5 Tips, Tools and Tricks for Understanding User Intent

Think key words are all-important in a Google search? Actually, key words are secondary to consumer intent.
5 Tips, Tools and Tricks for Understanding User Intent
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Every day, more than 4 billion searches are performed through Google. Let me repeat that: 4 billion. That’s 4 billion people with a need. And the businesses that can fill that need are the ones that are succeeding.

Related: These 9 SEO Tips Are All You'll Ever Need to Rank in Google

But to fill a need, you must first understand what the need is. It’s not just about what you're offering; it’s about what solutions your products or services provide for your customers.

Think about times when you need something, let’s say a new mattress. What’s the first thing you do? Many people turn to the internet to research, learn and eventually make a purchase.

To attract customers to your brand, you need to understand what those people want -- in short their intent. According to a Forester study, 93 percent of online experiences begin with a search engine. But customers don’t search with key words in mind; instead, they're all about intent.

What is user intent?

User intent is the purpose behind people's search queries; when they click on to Google, their intent is their dominant concern. And, the same should be true for your business. While SEO best practices focus mainly on key-word optimization, it’s time to turn your attention to user intent instead.

“There’s no such thing as people typing in random queries without a reason for typing in those queries. A searcher must have intent,” says Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar and KISSmetrics. 

To begin to make sense of user ntent,  first understand how search queries relate to it.

Types of search queries

Typically, it takes six to eight touch points with a brand before a customer makes a purchase. That means your brand needs to be prepared to interact with your audience at every stage of the buying cycle.

With search, the type of intent will depend largely on what stage of the buying cycle the person is in. There are three types of intent:

  • Navigational: The user is looking for something specific.
  • Informational: The user is researching and gathering information.
  • Transactional: The user is ready to buy.

So, how do you know what your users’ intent is? The following five tips may help you determine that, and in the process, better help you position your brand.

1. Go beyond key words.

If you’re searching for that new mattress, your search queries will focus on the problem you need to solve. Perhaps you’ll search for “best mattress for back pain” or “best mattress for kids.” These queries indicate an intent.

Remember, people don’t think about the specific key words they’re using. Sometimes they aren’t even searching key words. Often, they’re searching questions. Whatever that question is, they’re thinking about what they want. This is how your brand should be thinking, as well.

“If you don’t know the user intent behind the key words you’re optimizing for, then you’re doing it wrong,” says Jordan Kasteler, a digital marketing consultant. “Also, if you are optimizing for key words versus the needs of the user, then you’re doing it wrong.”

According to Hubspot's 2016 State of Inbound report, 65 percent of marketers surveyed said that generating traffic and leads is one of their top challenges. By focusing on user intent, you can help alleviate this challenge and improve conversions.

2. Consider the buying cycle.

People in the early stages of the buying cycle have a much different intent than do those in the later stages. You need to be aware of what users are looking for at each stage and be ready to meet their needs.

At the beginning of the buying cycle, users will be searching more broadly, and their queries will be more informational. This is where they are researching the topic and gathering as much information as they can. Before making a large purchase, according to a Retailing Today study, 81 percent of people surveyed said they perform some type of online research. Your brand will want to be top of mind at this stage.

As they move down the funnel, their search gets more specific, and their queries are more transactional. This is when people are ready to make a purchase. If they’ve found your brand during the informational stage and you have what they're looking for, they’ll likely buy from you. 

3. Identify queries.

Now that you understand how customers will perform a search, it’s time to dive into what they’ll actually be searching. The first step to figuring this out is to turn to Google. Put yourself in the shoes of your customer and type in relevant queries in Google’s search bar.

Study the results of each search. See what content comes up and what is performing the best. Typically, the first position result has a 34.4 percent (Advanced Web Ranking) click-through rate. The top results will also generally tell you what people are looking for and can help inform your own strategy.

Related: 3 Ways Customer Data Allows for Pinpoint Marketing

If you’re unsure what kinds of queries to search for, look at your Google Analytics. Look at your organic traffic to see what kinds of key words people are using to find your website.

4. Understand your customers.

Queries alone won’t tell you what your customer wants. But understanding the individuals on a deeper level -- their needs, habits and preferences -- will.

“The future of SEO is here: Understanding and marketing to specific and defined audiences through search engines,” Adam Audette, senior vice president of organic search at Merkle, has said on Twitter.

To appeal to your audience, you must understand what they want. You need to hone in on your niche audience and identify what makes them unique, what their problems are and how your brand can solve them. Do as much research as you can on your audience. Create buyer personas to zero in on their individual personalities and needs.

“SEO is all about the user experience and presentation,” Ali Raza, chief executive at Aarswebs, said on Twitter. “We often forget who is our eventual visitor. It’s not Google, it’s your visitor, it’s your user. Make him happy.” 

5. Ask your customers directly.

If user intent still has you stumped, there is a simple solution: Just ask. Go straight to the source and ask your customers directly what it is they want and need. 

Use polls, surveys and social media to ask questions. The results will give you invaluable insight into your customers and their needs and will be the guiding force for your strategy.

Related: Don't Believe an SEO Expert Who Tells You Any of These 7 Lies

CEO Kyle Kramer, speaking about SEO on his site, Huify, wrote:  “There is no magic trick that will put your site at the top of the list. No amount of key-word cramming, link-stuffing or duplicating content will make you win. What will? The simple answer is a lot of hard work and following best practices.”

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