for one type of query to lead to another. For example, after someone has searched "how to sand a floor" and learned the steps involved, they may very well perform a transactional search for "sanding supplies" now that they're ready to start their project.

Finding opportunities to nurture your site's visitors

When it comes to your content strategy, it's often a good idea to target a variety of query types so that you can capture searcher interest and then nurture them toward a conversion. For example, Home Depot will likely have a blog post about how to sand floors, which might link to supplies they recommend for that type of project -- product pages on their website.

If you have an e-commerce site, creating content around the specific products you sell is a great way to nurture potential leads by creating an association with your brand and their train of thought. If they don't buy the supplies during their first visit, your site may be the first to come to mind when they're ready to commit to the project. Plus, your site is more likely to show up again if they clicked through the first time around.

Searcher intent is complex

When you're looking at your site's query data, understanding intent can be tricky. For example, if people are clicking through to your site via the keyword "pizza," is it because they're looking for a pizza spot near them or looking for information on how to make pizza?

If you're getting a lot of impressions for a query but very few clicks, it could be because your page doesn't match the intent of people searching that query. It's a good idea to query the term yourself to see what types of pages are ranking for that query, giving you a better idea of how the search engine is interpreting intent for that query. By adjusting your content to better match that intent, you can increase your chances of ranking and getting clicks from searchers typing in that query.

Leveraging context to uncover the searcher's intent

The more data you have, the more context you'll have, and the better you'll be able to understand the intent of the searcher. Plus, by evaluating real searcher data, you'll have a better idea of the different phases of your audience's purchase journey. For example, if someone is interested in buying a new dishwasher, they might search, "How to fix a dishwasher," then a week or so later, "best dishwashers," and then not long after that, they might search a specific brand of dishwasher.

In RealKeywords, located within Botify Analytics, you can see all of your Google Search Console data - and more. RealKeywords gives you visibility into the millions of real queries your audience is searching and allows you to view those keywords by website segment to analyze not only what queries you're getting impressions and clicks for, but what section of your site is ranking for those keywords.

For example, you might find that your category pages are ranking well and getting clicks, while your forum pages are performing poorly. Without segmenting your keyword data, it can be difficult to know, at a high level, which sections of your site are performing or not performing well when it comes to matching the searcher's intent for particular queries.

Below are a few more ways that you can drill down into your query data to uncover key insights that you can use to inform your keyword strategy.

Using keyword data to adjust PPC bids

Understanding how you're performing organically for a specific keyword over time allows you to make more informed decisions about your other channels. For example, if you're already in a great position organically for a specific keyword, perhaps you can save some money by decreasing your PPC bid on that keyword.

Conversely, if you're not quite where you want to be organically for a particular keyword, you can bid on or increase your existing bid for that keyword.

Keyword performance in Botify
Keyword performance

While some studies have shown that having multiple results on the page 1 of SERPs (e.g. an organic and a paid result) can increase your CTR for both, it's definitely worth considering where your strengths and weaknesses are so you can supplement with other channels.

Using your branded query data to enhance branded SERPs

You can filter according to your site's branded queries (for example, Botify could filter to show "query includes 'Botify'") to understand how people are searching for your brand. For example, people don't just search "Botify" to find us. They search things like "Botify blog" and "Botify careers" too!

Branded vs. non-branded keywords in Botify
Branded vs. non-branded keywords

You can then conduct a Google search for those branded queries to see what your searchers see, and whether there's any room for improvement. For example, is there potential to enhance your snippet through structured data to improve your CTR? Because Botify pulls in all your search data for any given URL, you can see your branded query, what URL ranks for it, whether or not it's in your sitemap, HTML improvements, and more. So if you're looking to improve the way your site appears for branded queries, you have everything you need to diagnose that in Botify Analytics.

Branded keywords performance in Botify
Branded keywords performance

If you're a Botify customer, we recommend identifying your branded keywords early on so that you can apply filters to include or exclude them for more targeted keyword analysis.

Bucketing your non-branded queries by intent

How can you find all your keywords by intent category? For example, viewing all your informational queries or all your transactional queries.

Intent varies widely, and is sometimes unclear or mixed intent, but in Botify's RealKeywords or Google Search Console, you can filter to view all queries that contain intent-specific words.

For example, if you tick "contains" and type in the word "buy," you'll be able to find a lot of your transactional queries. Or, if you tick "contains" and type in the word "how to," you can find a lot of your informational queries.

As a result, you'll understand more about what your audience is searching during their research phase, their evaluation stage, and the stage in which they're ready to buy.

Making informed decisions to improve rankings and clicks

As I mentioned earlier, you can power your SEO ROI goals by leveraging insights from real searcher query data. It's important that once you know what your audience is searching, to perform the search yourself to see exactly what your audience sees on the SERP.

Here's an example.

If your category or product page for "Timberlands" shows up at position 3 in the SERPs, what pages are ranking in positions 1, 2, and 4? Do those pages contain informational content or transactional content?

If your page is transactional in nature (e.g. a product page), what can you do to steer visitors towards your URL vs. a competitor's transactional URL that's ranking next to yours on the SERP? Alternatively, is there an opportunity to create informational content around Timberlands to compete with an informational page that's ranking near yours?

Competing with similar page types in the SERPs

If your SERP competitors are similar in intent to your content (transactional vs transactional or informational vs. informational), a great way to make your snippet stand out is through structured data. For example, if a competing transactional page is leveraging structured data to display product reviews, pricing, and other details within its snippet, that might be making all the difference between a searcher clicking their link rather than yours.

You should consider using schema markup to call attention to details potential buyers would be interested in directly in the SERPs. If the searcher notices a detail in your snippet they're interested in learning more about, they'll likely click through - which strengthens your CTR. Plus, if the searcher has more information from the get-go, they'll be a more informed - and more qualified - visitor on your site.

Competing with dissimilar pagetypes in the SERPs

On the other hand, if some of the pages on the SERP of the query you're targeting are informational while your page is transactional, for example, it might be time to create informational content, perhaps on your site's blog, on that topic.

When searchers do click through to your blog, they'll be looking for the best, most informative answer to their question, so it's important that you get specific. Otherwise, they may need to go elsewhere. We recommend making sure your content is the best resource possible to build a positive association for your brand and keep visitors coming back! You can learn more about creating high quality content on our blog.

Adjusting your title tags and descriptions to better match intent

It's also important to evaluate the title tags and meta descriptions of your pages to ensure that what the searcher sees in the SERP is an obvious match for their intent.

If one of your pages has a great conversion rate but not much traffic, you should make sure that the keyword you're targeting is in the page title (as long as it makes sense - no keyword stuffing!). You should also confirm that the page has a strong meta description (between 155-160 characters).

Since the title tag and meta description are what show up in your snippet (unless Google changes it) they should be clear, descriptive, and compelling -- let people searching that query know that your page is a great match for what they're looking for!

Consider providing searchers with options for better CRO

If people are searching for a specific brand or product, it's likely they're interested in similar brands or products. For example, when a searcher types "Ariat riding boots" - even if they have a specific pair in mind - they may be interested in seeing multiple versions. They might prefer to see each boot's pricing, design details, and so on - before making a purchase.

When this is the case, you should consider optimizing your category pages. You can even try to get the page for the newest pair of Ariat riding boots to rank near a category page for Ariat riding boots. This way a searcher has easy access to whichever destination they prefer, increasing their likelihood of clicking through and making a purchase.

On top of that, there are a number of ways your SEO and CRO (conversion rate optimization) can work hand in hand, which you can read about in our blog post "SEO + CRO: A Match Made in ROI Heaven."

Psst! We're launching a new capability in the RealKeywords section of Botify Analytics soon! Keep an eye out for the announcement by following us on Twitter.

Predictive search and searcher intent

While we're getting better at understanding intent - and there are many tools and updates (like BERT!) to help get us there - we may really only be hitting the surface. However, as we move towards better understanding, we're also moving towards anticipating.

If on February 8th you searched for "weather in Mexico", and then a week later you type in "hotels", it's likely that Google will populate a suggested search for "hotels in Mexico." Whether you love it or hate it - Google is smart. And with products like Google Discover, search is becoming more predictive and prescriptive, meaning people may get the content they're looking for without even having to search for it (which means the word search may need a new name at some point!).

At TechSEO Boost 2019, Dawn Anderson, Managing Director of Bertey, talked about the complexities of searcher intent and predictive search. Did you know that, depending on what time of the year it is, a search for "Liverpool Manchester" can mean two different things? That's the complexity, and beauty, of searcher intent.

Better understanding the searcher journey

Although the exceptions to the rule are plentiful, through machine learning and keywords analysis, we're getting better at understanding the searcher's journey - or habits - behind different search experiences. For example, take buying a home. You might do research about selling your own home, scheduling home inspections, real estate agents, best neighborhoods to live in, schools, and so on, before actually making the purchase. While two searchers might end up at different destinations, the journey tends to be one of habit.

We're not so different after all

Meanwhile, machine learning isn't just anticipating what you'll search according to your own recent queries - it's also learning what you might be interested in by learning about other people with similar interests.

Have you ever noticed someone walking down the street, that looks just like you - maybe they have the same T-shirt - and then you hear them talking to a friend about a restaurant they love - and you just so happen to love that same restaurant? It's just like that. If two people share similar search habits, Google can anticipate what else they would like - and what other people like them would like. But that's a rabbit hole we're not ready to get lost in!

Connecting searcher intent with real results

At Botify, our mission is to give customers the best visibility into their site's data. With RealKeywords, you can amplify your understanding of what keywords your visitors are searching, how they're arriving at your pages, and where else they may be heading. When you think about searcher intent as it relates to your visitors' journey - from the SERPs to your pages - you can make informed decisions to better navigate them to the content they're seeking.

Let's give the people what they want!

Want to learn more? Connect with our team for a Botify demo!
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