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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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New site Hotspot Law like ZocDoc for lawyers

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Local search is probably more visible than it has ever been since the advent of Google Maps. Yet, paradoxically, there’s almost no consumer-facing innovation taking place. There’s Google, Yelp, Facebook (somewhat) and a range of specialized vertical apps and sites, some of which have simply survived but aren’t thriving.

Little or no ‘horizontal’ innovation. Part of the lack of “horizontal” innovation in local is likely the result of venture capital not wanting to fund anything that goes up directly against Google. The company may appear to many investors now like an insurmountable juggernaut in local/mobile search.

Any new local-consumer startups, therefore, are likely to appear in specific industries or otherwise offer specialized use cases. Such is the case with Hotspot Law, a new legal search site that hopes to bring ZocDoc-style appointment scheduling to the legal profession. It also seeks to provide a more reliable and cost-effective flow of leads to consumer attorneys.

The legal vertical has a quite a few competitors, including Avvo (Internet Brands), LegalZoom, FindLaw and several others. Despite this, Hotspot Law founder Felix Shipkevich believes he’s solving two unsolved problems in the legal vertical.

“The legal market is in dire need of an upgrade,” argues Shipkevich.

Making direct connections with lawyers. “Once you’ve finished searching online, you have to start calling,” he said. “You don’t get to speak directly to attorneys, you typically talk to a gatekeeper.” He points out that this process of getting to a lawyer is time consuming for people who need legal help. “None of these [completing] platforms directly connect the consumer with an attorney.”

Shipkevich, who is an attorney and faculty member at Hofstra Law School, said he was inspired by ZocDoc and the way it enables direct connections between doctors and patients. Similarly, he wanted to remove the friction in lawyer-consumer matchmaking. Shipkevich explained that also sees Hotspot Law as a way to make “justice” more accessible to consumers.

Why you should care. Legal lead-gen is costly. Shipkevich believes that existing legal sites and ad solutions don’t serve lawyers particularly well either. “PPC advertising can be extremely expensive; in New York it can be $60 to $80 per click.” He adds that “Yelp is expensive. Sometimes it takes $2,000 to $4,000 to bring in a case.”

He wants to solve that problem with simplified reasonable pricing for lawyers who may be struggling to find clients. But he also sees Hotspot Law evolving into a platform to help attorneys manage existing clients. Currently the site only operates in New York, with plans to expand geographic coverage in the coming months.

For the time being Shipkevich will need to rely on SEO for discovery but over time he hopes to build a branded consumer destination. It will be very challenging given the current structure of local SERPs. One has to admire the ambition and chutzpah.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He researches and writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking

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About one year ago, everything changed for me and for our community.

A tragedy that struck home so hard it shook us to our core.

A suicide.

A dear friend, brilliant mind, adored father, respected colleague … the list goes on, left us in a way that hits straight to the heart and wakes you up like very few other events can.

I certainly woke up that day. That alarm screamed as loud as it could and I still hear it to this day.

I know I wasn’t alone. So many of my peers experienced similar emotions, sensations, and reactions.

We Could No Longer Ignore the Problem

Sadly, this wasn’t the first tragedy we’d encountered that year – we lost other friends and colleagues as well.

But we knew we couldn’t stand to lose any more amazing people.

We couldn’t look away. We couldn’t just carry on anymore.

So we started talking.

I have been blown away by our internet marketing community. Many of us have never even met face to face and yet the comradery, the friendship, the support among us run rampant!

Never before have I seen a group of people come together so quickly and so openly as when we were forced to face this tragedy.

Groups were formed. Calls were made. Texts were sent. Face-to-face get-togethers were had. Columns like this one were created.

And the best part of it all? It didn’t stop!

We saw the need to stay connected. We recognized that we are a family that needs to support each other. And, perhaps most of all, we saw that we were not alone in our struggles.

It has been amazing to see the openness and honesty that has become so commonplace over the past year. I have seen people that once felt they couldn’t risk being seen without their mask on break down and lay themselves out in the most vulnerable ways.

I include myself in that list. I have become more able to reveal myself to the world around me. That has only been made possible by others sharing in that journey with me.

In leading up to this piece, I knew that I wanted to really find a way to focus on the positive changes that our community has seen because of Jordan Kasteler.

I wanted to honor him in a way that really brought some form of good to this incredible loss that we all experienced due to his passing.

Where Are We Now? Thoughts from Our Community

I reached out and asked a few people in our community if they would share some words of how they have been changed for the better as well as how they have seen our community as whole making changes to support each other over the past year.

Here is what they had to say:

Alexandra Tachalova:

“Working days, nights, and weekends was normal for me a few years ago. However, at that time I couldn’t say that I was really happy. I didn’t understand at the time that my work-life balance was completely off, and I now know that that could have developed into something truly horrifying.

I eventually reached such an emotionally unstable point that I hit a time where one week I was super productive, but the following week I felt hugely demotivated and absolutely miserable. (I know this is a familiar story with many others as well, I hear people telling similar stories and sharing similar experiences regularly.)

Over the past while, I have been working diligently to save myself from this emotional trap. This new focus has led me to investing more time into things that are not related to work and putting more time into the things that help to create a happier life for myself.

I can see that more people in our community are becoming more aware of the need to make this sort of a switch to their schedules and priorities as well, which is brilliant to see!”

Melissa Fach:

“In the past year, I have noticed a massive shift in our community not being ashamed to reach out and ask for help, advice, or just a kind word. I feel like masks have been dropped, and people are not embarrassed to discuss what make them “real”; I love it!

I think many people used to feel they had to have public persona that was acceptable, and now they know we all have issues and it is OK to talk about.

I have a picture of Jordan out that I see every day. I moved past the guilt and the pain when I looked at it, and he is now a daily reminder to stay present with my friends as much as I can.

And, it is a reminder to me to stay focused on my well-being as well. I tend to overwork and do too much for everyone and end up exhausted. I take steps now to take care of me more than ever before.”

Steve Wiideman:

“Though I’ve been in the industry for years, I’m still a somewhat newer member of the SEO community. Call it fear of rejection, social anxiety, whatever, I’ve always been nervous to put myself in a position to be judged by my peers.

It really wasn’t until I was invited to an amazing Facebook group made up of a small close-knit group of industry peers focusing on supporting each other through the day-to-day struggles that I realized that nearly everyone shared the same fears, anxieties and experiences that I have.

What a relief it is to know there is a place where we share what we are feeling and have so much empathy! Finally I have a place I can turn to where people understand me.

Even if I don’t share as much as others, I have peace of mind knowing there are people there ready and willing to listen and help, where there’s no judgement, just open arms.”

Danny Goodwin:

“We’ve definitely made a lot of progress over the past year as a community. However, if I’m being completely honest, we still have a long way to go. I’m still hearing about issues of bullying. I’m seeing people piling on people they disagree with on Twitter.

While, thankfully, these are in the minority, the polarization and black-and-white thinking needs to stop. The judging and assuming needs to stop. The trolling and “mob mentality” needs to stop.

We need to stop fighting each other and start lifting each other up – treating everyone like human beings. Nobody is perfect, but I hope we will continue to see more people be able to let go of their hate and negativity to accept love and positivity into their lives. I know that will continue to be our aim with Friday Focus – to remind everyone that they are not alone in their struggles.

Ultimately, though, I am so happy to be a part of something so positive in our community – and it’s great to see so many others jumping onboard, too.”

Kim Krause Berg:

“It’s easy to assume that your peers are generally doing better than you, making more money than you, and are super successful in every way. It is only in the past few years that I realized this is baloney.

I respect people who remove their masks and show who they really are. We are people with lives and struggles, heartache, depression, and pain.

In the past year I have opened up more and made new friendships as a result. We have more in common with each other than we might think.”

Dave Davies:

“Over the past year I’ve seen an incredible shift in our community.

Social media itself breeds an environment where we see only the best of our peers and post the best of ourselves and being in marketing, needing to be on social media, needing to market ourselves on social media and seeing only the best version of those trained in presenting the best version of themselves – one can feel very alone in difficult times. Compounding that we face an often isolated profession where even sitting beside someone, we are focused on a screen and all they contain.

Sadly, we all know too well what that leads to, and over the past year we collectively recognized that we are human. That those around us are human. That others need support and perhaps most importantly, that we do too.

We finally heard the words spoken all too often after those tragic events, “If only they had asked for help.” And we took it upon ourselves to do so.

We finally knew to listen, to watch and to find out how those around us were doing, lest we face the loss of another friend who we would have dropped everything for, ‘If only they had asked for help.’

The community has grown it’s heart and soul over the past year.

There is still a lot to do. There are still many who don’t know where to turn. Many who don’t know who to talk to. But each time we reach out and each time we talk about challenges openly, share our own and listen to theirs … each time we do that, the community grows it’s heart a little more.

It has been a incredible year of change. While we will forever mourn the spark, the now burning fire keeps us all warmer.”

Jeremy Knauff:

“One thing that has changed dramatically in our industry over the last year, is that as individuals, we’ve become a lot more vocal about asking for help when we need it.

I think most people are more than willing to help each other. They just have to know that someone needs help. Now that people are starting to open up more about their personal struggles, the community is able to better support them.”

Thank You!

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you – whether I know you in person, whether I know you online, even if I don’t know you at all –- thank you for being here.

Thank you for caring and sharing and being a part of the positive change that we are all working so hard at creating.

Keep being a force for good in our community.

Together we will make a difference.

Remembering the Tragedy That Made Our Community Start Talking  

 

This piece is written in memory, honor, recognition, and gratitude of Jordan Kasteler. For all that he gave us, shared with us, taught us and left us with. We are eternally grateful.

 


***PLEASE DO NOT STRUGGLE ALONE! Reach out, ask for help and know that you are valued.
CLICK HERE for a list of phone numbers for Suicide Hotlines around the world.***



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20190718 SEL Brief

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