How to Leverage Search Intent in Content

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  • What is search intent? Also called user intent, it refers to the goal of the user when performing a search.
  • An understanding of search intent is crucial for creating content that meets users’ needs.
  • Google’s main goal is to provide a good user experience, and it considers search intent an important part of that goal.
  • Sometimes, understanding search intent opens opportunities for targeting previously unviable keywords.
  • Search intent reminds us to always publish content with a purpose.

Search intent is a fundamental concept in SEO and content marketing, and most people in digital marketing are at least familiar with the term. Also called user intent, it simply refers to the goal of the user when they perform a search in Google or another search engine. Is the user looking to learn more about something? Find a service? Make a purchase? Understanding the search intent behind a certain keyword is crucial for creating content that fulfills the reader’s goal.

Pretty basic, right? Much of the time the relationship between keywords and search intent is fairly straightforward. But as we learned recently with a client of ours, search intent can make all the difference when it comes to capturing organic traffic for more challenging keywords.

Reading your readers’ minds

Recently we met with a client who creates content about digital accessibility laws. We noticed a certain relevant search term had consistently high search volume. People were clearly interested in the term, and our client had the information they needed. There was only one problem: the search term was incorrect. Specifically, it consisted of the names of two completely separate laws as though they were one law.

At first glance, this would have seemed like a dead end. Why write content about something that doesn’t even exist? That certainly wouldn’t make our client look like experts, authorities, or a trustworthy source.

But then we dug a little deeper. We tried to get into users’ heads – in other words, we thought about search intent. It seemed obvious that the user’s goal in searching this term was to learn something: specifically, to learn more about the laws mentioned in the term. It also seemed possible that the users typing this search term into Google knew so little about the laws in question that they might not realize they were two separate laws!

There was our opportunity. By “reading the readers’ minds” and considering what they might actually be trying to do by searching the term in question, we figured out that our client could actually help them meet their goals. So, our client wrote a piece of content targeting that keyword, clearly explaining why it was incorrect and what each separate law actually was. That piece of content now ranks on page 1 of the Google SERPs for the target keyword.

In other words, our client went from ignoring a search term because it was incorrect to landing on prime SERP real estate for that term.

In this case, considering search intent was a clear game-changer in our client’s ability to capture valuable organic traffic. So, how can you replicate this success? A crash course in search intent is a good place to start.

What is search intent? Definition and examples

First, let’s recap what search intent is and examples of the different types that you’ll see in the wild.

Again, search intent refers to the goal of the user when performing a search. It’s what the user wants to accomplish, do, gain, or find out. Moz highlights the following categories or types of search intent:

  • Informational: The user wants to learn or find the answer to something. Think: “how to clean an oven,” “the capital of Uruguay”
  • Preferential/commercial investigation: The user wants to research products or services. Examples: “best high wattage microwave,” “Hello Fresh vs. Blue Apron”
  • Transactional: The user wants to purchase a product or service. Think: “movie tickets AMC near me,” “buy women’s slippers”
  • Navigational: The user is looking for a specific “place,” or page/site, on the web. These are often but not always branded searches – e.g., if someone searched “RMG” or “redefine marketing group contact information”

Why does search intent matter?

At this point you can probably start to see the benefits of writing content with search intent in mind. Search intent gives your content a purpose and direction. You know what the reader wants, so you deliver content that gives them exactly that.

If that’s not enough to convince you, note that Google explicitly mentions search intent in its Quality Rater Guidelines. This makes sense, since Google’s main goal is to deliver a good user experience. Content that does not match the user’s search intent provides a poor user experience.

Think about it from the searcher’s perspective: If you’re looking for information about something, you would want the first few results to be articles providing that information. It would be frustrating to instead find only results that try to sell you a product.

Now that you know why search intent matters, let’s cover some ways to leverage search intent in your content efforts.

Tips for leveraging search intent in content

1. Consider search intent in the keyword research phase.

Any good content strategy should be anchored by a list of relevant target keywords that you’ve uncovered through research. As you build your list, consider the search intent behind each keyword. Record this information for future reference as you plan your content calendars.

This exercise is exactly what helped our client capture traffic for a keyword that initially seemed unviable, as described in the story at the beginning of this blog.

2. Understand the types of content that best serve each type of search intent.

This may seem obvious, but it never hurts to review the basics. If you consider search intent during your keyword research phase, you’ll end up with a clear idea of the types of search intent most common in your vertical. Chances are there will be a high proportion of informational searches, which tend to be well-suited to organic search-optimized content.

Your next step is to think through the kinds of content that will best serve searchers’ informational needs. That will likely include things like:

  • Well-researched blog articles with engaging images
  • Infographics
  • Webinars
  • Informational videos

Play to your organization’s strengths and create content that speaks to users’ needs in an authentic way.

There may also be plenty of transactional searches and preferential investigation searches. Like with informational searches, think about the kinds of content those users are looking for and then create that type of content for your site. Maybe that means publishing a blog article comparing your product with a competitor’s. Maybe it means optimizing your site’s product pages to perform better in search results for transactional searches.

That leads us to our final tip…

3. Always publish content with a purpose.

The best way to fail at content marketing is to publish content without a purpose in mind – or with the wrong purpose. Whether you’re publishing a blog article, infographic, social media post, or anything else, you should always know what user goal you’re trying to help accomplish with it.

Remember that content marketing is powerful, but only when used appropriately. Expecting an informational blog to instantly increase sales is not a great way to use content marketing. Instead, know your content’s purpose and evaluate it on how well it fulfills that purpose. When you do that, you’ll see that SEO content is perfect for increasing your site’s authority and reputation by helping readers find exactly what they’re looking for, whether that be information or a specific transaction.

Have content questions?

We’re always happy to talk shop! Our content team has helped clients across a range of verticals serve up high-quality content that meets their users’ needs. If you could use a hand in doing the same, reach out to RMG today.

Author avatar
Mariah Muller
Mariah is the Content Specialist at Redefine Marketing Group, supporting editorial operations for our clients' blogs and other written content. She studied Spanish Language and Literature at UC Berkeley and has worked in a variety of fields, including tutoring and law. She lives, writes, and watches too much TV in Los Angeles.
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