As web users get harder and harder to engage, search intent as a marketing concept has become a hotter topic.
Yet, in most cases, search intent is mentioned in e-commerce context, where you need to match your landing page to your target customer’s expectation.
But where does the concept of search intent stand in content marketing context? Should you account for it in your content marketing strategy?
You surely should. The thing is, with mobile and voice search, your reader’s attention span is short because today’s consumer searches and decides on the go.
What does it mean for content marketing?
The faster your content answers the readers’ questions and satisfies their needs, the better the odds they will stick around instead of moving on to your competitor.
Search intent optimization is all about giving the best answer exactly the way your target customer needs it. In other words, it’s about meeting your customers’ immediate needs and hence winning their hearts.
What is search intent?
Search intent reflects why a user is performing a web search. On a basic and simplified level, there are three major types of search intent:
- Do (also known as “commercial” or “high” intent): The search user is ready to act (buy, join, etc.).
- Know (also known as “informational” intent): A search user is looking for information.
- Go (also known as “navigational” intent): Search users know which site or brand they want to go to.
More specifically, especially when it comes to content planning, you should account for many more types of search micro-intent.
For example, in some cases a search user expects to find a clear list (steps, list of tools, etc.). Think about “best products” or “how to cook” type queries. These searchers don’t expect to see paragraphs of text. You need to provide a clear and concise list of items.
In other cases, searchers are looking for a clear number, e.g., “how much does it cost?”. Even if your product has a complicated pricing structure, let your content give estimates because that’s the searcher’s immediate need.
With Google always trying to satisfy its users better (as well as faster) and making successful attempts at understanding each search query on a deeper level (including its context and its probable intent), optimizing for search intent has become key to search visibility.
How to identify search intent
The first thing when you are trying to identify the search intent of your target query is to use common sense. In many cases, it’s helpful to imagine what your target customer seeks to achieve by typing certain words in the search box.
This exercise also helps you relate to your customers on a more personal level because you tend to forget a human is behind each keyword.
Beyond that (like I said above), use Google search. Not only has Google learned to understand search intent better, it gives lots of clues for you to understand it better too.
Remember how Google’s search results were once nothing but a list of 10 blue links with a short description for each? Google search results now are varied, visual, and even interactive. Google shows a unique selection of search features for each query, helping you guess which elements and content formats were found to help their users better.
Let’s see how those search features can help identify your search intent.
Signals of informational search intent:
- Image and video carousels
- People also ask
- Featured snippets: Featured snippets can signal all those micro-intent types I mentioned. For example, if you see a bullet-point list featured for a search query, it’s a good sign Google found that this content format best satisfies its users.
Signs of commercial search intent:
- Google shopping
- Local pack
- Product carousel
- Brand carousel
Signs of navigational search intent:
- Google brand knowledge panel (also referred to as “Authoritative OneBox”)
- Google site links
- Google site search
(These are all solid signs of navigational intent. Google has found that these searchers want to navigate to this specific brand, so no matter how generic the search term might be, the results will still be skewed to that brand.)
There are tools that monitor Google’s search features for each particular query allowing you to quickly sort through your keyword lists and create a solid content action plan. Serpstat provides a variety of filters to research Google’s search features (and probably intent) around your search queries:
For example, you can filter out all queries that trigger brand knowledge graph:
How to optimize for search intent
The first step is coming up with the best way to answer the search query. This is the most obvious way and, like many content marketing tasks, it requires brainstorming and planning.
To answer the underlying query in the best and most concise way, I put together the list of article ideas for the near future in a spreadsheet and note the planned content format. These notes may look something like:
There’s also a tool that helps you better optimize for search intent. TextOptimizer extracts search intent tables from each Google search result page and generates the list of related terms and concepts that help you to better target your copy to comply with the identified search intent.
Text Optimizer shows you the direction. By looking at these related concepts and entities, you can tell what to build your content around to better meet your target customer’s expectations.
Plan your in-content call to action
Another important element of successful content is its call to action (converting your readers into your customers or your loyal followers). In-content CTAs should be unique for each content asset to better engage your community.
In the same spreadsheet, I note those unique CTAs to better target them to the corresponding search intent, for example:
- Promote a related lead magnet, e.g., a free checklist (here are nice plug-ins to build leads using a lead magnet).
- Include a link to the tool feature plus a screenshot (that helps solve the described problem).
- Host a survey or a quiz (any of these tools can help).
- Invite users to join a webinar (elaborating further on the topic), etc.
TIP: Use these action words to better phrase your in-content call to action:
Planning your in-content CTAs based on the article topic and the search intent will make a huge difference in terms of your content performance.
Do you optimize for search intent? Please share your tools and tips.
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
Get more insight into your audience’s intent – and how to use that knowledge to improve your content marketing – from the expert presenters at Content Marketing World this September. Register today using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute