How To Go From Keyword Research To Intent Research
By Kamal Jacob
Talking about the search marketing campaign, whether PPC (pay-per-click) or organic, it all starts with kyword research. Keyword research, the process of finding and analyzing actual search terms that people enter into the search engines, is usually the first step you undertake when planning to optimize a website to rank well and bring good traffic.
And for good reasons too, keyword research is how we keep our ears to the ground.
In the past, keyword research was quite a simple thing and the choice of best keyword or set of keywords to optimize a page, depend upon search volume. Here, search volume is the number of times a keyword is searched for in a search engine.
Choose the best keyword or set of keywords with the most search volume. No-brainer, Right?
Today, there are various factors which matter for your website to rank well on search engines like Google and for the traffic it drives as well. Among them, searcher intent (also known as “user intent”) is one that matters significantly.
And moreover, Google’s algorithm updates, tools, and modern technologies like machine learning allow search engines to provide the searcher with the most relevant and highest quality information (as quickly as possible) based on their intent, not just on the words they use to search.
As it should be because we are writing for people and not for robots or algorithms, isn’t it?
Brands that can detect user motivation behind every search that leads them to their website, will be able to deliver an experience that eventually boosts their ROI. That’s why it is time to shift our SEO thinking from high-volume keywords to searchers’ intent.
In this article, we’ll look at what is user intent, the importance of intent-based research, and how to do intent-based keyword research.
What is user intent?
It is the goal someone has in mind when typing a query in the search field. Seems quite a simple definition but can take many forms because the intent can (and does) differ from person to person and from time to time.
In some cases, the user intent is for buying a product. For others, it may be for some service, solution, to get more information, or to make a connection with a company or individual.
If I type ‘how to tie a tie’, Google will understand I need instruction rather than the link to an online shop selling tie. That’s the reason, to implement an intent-based SEO strategy, first, you should know about the types of user intent that experts generally distinguish.
There are the following three types of user intent:
1. Informational: Having informational intent, the user wants to acquire some information such as tips, instructions or news on some topic. Such search queries include ‘how to’, ‘tips’, ‘what is’, ‘instruction’ and other wh-questions.
2. Navigational: A user has navigational intent when he or she wants to find a specific website, page, or resource. Such search queries are based on brand names, like, ‘Facebook’, ‘ICICI online login’, ‘amazon’, etc.
3. Transactional: A person with transactional intent wants to perform some web-mediated activity, namely, to buy or order something. In search queries, people denote their interest with words such as ‘buy’, ‘purchase’, ‘price’, ‘subscribe’.
Why Intent-based research is important?
Identifying who your target audience is and knowing what they want to find on your website is the key to success.
For example, if you are running a blog with the same name as a popular TV show or book or film. Although you will get huge traffic due to the high volume of that key phrase you choose for your blog, will you get that many subscribers? No, because in 99% of cases, the intent of searcher will be to watch the TV series or film or read the book.
The intent isn’t just an organic SEO problem rather your PPC (Pay-Per-Click) campaign can also suffer from targeting the wrong audience.
For instance, if somebody is in ‘business translation services’ and they are bidding on the keyword “translate”, which gets hundreds of millions of searches every month, seems like no-brainer keyword to choose, right?
But wait, there is a small problem: These millions of clicks will not turn into sales.
Why? Because most of the people using the word “translate” in an online search aren’t looking for ‘business translation services’. In simple words, the keyword was right, but the intent was wrong.
So, targeting the keyword which doesn’t fit user intent won’t improve your conversions and you can even waste lots of money…fast!
How to do Intent-based research?
We came to know about user intent and its importance, but how we can we go about capturing user intent and influence the buying decision and the actions they take? Let’s dive in to know.
1. Match keywords with searcher intent
In the journey, potential customer go through on the way to purchase, there are several touchpoints. Every marketer knows this, and they spend lots of their valuable time planning how to interact with users at each of those touchpoints. However, they frequently overlook the context that potential customer carries when they type in their search queries.
We discussed three types of user intent or search queries, namely, informational, navigational, and transactional, but they only clarify top level intent. There are a variety of subtypes of keywords, under these three categories, that can reveal a lot about the intent of the user. Check the table below:
It means the searcher shows a preference for your brand.
The searcher has no brand preference yet.
It shows the searcher is interested in a product that you sell. The product can be a substitute or upsell.
It shows the searcher is concerned about the pricing of the product or service. For example, the search query like “cheap flights” or “luxury hotels” comes under this category.
It shows nature as well as the location of the consumer. For example, the queries like “Cheap furniture near me”, or “Watches for men”.
Such searches have the terms related to a specific event or purpose, like “Wedding rings.”
Now, by grouping keywords form each of these categories, you can expand your keyword list by using any of the keyword research tools. This will give a clear idea of the search volume, click volume, cost per click, SERP features and other variables that can help you to estimate about the opportunities you must interact with your potential customer, on their purchase journey.
2. Determine the distance between users’ current state and their intent to act (buy something)
For brands, the search is like a behavioral insight machine that can reveal hidden consumer signal i.e. motivation and goals of the consumer. The easiest way to understand this is the following graph:
In a broad sense, with the decrease in search volume, more long-tail keywords appear and as a result conversion rate increase. It is because long search phrases show more intent, which in turn allows marketers to offer a more specific and relevant solution that a searcher will find useful.
The Northwestern University study examined the psychological distance between the current state of the user and their intent to act (buy something) using the search query. The hypothesis was that:
a) Farther away a person is from buying something, they use more abstract search queries. For example, “WordPress themes”.
b) As the user gets closer to their goal, they use more concrete search queries. For example, “Free responsive WordPress themes for the blog”.
3. Align SEO with searcher intent
Google is focused on whether your content matches searcher’s intent or not. In short, they are moving from being a search engine to an answer engine. We can see how the SERPs show a single answer box along with options such a “People also ask” and “Related Search”-to meet searcher intent.
Does this mean all SEO useless?
No, we can use insights from keyword research to structuring our content to appear for evolving search features like instant answers.
In order to get yourself in the answer box for your targeted search items and intents, ask yourself the following questions and work towards the outcome of these questions:
a) Can you provide an accurate answer according to searcher’s intent?
b) Is the format of your answer, right?
c) Does Google consider your website reliable enough?
Endnote: It doesn’t matter what information the consumer is seeking; every search comes with an intent-a need or want. Understanding consumer intent involves; getting into the users' minds to understand what really their need is and developing a content strategy that fulfills those needs. And by fulfilling those needs, you can achieve an increase in traffic, conversion rates, leads, and sales, for sure.
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