Search engines are getting cleverer. Today, their advanced algorithms don’t just find websites that match the user’s keywords, more impressively, they also work out what the user’s intention is when making the search and rank sites that help the user do what they intended. The implication for site owners is that websites now need to be optimised for user-intent as well as subject matter. Here, we explain what search intent is and show you how to optimise for it.
Keywords are traditionally used because they tell search engines what a user is looking for in terms of things or topics. Intent goes further and tries to establish why the user is looking for those things, i.e., for what purpose. From a search engine’s perspective, being able to understand both the what and the why enables them to provide users with more relevant search results. For example, is a user wanting to buy something, find out information about it, or indeed, find out information before deciding whether to buy?
As a website owner, you’ll know better than anyone how your content is suited for particular search intentions. Optimising your web pages for those intentions can help you rank better in the research results that matter. For example, if you sell garden sheds, you’ll want your product pages ranking for people with buying intent and your blog pages ranking for those still at the information-gathering part of the journey.
Categories of search intent
People search the internet for many different reasons, but SEO experts tend to put them into four main categories: finding information, finding a specific website or web page, researching a product or service and buying a product or service. Here, we take a closer look at each.
Though most businesses see the internet as a giant online market, for the general public it is also the first source of finding information. Indeed, whatever users are looking for, the chances are that Google can come up with an appropriate answer, whether that’s to find out the weather, catch up on the latest news, do research for school or get a recipe. Informative web pages need to be optimised for information-seeking searches.
Finding a website or web page
It is far easier to search for a website or page than it is to type in the URL, and that’s what most people choose to do. That’s why, when it knows your intent and you type in the word Sun, Google will show you the link to the newspaper website and not information about our nearest star. When people are looking for your homepage or About Us page, you need to optimise these pages so that they appear in navigational searches.
Researching products or services
A key part of the sales journey, search engines are able to detect when people are thinking about buying something and are in the process of finding out information about it. When this is known, rather than listing sellers or products, Google will provide results such as product reviews and ratings, comparison sites, etc.
When people have made their minds up about purchasing a product or service, search engine algorithms can work out when they are looking to buy it. Here, they can tell if a person is looking for a local business or to buy the product online. If it’s local, they often display a map with a list of local companies underneath, together with information about the website, telephone number, opening hours, ratings and directions. For products and services, users will be presented with a list of the most relevant sites together with lots of adverts.
Optimising web pages for intent
To improve your content’s chance of ranking, it is important to optimise your pages to match user-intent. Here’s how to achieve that.
Discover your visitors’ intentions
It’s important to know if your pages are attracting people with the right intent. Are buyers visiting your products pages and product researchers going to your blog posts? If they are, that’s good news. If not, you may need more intensive optimisation. You can find this out by looking at the intent-related search terms people use in Google Search Console. You can also carry out searches using intent-based keywords and see if the pages you want to rank highest are doing so.
Using keywords to match user intent
Search engines work out intent by looking at the keywords typed and at patterns in the user’s recent search history. If someone types ‘cheap trainers’, ‘home insurance deals’ or ‘how to bake bread?’, for example, the words ‘cheap’, ‘deals’ and ‘how to’ give a fairly clear indication of what their intentions are.
By knowing what intention-based keywords people use, you can include them in your content so that it becomes more relevant to the search engine. For example, you can optimise sales pages by using terms like ‘buy’ or ‘deal’ in the titles, meta descriptions and headings.
As search engines advance, the goalposts change and SEO gets more difficult. Intent-based search adds another layer of optimisation that website owners need to think about to ensure they get the right visitors to the right pages. It is, however, something that websites cannot ignore if they want to rank higher in the searches that are most relevant. Thankfully, there are tools now available that help to streamline the SEO process and make it much easier to optimise websites. If you are looking for an easy to use, all-inclusive SEO tool to help with your optimisation, visit our SEO Tools page.