Going beyond keywords: Search intent and how to optimise for it

Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible to be #1 for a keyword in Google without making any conversions. It’s time to look at the bigger picture, not just obsessing over rankings, but value, too.
Until recently, keywords and search volumes have been considered the engine for digital growth.
But sometimes, you need to take a bit of a step back from the numbers and just think of each of those searches as a person trying to find something.
Perhaps they might be someone laying in bed on their phone at night, Googling the capital of Portugal and with no intention of buying flights?
But you might also have that person sat there, ready with their credit card in hand, ready to book that holiday tonight?
Understanding how each is different so that you can provide what each person needs is essential. There's value in both of those interactions, and by knowing how to interpret your data, you can make sure your business is ready to respond.

Introducing search intent

Search intent is just that.
It’s about delving deeper into the intent – the reasons – behind each search and using this to inform our SEO strategies.
It’s very easy to think of a search as just being a search.
But when you take a closer look, it’s usually possible to break down every search into one of four categories:

1. Informational searches

These are searches that users conduct when they first realise they have a problem that needs to be solved; they’re looking for broad, introductory information about a topic.

2. Commercial investigation searches

These are searches that users conduct when they have an idea of what type of solution they need. They’re ready to compare products, services, or businesses.

3. Navigational searches

These are searches that users conduct when they’ve made a decision. They’re looking for information about specific products or services or for brands that offer what they need.

4. Transactional searches

These are searches that users conduct when they’re ready to buy. They know exactly what they want, and they’re looking for the best way to buy a product/service.

Types of search intent and ‘micro moments’

Once upon a time, these four different types of searches would happen sequentially, one after another.
But as Google says, today, it’s more like fragmented interactions, with each search taking place during the relevant ‘micro moment’; the small window of opportunity when a user is prepared to carry out that search.
The guy doing an idle Google to find out how vacuum cleaners work will be looking for different content to their neighbour whose Dyson has just broken and who needs one for delivery tomorrow.
This is what search intent is all about.
It’s about thinking of what users want in the moment.
It can help us make better, more informed decisions about SEO that go above and beyond basic keywords.

Optimising for search intent

To optimise for search intent, you need to try and get into the minds of your audience. Think about why they search the way they do and what that means they’re actually looking for.
It can be tricky sometimes, but at Tangent, we typically use three approaches:

1. Segment keywords

If you’ve already developed an SEO strategy, you probably already have a long list of keywords.
You’ve probably been slipping them into your content to boost your ranking for specific terms. And this is good.
But if you want to optimise for search intent, it’s a good idea to segment your keywords.
This will ensure they’re being used in content that matches the stage users are at in the buying journey.
For example…
  • Informational searches = how, what, who, where, and why keywords
  • Commercial investigation searches = best, top, review, comparison, and vs keywords
  • Navigational searches = brand name, product name, service name, and competitor name keywords
  • Transactional searches = buy, order, purchase, coupon, and delivery keywords

2. Pillars & clusters

This is a content framework that makes optimising for search intent incredibly straightforward.
You can cover an entire topic, in much the way you would if users carried out the four types of searches sequentially.
But now you can break down the overarching topic into bite-size pieces.
These can be tailored to the stage of the buyer’s journey. A pillar is a broad overview, linked to detailed clusters covering a single idea.

3. Different content types

My final tip for optimising for search intent is fairly straightforward.
Think about what style of content works best for audiences, depending on where they are in the funnel.
For example, blog posts are useful for informational searches. This type of content allows you to delve into specific topics.
However, product pages may be better for transactional searches. You want to take users directly to a page where they can buy.

Customer-centricity & the semantic web

Optimising for search intent is about putting your audience first. It places their needs at the heart of what you’re doing.
And right now, this is more important than ever.
When Google released its Hummingbird algorithm – focusing on ‘semantic search’ – everything changed. It meant that keywords, while still important, had less overall pull. Context became just as vital.
Google listens to search intent. It works to try and derive meaning from customer searches and essentially ‘reads between the lines’.
So we all need to be doing this with our SEO, too.
It’s time we all started thinking more about what our customers really want and not just about what they’re saying.