Why User Intent is the New Keyword Research (& How to Do It Right)

It used to be you could rank well in search engines and get plenty of traffic just by filling your website with the right keywords. But not anymore. Google is getting better at separating the fluff from the truly useful and relevant, and searchers don’t bother with websites that don’t immediately deliver relevant information in a user-friendly way.

These days, it’s not enough just to use keywords you want to rank for. You have to understand the intent behind keywords and queries so you can deliver the most useful, relevant information. When you know what your consumers want, you’re more able to provide it, so you can optimize for both search engines and user experience.

Optimizing for search engines gets you higher rankings and more traffic. More traffic eventually leads to more conversions thanks to sheer numbers.

Optimizing for user experience gets you more conversions by capitalizing on the traffic you’re getting. Plus, it boosts your SEO because search engines want to show searchers the most relevant, user-friendly results.

That self-sustaining cycle is why user intent-based keywords are the crux of online marketing.

Is Traditional Keyword Research Still Necessary?

Yes, because traditional keyword research is the beginning of user intent research. While today’s searchers use more complex queries and expect high-quality, relevant results to match, the phrases they use can still tell you a lot about what your target market wants.

Of course, traditional keyword research is getting tougher with the rise of [not provided], but you can still learn quite a bit from the data that is available. There are lots of keyword tools out there, but generally you can get by with the basics:

  • Google Keyword Planner
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • Google Analytics
  • Soovie (shows the top autocomplete suggestions for different search engines)
  • SEM Rush (shows what keywords your competitors are bidding on)
  • ubersuggest (shows hundreds of possible keyword variations from A-Z)

How to Understand Query Intent

On top of traditional keyword research, you’ll want to do some intent research as well. This article from Search Engine Watch recommends looking for new sources of query research, such as social monitoring, owned assets, and onsite or emailed polls, surveys, and contests. Internal site search data is also critical, since Google can’t get in the way with [not provided] and most searchers on your site are part of your target market.

But perhaps the best way to understand query intent is to classify all this research. There are several ways to classify keywords by user intent, depending on your industry and style. Here are three popular methods you can try:

4 Types of Searches Model

In this classification model, you separate your keywords into 4 intent categories, listed below in order of increasing value:

  • Navigational: direct searches for a specific brand, company, website, person, etc.
  • Informational: question-based searches looking for information
  • Commercial: searches that may lead to a future purchase
  • Transactional: searches with the intent to convert, such as buy or subscribe

Although Navigational searches are looking specifically for you and Informational searches represent the biggest category, Transactional queries are the most valuable because they’re the most likely to convert.

The Target Framework

This model, outlined in detail on KISSmetrics, puts your desired conversion event as the bull’s-eye of a target. Keywords that represent the highest level of interest and intent to convert are the first circle around the bull’s-eye. The further out from the center of the target a query is, the less effectively it leads to a conversion.

The framework has 6 target rings or categories of intent, listed in decreasing order of conversion effectiveness:

  1. Brand terms
  2. Product terms
  3. Competitor terms
  4. Substitute product terms
  5. Complementary product terms
  6. Audience terms

Beth Morgan, the creator of this framework, says one of the biggest benefits of this model is “understanding why words that seemed like they would be winners didn’t convert at all, or converted but were very expensive.”

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The Funnel Stages Model

This model organizes keywords into 10 funnel stages, including pre-awareness, problems, solutions, conversion, and post-conversion. It’s a very detailed model, but it gives you an in-depth understanding of your consumer’s intent and buying journey. It also shows you the holes in your keyword strategy from a funnel perspective–critical to increasing conversions–and is a great way to talk with clients or management about a business.


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Benefits of Classifying Keywords by Consumer Intent

However you rank your keywords and understand user intent, there are huge positive consequences for your online marketing:

  • more thorough keyword strategy
  • stronger SEO
  • more well-rounded content strategy
  • higher conversion rates

Which user intent keyword research model do you use?

Jun, 13, 2014