Matching Keywords to User Intent

In search marketing, keyword intent is everything. Whether we’re making a content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) strategy or setting up a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign—if we can’t identify keyword intent, a ton of time and money can go down the drain. More specifically, knowing a users intent can mean a conversion rate of 1% v. 5%, or a page 1 ranking v. a page 5 ranking.

After all, Google obviously knows a users intent (or at least pretends to). It’s part of our job to learn from them, and make sure we plan accordingly.Keyword ResearchAfter identifying target markets, goals and other key performance indicators (KPI), one of the initial steps to any search campaign is keyword research. This can be done manually or with Google Keyword Planner(if you want biased results), but in my opinion, this is the #1 function that paid SEO tools have going for them. 

We use Ahrefs on a regular basis, but additional free tools we sometimes use include:

Pay Attention to These Keyword Metrics

Many of these tools make the automation of keyword research a bit simpler, and have metrics associated with keywords that can give us an insight into search intent. For example, Ahrefs tells us an average cost-per-click (CPC) as well as organic clicks-per-search (CPS).

Only 4 out of 100 searches end with a click through to a website for the search term “James Van Der Beek age”. That’s because this is easy information for Google to display, without needing someone to visit a website.

The alternative is a keyword that can contain multiple clicks to websites per search.

‘Custom t shirts’ averages 1.2 CPS, or 120 website visits per 100 searches. This is because it’s a transactional keyword—someone is shopping or possibly price browsing trying to find the best quality and price for custom t shirts.

Types of Search & User Intent

The difference between the two keywords is the user intent. When it comes to intent, in the search world, we typically separate keywords into three categories—informational, branded/navigational, and transactional. While each of these categories can come in handy depending on the goals of a specific campaign, we need to know what to look for when finding a keyword to target.

Informational Keywords

Informational keywords typically take up the majority of an SEO content creator’s time. These are keywords where the main goal of a user is to acquire a piece of knowledge—whether that’s as easy as the age of their favorite Dawson’s Creek character or as challenging as a recipe for paella, the goal is the transfer of information. 
We can see informational queries coming in a variety of types, such as:

  • When is Labor Day
  • Where is the closest cafe
  • What is a Puli
  • Tips for staying hydrated in the heat
  • How to stay warm in Milwaukee in December

The common theme for informational keywords? They are typically questions or at least can be rephrased to become a question. ‘Best Paella Recipe’ for example can (and commonly is) turned into ‘How Do I Make Paella’.

Optimizing for Informational Keywords

If these three buckets weren’t enough to determine user intent we typically break informational keywords down a little further into ‘Clicks’ and ‘No Clicks’—which is as straightforward as it sounds.

‘No Click’ informational keywords: Questions that Google can answer with a simple knowledge graph or featured snippet are becoming more and more extinct in content marketing strategies. If only 4 out of 100 searchers actually click through to a result, why would we invest time and energy building content and links just to lose clicks to a search result?

On top of that, with Google testing out no-result search results by only showing featured snippets for certain searches, these are almost inevitably going to be a lost cause.

‘Click’ informational keywords: Keywords that don’t have a concrete answer often times elicit one or more CPC, and these are keywords worth targeting. While they may not be as well converting as a transactional keyword, informational keywords can play a huge role in content marketing and brand awareness.

Sticking with the keyword ‘best paella recipe’—if a restaurant can draw traffic to their website based on this keyword, think about what it can tell them about users. They’re interested in spanish cuisine, cooking, and finding quality dishes. Wouldn’t it be great if we could filter that by location and advertise to that exact group of people? Spoiler alert, we can!

What search marketers have to do is watch out for queries that seem informational, but are actually more navigational. 

If a brand is owning the entire first page of Google search results for a search query, it’s more likely than not that Google is viewing that result as navigational/branded, meaning we’ll have a very hard time gaining any traffic for that content.

Optimizing for Branded & Navigational User Intent

Navigational user intent is a bit more straightforward. We also refer to this as branded intent, because most of the time a user will know exactly where they want to go.

Examples of branded navigational intent include:

  • UW Credit Union Login
  • Facebook
  • City of Milwaukee Website

The majority of the time, users already have a location online they know they want to get to, they just don’t know (or are too lazy) to type in the URL.

When navigational keywords get interesting…

From an SEO standpoint, unless your brand is being typed in the search bar, you’re probably not going to rank on the first page of Google. There are times that Indeed or Glassdoor may come in the organic results, but a competitor will have a hard time ranking for those types of keywords at all.

A fun and interesting way to steal some high-intent traffic is by bidding on competitors branded search terms. Of course, you have to be careful and think through this strategy—if a social media startup starts bidding on the search term ‘Facebook’, users who click on a page that isn’t Facebook aren’t going to stay on that site, meaning you just paid for a user to immediately leave your website. On the other hand, if you’re seeing conversions coming in and have a positive return on investment (ROI), go for it!

Transactional Intent Keywords

The final type of keyword we see have transactional intent. These keywords are great for anyone in PPC because they show a user is either in the shopping phase, or ready to purchase. 

Transactional intent keywords often include words such as:

  • Buy
  • Compare
  • Sale
  • Coupon
  • Cheap

At this point, a user has moved down the purchase funnel and is closer to checking out than any other keyword category.

During this phase, we should still give users information, it just needs to be the information they’re truly searching for. Shipping information, return policy, a comparison document highlighting benefits, or whatever a user is looking for to help them make their decision.

If you’re ever curious if a keyword is considered transactional, just let Google guide your decision. If all you’re seeing are organic results and possibly a featured snippet, it’s more than likely informational. If on the other hand you’re seeing an over abundance of ads (see below), it’s likely considered transactional.

Make Sure Content Matches Your Search Intent

In the end, we need to make sure the content we’re trying to get in front of users is actually matching user and search intent. 

If our target keyword is “Increase My SEO Rankings”—while we do see ads at the top of the page, every organic result on the first page of Google is blog posts, this tells us that it is a keyword with informational intent. We’re going to have an extremely hard time ranking an SEO service page for a term like this. 

‘SEO Services in Milwaukee’, on the other hand, shows all local businesses either featuring their homepage or their SEO service page. This is closer to a transactional keyword, and we should target this keyword with a service page.

In the end, making sure the way you plan and write your content to write the intent of a particular keyword is going to save you time, energy and money.

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