Many people doing SEO today, if you were to ask them, what user intent is all about — user intent when searching — would not really know what to say. And to ask, “How does user/searcher intent impact SEO?” often results in blank stares and mute silence. Yet, knowledge of user intent SEO tactics is a requirement for the true SEO professional. In the following paragraphs, we offer you a quick summary of some big takeaways that can be understood by everyone.
Why Care About User Intent At All?
Let’s get the “Why be bothered?” objection out of the way. Why does user intent and user intent SEO even matter?
User Intent Focuses on Understanding The User As Well As The Site
Before you stick your nose in the next spreadsheet or get involved in the minutiae of that upcoming site audit, recognize that you have to place the user (searcher) first in your thinking. What is driving them to search the way they do? And how does their searching change over time, and how does that change reflect a change in their in-the-moment purpose for searching?
With top-notch data from your user intent analysis, you will begin to see areas of your site that need a major overall, to align it with what searchers are looking for. As your understanding of your customer’s journey through your website (from casual visitor to the buyer, wallet in hand ready to buy) is refined, you will more skillfully – and effectively – direct the customer flow to its desired end – the purchase.
User Intent Analysis Strengthens Your Paid Promotions
With more understanding of user intent, you will be in a better position to know what type of ads to serve up in response — and what landing page/product page/promotion page/information page to send them to.
You will increase your conversion rates, as the content you serve up will more closely align with in-the-moment user intent psychology and search goals.
This ensures that your total page views will be giving you the best possible result, and that ad dollars spent will be well-spent.
Understanding User Intent Gives You Greater Influence Over User Behavior
What is it that you want users to do for you? Where do you want them to end up? When you understand the underlying psychology behind their behaviors, and the overall processes guiding them, you can more easily (and effectively) influence their behaviors.
For example, while at your site, depending on the context of what they are searching for, you could offer up better-personalized suggestions to them. “Guiding” them in this way, you can take them by the hand and lead them ultimately to the shopping cart and the checkout to purchase.
How Searching is REALLY Done (You Won’t Find This In Any SEO Tool!)
A typical series of events when searching might go something like this —
An Initial Search: The user inputs an initial attempt at a web search. They may be helped by Google’s auto-complete in formulating the query.
Depending on what results are displayed to them for that particular search, they might:
- Click on one or more of the offered organic results
- Click on one or more of the displayed ads
- Or some combination of the two sets of actions, back-and-forth
After clicking they may proceed onward to investigate that link or site further, or they may jump back to the beginning and modify their initial search, until that search begins to produce the results they judge to be “useful” to them.
And this is important, so please note: One searcher may type in the same query as another searcher, and get the same results — but one may view them as not relevant and the other view them as valuable. No SEO “tool” can map this out for you, as the different responses are determined, not by the results returned (which are the same in both cases) but by the inner mental and psychological state, attitude, and needs of each searcher. This is user intent territory, and understanding this landscape and modifying your web tactics accordingly is what user intent SEO is all about.
Initial search attempts are largely about evaluating what is “out there” in relation to various search queries, and using that feedback (what is presented as results) to adjust the search query parameters and terms.
Comparison-Phase Searching: Once the user has enough information from various returned searches to satisfy their current needs (that seem useful for them to pursue in more depth), they usually will begin to study, contrast and compare the various offerings – different styles, features, manufacturers, colors, sizes, warranties, ratings from the public, etc.
Comparison-phase search intent is all about evaluating what is “out there” in relation to various outlets selling those goods or services.
Purchase-Phase Searching: At this point, a searcher is not necessarily set in stone as to where they want to make their purchase. They have a pretty good idea of what they want to purchase, but not finalized on where they want to buy it.
In this phase the user intent is narrowing towards a purchase decision, so price-comparison sites are often relied on.
Also, it is typical to see inputs for very specific types of search queries:
Best price for …
Sale on …
[manufacturer] [model] [model number]
And so forth
Of course, to make a purchase, the user is going to have to choose ONE outlet selling the item, (re)visit the site product page(s) listing it, and initiate the checkout process until the purchase has been made.
With savvy users, the visit to your site that results in the sale is not usually going to be the first visit.
So purchase-phase searching is all about evaluating what is “out there” in relation to getting the best possible value for the money to be spent.
A Couple of Key Points Concerning User Intent Analysis
If time is limited, these various phases may be completed at different times – but sometimes the user has enough time, interest and finances to complete the journey from initial explorer to purchaser in one session.
- Because they may break the session off and come back later, ad retargeting is crucial in “reminding” that user that they were on your site.
- And because they may go from poking around to purchasing in one session, you need to make sure that your site has everything they will need to answer all their “in-between” psychological and mental-state needs, all the pieces of the puzzle being filled in, before you take them to the shopping cart.
And don’t let all the technical papers on the subject fool you – When it comes to user intent analysis, what can’t be mapped out – or even completely known – is the internal psychology of the searcher as they are sitting at their computer:
- What thoughts are going through their head?
- What is their reaction to the various sites/landing pages they visit?
- What is their level of interest? Is it increasing – or decreasing – during their explorations and evaluations.
User Intent SEO: Fit the Tactics to the Need(s) of the User
It is, of course, crucial to your SEO that your website be “accommodating” to various types of user intent:
You can have pages targeting the initial search phase, perhaps providing lots of useful non-sales related information that will be seen as important by the searcher (authority content). Questions for them to think about – Need evaluations (self-completed assessments) – Scams and inferior product warnings.
While other sites may want to start the selling process too quickly, you are proving that you are very knowledgeable about that product (or product-type if you sell many different items).
And remember: since searchers will be “experimenting” with various types of searches during this phase, you can develop content with a broad use of search terms, hopefully getting those pages to rank well for lots of different search terms.
Pages targeting comparison-phase searching can often also target purchase-phrase searching, as you can usually put — on a single page — product details (styles, colors, features, warranties, etc.) which are important in doing comparisons, as well as pricing details, sale or discounts available, etc. which are critical when the searcher in the purchase-phase mode.
Remember: Most consumers will not purchase without spending at least a little time looking over what your competitors are offering, so you need to play to your strengths and their weaknesses in both the offer as well as the final price.
In the online world, it is no longer possible to play “pretend” that the user will not be aware of your competitors. Assume that they know of your competitors, see them as strong contenders, and understand that you have to stand out from them to win the day.
Too much SEO these days, in our humble opinion, deals only with technical and data-driven aspects of the picture, and many SEO efforts are weak in the area of user intent. Just a small investment in user intent analysis can pay off in big dividends for you!
Since 2007 Rob Andrews has worked in the SEO and Content Marketing fields and is an established writer and trusted provider of thought-leadership for hundreds of SEO, advertising and marketing agencies worldwide. Read More