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It’s The Thought That Counts – The Importance of Search Intent in Keyword Research

23/07/2020
A 7 minute read

How do you do keyword research?

Ask 10 different people working in SEO how to do keyword research and you’ll get 10 different answers. There are multiple tools out there to help. Some paid, some free. Your client may be well into their business journey or just starting from scratch. They might have a huge budget and a team of techs and writers or it may be one person, chipping away by themselves. 

The reason you get so many different answers to this question is because there isn’t just one correct way to do it. And that means it’s difficult to write down a step-by-step guide for how to do keyword research because there are lots of variables. 

It’s been a bit of a bugbear of mine for a while. At Evolved Search, we have a very talented, award-winning team of content writers and we’ve all come from different backgrounds and career journeys, so keyword research has been new to some, old hat to others. And of course, like everything else in SEO, it’s constantly evolving.

So in my role leading the change in how we look at onsite content, I surveyed all of our tech and content team on how they approached keyword research. And yes, I got a slightly different answer from each person. But none of them were wrong.

My mission, therefore, became about making sure everyone on the team had the same shared, consistent approach to keyword research. We all needed an understanding of a whole range of different tools and techniques that could be employed so that we could get the best results for our clients. 

One of the most important parts of keyword research, however, is the intent. I’ve spent a lot of time gathering information on the different ways that people do keyword research and how they look at intent and this is my take on it. 

Let’s dive in, shall we?

What is search intent?

Search intent is why people are searching. You don’t ask a question for no reason, but the why really changes the type of answer you’re looking for. 

There are four types of reason or search intent, each of which relates to a different part of the content funnel.  We’ll get to each type of intent in a minute.

Why search intent matters

Search intent matters because it’s a key ranking factor. In fact, without it, everything else you’re doing won’t quite hit the sweet spot.

Why? Because Google is becoming smarter by the day.  Depending on what words you use and in what order, Google can interpret what kind of answer you’re looking for.

It even knows that when you type in, say, “Heinz Tomato Ketchup”, that you’re most likely to be looking for the product, rather than the recipe or the history of it. 

That’s because there’s a critical range of behaviours that a user exhibits and terms they use when seeking an answer, which Google says helps them to develop a user’s intent profile. Google calls these intent profiles “micro-moments” and it’s the point at which a user is more likely to be swayed by search results. 

The four types of search intent

There are four types of search intent:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Commercial
  • Transactional

Informational – “I want to know”

Informational queries are when a user wants to know something rather than buy. Things like;

  • “Who is the Prime Minister of Britain?”
  • “What is the Bermuda Triangle?”
  • “What is today’s weather?”

While these users may be looking for short answers, which Google calls ‘know simple’ and can produce a certain type of result, like the ones below, the savvy content marketer can usually see an opportunity to move the user down the content funnel towards the next step. 

Examples of ‘know simple’

Search Intent in Keyword Research - Evolved Search
Search Intent in Keyword Research - Evolved Search

Most queries are not ‘know simple’ however. They are one of the following:

  • Broad, complex, and/or in-depth informational queries that do not have a short answer.
  • Ambiguous or unclear informational queries.
  • Informational queries on controversial topics. 
  • Informational queries with no definitive “right answer”. 
  • Queries where different users may want different types of information or different sources of information.

For example, if the user was asking “How to make lasagne?”, a content marketer for a food business might take this opportunity to give the recipe, but also point the user to the products they can buy to make it. 

The least you can do with an informational query is to give the clearest answer and show your expertise. If there’s no natural link to your product or service, you are still able to show your expertise and authority in relevant topics by answering the user’s question. Then you’ll be at the forefront of their mind then next time they do need to buy whatever it is you’re offering because you will have taken steps to earn their trust and be there for them “in the moment”.

You might find the following types of words Informational queries;

  • Tutorial
  • What is
  • How to
  • Guide
  • Ways to
  • How do/does
  • What are the benefits of
  • How can I

Navigational – “I want to go”

A navigational query knows where it wants to go. It could be location-based, or contain a brand keyword, such as;

  • “Restaurants near me”
  • “Pizza Hut in Newcastle Upon Tyne”
  • “Customer Service Apple store”

For these queries it’s important you localise the answer. How would you reach these potential users? You’re unlikely to get a click-through if your answer to “Pizza Hut in Newcastle Upon Tyne” is a list of all Pizza Hut restaurants in the UK. It’s not what the user is looking for and their specificity in search intent is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.

Search Intent in Keyword Research - Evolved Search

Navigational queries might involve the following terms;

  • Brand name
  • Reviews
  • Cost/price of
  • Opening hours
  • Directions to
  • Near me
  • Service/Product name
  • Location of
  • Testimonials

Commercial – “I want to buy”

Commercial search queries indicate interest in buying, but the user needs more information before they make a decision. They’re probably quite far down in the funnel, so the type of information they need would be things like comparison charts, best value lists, and reviews. 

A lot of blog posts skip this type of query, often because they fold it into the same camp as transactional queries, but I think it’s important to make the distinction, especially when you’re creating content.

I know I’ve visited a zillion price comparisons, customer reviews, and best-of lists before I make a decision on a purchase, particularly if it’s for a high-value item or something like a face cream. These are typically classed as Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) sites. Anything that can affect your health, wealth or happiness, is under higher scrutiny. Google does not want to serve up low-quality content that could harm your wellbeing. 

Another point to be aware of here, is that the customer journey is rarely linear. Users leave the site, search elsewhere, then come back asking more questions. They might check out several products and then your FAQs, then leave the site AGAIN and come back a few days later.

While this can make our jobs as content writers more complex, it is also an opportunity for high-impact content for brands to jump in and have lots of conversations with their audience around those micro-moments.

Transactional – I want to do

A transactional search query indicates the user is ready to take some sort of action. It could be to buy a product or sign up for a service. Examples of transactional queries are;

“Red shoes on sale”

“Buy tickets for The 1975”

“Order Samsung A5 phone”

Transactional queries can include brand terms or be more generic, but they show an intention to take action, usually by purchasing. Since money will likely be involved, where you lead them has to show the user that you can be trusted. 

Some of the terms you might see used for transactional queries are;

  • Download
  • Where to buy
  • Discount
  • Deals
  • Purchase
  • Coupons
  • Apply
  • Schedule appointment
  • Reserve
  • Buy
  • For sale
  • Order
  • Sign up
  • Subscribe to

The Importance of Search Intent

50% of search queries are 4 words or longer. This means that users aren’t just searching for your keywords.

Their searches are more complex and they are looking for more specific answers. This means you might end up creating content for search queries that are both exact and have lower search volumes. Don’t discount those types of query, because those people searching know more about what they want and are, in a way, further down the purchase funnel.

If you can give 20 people who are much more likely to convert, the exact information they need to convert, that’s better than throwing your net wide and trying to catch 200 people with some vaguely related content that doesn’t quite give them what they’re looking for. 

What next?

Search intent should be the next step in your keyword research. Your aim should not be to simply fill ‘gaps’ in the website content. Your strategy could and should be creating the most relevant content to your audience’s search intent as possible. 

I like to keep a reminder on my desk as we all know how easy it is to slip down that keyword research rabbit hole. If there’s one thing you need to remember, it’s this: Content with intent.

For more information on how we deliver Content Marketing as part of a wider SEO service, head over to our Services page to learn more about our approach. If you’re looking for examples of our work, head here!

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