Search intent: a guide to implement it in your SEO strategy

November 30, 2021 - 6  min reading time - by Lidia Infante
Home > Technical SEO > Search intent & SEO strategy

Satisfying user intent should be the main goal of anyone putting content out on the internet as part of a business strategy. If the user has typed a query into Google, there’s something they’re trying to get done.
In this article we will cover:

  • How to understand what your users are trying to do
  • How to bring intent into your content
  • How to communicate the value of your content

I’m going to quickly go over the theory bases first and then we’ll get into what this means for your SEO strategy and how to implement it in practice.

What is search intent?

Search intent has become a bit of a buzzword in the world of SEO. It’s been described as a secret ranking factor, but it’s much simpler than that.
In short, it’s the reason users are searching for anything to begin with. A good way to think about search intent is to ask yourself “what is the user trying to accomplish?”

The different types of search intent

A way that we’ve been approaching this question as an industry is by classifying the intent of our users into a few broad categories.
Most models divide search intent into three or four types with different names. The most common ones are:

1. Informational

Searches such as “how many calories are in a mango” or “does my cat love me” are typed with the aim of learning the answer to a question. The user is looking to learn about a specific topic.

2. Transactional

Users typing “buy coffee maker” or “buy iPhone X” on their search engines are trying to do just that: buy a product. There are many different reasons a user will use one retailer over another, such as familiarity of the brand, quality of customer service or price, but the intent behind the keyword is the same regardless.

3. Navigational

Searches such as “Facebook” or “BBC News” signal that the users are trying to get to a specific website they already know. In this situation users are just trying to go from A to B, and Google (or any other search engine) is just a very quick step along the way.

How to implement user intent in practice

Making search intent part of your SEO strategy should be as easy as identifying intent and making your content meet it, but in practice it’s not that simple.

I’m going to break it down into four main steps that you can easily action.

Step 1: Choose your search intent framework

I’ve mentioned this before, but there are different models that cover search intent.
Choosing the right intent for your site and your business is a crucial first step into making this whole process a success. It might seem obvious, but you need to choose a framework that works for you and, most of all, communicate it across the business.
Here are some examples:

  • See. Think. Do. Care. – This is a framework used by Google to talk about KPIs and it’s widely used within the industry for user intent. I find this intuitive and it will work in cross-functional teams of SEOs, developers, designers and business analysts.
  • Know, Do, Visit, Website – This framework is the one used on Sistrix. This one can work with you really well if you have a business with one or more physical locations.
  • Commercial, Informational, Navigational and Transactional – This framework does not take into account physical businesses per se, but it can be a good combination if you have to work with paid search teams.
  • The classic marketing funnel – Put your business and marketing classes to work by using your marketing funnel as a search intent framework. I really like this option for traditional businesses going through digital transformation. Using terms your team and stakeholders are familiar with will help you get their buy-in.

Once you’ve chosen your framework, it’s key that you communicate it to your team and stakeholders. Don’t just send an email. Consider instead running a small workshop on it explaining what user intent is and why they should care.

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Step 2: Identify the inferred intent

How can we find out the user’s intent? Since we can’t run a survey across the entire internet to figure out what the intent behind each search is, we will leave it to the experts: Google.

By reviewing what’s currently ranking in the top 10 for our target queries you will find out what is currently satisfying user intent according to search engines.

For this part of the exercise, you should look at the disposition of the SERPs. The inclusion of different features such as universal results, rich snippets or knowledge graph will show you what Google thinks users want.

In other words, if there’s a map on the SERPs, the user is likely looking to go somewhere, if there’s mainly video or images, their query is better solved with visual content and so on. You can do this manually or use different keyword research tools. All the main ones currently include this feature.

Next, you will want to analyse the top three results and see what is making them rank. You’ll want to make your content satisfy the user intent even better than theirs.

Lastly, you can validate your findings by using a tool that gives you search intent for different keywords. For this, you can use Keyword Insights, Sistrix, Authoritas and others.

If you’re looking to do this at a larger scale you should start by analysing search intent in bulk with these tools and then manually validate this for your money keywords.

Step 3: Incorporate intent in your content

Once you’ve done all this fancy research, it’s time to put it to work. Going back to step 1, you need to communicate the importance of search intent to your content team. Make sure they know why it matters and they understand the framework you’ve chosen for your organisation.

Next on, you’ll want to incorporate search intent in your content briefs. User intent is at the heart of content creation, so it can’t be an afterthought and it can’t be edited afterwards.

Add a section for search intent in your content briefs template or forms and make sure the content team and anyone else who is creating these briefs is aware of this change. Include a definition of the selected intent for the content piece to keep the team aligned with you.

As a bonus, adding some examples of how your competitors are satisfying user intent is a good idea too!

Remember that intent applies to visual content as well. You’ll want to make sure you satisfy the video and image-rich queries with the same type of content. It takes some time to create, so be sure to request this well in advance.

Lastly, add user intent to your sign off process. Review if the content provided meets user intent before going live with it.

Step 4: Measure the value of your content

Proving the ROI of your content efforts is hard. Counting revenue is quite easy, but unless you’ve got the key to perfect marketing attribution, that’s not going to work for content.

Different types of intent have different KPIs behind them. This is something that’s very clearly explained in the See Think Do Care model and in the marketing funnel. If you’re not using these models, you can still look at them and apply their KPIs to your equivalent search intent framework.

If you have specific goals for your content such as lead captures or sign ups, make sure to incorporate the right ones in your reporting model.

You can use the reporting template that I created on my keyword mapping guide to make your narrative tight and easy to understand for your busy stakeholders. By using keyword mapping as part of your SEO strategy you will prevent ending up with redundant content, cannibalisation or a mismatch between intent and content.

I hope this guide has been helpful and that you’ve found new and inspiring ways to bring search intent to life in your content strategy.
If you have any questions or you’d like to nerd out about SEO feel free to follow me on Twitter and slide into my DMs.

Lidia Infante See all their articles
Lidia Infante is an SEO consultant, writer and speaker helping businesses grow online by strategically combining technical SEO, content strategy and digital marketing. Born and raised in sunny Barcelona, today she helps companies grow internationally through SEO as the Senior SEO Strategy Lead at Rise At Seven.
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