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April 22, 2019

How Users Search – The Basics of SEO and What Intent Means for Your Strategy

Do you remember the days when you had to go to the library to look for information? Or ask a friend or relative?

While both these options still exist, they are widely surpassed by internet searches. Sure, you may still call your mom to get her mouth-watering cookie recipe or get a friend’s recommendation for a hip burger bar. 

But when you need to know something now or when your needs aren’t dictated by nostalgia, you simply search for it online. 

Which brings us to some of the two most relevant (but sadly often overlooked) questions in the SEO game:

  • How do people search online?
  • What gets the most clicks?

Let’s answer them one at a time.

User Intent and SEO: Understanding the Million Dollar Connection

When you plan your next piece of content, what dictates its optimization? 

I was surprised to learn that most of my agency’s customers placed too much importance on keyword search volume. They wanted to rank for high-volume keywords so they can get more traffic to their websites.

In a way, it’s understandable.

But this doesn’t make it profitable.

What most marketers and business usually overlook is user intent.

A 2006 study by the University of Hong Kong found that you can segment search intent into two primary goals: general information about the topic in the keyword and more specific information.

This tells us a lot about the scope of the user. For example, someone searching for SEO typically needs to understand the basics of the term. On the other hand, if someone searches for on-page SEO tools, we can assume that they have already covered the basics of SEO, perhaps even that they are experts in the field looking for tools for their next project.

However, there are nuances to this. As Google’s own Paul Haahr explained it: if someone is looking for a store (like Walmart), they are most likely looking for the nearest one to them, not for the company’s headquarters.

This type of reasoning is clearly present in the Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines. Part three (Needs Met Guidelines) explains how Google ranks websites depending on whether the results matched the user’s query.

What does this mean for your content?

Simply put: don’t try to fool the algorithms. If your main keyword is SEO, your content should define the term, then move to a more in-depth analysis. If your main keyword is on-page SEO tools, your content should either be a list of those tools or a landing page for such a tool.

But there’s more to user intent than this.

Do-Know-Go – Three Types of Queries for Three Types of Users

I like to say that content writers should write for users, not search engines. If users like your content (see above), search engines will, too.

You should write in a way that meets customers’ current needs. Yes, the buyer journey is important. And nowhere is it better reflected than in the queries they make online. The Do-Know-Go segmentation makes it clear:

Do: these are your typical transactional queries. The user wants to do something: buy a new car/concert tickets or hire a contractor to remodel the kitchen.

Know: these are informational queries. The user wants to learn something, like in my SEO example above. Another great example is best coffee shop in London.

Go: these are navigation queries. The user wants to go to a specific place online. Ever typed Facebook in the search bar instead of writing facebook.com in your browser? This is the perfect example of a navigation query. They are also used when you can’t remember the exact website of the company you are looking for.

Depending on the type of query they make, users will be shown different special results.

It is, after all, Google’s mission to organize the internet and provide relevant results. And users can see this from the first result, special or otherwise.

What does this mean for your content?

First off, it means that you should know exactly which users you are targeting and where in their buyer journey they are.

For example, optimizing for how to remodel your kitchen can be tricky. It’s OK for buyers in the first stages of their journey. You can write a piece that ultimately tells them they’re better off hiring you. But keep in mind that this is a clearly informational query. So you may end up with readers that are set on DIY-ing it.

If you are a contractor and you want to cater to people in the first stages of the buying cycle, better keywords would be top kitchen trends of 2019 or cost of kitchen remodeling. 

For other stages of the buying cycle, you should optimize locally and make sure to add a variable. Here’s how: Tampa luxury kitchen remodeling contractor, Edinburgh cheap kitchen remodel.

What Gets Clicked on?

Now for the second question: how do you make sure it’s your content that gets clicked on?

Well, the first step is ranking high enough to be noticed.

The second one is having a great headline. Keep in mind that there is more to great headlines than buzzwords and superlatives. To begin with, your headline should be a brief summary of what your customer can expect to find once they click on it. 

Take a look at my query below:

It is exactly what I mentioned above: introductory guides and definitions of SEO. 

Again, you should never try to trick the algorithms. If your headline says “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” that’s exactly what users should find once they click it. 

Why not try to fool the bots?

Because as soon as people discover they have been tricked, they will revert back to the SERP looking for another website that meets their needs, as the Google guidelines clearly state.

More importantly, because this type of traffic is irrelevant, you won’t be able to sell anything or gain new followers this way. And, after all, this is what SEO is about, not meaningless traffic.

Final Thoughts

Should you optimize only for converting traffic, like in the contractor example above? 

No!

You should, instead, have a well-rounded content strategy that guides the user through all the stages of the buyer journey.

Why should you waste time sharing your expertise, you ask?

Well, first of all because the user who got to your website through an informational query may be so impressed with that expertise that they remember to buy from you once their journey is closer to the end. Great content gets you followers and newsletter subscribers. In other words, leads ready to be nurtured and turned into buyers.

Secondly, because intent changes over time. What was once an informational query can turn into a transactional one. Search engines adapt to the user’s history. They know what your potential buyer has already read and what they resonated with. They also know (much faster than you!) when the user is ready to move to the next stage of the buying cycle even if their queries are ambiguous.

Make sure that your content strategy is user-centric. The rankings will follow.

If you’re looking for SEO content that ranks and converts, my team of writers and marketers is just a click away. Check out our services and let’s talk about your user-centric content strategy!


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Adriana Tica is an expert marketer and copywriter, with 10 years in the field, most of which were spent marketing tech companies. She is the Owner and Founder of Idunn. In October 2019, she also launched Copywritech, a digital marketing agency that provides copywriting, SEO content writing, and strategy services to companies in the tech industry.

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