How to Optimize for Search Intent and Ensure the Right Readers Find You

How to Optimize for Search Intent and Make Sure the Right Readers Find You

by | Jul 7, 2020 | SEO

Did you know there are nearly 6 billion – a whopping 5.8 billion Google searches – every day? That’s 70,000 searches per second, or two trillion per year. (This number doubled over the lockdown, originally at 3.5B at the beginning of 2020.)

We rely on Google for the answers to almost every question we have, whether it’s a word searched out of mere curiosity or in consultation before making a big life decision.

Google gets it. With several core updates occurring each year, plus hundreds of tiny ones, it’s constantly tweaking its algorithms to provide more authoritative, relevant, helpful content to readers.

Over the past several years, Google’s updates have sought to refine the way its algorithms understand what we mean when we type queries into its search box. In 2020, optimizing your content for search intent is the best way to stay relevant and at the top of the SERPs.

Here’s what that means, plus my best pro-tip on how to optimize for search intent. Let’s go!

Did you know? Our content writing team adheres to Google’s search intent algorithm rules, and we even conduct SEO and content strategy research to find the perfect keywords to write your content around. Go Content Shopping.

In 2020, optimizing your content for search intent is the best way to stay relevant and at the top of the SERPs. Here’s what that means, plus @JuliaEMcCoy's best pro-tips on how to do it, now on the Write Blog. Click To Tweet

how to optimize for search intent

How to Optimize for User Intent and SEO

Once upon a time, it used to be super easy to figure out what keywords you needed to shove into a webpage to get it to the top of Google. And to nobody’s surprise, that’s exactly what people did.

Remember the era of spam content that flooded every search query, sending you leapfrogging down the results list to find something readable?

Yeah, Google wasn’t impressed, either.

The changes they made to the search algorithms forever redefined the way we write and publish content. To get in Google’s good graces and rank highly, your content must now be expert-level, authoritative, and trustworthy. Google’s evaluator guidelines call this E-A-Ting, and they expect content creators to serve up something good!

However, E-A-Ting is only part of the story. If we look at Google’s mission statement, the first thing mentioned isn’t stunning, well-researched content from high-quality domains, but something else entirely. Google, first and foremost, wants to:

relevant and reliable information

Users want to E-A-T only what’s relevant to them. Source: Google.

Well, that’s interesting. Let’s break down what that means.

What Is Relevance According to Google?

If you’ve ever written and published an amazing article full of high-quality citations and unique, witty tips only to watch it coast along smoothly at position number 6 for the chosen keyword, you know the frustration that Google’s algorithms can inspire.

Seriously, you did everything right. So, what gives? ‍♂️

Here’s where you went wrong. Google wants to make sure that users get served only the most expertly written, authoritative, trustworthy content but the search engine isn’t optimizing its algorithms for quality.

It’s optimizing them for user experience.

That means it only wants what users are actually looking for to rank in the top results for a query. We refer to that as search intent, or “what the user meant when they typed that question into the search bar.”

As it turns out, user intent in SEO is huge. For example, if we search for a guide to eating kimchi, we get results that look like this:

kimchi google results

If we’re looking for a guide to eating kimchi, we probably want to know how to eat it, not necessarily recipes for preparing or cooking with it. Source: Google.

It seems to follow a pattern, doesn’t it? ️

If we scroll through the results, however, we start to see articles on other topics that technically rank for the keyword:

  • How to pair different types of kimchi with various dishes
  • The benefits of eating kimchi at different times of the day
  • A schedule for eating kimchi to cure your digestive problems
  • How to identify kimchi that’s spoiled

These are all ostensibly “guides to eating kimchi” yet they appear on the second, third, even fourth pages of Google. Why?

They don’t contain the information that people are looking for when they query Google with those keywords.

Google can tell via metrics when a page isn’t relevant to a user’s query. Specifically, they pay attention to whether people seem to be clicking on a link, scanning its contents, then hitting the back button and clicking on the next link. Backlinko refers to that as “pogo-sticking” and if Google catches that happening a lot, it’ll drop the page’s SERP.

What can we take away from all of this?

how to optimize for search intent

It’s possible to have expertly written, authoritative, and trustworthy content that’s irrelevant to the person searching the keywords for which you optimized. In 2020, that’s almost as bad as junk content. Click To Tweet

4 Types of Search Intent

In general, people search on Google for four different reasons. There’s a lot already written on search intent around the web, so I’ll summarize.

  1. The most basic type of Google search involves queries for more information about a topic. According to research by Penn State, about 80 percent of all Google searches fall under this category.
  2. Informational searches become commercial searches when people have enough information on the solution they’re seeking, and now wish to compare solutions that already exist. It’s the difference between “what is kimchi” and “best kimchi brands.”
  3. Once someone’s ready to buy something, they’ll use transactional searches. That “best kimchi brands” search will become “buy Amazing Kimchi Brand online.”
  4. People do navigational searches when they want to find something on a specific site. So… “Express Writers login” would reflect a navigational search intent, as would “return policy”

A solid content strategy addresses all four types of search intentions in your content and your web pages. We’ll look more closely at how to do that next.

how to optimize for search intent

3 Ways to Optimize for Search Engine With What You Already Have

Ready to roll up those sleeves and flex that relevant expertise in the search engine?

Optimizing for search intent is important because it helps ensure your content – and thus your brand – get in front of readers who are actually looking for what you have to offer.

Remember, Google wants to serve up the best possible user experience. It’s your job to make sure that your content helps Google do that. To get started, I recommend that you:

1. Conduct a Content Performance Audit

Take a good look at the SERPs of what you’ve already got up and check if there’s room for improvement. You may need to revisit the search intent if a piece of content:

  • Is of high quality but seems to exhibit middling performance in the SERPs.
  • Has no obvious search intent that you can identify when you read it.
  • Isn’t ranking well at all.
  • Used to rank really well but suddenly dropped.
  • Bounces a lot in its rank.

2. Apply the Bucket Topic Strategy to Analyze Your Content

In my Practical Content Strategy Course, I talk a lot about the Three Bucket topic strategy. In essence, your content should ideally do one of three things: improve your SERPs, foster sales and connections, or grow your brand. I mention that if the piece of content doesn’t meet one of those three goals, it’s spurious to your content strategy efforts.

If you’re struggling with identifying the search intent of a piece, the Three Bucket topic strategy can help. To use it:

  1. First, identify into which of the three buckets the piece of content should go. What is the overall purpose the content serves?
  2. Then, identify what specific business or reader needs the piece of content addresses. Consider whether the content does something like provide solutions for pain points your readers have, or whether it convinces them why your product is superior to the competition.
  3. Finally, analyze whether the keywords you’re trying to rank for align with the content’s purpose and the needs it addresses. For example, if you have a blog article that’s ranking for “local diet guide for vegetarians during winter” yet your content is all about why readers should buy the vegetarian supplement you sell, your SERPs will suffer due to relevance.

3. Investigate Opportunities for Multimedia

Got a great article? Augment it with a great infographic or a video.

Visuals are one of the biggest traffic drivers in 2020. Some 87 percent of marketers report that video and visuals boost traffic. At least 80 percent of them report seeing a spike in sales, too.

Images and video also give you an opportunity to get more bang for your buck with SEO. They’re known to increase backlinks (by as much as 178 percent according to Venngage). They also give you a chance to get more keywords on the page with alt tags.

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Tips for Creating (or Recreating) Ultra-Relevant Content to Please Search Intent

So, you’ve found content to optimize. Great! Whether you’re revamping current content or you’re creating all new content, make sure you’re working with search intent in mind. Your SERPs will thank you for it. Here are five pro-tips I’ve collected over the years that work.

But before we start, I want to give a BIG shoutout to Britney Muller at Moz, whose amazing search intent guide is absolutely worth reading.

1. Identify Your Search Intent Before You Start

Nail your search intent classification first. Sometimes, your keywords will make it obvious what the search intent will be. For example, “what is a lepatata” is clearly an informational search.

However, sometimes you may have long tail keywords where the search intent isn’t clear, like… “SEO keyword research tools 2020.” Is that informational or commercial? Maybe both?

You should optimize for one intent. But if you find yourself unsure of which direction to go…

2. Study What’s Ranking and Why

Some sites may have had quite a scare with Google BERT last year, a major update that attempted to make certain search results much more relevant to searchers. Sites that had previously benefited from large amounts of relatively irrelevant traffic suddenly found their traffic dropping off … until they fixed things.

While you’re doing your keyword research, pay attention to what type of content is ranking. For example, if “royalty-free stock photo” is your keyword, then results may look like this…

google results royalty free stock photo

Source: Google

… Your article on what a royalty-free stock photo is probably won’t rank very well. The prevailing search intent is to find stock photos, not learn about them.

3. Put the Most Important Information First

Don’t you hate it when you land on a page and the information that you’re looking for is buried some three-fourths through the article? Me too.

When you go to structure your content, make the user experience an easy one by putting the most important information first. This often takes the form of:

  • A direct answer to the reader’s search query or question. (Informational.)
  • The information for the specific action they wanted to perform. (Navigational.)
  • A clear indicator of the next steps in acquiring a solution. (Transactional.)
  • How the solution solves the reader’s problems. (Commercial.)

(PS – you have full permission to throw out all those icky essay writing habits you learned in school. Content writing is a totally different (and way more fun) beast! Break down those stale conventions and craft intoxicating content. My one-week intensive Pro Writing Class shows you how. Get in here.)

4. Make Your Content Scannable

HubSpot once found that 73 percent of all people admitted to skimming a blog’s contents. (But I know you’re reading every word of this. )

People are going to do it, so you might as well make it easy for them. Make your content easy on the eyes by:

  • Using 14 pt font or larger
  • Applying headers and sub-headers generously – using the keywords in them!
  • Deploying bullet lists
  • Leveraging the power of images
  • Breaking up paragraphs

how to optimize content for search intent

5. Always have a CTA

Round out your helpful, informative content by making it easy for readers to take the next step. Whether it’s to download an ebook, to schedule a consultation, or to sign up for a newsletter, capitalize on the attention you’ve captured by calling them to action.

Choose Expert Writers to Craft the Content Your Audience Craves

Over the past decade, Google has steadily refined its ability to deliver helpful, authoritative content that its users are actually looking for – and that’s great news for those of us putting out high-quality content every week!

However, with the search engine increasingly favoring sites that help it deliver an awesome user experience, it’s becoming more important than ever to optimize for search intent. Now you know how to do so – go forth and answer the questions your readers are really asking. Happy ranking!

Content comes in many different types – make sure you’re getting the one that works for your strategy and search intent! Check out our Content Shop now to discover your next piece of killer content.

how to optimize your content for search intent