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The importance of understanding intent for SEO

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Search is an exciting, ever-changing channel.

Algorithm updates from Google, innovations in the way we search (mobile, voice search, etc.), and evolving user behavior all keep us on our toes as SEOs. The dynamic nature of our industry requires adaptable strategies and ongoing learning to be successful. However, we can’t become so wrapped up in chasing new strategies and advanced tactics that we overlook fundamental SEO principles.

Recently, I’ve noticed a common thread of questioning coming from our clients and prospects around searcher intent, and I think it’s something worth revisiting here. In fact, searcher intent is such a complex topic it’s spawned multiple scientific studies (PDF) and research (PDF).

However, you might not have your own internal research team, leaving you to analyze intent and the impact it has on your SEO strategy on your own. Today, I want to share a process we go through with clients at Page One Power to help them better understand the intent behind the keywords they target for SEO.

Two questions we always ask when clients bring us a list of target keywords and phrases are:

  1. Should your site or page rank there?
  2. What will these rankings accomplish?

These questions drive at intent and force us, and our clients, to analyze audience and searcher behavior before targeting specific keywords and themes for their SEO strategy.

The basis for any successful SEO strategy is a firm understanding of searcher intent.

Types of searcher intent

Searcher intent refers to the “why” behind a given search query — what is the searcher hoping to achieve? Searcher intent can be categorized in four ways:

  • Informational
  • Navigational
  • Commercial
  • Transactional

Categorizing queries into these four segments will help you better understand what types of pages searchers are looking for.

Informational intent

People entering informational queries seek to learn information about a subject or topic. These are the most common types of searches and typically have the largest search volumes.

Informational searches also exist at the top of the marketing funnel, during the discovery phase where visitors are much less likely to convert directly into customers. These searchers want content-rich pages that answer their questions quickly and clearly, and the search results associated with these searches will reflect that.

Navigational intent

Searchers with navigational intent already know which company or brand they are looking for, but they need help with navigation to their desired page or website. These searches often involve queries that feature brand names or specific products or services.

These SERPs typically feature homepages, or specific product or service pages. They might also feature mainstream news coverage of a brand.

Commercial intent

Commercial queries exist as a sort of hybrid intent — a mix of informational and transactional.

These searches have transactional intent. The searcher is looking to make a purchase, but they are also looking for informational pages to help them make their decision. The results associated with commercial intent usually have a mix of informational pages and product or service pages.

Transactional intent

Transactional queries have the most commercial intent as these are searchers looking to make a purchase. Common words associated with transactional searches include [price] or [sale].

Transactional SERPs are typically 100 percent commercial pages (products, services and subscription pages).

Categorizing keywords and search queries into these four areas makes it easier to understand what searchers want, informing page creation and optimization.

Optimizing for intent: Should my page rank there?

With a clear understanding of the different types of intent, we can dive into optimizing for intent.

When we get a set of target keywords from a client, the first thing we ask is, “Should your website be ranking in these search results?”

Asking this question leads to other important questions:

  • What is the intent of these searches?
  • What does Google believe the intent is?
  • What type of result are people searching for?

Before you can optimize your pages for specific keywords and themes, you need to optimize them for intent.

The best place to start your research is the results themselves. Simply analyzing the current ranking pages will answer your questions about intent. Are the results blog posts? Reviews or “Top 10” lists? Product pages?

If you scan the results for a given query and all you see is in-depth guides and resources, the chances that you’ll be able to rank your product page there are slim to none. Conversely, if you see competitor product pages cropping up, you know you have legitimate opportunity to rank your product page with proper optimization.

Google wants to show pages that answer searcher intent, so you want to make sure your page does the best job of helping searchers achieve whatever they set out to do when they typed in their query. On-page optimization and links are important, but you’ll never be able to compete in search without first addressing intent.

This research also informs content creation strategy. To rank, you will need a page that is at least comparable to the current results. If you don’t have a page like that you will need to create one.

You can also find (a few) opportunities where the results currently don’t do a great job of answering searcher intent, and you could compete quickly by creating a more focused page. You can even take it a layer deeper and consider linking intent — is there an opportunity here to build a page that can act as a resource and attract links? Analyzing intent will inform the other aspects of your SEO campaign.

Asking yourself if your current or hypothetical page should rank in each SERP will help you identify — and optimize for — searcher intent.

Answering intent: What will this accomplish?

A key follow-up question we also ask is, “What will ranking accomplish?”

The simplified answer we typically get is “more traffic.” But what does that really mean?

Depending on the intent associated with a given keyword, that traffic could lead to brand discovery, authority building, or direct conversions. You need to consider intent when you set expectations and assign KPIs.

Keep in mind that not all traffic needs to convert. A balanced SEO strategy will target multiple stages of the marketing funnel to ensure all your potential customers can find you — building brand affinity is an important part of earning traffic in the first place, with brand recognition impacting click-through-rate by +2-3x! Segmenting target keywords and phrases based on intent will help you identify and fill any gaps in your keyword targeting.

Ask yourself what ranking for potential target keywords could accomplish for your business, and how that aligns with your overall marketing goals. This exercise will force you to drill down and really focus on the opportunities (and SERPs) that can make the most impact.

Searcher intent informs SEO

Search engine optimization should start with optimizing for intent. Search engines continue to become more sophisticated and better at measuring how well a page matches intent, and pages that rank well are pages that best answer the query posed by searchers.

To help our clients at Page One Power refocus on intent, we ask them the following questions:

  1. Should your site or page rank there?
  2. What will these rankings accomplish?

Ask yourself these same questions as you target keywords and phrases for your own SEO campaign to ensure you’re accounting for searcher intent.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

Andrew Dennis is a Content Marketing Specialist at Page One Power. Along with his column here on Search Engine Land, Andrew also writes about SEO and link building for the Page One Power blog, Linkarati. When he’s not reading or writing about SEO, you’ll find him cheering on his favorite professional teams and supporting his alma mater the University of Idaho.





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SEO

Google extends optimization score to Display campaigns

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The campaign optimization score that Google Ads shows for Search and Shopping campaigns is now available for Display campaigns. Scores will be available at the campaign level, and a combined account-level score now encompasses Search, Shopping and Display. You may also see recommendations tailored to Display campaigns.

Optimization scores in Google Ads are now available for Display campaigns.

What is Google Ads optimization score? Scores range from 0% to 100% and indicate how well your campaigns are expected to perform based on a number of factors such as targeting, bid automation, ads and extensions and more. The score is accompanied by a set of automated recommendations with indicators of how much of a score improvement you can expect to see by accepting them.

Why we should care. These scores and accompanying recommendations can be directionally helpful, but don’t accept the recommendations blindly. Carefully consider them and whether they are right for your campaign. And equally important on the flip side, an optimization score of 100% with no recommendations does not mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities for improvement.


About The Author

Ginny Marvin is Third Door Media’s Editor-in-Chief, running the day to day editorial operations across all publications and overseeing paid media coverage. Ginny Marvin writes about paid digital advertising and analytics news and trends for Search Engine Land, Marketing Land and MarTech Today. With more than 15 years of marketing experience, Ginny has held both in-house and agency management positions. She can be found on Twitter as @ginnymarvin.



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Google Search Console messages can now be viewed without leaving reports

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Messages within Google Search Console are now accessible through the bell icon at the top of any page within Search Console, the company announced Wednesday. The updated interface now allows site owners to view their messages from anywhere within the tool, without leaving reports.

Source: Google.

Why we care

Being able to reference messages without having to leave the report you’re viewing makes information more accessible and improves our workflow, which can facilitate better decision making.

The categorized messages (as seen in the example above) will also make it easier to locate communications pertaining to a specific issue.

More on the announcement

  • Messages are now categorized into types, such as Performance, Coverage, Enhancement types and so on.
  • When a user gains access to a new site in Search Console, they will be able to view all messages the site has previously received, dating back to May 23, 2019. Messages sent prior to that date can only be viewed in the legacy message list or in your personal inbox.
  • For the time being, old messages are still available in the “Legacy tools & reports” section of the sidebar.

About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.



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How to breathe fresh life into evergreen content (and get fresh traffic, too)

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NEW YORK — Creating content can do wonders for your brand, but not if it goes unseen. A staggering 90% of the content in existence today has been created within the last two years, yet 91% of content gets no traffic from Google, said John Shehata, vice president of audience development strategy for Conde Nast, at SMX East in New York.

Investing in new content isn’t always the right choice for better content marketing. Sometimes, brands are better served by leveraging assets they already have or putting a fresh spin on an existing topic.

Old content, new traffic

“For the first 100 articles that we optimized, we saw a 210% increase in search traffic and our keyword coverage for that content increased by 900%,” said Shehata, explaining the results of his “Pinetree Initiative,” an experiment aimed at expanding existing content and merging underperforming content to increase organic visibility. “Once we refreshed the content, the traffic started increasing immediately. It went from like 100 visits to like 15,000–20,000 visits.”

(Don’t Miss SMX West in San Jose!)

“You’re reporting news or something trending, the traffic spikes out for like 24 to 48 hours, and it’s done, right?” Shehata said. “Versus evergreen content — that content can bring you traffic for a year plus.”

Content is considered evergreen if it remains relevant long after its publication. Tutorials, FAQ’s, in-depth guides, expert interviews and case studies are all examples of evergreen content.

In addition to providing more sustainable traffic to your site, evergreen content also insulates publishers from slow news cycles and can drive prospects to the top of the funnel, Shehata said.

However, news content can still be valuable and publishers should aim for a 60/40 split of both content types, in either direction, said Shehata. For example, if you’re a news publisher, 60% news and 40% evergreen content is more likely to resonate with your audience, as where an industry-based publication might publish 60% evergreen and 40% news content.

Refreshing evergreen content, step by step

Conde Nast’s search traffic and ranking keyword growth was made possible by a process that Shehata developed specifically for content refreshes. It begins with examining your own site, analyzing the search results pages for your target keywords, evaluating competing content, optimizing on-page content and publishing and promotion, as illustrated below.

1. Assess your existing content. Brands can begin their evergreen content refreshes by either selecting a topic and keywords or selecting a main page to refresh, said Shehata.

Whichever starting point you choose, the next thing you’ll need to do is identify all of your own competing pages that rank for the target keywords. Shehata does this by combining Google Sheets with various keyword research tool APIs to consolidate the URLs and relevant metrics into one place, giving him a better idea of the landscape of his content, which pages to avoid cannibalizing, which underperforming pages can be merged into more authoritative content and which relevant content can be included in your new evergreen article.

2. Research the results page. “Last year, we had this amazing page about celebrity homes, and it wasn’t getting any traffic at all,” Shehata said as an example of the importance of aligning with search intent.

“When we analyzed the SERPs for other types of content that are ranked for that topic, all of them were galleries. Google identified the intent for ‘celebrity homes’ as people watching galleries. So, we converted the page from an article format with a couple of images to a gallery with less content. And, guess what? Immediately ranked number two. So, the characteristics of the content are very important for the success of the SEO.”

Understanding the type of content search engines surface for specific queries can give publishers an idea of how to present their content so as to increase their chances of ranking well.

The difference in search intent between the queries “how to pack a suitcase” and “best carry on suitcase” manifests in the different types of results that surface.

In addition to the particular formats of content that make up the top organic results, you’ll also want to take note of any rich results that appear and ask yourself why they might be surfacing. For example, if a news carousel is present, is the topic news-driven, and if so, how will that affect your odds of ranking well?

Featured snippets, which often resolve a user’s query right on the search results page, may also provide you with information about the questions people are likely to ask on a given topic. Simple resources such as Google’s “People also ask” box can help you identify common questions to address, which yields opportunities to add more depth to your evergreen content, Shehata said.

3. Evaluate competing content. “If you are writing about how to boil an egg, and all the other sites that are ranking mention ‘eggshells,’ and ‘breakfast,’ and ‘easy,’ you may want to consider these topics to give you complete and in-depth coverage of your topic,” Shehata said.

Conducting a term frequency-inverse document frequency (TF-IDF) analysis is one method that may help you identify those “must-have” terms as well as the related entities that should be included in your refreshed evergreen content.

The next step in the process involves a more granular look at the pages that rank for your target keywords to determine what search engines consider to be a “right answer” for that type of query, Shehata said. As with the SERP analysis step, you’ll want to examine the way the content is presented, but also its length, publishing date and other commonalities for clues as to why the content might rank well.

4. Optimize on-page content. After collecting the above-mentioned information, it’s time to refresh the content by expanding the original article, merging it with other relevant, underperforming content and setting up redirects.

“When you refresh content, it should be at least 30% new,” Shehata said. A new title, introduction, publishing date and more new internal links should accompany your optimizations.

Once your evergreen content has been updated, look for internal linking opportunities amongst your existing articles. You’ll also want to loop in your social and email teams to make sure that the content that got refreshed is in their workflow. “It’s all the signals that tell Google this is new, refreshed content,” said Shehata.

During your content refresh process, pages with conversion goals, such as newsletter signups or affiliate links, attached to them may have been affected. This would be the time to clean up any loose ends by finding a way to implement them on your updated page.

5. Time to publish. For evergreen content pertaining to seasonal trends, aim to publish three months ahead of time to maximize your results, Shehata advised.

“In general, your refreshed, optimized content will last you at least a year, if not longer,” said Shehata. Should traffic start to substantially decline, it may be time to conduct another round of refreshes. Creating an editorial refresh calendar can also help keep you on track with future updates.

Quality content takes a considerable amount of resources to create. But, by finding creative ways to refresh or repurpose it, while striking a balance between evergreen and news content, you stand to maximize the efficacy of the content you do create and bolster traffic for your brand over the long haul.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.



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