User Intent: The Evolution of Search & Understanding User Search Intent

User Intent

What is user intent?

User search intent is the intention that a person has while searching for something on the search engines. It may be explicit or implicit, but it’s always there. This intent determines how relevant your website will be to them. If you don’t have a good understanding of what people mean when they type in a keyword, then you’re not going to rank well on search engines like Google and Bing.

Why is user intent important?

Analyzing search terms allows you to understand what a visitor to your website is looking for.

Knowing this information will help you to tailor the content on your website to provide visitors with exactly what they are looking for, increasing the likelihood of them becoming a customer.

The more relevant your content is to the search term entered by the user, the more likely you are to feature in their list of top results (known as organic search results).

Types of User Intent

There are five types of user intent:

  1. Informational intent refers to a person looking for general information about a topic. For instance, if you were to do a search for “Pizza” you would be looking for general information about the food. You probably are not looking to buy anything or even contact a business immediately.
  2. Navigation intent is when a user is looking to navigate towards another website or webpage. For instance, If your keyword was “Woolworths” and you did a search, you would be looking to navigate to the Woolworths website.
  3. Transactional intent is when a user is looking to buy something or transact with a business directly. For example, if your keyword was “Buy Pizza”, you would be looking to transact with a pizza place directly.
  4. Commercial intent is when a user is looking to buy something, usually an item which can be delivered or picked up. For instance, if your keyword was “Nike Shoes”, you would be looking to transact with a business that sells shoes.
  5. Local search intent is when a user is looking for a local business such as a doctor or plumber. For instance, if your keyword was “Plumber”, you would be looking to transact with a local business that provides this service such as a plumber.

The majority of searches done on the internet are for information only and don’t intend to transact straight away. It is important to provide your users with the information they are looking for without having to scroll through multiple pages of search results.

How does Google determine user search intent?

The algorithm used by Google to determine user search intent is based on several factors including:

  • User behavior – How the user behaves in relation to the website. For example, if a person browses through websites and doesn’t enter anything but just looks at various pages, then he/she probably isn’t searching for anything. If a person enters text into a form and then leaves the site, he/she might be more likely to be searching for something.
  • Contextual clues – What words are located before and after another word. For example, if someone types “Obama” into the search bar, then there’s a good chance that they’re looking for information about the former U.S. president.
  • External data sources – What other websites link to your website and what search terms did they use to get there? If a popular website like Wikipedia links to your website and the term they used was “President of the United States” then that’s a good sign that someone looking for information on the president might also be looking for information on you.
  • Relevance – What other websites and pages link to your website? If your website is about Barack Obama but it links to then that’s probably not very relevant and it might be best to avoid having these kinds of things on your site.

How to identify the user intent?

You can identify the user intent in a number of ways:

  1. By identifying the most commonly used words that are related to your niche. For instance, if you sell children’s toys then some of the keywords you might want to be targeting include toys for boys, toys for girls, best toys, cheap toys, educational toys, and so on.
  2. By identifying what your competitors are doing. If you sell children’s toys and your competitors are repeatedly using the words listed above on their website then it might be worth copying them and using those same keywords on your website.
  3. By analyzing the current ranking pages for the targeted keyword. This is very handy as it will allow you to see the kind of content that is currently working for your competitors. You can then create more content like that, or try to do something different that may outrank them.

Optimizing Your Website for User Intent

Optimizing for user intent is a concept that is highly encouraged by Google. In fact, Google has been focusing more on this factor for quite some time now.

The idea behind this concept is to show users exactly what they are looking for when they perform a search.

This means that you shouldn’t try to trick the search engine results page (SERP) by cloaking or displaying different content to users and Google than what is available on your website.

The reason why this is important is that it can cause you to lose your ranking and even get banned from the SERP altogether. Instead, optimizing for user intent means that you should give users what they are looking for and nothing else.

If your website isn’t relevant, then it won’t rank as well.

Let’s look at an example,

Say you own a bakery and you want more people to find your bakery online so that you can increase sales. Let’s assume for this example that you have done your Keyword Research and have learned that people are Googling the following:

Bakery near me
Cupcakes shops near me
Open 24 hours bakeries near me

This means that people are looking for a bakery nearby that sells cupcakes and is open 24 hours.

If you optimize your website for this term, then your website should definitely rank well because it is catering to the search intent of the person searching.

This doesn’t mean that you can put any old content on your website and hope that it ranks. Instead, you need to create unique content that matches what users are looking for when they search for these terms.

New customers Research has shown that up to 70% of users who perform product or service research on the web will buy from the first three sites they look at. It is important to provide your users with the information they are looking for without having to scroll through multiple pages of search results.

How to optimize your content around user intent

Optimizing your content with the user intent in mind involves creating pages that accurately match what a person is searching for.

This means you need to keep your eye on what keywords you are targeting and then create content that focuses on providing solutions to the problems people are looking to solve when they make those searches.

For example, let’s say you own a pool company and you sell swimming pools in Portland.

You might want to create content that addresses a number of questions that people in the area tend to ask about when buying a pool such as:

  • how big should my pool be?
  • How much maintenance is required for a pool?
  • Is a salt water pool better than chlorine? and so on.

Instead of targeting keywords like “pool cleaning” or “pool supplies”, which have a lot of competition, you are targeting the questions people ask when they are looking to buy a pool.

These searches are much easier to rank for.

Another way to understand the user intent behind your keywords is to use keyword suggestion tools like KWFinder or LongTailPro.

These are designed to tell you the search volume and competition level of different keywords.

You can then group them into categories based on high search volume and low competition, low search volume, and high competition, and so on.

That will give you a good idea of where to focus your efforts.

In the case of our example above, you might find that there is a lot of competition for swimming pool supplies and swimming pool service keywords but not so much for swimming pool maintenance questions.

Finally, you can also take a look at what your competitors are writing about.

If they are ranking well for keywords related to swimming pool service, there is obviously an opportunity to provide more content on that topic.

Once you’ve done all that, it’s time to start creating content.

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