Let’s say you visit Google and search for “apple.”
Do you expect to see results about Apple, the tech giant, or apple, the fruit?
In the pre-iPhone era, if you had searched online for “apple,” you would have seen a Wikipedia result about apple, the fruit, followed by images of different types of apples.
Today, first page search results are completely dominated by the latest news and trends featuring various Apple phones and products.
In fact, there is no mention of apple, the fruit, anywhere in the first five pages!
Why is that?
It’s because of something known as “user intent.”
What is User Intent?
User intent refers to what the user is looking for when he/she uses a search engine.
Ten years ago, Apple, the company, wasn’t as popular as it is today.
When people searched for “apple,” they were looking for information about the fruit, its properties, and benefits.
So, a Wikipedia article was the perfect answer to their search query.
Today, when typing in the same search query, they expect to read about the tech company and its products.
Why is this important?
Let’s say you want to rank well for your PR software and create content (landing pages and blog articles) showcasing your product and its benefits.
You optimize your content around keywords such as “PR software,” “PR tool,” and “PR tools.”
You also have backlinks from authoritative sites which lead to your website/blog. What do you think will happen?
Your website won’t make it to the top five search results.
It’s not because your website is bad, or your content is not relevant.
It’s simply because your content doesn’t match user intent.
If you search those keywords above, you’ll notice Google shows results from sites like Capterra, and Hubspot, which provide a “list” of PR tools available in the market.
Because when a user searches for “PR software” they want to see a list of all the best PR software, all in one place.
Why am I telling you this?
Because you might do better by simply writing a blog post about the “Top Five PR Software Programs in 2017,” and include your product in that list.
Although you’ll mention your competitors, it’s much better than being invisible on Google.
How to Identify User Intent
People use Google with the intention to:
- Learn something – Here the user intent is to find out about something. For example, you search for “Who won the Oscar for best actor this year?” or “Where is the ice cream shop in New York City?”
- Do something – In this case, the user wants to perform an action using the internet. For example, “I want to buy a ticket for the Coldplay. ”
- Go somewhere – In these queries, the user wants to go to a specific website. For example, “Wimbledon home page.”
Each user intent requires a different type of content. If your page has been built without an understanding of user intent, then they’ll leave your page to search elsewhere, quickly dropping your search rankings.
How to Use User Intent in Keyword Research
The first step is to determine user intent for your target keyword:
- Pick a relevant keyword you want to target for your business (or clients).
- Do a Google search for your target keyword.
- Review the top four-five search results. See what kind of content ranks well for your target keyword. Is it a listicle, a tutorial? Is it a product review, a long-form blog post?
- Look at what type of content ranks well for your target keyword. Is it a blog post, a landing page? Is it visual content (videos & images), a business listing?
- If you have more target keywords, repeat these steps for each one.
This will give you a good idea of what people are looking for when they search your target keywords or search phrases.
For example, if a person is looking for a PR firm, then he would search for “best pr firms in San Francisco” and find results containing business listings and list-based blog posts.
This indicates you need to spruce up your online business listings on Yelp and Google My Business, to be found for this query.
On the other hand, a person who wants to learn the basics of PR might search for “how to do PR for small business,” and find a step-by-step tutorial on getting started with PR.
Knowing this, you may want to publish a “beginner’s guide to PR” so you can rank well for this search term, as online listings won’t help much here.
Google is not the only way to determine user intent.
Here are some other ideas you can use to understand what your target audience may be looking for:
- Look at the FAQs, help-center, and knowledge base of your own business, and those of your competitors.
- Check out relevant questions on industry forums and Q&A sites such as Quora and Reddit.
- Talk to client-facing team members, especially your sales and support teams.
- Add a chat widget on your site to learn how visitors discovered your website/blog, what they were looking for, and whether they find your website/blog to be helpful.
- Send out surveys and questionnaires to customers asking them how they found you on Google.
Once you have identified user intent for each of your target keywords, you can brainstorm the different types of content you need to create which delivers value to your users.
You can also identify what existing content needs to be updated to match user intent.
For example, you may want to convert a landing page about “pr software” into a blog post about “top pr software for 2017.”
Sometimes it’s a just a matter of reorienting your content.
There are plenty of articles online telling you how to do keyword research using tools such as Google AdWords, Moz, or Ahrefs.
However, by understanding user intent, you can not only identify the right keywords to target your audience, but also create the right content which drives more visitors, and converts them into paying customers.