Writing for Search Intent: Capturing the ‘Why’ Instead of the ‘Who’

SEO

February 28, 2022

Alex Lindley

Alex Lindley is an expert copywriter and on-page SEO strategist.

Think about the last Google search you did. What did you type? Whether you typed “sushi near me,” “how to fix a leaky faucet” or basically anything else, you had a particular type of search result in mind. The type of result you were after tells an experienced SEO writer everything they need to know about your search intent.

Search intent is an often overlooked factor in SEO content writing. It’s a shame that it’s overlooked, too, because if you’re not matching the search intent of your target audience, you are not relevant to your target audience. 

As a concept, search intent is fairly easy to grasp, and you probably already write with it in mind whether you’re aware of it or not. But getting a handle on the types of search intent and how to optimize your content for them can help you sharpen your SEO effectiveness, draw more relevant traffic and grow your business. Here’s everything you need to know about search intent.

Search Intent Is About Relevance

Writing to match search intent isn’t specifically a ranking factor that Google looks for, but it does touch on several known ranking factors — the most important of which is relevance. If your restaurant equipment rental website is ranking for “sushi near me,” you have a big search intent problem no matter how much traffic you’re getting from that ranking.

The problem is one of relevance. Picture yourself searching “sushi near me” and landing on a restaurant equipment rental website. The very first thing you would do is bounce, and it would happen in under a second. 

That kind of behavior is a negative signal to search engines that suggests that your content is irrelevant or otherwise not serving the user. Eventually, search engines will take notice, and your rankings will tank. 

The flip side of that scenario, of course, is matching search intent with the written content on your website. If you know the keywords you would like to rank for, you need to understand the probable search intent of the average Google user who would type them in. And then you need to create content that matches that intent.

Types of Search Intent

There are four types of search intent:

  1. Navigational. This is when the searcher is looking for a particular website or brand. For example, if the keyword is “Facebook,” “Spotify” or the name of your company, it’s navigational.
  2. Informational. Keywords in this category are about the pursuit of knowledge or information. They’re often questions but not always, and they’re never commercial. Examples include “how to repair basement foundation cracks,” “who is Zendaya” and “super bowl score.”
  3. Commercial investigation. This is the stage directly before buying something, when you are doing research on the product or category of products you’re considering. Examples include “best used car to buy 2022,” “Apple Watch reviews” and “Georgia vs Tennessee mountains for vacation.”
  4. Transactional. If you’re ranking for highly transactional keywords and you’re selling the item in question, you’re in a good position. This search intent is all about making a purchase. Examples include “used cars Omaha,” “buy Apple Watch” and “Georgia mountain vacation rentals.”

How to Match Search Intent in Your Content

If you already know the keywords you would like to rank for, you’re ready to start thinking about the search intent you should target with your content. Here are some tips to help you identify the right content approach to match keyword search intent.

Look for Key Words

That heading is two words, not one. You need to look for key words in the keyword phrase. Certain words will almost always tell you the search intent of the keyword. Here are some examples:

  • Buy. Any keyword that contains “buy” is likely to have transactional intent. 
  • Best. This is often associated with commercial investigation. Searchers may be aware that there are multiple types or brands of the product they are considering, and the “best” modifier is meant to help them narrow their list.
  • Who, what, when, where, why and how. These are question words that frequently signal that a keyword has informational intent. 

Check the SERP

If you’ve found a keyword with decent search volume that feels relevant to your business but aren’t sure about the search intent, just Google it. Google the exact keyword you’re considering in a SafeSearch or Incognito window to strip your search of tracking information that may modify it.

What you will see is the search engine results page (SERP) for the keyword you’re considering. You’d be well-served to read or watch the content that is ranking on that SERP. As you do that, ask yourself what search intent the ranking content appears to be targeting. You may find that it’s in line with the intent you thought might be behind the keyword, or you may find that it’s pretty different. You can interpret this information in one of two ways:

  1. You need to match the search intent of the ranking content if you want to be relevant to searchers and rank well for the keyword.
  2. You have identified an opening in the results for this keyword, and if you fill that opening, you will rank well for the keyword and provide something that the SERP does not provide at the moment.

The choice between those two interpretations and corresponding approaches is a judgment call, of course, but you still enter that equation armed with knowledge if you examine the SERP before you create the content.

Find the Right Format

While you’re taking a look at the SERP, make note of the format of the content that is ranking well. Is it all longform written content, or do you see a lot of videos? Is a podcast writeup on page one? Or maybe a webinar?

You don’t have to match the content exactly, but if you, for example, notice that none of the page one content for the keyword you are considering is in traditional article or blog post format, you should ask yourself whether that’s because the written word doesn’t serve the keyword’s search intent well.

A great example of this is easy to spot in how-to home improvement content. If you Google pretty much any semi-complex home improvement task with a “how to” modifier, you’ll notice that the SERP is dominated by highly visual content, with videos taking the lead in most cases. That’s because the search intent behind these keywords is informational and highly visual, and visual content matches that best.

For Better Rankings, Put Search Intent Front and Center

If you’re writing content for your website with the sole intent of getting more traffic, you’re focused on the “who” and the “how many.” That’s fine, and traffic is a good thing, but if you skip the “why” of these website users’ visits to your site, you will be irrelevant to them. That is likely to result in nonexistent to poor SEO results.

An investment in understanding search intent before you create content will pay off in relevance and, likely, rankings. There is almost no exception to that statement.

Need help with all of that? You’re in the right place. Contact Hire a Writer.

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