Understanding How People Search:
What is User Intent?

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What is User Intent

As marketers, we all wish we could just read our customer’s minds from time to time. It would make our job so much easier if we knew what buyers were looking for, what they wanted, and what kind of messaging would attract them.

Search engines want to understand this, too. They utilize some of the most complex algorithms ever created to understand the human brain through queries and behavior analysis.

Determining and leveraging user intent to your advantage is a solution to one of the marketer’s greatest challenges. According to HubSpot, 61% of respondents struggled to drive in leads and traffic. This even outranked issues like securing a budget and determining the ROI of their strategies. 

generating traffic a challenge hubspot

Image Source: Hubspot

But user intent is not just some secret that Google has cracked the code on – there are ways for any business to determine their customer’s intent and adjust accordingly. Understanding user intent – and how it translates to marketing – is one of the best ways to show up on Google and increase your conversion rates.

Let’s define what the term user intent truly entails. Then, get into using it as an advantage to improve SEO, marketing outcomes, and overall conversion rates.

What is User Intent and Why Does it Matter?

understanding user intent

In the simplest of terms, user intent is a tactic that allows you to know what a consumer’s motive or intended purpose is based on their search engine query.

Sometimes, this can be easy to pinpoint. Other times, not so easy.

For instance, if a customer enters the phrase “buy red bicycle” in Google, chances are they want to purchase a bike that comes in red.

But what if they just enter in “bike tires”? They may want to buy some, but they could also be looking for information on how to pump them up, what they are made of, which brand is best, and so on.

What Does User Intent Tell Us?

Generally, there are three categories of user intent that queries fall into:

1. Informational

Many users are conducting searches to simply obtain information. Maybe they are looking for a recipe, a how-to guide, tips, or to get an answer to a question.

Although it is estimated that only 8% of all search engine queries are phrased as questions, this is still a significant amount, considering the billions of searches entered daily. Additionally, this number only measures queries beginning with words like “where”, “what”, “who”, “when” “why”, or “how.”

Informational queries are generally satisfied with blog posts, whitepapers, guides, videos, etc. The key here is objectivity. When people are looking for answers, tips, guides, etc., they aren’t usually on the hunt for pushy sales tactics.  

2. Navigational

This is when consumers are looking for a specific website or webpage.

This could involve a site for a local business, an article, or a specific form of media, like a video. Users will typically include descriptors to find the page they are seeking.

“Ancient Rome Wikipedia”

“Stock investing Motley Fool”

“NFL stats ESPN”

3.      Transactional

Transactional intent usually occurs at the last step of the customer’s journey when they are actively looking to buy something. 

The user intent of a query can also be a combination of these types. For instance, “buy a red bicycle from Walmart” has transactional intent, since they want to make a purchase. But it is also navigational as they want to buy from Walmart specifically.

Chances are you will want to target all three of these categories with your marketing strategies and SEO. Some specific pages (such as a blog post) can work for informational and navigational queries, while product pages will target transactional searches.

How Does Google Handle User Intent?

As mentioned before, Google is the master of figuring out user intent.

Their algorithm is designed for natural language processing which uses context clues and loads of data to determine the underlying purpose of each query. It then analyzes webpages looking for keywords that match up with the search and user intent to list on the SERPs (search engine result pages).

Tools like Google Search Central allow you to see which queries are currently driving traffic to your site. This can provide some context for intent to see what information your audience is seeking currently.

How Google Handles Search Intent

Image Source: CrazyEgg

So, to rank well, drive in traffic, and eventually convert visitors into customers, your messages need to align with intent. Your first starting point for content ideation must be rooted in intent-based keyword research.

What Can We Learn from User Intent?

Your ultimate goal should not be to simply grow your traffic rates – but instead drive in more relevant traffic. Your landing pages and copy need to align with the intent of a variety of queries.

This involves identifying correlative metrics from query entries, such as:

  • Landing page bounce rates
  • Form completion percentages
  • Page or cart abandonment rates
  • Add-to-cart percentages
  • Click-through rates for navigational links

For instance, say user inputs a search for “graphic design services pricing.” Their intent is most likely transactional, as they may be ready to book a professional for some work.

Now, say that your link appears for their query, and customers are led to your page with pricing options. If your conversion rates on this page are low, chances are it is not matching up with their intent. This could be a sign that you need to create more clear-cut content regarding graphic design pricing structures or what is included in your service options.

You need to rely on some thorough keyword research to fuel your content.

keyword research ahrefs

Focus on intent-based keyword phrases, such as specific questions or long-tail searches which provide greater context clues.  Keyword generator programs like this one from Ahrefs are great for this. They will provide tons of related variations along with volume data.

Use Google’s Tabs for Intent Matching

Google automatically separates its search engines based on common intent. Their home page is perfect for informational searches, but users can switch to the shopping tab for purchases or narrow down their findings by selecting news, maps, or video tabs.

google search intent matching

You can use these Google tabs as a guideline for basic structures to create marketing content that aligns with these intents.  This involves creating a fairly robust marketing mix which includes blog posts, articles, and product pages along with videos and possibly even images like infographics.

It is also important to create content that fits each Google tab, too. You may need to format your content with keywords and tags to do this. For instance, any videos will need keyword-optimized titles and descriptions along with the correct Schema markup to appear on the video tab of Google – but more on that later.

Don’t Forget About Page Structure

User intent is all about supporting your customer’s next step to guide them on the customer journey. According to a study from Episerver:

  • 92% of first-time visitors to a retail website have no intention of buying.
  • 45% were browsing for specific items.
  • 25% were just doing pricing comparisons.

Now, just because your customer’s intention was not to make a purchase does not mean you cannot guide them towards one. The customer journey looks different for every business, but generally, most marketers follow the “Rule of 7” – meaning that it takes about 7 impressions before a customer is ready to buy.

So, with each page your visitors see, they should be able to spot easy CTA (call to action) buttons that will match up with their next intention.

For instance, after reading an article about your industry, there could be a link to guide them to a page with more information or a chance to sign up for a newsletter.

You have to consider including backlinks and navigational structure so visitors can easily move from one page to the next, bringing them closer to a conversion.

This type of page structure can provide you with some SEO boosts. In one case study by Ninja Outreach, they saw a 40% boost in organic traffic after building more internal links.

40% Increase in Organic Traffic

Image Source: Ninja Outreach

Social Media Algorithms are All About Intent

Some social media sites have become search engines of their own.

For instance, many people turn to YouTube to find tutorials for things like recipes, makeup looks, or home improvement tasks. Instagram’s latest shopping tab is designed for users to easily search for items they want to buy right within the app.

IG-Shopping-Tab

Image Source: TechCrunch

Social media is a key stop along the modern customer journey. It needs to be part of your content strategy. Your goal should be to attract customers from as many sources as possible -not just Google.

User intent is a bit different on social media, but many of the same rules apply.

It seems that most social media users turn to these networks for engagement and research. Studies have found that 54 percent of these “social browsers” use social media to learn more about products or brands.

It is best to focus on awareness and discovery content on social media to match up with intent. This means consistent posting to “remind” consumers about what you do, why it is important, and how you are different from competitors.

CMI Goals and Metrics Table

Image Source: Content Marketing Insitute

Create Snippets to Match Up with Intent

Another way to use user intent to improve your ranking and SEO visibility is by creating content specifically for “position zero” on the SERPs. These are also known as featured snippets or rich snippets.

Google likes to use these to provide quick, succinct answers to question-based queries.

snippets match up intent

As you can see, Google pulled the answer to the query about Facebook impressions from a blog article. Although rich snippets do not get as many clicks as the first result on the SERPs, it still has an average CTR of 23.3%.

Sistrix CTR Position Average

Image Source: Smart Insights

Although you could get lucky and have Google pull your content for these featured spots, it is highly recommended to format parts of your content to meet their rich snippet standards. This means keeping your paragraphs short and focused on a specific topic, such as answering a question or defining a term.

You will also need to use structured markup and Schema on your page’s HTML to qualify your page for different Rich Snippet types, such as product image and information, organization data, and so on.

Target Different Audiences with Landing Pages

The user intent may change depending on your audience’s demographic.

For B2B industries, the intent of a CEO with decision-making power visiting a site could be different than an associate using the site to find an answer to an industry-related question.

You can create landing pages specifically for different audience segments to align with their common intent. Depending on your audience, this could include:

  •         Introductory pages for new customers
  •         Landing pages for retargeted audience segments
  •         Pages for customers from social media links
  •         Discounts and promotions for cost-conscious consumers

The key to making these pages work is to align them with intent-based keywords.

This way, customers with the intent to learn more about your brand will be shown links to your blog or “about us” page, while customers searching for specific products can be taken to pages with purchasing options.

Conclusion

To grow your conversion rates and build your business, you need to understand everything there is to know about your audience. This does not stop at product creation or sales pitches – it needs to extend to your content so it aligns with their intentions.

At Foxxr Digital Marketing, our goal is to provide businesses with the tools and assistance they need to improve all aspects of their digital marketing strategies. Our team of experts can help you build optimized web pages, manage email marketing, publish content to build site traffic, and more.

If you are interested in learning more about our digital marketing services, please contact us today.

You can schedule a virtual demo with one of our SEO experts to discuss your goals and determine the digital marketing strategies to help you grow.

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