In the early days of SEO, optimization for Google was largely a technical game. Success in ranking on Google depended less on the quality of the content and more on checking off certain boxes:
- Utilizing specific keywords the right number of times within the content
- Utilizing keywords in tagging
- Optimizing metadata
- Building a clear and easy-to-crawl site structure
Some of these techniques are still important to create a site that is easy for people – and Google – to navigate because if your website doesn’t work properly, people are unlikely to stay very long. However, these technical aspects are no longer the primary drivers of good SEO.
Nowadays, Google has many more techniques for understanding the usefulness of a given page for a particular search query than just crawling the technical SEO side of it, which we’ll dive into below. Google’s algorithm works hard to show content to searchers that answers their questions or gives them information and products that match what they’re looking for.
But, does all of this mean that you should ignore the technical aspects of SEO? No – but it does mean that you need to focus more of your marketing and SEO efforts on non-technical SEO factors, such as search intent optimization, if you want your pages to rank.
What exactly is search intent?
Search Intent refers quite literally to a users’ intent behind a search. By analyzing behavioral data, Google is making an educated guess on whether the user is looking for a particular website, trying to get informed on a particular subject, or considering making a purchase.
What are the different types of search intent?
There are 4 different kinds of search intent classifications for keywords & queries: informational, navigational, commercial, & transactional.
- Informational keywords are queries made by users who are looking to learn more about a particular topic, or get an answer to a particular question. They aren’t necessarily looking for any products or services while doing so. Content targeting these keywords should be highly educational.
- Navigational keywords are queries made by users who are looking for a particular brand, product or service and want to know where to find it. High-level service landing pages & local content are useful for navigational searchers.
- Commercial keywords are queries made by users who already have purchase intent in mind, but are still evaluating their choices. For example, users buying living room furniture who are still debating between a sectional and two sofas. This content, too, needs to be educational, but it should also guide users to a decision rather than simply stay informative.
- Transactional keywords are queries from users at the end stage of a conversion funnel who know exactly what they want to buy, and are now just looking for the best place or offer to do so. These queries often contain words like buy, shop, get, deal, sale… For example, “black sectionals on sale”.
What is Google Looking For When Evaluating User Intent?
Google has become much better at understanding which pages have meaningful authority on a given subject and whether its content is actually useful to readers. Its AI-based algorithm can determine this based on engagement, such as session duration and pages-per-session.
Google knows which pages are the most trustworthy and accurate to specific queries, and uses this information to rank certain content to searchers. Because of this, it’s no longer possible to “trick” Google with keyword stuffing or other technical SEO hacks – you need to instead create valuable content that fulfills user intent to impress the algorithm.
For websites that are already producing high quality content, this is a good thing. The more often you publish meaningful content that benefits your readers, the higher your chances are of being ranked on the SERPs (even if you don’t hit all of the technical SEO checkboxes)!
Understanding Search Intent
Google aims to display results to individual searchers based on their search intent, rather than just the keywords in their query.
For example, the query “3D printer” could be searched by someone who wants to purchase a 3D printer or by someone who is looking for a 3D printing service. These intents are different although the query is the same. By crawling a page, Google can determine whether it’s about selling printers or printing services, even if the keyword density for “3D printer” is the same for both pages.
Another great example of Google’s ability to understand search intent can be seen in synonymous keywords.
For instance, if you search Google for “groundnuts” the results will be for peanuts as well as groundnuts, even though the term “peanut” was nowhere in the search query. In fact, the very first hit is an article titled “peanuts”. This is because Google knows that peanuts are groundnuts and that there is a high probability the person who searched for groundnuts was actually looking for peanuts.
Google is trying to understand each search query to display content that reflects the user intent in the SERPs (search engine results pages) . So, if you want your pages to rank highly on Google you must understand the intent behind the queries (i.e who is searching for the subject and why).
Understanding your potential readers’ search intents makes it much more likely that you will write content that appeals to that audience. Remember, your pages do not have to be perfectly technically optimized as long as your content is relevant to searchers’ query intents.
Content Over Optimization
Google’s improved understanding of search intent means that if you create quality content that answers a query very well, you’ll rank over sites that are much better optimized in a technical way, so long as your content is more valuable, useful, and helpful to searchers.
In fact, you can even abandon headers, keywords, and metadata – and still outrank your competition with high-quality content.
How to Rank Quickly with Search Intent Optimization
You can achieve a high rank in Google in an incredibly short amount of time by employing search intent optimization strategies:
- Provide Value
The first and most important thing is to provide content that has meaningful value to readers. Insubstantial, poorly researched content isn’t going to impress Google or your readers, no matter how long or keyword-stuffed. Your content needs to be written by somebody who knows what they’re talking about, with links to other subject matter experts or authorities on the subject.
- Find Your Niche
It will be extremely challenging for you to beat existing content in a broad niche. For instance, ranking for the query “best shoes” will be nearly impossible since there is so much competition. However, if you write an article on “how to find the coolest kids shoes on a budget” you will have an easier time ranking for the longtail keyword since it’s much more specific.
- Build Your Content
Once you have an idea of what your target audience is looking for, build content to attract the niche to your site. The more content you publish that provides quality information for specific queries, the more likely you will keep attracting more customers. In time, you may also begin to rank for higher competition keywords as your site gains authority from Google.
Case Study: Anatomie Organic Traffic Doubled After Optimizing for Search Intent
You may be stunned by how quickly these techniques can earn traffic for your site. Content that is high-quality and does a good job of answering user intent in a reasonably small niche can achieve rankings in a stunningly short amount of time. You may even be able to gain organic traffic from new content optimized for user intent within a matter of weeks.
A great example of how powerful understanding search intent can be is one of Fire&Spark’s former clients, Anatomie. This luxury travel apparel company saw a 264% organic traffic increase year-over-year after we conducted keyword research and optimized their content according to user intent.
The New SEO
The days of technically optimizing a page and getting Google’s attention are over. Now, success depends on understanding what the human beings that you’re trying to attract are searching for.
By understanding your audience well and providing the content they’re looking for, you’ll be able to achieve high rankings on Google faster than ever before.
Contact us to implement this powerful SEO strategy today!