What is Search Intent? How to do Google Search Intent Marketing
Search engine optimization as a marketing strategy famously relies on adjusting a website to cater best for ranking algorithms on indexes like Google or Bing. Anyone that’s tried SEO knows how complex and difficult it can be to navigate and understands the list of various ranking factors.
But these approaches to SEO tend to forget one thing: the human side of SEO.
Some people know this idea from Google’s “search intent” concept. And being able to understand search intent is critical to being able to get genuine results from an SEO campaign.
So what is search intent? And how do you get results using intent marketing on Google?
The truth is that “intent marketing” is a bit of an unknown, more abstract style of marketing but it does play into the greater role of search engine optimization. In fact these two concepts are basically inseparable. Intent marketing focuses on marketing to individuals and shoppers based on behavior and disposition that signals their intent to buy. This mindset to digital marketing means making a greater effort to actually understand what people want, what their motivation is as they navigate the purchase funnel, and what their intent is as they take certain actions.
So let’s take a look at what intent marketing on Google means, and how it can improve overall SEO success by helping businesses engage better with their visitors.
What is search intent?
Search intent – sometimes referred to as keyword intent – represents the primary goals of internet users when they enter a query into search engines like Google or Bing. Search behavior can be broken down into a number of categories based on what their goal is and how it can be useful to websites as well as businesses that want to improve their SEO.
It boils down to the intent of the searcher, and their motivation for beginning the search in the first place.
This means people looking to navigate to a website, purchase a product/service, or find some information. In fact search behavior, and the intent behind common search habits, can be broken down into four main categories:
- Navigational search queries
- Informational search queries
- Transactional search queries
- Visit-in-person search queries
Understanding these main styles of internet searches goes a long way to understanding search intent marketing on Google or Bing. So what is the search intent behind these categories? Let’s go over each one.
Navigation search queries are for instances where the searcher’s intent is to easily and quickly get to specific page or location. Usually this means people that already know where they want to get to – say for example a social media login page, or a brand website that they are interested in. For example, someone might go to Google and search for “youtube” in order to get to the YouTube homepage, and to start finding videos from there.
Information search queries are – as the name implies – for people who simply want some sort of information. This concept is broad but can include examples like “what is the capital of Australia” or “the history of Marie Curie.” In many cases the “searcher intent” is to figure out what they want to know and then finish their search entirely. In some cases Google search results pages may give them the information they need – via a rich snippet or a knowledge graph – and they may not even need to click on a result.
Visit-in-person queries might be searches to help people find and/or navigate to a physical location. This can include searches intended to find a brick-and-mortar store, browse local restaurant options, or get directions to a landmark.
Finally, there are transactional queries. This describes searchers where the ultimate goal might be to eventually make a purchase or complete a transaction of some sort. The search intent could be to eventually buy a product, sign-up for a service, create an account on a site, fill-out a form, request a quote, download software, or a lot more.
For many businesses, Google intent marketing is key to understanding how they can optimize their SEO and create content that’s designed to match with searcher intent and engage searchers at every step of their journey.
Understanding the background of Google search intent for marketing
As a search service, Google began to really focus on searcher intent and keyword intent with algorithm updates like Hummingbird, RankBrain, and more recently, BERT.
The 2013 Hummingbird update was designed to improve the search engine’s ability to understand semantics and focused on understanding search phrases more accurately, as well as to return more accurate search results. Hummingbird aimed to give Google search intent knowledge by understanding the relationship between words in a search query, and not just individual words.
This meant that the whole query/phrase is taken into account when Google interprets the intent.
Similarly, Google’s famous RankBrain algorithm allows it to use machine learning style AI to better understand searcher intent in another way. RankBrain exists as part of the Google algorithm that’s responsible for returning results or sorting through its index to fill search results pages (SERPs). Yet another way its algorithm is designed to calculate some semblance of “search intent” in Google.
Finally, there’s the more recent BERT Google update – which arrived late in 2019. This update incorporated into Google sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) techniques built on complex machine-learning based on advanced algorithms.
BERT uses bi-directional encoder representations (for it’s namesake initials) that can work backwards and forwards to understand the relationship between each word in a phrase and every other word in the phrase. By training BERT on a huge “corpus” of example text it’s able to learn how to define and understand words based on context, phrases, syntax, and grammar – with a greater ability to process language like a human would.
BERT gives Google a better way to understand what is search intent for all of the queries it sees.
Google intent marketing for “needs met”
A few years ago marketers started to look at the details Google gives it’s human reviewers for how to evaluate website quality.
Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines provide a little extra insight on how to approach Google intent marketing. These guidelines introduced the concept of “needs met” which have helped businesses understand how to create good content and to improve their on-site SEO performance.
The quality evaluators also use the term “user intent” to describe this concept. Being able to understand the motivation behind searches will allow both Google and business owners a way to better assess whether visitors have their “needs met.”
High-quality content is any sort of content that makes an effort to meet the needs of shoppers, visitors, and readers with professional, well-constructed content. The quality evaluator guidelines ask Google’s human reviewers to assess whether top-search result feature content that actually does meet the needs of people who might be visiting the site.
For example, think about these two extremes for good and bad content quality:
- Needs are fully met: All or almost all users would be immediately and fully satisfied and wouldn’t need to navigate elsewhere, or do another search in order to satisfy their needs. This is usually for queries where the search intent is very clear and the results require minimal effort to get to or use.
- Needs are not met: This could refer to instances where results harm the visitor (malicious downloads, spam, phishing, malware); cases where data is inaccurate/misleading; cases where the owner/purpose of the site creator is dishonest; or cases where content is just general low quality (thin content, poorly written, generated, or stolen content).
Websites should make sure that content matches with the intent of their target keywords. Create content that is designed to provide useful information, pre-emptively answer questions that any readers might have, and guide them to the next stage of the shopping funnel (or the next stage of their goal).
This is another reason why content based on Google search intent marketing is better suited for SEO success. Merely getting users onto the site is only half the battle, but once they’re there make sure that the content gives them everything they need to get what they came for.
How to optimize your site for Google intent marketing
So how do you get a better understanding of search intent on Google for your own SEO strategy? And how does search intent marketing work?
Google intent marketing should be at the core of every SEO strategy. Businesses that focus on SEO without actually considering what users want are already setting themselves up for failure. Most bad SEO results are from instances where marketers focus on keyword rankings in terms of outright traffic, and not in conversions.
With conversions as the goal, it’s a better strategy to work backwards up the sales funnel and begin to think about how best to meet the needs/concerns of your specific target customers.
With this in mind, it’s then possible to begin optimizing your site with good on-page SEO strategies like in-depth keyword research, intuitive site-structure/navigation, meta-data optimization, and content creation.
Let’s go over a few of these and how they relate to Bing and Google search intent.
Keyword research for your audience
Keyword research is a well-established step in SEO – but a common mistake is for businesses to focus on high-traffic, highly competitive keywords under the misconception that more organic traffic = more business.
Worse yet, ranking for these keywords means nothing if the content on the page doesn’t match with what people actually want.
SEO should focus on isolating and targeting keywords that match with the existing content on your site and that are accurate, honest, and have a clear search intent. Likewise, businesses that determine their target keywords first then have the advantage of being able to create content specifically for those keywords and specifically for the intended goal of their audience.
Long-tail keywords and more “conversational” search queries tend to have a much clearer intended goal, so websites should focus on targeting these types of keywords for better Google intent marketing results.
Long-tail keywords get less average search traffic, but they have more potential conversion value and are easier to rank for.
Think about keywords that:
- Are 3+ words in length. The more specific a search query is, the more clear the intent and the more likely it is that the searcher may be ready to convert.
- Include a direct question or implied request with phrases like “how to”, “where to buy”, etc.
- Directly suggest an intent to buy or convert with phrases like “for sale” or “sold online.”
The advantage to targeting long-tail keywords is that they represent users who are most likely nearing the end of the shopping funnel. Common search behavior means that many people start out with broad search terms (e.g. “women’s shoes”) and do lots of research, browsing, and subsequent searches.
Then, once they know exactly what they want they might do a longtail search for what they specifically have in mind (e.g. “Vans women’s red high-top canvas sneaker”).
For eCommerce and services-based Google intent marketing, broad searches are more likely to represent informational queries, and long-tail keywords are much more likely to represent someone who is ready to buy (transactional queries).
Tools for Google search intent marketing
Good resources for keyword research include Google resources like the Google Ads Keyword Planner and the Google Search Console portal.
Search marketers use Keyword Planner for performing keyword research in pay-per-click (PPC) search advertising. But with information on monthly average searches and other key metrics this tool can also help SEO marketers brainstorm for keywords that are highly valuable to Google intent marketing:
- Marketers can type in keywords for automatically generated related-keyword suggestions.
- They can gain insight on monthly average searches to better understand high-competition and low-competition keywords.
- They can enter URLs to get automatic suggestions from Google on related keywords.
- They can get “search volume and forecasts” for bulk keyword lists.
Another invaluable tool for search intent marketing on Google is to take advantage of the data that Google provides specifically for webmasters and marketers on how their site is performing in search. It gives businesses insight on how people visit their site from Google search results include which pages are getting clicks, which search queries people are clicking on their site from, and how many impressions they receive for search queries.
Here’s what these terms mean:
- Clicks reflect the number of times the page receives a “click” in search results – this reflects someone actually visiting the page.
- Impressions are defined as how many links for the site users “see” in search results (even if the link was not scrolled into view). Simply put, it’s a measure of how much a site’s pages appear in search results, regardless of clicks.
- Click through rate (or CTR) is a measure of clicks divided by impressions. This can help marketers understand how much people think the site matches with their search intent.
These metrics can help marketers understand searcher intent and give more insight on how their SEO campaign is performing – helping them to understand how they can improve their Google intent marketing strategy.
For example, keywords and pages with fewer impressions but more clicks (a higher CTR) might indicate that the page matches well with what people want.
More impressions, but a relatively low CTR might indicate that even though the page is ranking well for search keywords, searchers don’t necessarily feel it matches with what they want, or they are otherwise just not interested.
SEO based on a good understanding of Google search intent and keyword intent will help businesses make sense of their existing keyword performance and their Search Console data. These tools can be valuable for making adjustments to SEO strategy and for creating good content that matches with what visitors want.
Take a look at this example below from our site:
Even though “favicon html” and “html favicon” get more impressions, the intent or the goal behind these is much less clear. Are searchers just interested in getting info about these topics? Do they just want to learn the meaning of this phrase? Do they just want to visit the Wikipedia page for favicons?
Queries like “add favicon html” or even longtail ones like “add a favicon to your site html” seem to perform better – and the intent is much more clear. The inclusion of “add” here makes it obvious that people want to know how to implement a favicon/logo on their site by using a simple snippet of HTML code.
A look at our title-tag/meta description for that page makes it very clear (hopefully!) that this page teaches them how to do exactly that. Plus, it’s designed to target the obvious intent of those specific search queries.
Creating human focused meta data
A key part of search intent marketing is a page’s meta data.
Meta title tags and meta descriptions are what search engines use to display pages in the search results and they’re what searchers read when trying to decide what to click on. Good strategy here is to write clear, honest, and accurate meta data that includes your target keywords (title-tags are used as a ranking signal so best practice is to add keywords to these).
These also appear in browser tabs, as well as in social-media posts. So they’re definitely important for trying to engage with the human side of marketing.
Many businesses only focus on including keywords in their page titles (as part of their SEO) but when done badly these titles can seem clunky, awkward, and give no valuable info to searchers.
A well written title tag that’s designed to focus on Google search intent will:
- Aim at enticing searchers and improving CTR.
- Hint at what sort of landing page or content is to be expected (don’t mislead or click-bait). If you think searchers wouldn’t be interested otherwise, then most likely your content doesn’t match with the searcher’s intent.
- Use natural language. Avoid bad grammar, awkward phrasing, or misspellings – especially in an attempt to stuff in more keywords. People will think your intention is to just spam SEO, not to help them.
- Emphasize what’s unique about the content. Don’t be afraid to sell-it and show people why you think your page is best.
- Include calls-to-actions (CTAs). These are not a requirement, but a good practice. CTAs can help improve CTR and increase user engagement.
These tips can also apply to meta descriptions. Unlike meta title-tags, meta-descriptions are not actually a ranking signal used by search engines but they can make a big difference in CTR. For this reason they’re a critical tool for leveraging Google intent marketing strategies to get better SEO performance.
Since sites are essentially free to put whatever they want here, the best practice is to be accurate and to describe what the page is about while also hyping the content!
Take a look at this example:
This snippet doesn’t even mention the word “recipe” and doesn’t give any information on ingredients, style, or preparations. Not only does it seem to have limited keyword potential – but it makes no effort to target any sort of Google search intent.
A better example might look like “How to Make an Olive Salad & Ricotta Crostini Recipe.” Here searchers can see that the page obviously matches with their ultimate goal.
Honesty and accuracy can help businesses get better results, and reduce bounce rate, with more accurate meta data SEO.
Contact us to learn more about Google search intent and how to grow your online business with SEO designed for intent marketing on Google. Our team can help you lay out a path toward better site performance.