Bill Gates published an essay entitled Content is King in 1996 that discussed how the internet shattered the content creation barrier of entry. Anyone with a computer could now write and publish content at nearly zero marginal cost.
“If people are to be expected to put up with turning on a computer to read a screen, they must be rewarded with deep and extremely up-to-date information that they can explore at will. They need to have audio, and possibly video. They need an opportunity for personal involvement that goes far beyond that offered through the letters-to-the-editor pages of print magazines.”
Nearly a quarter of a century later, Gates' predictions seem prophetic. We’ve seen a pivot toward visual content marketing. We all receive round-the-clock news alerts.
The limits of print — such as lack of interactivity and personalization — don’t need to affect the online medium. As our fingers hover over a keyboard, there is an infinite breadth and depth of information available, so vast that a thousand lifetimes would just crack the surface.
Understanding User Search Intent to Create Content
The change in content distribution and consumption forced content marketers to rethink the way they seek to provide value. Once individuals could seek out the content they desire, rather than being fed pre-planned editorial content issued by publishers, the game changed forever.
The responsibility of acquiring knowledge now rests more on the individual rather than the subject matter expert. This creates a paradigm shift in consumers from passive bystander to active seeker.
This change in the inbound order requires content marketers to have an acute understanding of one thing in order to compete in the new status quo: user search intent.
What Is User Search Intent?
User search intent is the end goal of the individual conducting a query with a search engine. Individuals search with the intention to:
- Learn something
- Do something
- Go somewhere
Understanding user search intent can result in reduced bounce rates as individuals find what they were looking for with their query and stay on your page to read the content. This can bolster engagement on your website and improve the click-through-rates as searchers determine the site to be knowledgeable and choose to interact with more pages.
These improved metrics can equate to real dollar figures. If executed properly, optimizing based on the user’s search intent will lead to more qualified website visitors, improve engagement metrics and demonstrate to search engines that your domain is trustworthy.
Learn Something: Informational Search Intent
Searching with the intent to find specific types of answers is considered informational intent. This type of search implies that the individual identified a specific problem or desire, and are actively seeking a solution or resolution.
For content marketers, this is one of the most important types of searches. It presents the opportunity to bring users into the awareness phase of the marketing funnel.
An individual that searches with informational intent could be researching products with no intention of buying. This presents content marketers with the opportunity to assert market share-of-voice, convey subject-matter expertise and educate searchers about a product or service.
Searchers seeking information may later progress further along the buyer’s journey and search with navigational or transactional intent.
Informational search intent in a commercial context shows that the individual is evaluating the product or service, conducting comparative research, reading reviews or weighing the opportunity cost of making a purchase.
Do Something: Transactional Intent
Individuals with transactional search intent are prepared to do something. Transactional intent implies that an individual is ready to take action when they search — buy, download or register.
Content marketers can optimize for this conversion-oriented search by removing any friction to conversion within the content. This is done by making it blatantly clear how the user can convert and what the conversion means for them.
A page optimized for transactional search intent should have a clear CTA, clean design and concise copy. It’s important to limit the content to only what is needed for the conversion.
Go Somewhere: Navigational Intent
Navigational search intent shows that a searcher is prepared to go somewhere. That could be a physical location such as visiting a city or finding a nearby store, or could involve navigating to a specific website.
This type of intent drives searchers to a predetermined destination. Search engines rely on local map packs particularly for this type of intent.
How Do You Identify User Intent From The Data?
Identifying user intent has never been easier. Google’s ever-changing algorithms are powerful enough to differentiate between different types of search intent based on syntax, search history, location, etc.
Content marketers parse search intent by focusing on the core idea of the keyword. While some keywords may have broad connotations, understanding keywords allows organizations to familiarize themselves with what their target audience is searching for.
The opportunity exists to find specific, narrowly focused topics within a targeted industry. This revolutionizes the way digital marketing experts look at search volume placing less emphasis on how many people are searching and instead looking at what the intent is in the search.
Comprehending the implied level of intent behind a search creates the opportunity for a more intentional and profound content strategy.
How Do Content Marketers Use Search Intent Data To Create Content?
Content marketers can capitalize on the rich swaths of search data via tools like Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, ubersuggest and several others. Instead of cranking out large quantities of content and hoping something sticks, a more thoughtful, informed content strategy approach can be invoked using intent data.
Intent data provides content marketers with a compelling reason to focus on a specific vein of content, answer frequently searched questioned or provide clarification on what consumers find confusing regarding your organization.
For example, if individuals frequently search awareness-related questions about your business, then that indicates the need for more brand-awareness content.
Alternatively, if sales are down, researching intent data could identify a gap in website content. Search queries could indicate that people are comparing your brand with a competitor, pointing to a weakness within your marketing funnel that is allowing consumers to exit the funnel.
The insights that search intent data provides paint a clear picture of what should be prioritized in your content strategy. Understanding what the search intent data means guides content marketers to create pages that answer users’ questions and nurtures leads for a conversation.
Content Marketing and Search Intent
Search intent data aids in editorial planning. Search engine algorithms are sophisticated enough to instantaneously associate a query with a topic group, rather than specific keywords.
If a user types a single word or phrase, search engines will serve answers to questions. This allows the search engine to present various results for every type of intent attempting to serve content best suited to answer the query. The searcher will receive increasingly personalized results depending on what questions they click in the People Also Ask box.
Content marketers must look at the related questions to understand what pertinent content exists and assess the content quality of ranking pages.
Invoking this exercise leads to the creation of a more robust content strategy with greater awareness of the saturation of the content landscape. Assessing competitors' libraries of content helps determine what other content opportunities exist.
SEO and Search Intent
A strategy to optimize for search intent must be in place before any content is created. At Silverback, the content marketing team works very closely with the SEO team. Through the Editorial SEO process, each piece of content — from ideation to optimization — is intended to show up in the SERP results to satisfy the searcher.
“Search engines have become much more accurate at categorizing different queries into different buckets within the buyer's journey and providing enough transparency so we can then figure out the awareness keywords, consideration keywords, and transactional keywords,” says Amy Goffe, SEO account manager at Silverback.
She provides the search example of shoes.
Short, general, unbranded keywords, such as “shoes,” provide miscellaneous search results due to their broad nature.
Search engines like Google are increasingly relying on the Local Map Pack to understand whether the individual possessed informational intent (seeking information about how shoes are made), navigational intent (finding the nearest shoe store to go shopping) or transactional intent (a user is seeking to buy a pair of shoes).
Meanwhile, long-tail, question-style keywords indicate that the searcher possesses a specific type of intent.
A question such as, “what shoes are best for traveling?” indicates to Google that the searcher could be preparing for a trip and looking to find a pair of comfortable shoes — early phase transactional intent. It signals that the individual might make a purchase, but is researching different brands.
This is where content marketing steps in.
With the help of SEO experts, content strategists can create helpful website pages that help tip the user in the direction of converting. Silverback SEO managers can ensure that pages with client-owned content such as their website home page, map pack, or educational blog post are at the top of the SERP.
The People Also Ask box also provides searchers with a listicle of related questions, typically linked to an organization’s blog, and each with their own objective to turn consideration into a conversion.
“Searcher intent data creates a stronger tie between content and SEO because there are endless questions that users are asking and SEO provides the keyword research to guide the content creation process,” Amy says. “That type of helpful, informational content does great at capturing awareness traffic.”
Paid Media and Search Intent
Paid media experts identify user search intent to refine audience targeting in order to serve ads to individuals more likely to convert. Search engines continue to refine how they categorize user intent using algorithms based on millions of signals.
These signals include factors like the use of geographic modifiers, search history and previous purchases.
“Branded keywords typically have more defined intent,” says Silverback Senior Paid Media & Analytics Manager Jonny Mazo. “People have already gone through the discovery and research phase, and the last thing many of them do before converting is search for your brand.”
More specific searches possess more user intent than more general searches. Someone searching for a specific product with details is likely closer to converting than someone making a vague search.
This insight demonstrates why it is so important for your brand to have 100 percent search impression share for branded keywords to maximize the amount of traffic they are receiving from people at this late stage of the conversion funnel.
Content marketers work with paid team members to optimize landing pages and ad copy for conversions when individuals search with transactional intent.
Likewise, keywords with geographic modifiers, such as “shoe store near me” or “shoe store in Alexandria” tend to have navigational search intent.
As far as bidding on upper and middle funnel keywords to have owned content show up for more vague searches, it involves a great deal of strategic thinking from the paid team.
“It’s important to strike a balance between reaching a broader audience by casting a wider net with general search terms," Jonny says, "and maintaining relevance between the product or service landing page and the upper funnel search."
With vast improvements in audience targeting and automated bidding, Google is recommending that organizations add more broad keywords into the targeting fold to provide its bidding algorithm with a bigger pool of data to work with.
This lets the search engine predict user intent on any given search, as opposed to the advertiser attempting to guess search intent based on keywords.
Why, Rather Than What
Content must be created mindfully, with a new focus on why people conduct a search in order to ensure the content meets their needs. SEO best practices and keyword research can ensure content is optimized to show up for a specific query, but if it fails to answer the query than search engines will actually penalize your website.
Organizations fixate on their website ranking well for as many keywords as possible without thinking about the searcher. Although keyword optimization is important, this single-minded way of thinking about content as a tool for SEO can inadvertently create a mismatch between the searcher’s intent and the SERP content being served.
Search engines will quickly take notice of high bounce rates and crawlers will penalize low-quality content stuffed with keywords.
In short, it’s more important than ever to start with the searcher, think critically about what they are searching for, consider the desired business goal and then create content around that goal.
Above all, content must match the searcher’s intent. Likewise, paid media experts can bid on specific keywords and guarantee visibility for owned content.
Unfortunately, this practice can backfire if the ad doesn’t address a searcher’s query. Similarly to SEO optimization, search engines will ding ads that mislead the searcher or poorly align with the search intent.
“If there is a significant gap between a user’s upper funnel search and the relevance of your landing page, then you will likely see a low conversion rate, high cost per conversion, and decreased quality scores,” Jonny says. “This will cause Google to favor other advertisers, or even organic content, over your ads.”
The True Purpose of Content
As Gates predicted, the internet has created a high standard for personalized content. Understanding search intent of users allows your content strategy to stand out.
Remember that the true purpose of content is primarily upper funnel as you use intent data. Determining the searcher’s intent allows organizations to bring the desired audience to the client’s website, but it’s important to set expectations that this type of optimization will only take individuals so far along the buyer’s journey.
Content is king. High quality content trumps keyword stuffing and large paid media budgets, so it’s important to create factual, relevant content that will commence the lead nurture process.
As a performance marketing agency, Silverback constantly tracks and measures the success of our content and harnesses search intent data to make necessary tweaks to capture a slice of the search volume pie. We can even measure the ROI of a blog.
Algorithms, keyword relevancy and SERP features will only continue to become more sophisticated. Organizations can’t afford to pass on leveraging search intent data for content marketing purposes.
Plan your performance marketing strategy with Silverback's search and content experts. Contact us today to learn how.