How Google interprets search intent

google search intent

Back in the early days, Google’s algorithm relied heavily on keyword density, meta data and backlinks to establish a website’s position in the search results. Today, the search engine has become a lot more sophisticated in the way that it delivers relevancy to the user by instead promoting content that meets the contextual needs of a query.

Whilst the game has changed, the goal remains the same for most business; to see higher site rankings, organic traffic increasing and, as a result – sales improving.  So, with everything to play for, we must learn the new rules and discover how to play it better than our competitors.

What is search intent?

Search or user intent is essentially the ultimate goal of a person using a search engine. Broadly speaking there are four main types of search intent;

  • To go somewhere – often branded terms, this is where the user wants to find a specific page or site e.g. search for Facebook instead of going to Facebook.com
  • To know something – often a specific question; how to, what is, where is, why do etc.
  • To do something – the user wants to complete an action e.g. make a purchase, sign up, visit a store, make a call
  • To not pay for something – users looking for free resource, product or service. These are unlikely to have any commercial intent

In a search engine these queries might look like:

  • New iPhone amazon
  • How to set up my iPhone
  • iPhone deals

How does Google interpret intent?

You will have noticed over the years that the search results page has changed quite significantly. For any given search, Google now shows a diverse set of results – why? – because it has become better at understanding intent.

Google uses lots of different factors to identify intent, but consider the following: If a user in Reading searches for Marks & Spencer, Google can quickly identify that they are most likely looking for a shop nearest to them, not the brands headquarters in London. The user is likely to be search local search listings above the organic results. Using this understanding, Google can measure how satisfied the user is against their  ‘Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines’, which helps the engine understand and apply the intention.

It’s not always that simple to determine intent. Words and phrases can often have multiple meanings, so when a user searches, Google will list what it knows to be the most popular definitions first with a view to maximising the chances of meeting the user’s needs. When intent is unclear, Google will often serve organic listings with the knowledge panel to better serve the user.

How to optimise for search intent

In its most simple form, intent optimisation is – creating content that answer the users questions or allow the intended action. It’s not a complicated principle, but it can be easy to get lost in the SEO abyss.

Transactional intent – ecommerce seo

The key to optimisation for search in the world of ecommerce is to make it extremely clear how a user can convert, and what conversion will mean for them. Transactional landing pages should be formatted as follows:

  • Clear CTA – whether it’s an add to basket button or contact form submission, your CTA should be clear, obvious and eye catching. Make it easy for the user to complete their desired action
  • Clear design -you have less than 2 seconds to satisfy a user when they land on your page. Since 95% of decisions are based on design, use succinct copy and  visuals to express your values and benefits
  • CRO focus – first and foremost, people by from people. Focus on building trust and creating a desire for your product. Think about what a user wants from the product and use terms to support that.

Informational intent

If the holy grail is achieving a spot in the knowledge panel, you’ll want to be optimising for interrogative terms like “how to” and “what is”. The key optimising for informational intent is to make sure your provide the full question and answer on the page – that means looking at page titles, header tags and meta descriptions. Your page and content should be structure something like this:

<h1>How to boil an egg </h1>

<h2>Boil the water</h2>

<h2>Add the eggs</h2>

<h2>Set timer</h2>

<h2>Remove eggs with open spoon</h2>

What are the SEO benefits of intent targeting?

Understanding user intent is integral to success in any marketing channel. When it comes to SEO and organic visibility, if you understand user intent and effectively optimise for it, you’ll have a wealth of opportunity to convert visitors into customers. Mastering Google’s relationship with search intent will enable you to improve your score against ‘Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines’ which in turn should see more satisfied users and greater visibility in search results.

If you aren’t already optimising pages for search intent, you should start now. Running an in-depth SEO audit that incorporates analytics and Google Search Console data will help you identify content that Google sees as already matching user intent, and opportunities to create optimised content. Get in touch today.