Marketers spend more time worrying about what consumers want than probably any other activity. These mental gymnastics become more convoluted and frustrating in the digital world because there are so many variables, platforms, and practices involved. – And those considerations don’t even take into account human variables and motivations, such as user search intent.
Divining user intent is a little like trying to read people’s minds. It involves attempting to understand the intention behind a search query so content marketers can optimize their pages and search engines can return relevant results.
For example, if a user simply types in “plumbing”, it’s difficult for the search engine to understand whether the user is looking for a plumber, needs plumbing supplies, or is trying to troubleshoot a stopped up sink. This kind of generality is why digital marketers and search platforms prioritize longer keywords and phrases, and try to encourage users to do the same.
Using a term like “Plumbers near me” is more specific. Someone typing in those words is obviously looking for a plumber in their local area. Search algorithms can run with such a term, and content writers who have properly optimized for on-page and local SEO will rank higher in results when the user search intent is clear.
Unfortunately, intent is not always so clearly spelled out. In order to come as close as possible to understanding user intent, it takes a set of skills and understanding that aren’t necessarily intuitive. It takes:
- a clear image of your ideal audience and what they want from you,
- an understanding of how people search for things on the internet,
- and constant research/refinement to find the correct combination of words and phrases needed to put the right eyes on your website.
When Good Keywords Go Bad
Like most words, keywords aren’t necessarily good or bad. It’s all about how you use them. Black hat practices like keyword stuffing, for example, are definitely a problem. Excessive keyword use won’t net you any more traffic, but it will get you censured by Google. They also come off as awkward, false, and spammy in a consumer culture that’s looking for authenticity and an emotional connection.
Using the wrong keywords or combination of words might still bring traffic. But, visitors are unlikely to stay long on the page or convert to customers.
Here are some signs that your keyword optimization efforts are ineffective:
- You have little to no visibility in the SERPs. Most people don’t have the time or leisure to read every single search result. If your copy doesn’t put you somewhere in the top half of the first page of results, it’s unlikely that your audience will find you at all.
- Your bounce rates and “time on page” stats are abysmal. When a visitor leaves your page within seconds of it loading, it’s probably because the content isn’t what they wanted. More refined, relevant keyword research can alleviate the problem.
- Your impressions are high, but your traffic remains the same. This is a sign that you’re reaching an audience, but it’s not filled with qualified leads. Most likely, this is because you’re optimizing for the wrong keywords. The problem usually plagues content writers and SEO experts who don’t have access to real-time analytics.
- High competition from other brands. This is usually a sign that you’re not refining your keywords, but being generic or going with whatever is hot or trending during your research. Try more specific keyword combinations and keywords that have more weight/traffic volume.
Keyword optimization is not a one and done activity. It’s something that needs to be carefully researched, evaluated, tested, retooled, and refined.
How to Research User Search Intent
As you know, some keywords are really only used when someone is interested in buying. Other terms are purely used for research purposes. How does a content provider target terms based on perceived user intent and get it right?
User intent can be divided into two camps: those who are looking for specific information and those conducting general research.
For example, a consumer could be searching for a specific brand of athletic shoes or researching the best type of shoes for marathon running. A user typing in a brand name is likely either looking for an outlet in their area or an online seller. They are rarely looking for corporate headquarters.
However, the search query itself depends on how specific the user is when typing search terms. Because we can’t get into the heads of millions of potential leads, marketers need to try to determine how their audience searches. Once they have an idea, the next step is to create content that matches how the audience looks for goods and services, or information. Tech platforms are also rising to this challenge by creating algorithms that can better discern what the user wants.
This becomes more difficult when a generic term can have several meanings. If someone types in “apple”, are they looking for information on the brand or the fruit?
In such cases, SEO marketers and search engines try to drill down further into user intent by using varying degrees of interpretation. The “Dominant Interpretation” would be the most common meaning of a word or phrase. “Common Interpretations” are used to evaluate terms that could be equally interpreted in multiple ways. I used the term apple before, but Google uses “mercury” to explain this, as it could apply to the planet or the element.
When taking user intent into consideration, it’s helpful to go beyond researching keywords and phrases by going directly to the source. Use Google to search terms and see what comes up. Are the results information-heavy? Do they contain video and images? Refine your search by adding or changing terms and note how the results change.
Use keyword possibilities obtained through research and enter them into a SERP checker app. What kind of results are these words and phrases getting, and how relevant are the results to your intentions and goals?
Cater to intent by understanding your own content and motivations. If you want to attract buyers, use keywords that are commercially driven, such as “deal” and “buy” or using specific product names. When you’re trying to educate or provide information, create SEO oriented content that includes words like “why”, “what”, or “how to”.
It would be great if we could look into a crystal ball and determine what consumers want. The closest thing we have to that in the digital marketing sphere is algorithms and research based on historic data to gain insight into trends related to buyer behavior.
The key to locking in on your core audience is to carefully research and refine keywords that are relevant to your intentions and goals, and then weave it into engaging content that connects with your viewers.