Blog | Organic Search

How to Optimize Content for User Search Intent

March 4, 2019
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Optimize for user search intent

Every user search has a purpose. Finding out movie times, researching a health concern or any of the million-plus possibilities are done with specific user search intent behind the action.

Even if the intent is somewhat whimsical, the searcher seeks a specific piece of information. For example, a group of friends out for drinks talking about a trip to Las Vegas and instantly doing a search for airfare. Micro-moments like this are opportunities for brands with a response that matches the intent behind the search.

To connect, to be the search results, your content must be optimized for user intent. Here are three solid steps to do just that, with tips and tricks along the way.’

Organize Search Terms Based on Intent

Despite the million-plus possible search queries, user search intent can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Informational Intent. A user wants to get information about a topic, product or brand. How-to posts and videos, blogs, news and articles are typical types of informational content. Search terms are general, like ‘How to’ and ‘What is…?’
  • Navigational Intent. Behind this search lies a desire to learn more about a specific brand or product. ‘Red Nike shoes’ and ‘What are the best gym shoes?’ are two types of searches in this category.
  • Transactional Intent. The user wants to find out where or how they can make a purchase. Search terms could be “Where can I buy red Nike gym shoes?” or “size 12 red Nike gym shoes.”

Now, while these represent the main categories, we recommend brands consider two more valuable sub-categories of search intent:

  • Local Intent. Local search queries often fit in the transactional intent category – but not always. A local search could also be navigational for, say, business hours.
  • Seasonal Intent. A search based on seasonal trends can really fit into any of the three categories. ‘How to dye Easter eggs?” would be an informational search query. “What are Walmart’s Christmas hours?” is navigational. “Where can I buy patio furniture” certainly fits a transactional intent for the Spring and Summer and not December. (At least, not for those who live in the northerly climes!)

While both local and seasonal could be grouped into the main three types of search intent, the specific nature of each search may deserve its own focus, depending on a brand’s offering.

Match Search Terms to Your Sales Funnel

The days of keyword-stuffing web pages are long gone. Yet, every piece of content should still target a specific search term. With user intent, search terms are about authority, not keywords.

Target search terms are all about the user. They tell the user the piece addresses the subject they’re looking for – even if that “content” is a local business listing. Reaching a user though still requires helping the search engines rate a page.

Identifying the search term as the web page’s “keyword” helps the search engines measure relevance. Other factors certainly contribute to where a page ranks. The presence of a search term and other semantically-related terms, however, demonstrates to both a search engine and a user that the page aims to address the user intent.

Of course, the quality of the content proves the ultimate measure of whether a user clicks on or bounces. That’s why it’s so important to match search terms to your sales funnel. It makes it possible to ensure the tone and call-to-action (CTA) of every piece of content matches the user expectation.

So…once you’ve identified your content in terms of the three (or five!) categories, you need to match each piece, it’s tone and it’s CTA with its place in the sales funnel.

We organize a sales funnel as follows:

  • Top of the Funnel: Attract
  • Middle of the Funnel: Contact & Nurture
  • Bottom of the Funnel: Convert

Search terms like ‘How-to,’ ‘What’ and all other informational content belong at the top. ‘Where’ and highly specific product or service search terms you’ve identified in transactional content belong aimed at conversion belong at the bottom of the funnel.

This step is key for two purposes:

  1. To identify whether you have your search terms in the right place.
  1. To confirm content matches user expectations.

Search terms and your sales funnel are all about meeting user expectation. Being thorough in this step makes updating content and future content planning and creation much simpler.

Build Content That Matches User Intent

The final step is to build content for your users. This is a two-step process.

For the first step, you can go through and update content to match search terms with intent. Then, match the CTAs to flow naturally from one stage of the funnel to the next.

This first step is a great way to re-use content you have and still get an SEO boost from it.

Doing this first is a great way to boost your reach to interested users. Search terms disconnected from appropriate stages of the funnel and CTAs can result in a lot of disinterested traffic. Tightening your current content up is sure to put you in front of the eyes you want to target.

The next step involves new content creation. For this step, you want to:

  • Fill in the gaps for funnel stages where content may be lacking;
  • Craft content on-ramps and off-ramps; and,
  • Develop content that addresses related user interest, always moving toward conversion.

One challenge facing content planners is where to start. Admittedly, there’s a lot of ways to do it and a lot of great recommendations online (did you notice that off-ramp?). Here are five great sources we recommend for coming up with content:

  1. Answer Questions. Your customer service and sales teams get questions all the time. Create content that addresses these questions. You can also use tools like Answer the Public or Ahrefs questions feature (requires a subscription) to discover in-demand questions for your particular topic.
  1. Identify Long-tail Keywords. Personal assistants like Alexa and Siri allow user search initiated by voice. We speak differently than we type and often when we speak with an intent to search, we ask questions. These questions often come in phrases of three or more words, sometimes more than seven.  Google Analytics and Google’s Keyword Planner (available through Google Ads) are great tools for this.
  1. Address User Need. Write about the challenges your audience faces and the solutions available to them. Not every solution should be your product or service, though there’s certainly nothing wrong with directing users to downloads, demos or purchases – in fact, much of your transactional content’s CTAs should be exactly that.
  1. Provide Useful Links. Content that links to other related content that’s not yours can be a great way to build credibility. You don’t always have to talk about yourself. You can talk about news related to yours and your audience’s industries. Or, links can offer a way to move to the next stage of the funnel.
  1. Leverage Paid Search (Google Adwords). With paid search, you can see the keywords that convert. You can also see the keywords that generate traffic but not conversions. You can leverage this data the ads that get clicks but don’t convert has additional content for the audience that may not be ready immediately on the ad’s landing page. A key consideration here is to be certain that the ad connects with the right audience.

Whatever You Do, Optimize for the User

Optimizing search intent is all about optimizing for your audience. When you create content that meets user expectation both for depth and quality, you’ll build an audience.

We offer the strategy and tips above as a guide to reach your target audience in a meaningful way.

If you’d like to discuss search term support or how we might be able to help with a content strategy and creation, start a conversation.

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