An Introduction to Search Intent

Passion Digital Passion Digital 08/11/2019 5 minutes

If you’re in charge of creating content for your business, you want to be well aware of search intent. Incorporating this concept into the work you produce will improve its quality, help your website rank better on the search results page and ensure you are putting out content that users will actually find useful. After all, no one likes content just for the sake of content.

By the end of this blog post, you’ll be a whiz when it comes to anything related to search intent.

What is Search Intent?

Search intent is the reason why someone is searching for something. It’s the answer they want when they type a particular keyphrase into Google. As an SEO agency, we ensure your content always matches the right intent.

Our stock image friend was confused about search intent, too – but not anymore after reading this post!

Search intent usually falls into one of the following three categories:

  1. The user wants to know something. In short, they have questions and they want answers. Searches often include terminology such as ‘how to’, ‘where is’, ‘why is’, ‘what is’, etc.
  2. The user wants to do something. This could include purchasing something online, making a phone call, visiting a store, etc.
  3. The user wants to go somewhere. They want to visit a specific website or webpage.

With this information in mind, it stands to reason that the key phrase a user types into Google gives you hints about their search intent. For example, ‘how to use my iPhone’, ‘new iPhone deals’ and ‘new iPhone amazon’ (all of which are searches that use similar words) have very different search intents. It’s important to look at your key phrases logically and think about what information the user actually wants to find in the search results.

Keywords, Key Phrases and Search Queries

In the very early days of SEO, we used to talk of ‘keywords’: we would be optimising for ‘holidays’, ‘dentist’, ‘jumpers’, etc. Google could only see a page as relevant to a key phrase if it found multiple instances of that exact keyword in its entirety. As users – and therefore SEO experts – got more familiar with search engines and Google continued developing its algorithm, we saw the birth of ‘key phrases’: combinations of keywords, such as ‘cheap family holidays’, ‘dentist in Peterborough’, ‘cashmere jumpers’, etc.

Google’s Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for ‘cheap family holidays’. Look at the second result – that’s our client, Teletext Holidays!

Nowadays, the Google algorithm has become more human and capable of understanding increasingly sophisticated search intent behaviours. Us SEO and content professionals now prefer to use the term ‘search queries’. Search queries can be anything a user may type into Google, from ‘best European holiday destinations for kids’ and ‘Peterborough dentist reviews’ to ‘how to care for cashmere jumpers’

Each search query has its own, unique search intent and, as SEO and content professionals, it is our job to identify the search intent groups that we want to target with the content and sales copy we produce. These groups may be more generic with a lot of search volume, or very niche and targeted with not a lot of search volume. What search intent you target is all part of your strategy.

In this blog post, we sometimes refer to search queries as ‘key phrases’. This is not because we still think in those terms internally, but because – you guessed it – it meets your search intent better!

Google Updates That Have Helped Us Target Search Intent

Google’s algorithmic change from keyword targeting to search intent modelling hasn’t happened overnight. That’s why when Google recently rolled out the BERT algorithm, we weren’t exactly panicked here at Passion. We have been thinking in terms of search intent for years already, and there have been plenty of Google updates over the past 10 years that have encouraged that:

  • 2009: Google confirmed the irrelevance of the ‘meta keywords’ field in meta data. Some industry professionals speculated that ‘keyword stuffing’ may be a negative factor when it comes to ranking.
  • 2011: Google started moving to secure search, leading to more keywords being ‘(not provided)’ in Google Analytics.
  • 2012: Google announced its Knowledge Graph, which gives users the most relevant information about things, people and places.
  • 2013: Google announced its entirely new search algorithm, Hummingbird, which was designed to understand the meaning behind search queries rather than simply match them to words.
  • 2015: Google announced Rankbrain, the machine learning extension of their existing algorithm that helped answer ambiguous search queries.
  • 2019: BERT, the latest addition to Google’s algorithm, is a neural network-based technique that helps Google map the context of words in search queries better.

Although SEO experts haven’t always been excited about Google’s algorithm changes – change is challenging, after all – the good news is that some of our favourite tools such as Ahrefs Keyword Explorer and SEMrush have started to suggest search intent based on our main target key phrases already. Here is an example of what that might look like.

The SEMrush ‘online visibility management’ tool suggests keywords and search intent indicators based on your chosen topic.

The SEMrush SEO Writing Assistant suggests search intent based on your target keywords.

How to Seamlessly Meld Search Intent and Key Phrases Together

The most straightforward way to make sure search intent and key phrases go hand-in-hand is to respond to selected questions and queries suggested by tools such as SEMrush. 

For example, say you want to write a piece about mental and physical wellbeing in the workplace. After some keyword research, you see that your relevant key phrases are ‘wellbeing at work’, ‘wellbeing at work ideas’ and ‘health and wellbeing activities at work’. From this information, you can infer that searchers are looking for the definition of wellbeing at work, ideas for improving wellbeing at work and examples of activities that will promote wellbeing at work.

This makes for a very easy way to structure your article while naturally including the suggested search queries – you can slip them into your subheadings! 

Start with an introduction, then move onto a section with the definition of wellbeing at work – you can call it What is Wellbeing at Work? Write a paragraph defining this phrase, then use your key phrase suggestions to influence two more section headings: Wellbeing at Work: Ideas That Are Easy to Implement and Health and Wellbeing Activities at Work. Now you don’t have to worry too much about getting the key phrases into your body text – once or twice should be fine.

Remember: You don’t have to use key phrases exactly as they come up! You can add in filler words. For example, if your key phrase is ‘fancy hotels Madrid’, it’s perfectly fine to change it to ‘fancy hotels in Madrid’, ‘fancy hotels near Madrid’, etc.

Search Intent and Outsourcing

If you’ve decided to hire a freelance writer to write your article, providing subheadings informed by your key phrase and search intent research is a great way to structure your brief. It will help to guide the writer, ensure they include all the points you want and make sure the article’s key phrases are incorporated correctly.

Here at Passion, we love briefing articles based on search intent! It makes things easier for the writer while ensuring you create a useful article that has the potential to rank well and will answer searchers’ burning questions – all in all, it’s a win-win for everyone involved! If you want to outsource an article that meets search intent requirements, you can download our briefing template here.

From content marketing to SEO, Passion is here for all your digital marketing needs. We’ve got a great team who are here to look after you and help make your digital footprint pop – and right now we’re expanding! If you want to take the next step in your career and become a Passionista, have a look at our current job openings