SEO Keyword Strategy: User Intent

by Isaac Oswalt on December 21, 2015

User_Intent_SEO_Keyword_strategy.jpgYou may have already heard about the concept of "user intent" in search engines – the goal of returning web page results that match what the user wants, not necessarily the exact words they are searching for. As with so many things, it's a good idea to start with Google: While the search engine giant is typically inscrutable when it comes to the nuts and bolts of page results, there is an unmistakable turn away from what you might call pure keyword page ranking, and toward the intent of the user

Google can do this because it has access to a gargantuan amount of data on searches and Internet users. The company is trying to tweak its search engine with that data to make it more predictive and utilitarian. You may search for "new furnace vents" but Google knows that you are probably looking for "grills" and "registers" too, so it includes those in its top results (it's worth noting that other search engines, like Bing, stay away from these interpretations, and so return very different results). You can spot the SEO keyword strategy problem here – companies that put "furnace vents" in their keywords are being crowded out by those who use "grills" and "registers" separately or in addition to "vents."I

It's a paltry example, but you get the point. The consumer is clearly right here: They know what they are searching for, and if intent algorithms can help them find it, so much the better. But where does that leave our SEO efforts?

Providing for Intent

"Well, if that's where Google is going, shouldn't I follow?" is a reasonable response here. But intent of user strategies can take a lot of work, plus a new perspective at how you use keywords (hint: they are becoming less important). If you really want to jump aboard the intent train, here are a few important points you should know.  

  • Usability: Intent and native advertising are good bedfellows. People want real information, advice, explanations, contacts, and results. Native advertising is all about creating content that's worthwhile to read. As a result, more focus on creating full, native content means better user intent ratings.
  • Analytics: To study intent of user, you have to know what searches consumers are making, what specifically is drawing them to your site – and probably what your competitors are using, too. Basic analytics will help here, but only if you are pulling in a wide net of search data.
  • Longer Searches: Most searches are between 3 and 5 words, depending on how specific people get. This means Google is beginning to favor keyword phrases that are longer and more specific, because that's how consumers are searching to get past the clutter they don't want.
  • Related Words: Instead of just picking up keywords, Google is beginning to look at words throughout the content. If certain words throughout the article/page chime with the search (furnace, thermal, duct, HVAC, efficiency, etc.), that site will be ranked higher. All your words are becoming important.
  • Time: Google is getting better at intent. That doesn't mean it's good at it, not yet. User intent is improving, but it will take time to see the full shift, and how much it will change. Prediction and inference are notoriously difficult tigers to tame.

Moving Forward

The paradigm of user intent is both fascinating and a little frightening for marketing teams: It's hard to know just how big the impact will be, and how it will affect foundational keyword practices. But like with all SEO, the key is careful, continuous adaptation. In addition to incorporating a few of the tips you mentioned, keep your eye on user intent as a metric. 

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Isaac Oswalt

Owner of 21 Handshake, a strategic marketing company, driven to grow relationship-driven businesses. Futurist in nature, Isaac displays a deep desire to preserve the human element in today's business. Trust being the ultimate currency, his clients appreciate that "new and stronger handshakes" is a success metric in their businesses.

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