User Intent as an Important Metric in Keyword Research


Online marketers and SEO professionals have long focused on rankings by finding out what keywords a majority of their target market uses in online searches. This strategy has worked for many years, so you probably see no reason to start changing your strategy. As 2014 unfolds, though, you should seriously think about adjusting your keyword research strategy in accordance with recent developments.

One of the things you need to understand is that search engines don’t just strive to provide searchers with the best possible answers to their query. Before they even do that, search engines first strive to understand the intent behind the query so they can come up with the most relevant results. Note as well that with the Hummingbird, Google has placed more focus on understanding user intent. As an online marketer, therefore, you should move away from too much focus on the search results and increase your focus on user intent when conducting keyword research.

What is User Intent, Anyway?

In the world of online searches, user intent refers to what a searcher wants, as opposed to what a searcher types in. For example, when a searcher types in “Dr No,” modern search engines will know that the “Dr” in the phrase means “Doctor” and when the searcher types in “Cielo Dr LA,” the search engine will know that “Dr” means “Drive.”

Believe it or not, SEO professionals were aware of the concept of user intent for years. Unfortunately, only a few actually use it for keyword research, perhaps because they have yet to realize that it’s the key to achieving better results for their SEO campaigns. Here are the most significant reasons why you should leverage user intent for keyword research:

It tells you what your target market is looking for

If you want to consistently publish content that your target market will find relevant, you’ll have to know not just the exact words they’re using in searches, but more importantly, what it is they’re searching for. Are they looking for information? If so, you’d do well to put more emphasis on review-type content and how-to articles. Are they searching for products? If so, you could highlight a particular product you offer in each piece of content you post. You can address your target market’s needs better once you gain an understanding of what they really want.

It gives you unique ideas for keywords

The old practice was to find out which industry-related keywords have the highest search volume and then try to rank for those keywords. SEO professionals have come to realize this isn’t really a very practical way of going about keyword research. Why, you ask? Doesn’t using a popular keyword lead to more traffic and ultimately to more revenue? Well, using popular keywords may indeed bring more traffic to your site, but you can’t be sure you’re getting the right type of visitors because popular keywords are generally less specific.

This isn’t to say you should completely forego targeting popular keywords, but you should augment them with more specific ones. For example, if you run a small business selling pre-ordered, customized cakes, you can’t just optimize your site for “cakes”; you’d want to optimize it for “customized cakes,” “homemade cakes,” and “cakes in [area/city],” among other specific keywords as well. Taking user intent into consideration will help you identify the best specific keywords to use.

It gives you a clearer picture of your target market’s demographics.

It’s often a good idea for business owners to target a particular demographic when promoting their brand. When users include locations in their search queries, it becomes clearer to search engines and marketers what they seek. For example, a person who searches for “homemade cakes in Denver” clearly wants to buy a homemade cake within the Denver area. Having such specific demographic information helps you determine how you’re going to design your content, PR, and overall marketing campaign.

It gives you an idea on what type of landing pages to create so as to increase conversion rates.

When you’re able to optimize your landing pages properly, your conversion rate is bound to improve. So, where does user intent come in? Well, think about it. When you understand what your target market wants, you’ll be better able to address their needs on your landing pages. And when your landing pages address people’s needs perfectly, they’ll be more likely to convert their site visit into a product purchase.

Let’s consider our cake business example once again. If you’re still focusing on keywords, you’d probably insert “homemade cakes” and “customized cakes” somewhere on your landing pages and then simply wait for your rankings and conversion to improve. When you focus on user intent, however, you’ll likely post content on what makes homemade cakes a better option and what makes customized cakes extra special.

  1. It helps you improve your content strategy.

Content has always been at the core of SEO, but you can’t just post any content you want. You have to make sure the content you publish is deemed useful by your target audience. When you start out by determining what your target audience is looking for, you’ll be in the best position to give them exactly the type of content they seek. This helps establish you as an authority in the field and increases the appeal of your brand.

Leveraging User Intent for Keyword Research

Okay, so now you know how important it is to take user intent into consideration when you’re doing keyword research. But how exactly do you recognize the intent behind queries and how do you leverage this for SEO? Here are some tips:

  1. Check other possible sources of keyword ideas like your social media pages, online surveys, Internet forums, etc. People tend to share a considerable amount of information regarding their needs and preferences on forums and social networking sites. This should give you an idea as to what words they use in search queries. You may also want to check out what people ask on Q&A sites, as the words they use in their questions are usually the same ones they use when they do online searches for the same topic.
  1. Do you have a search box on your website? If so, are you using data from your search box for keyword research? If you are, then good for you! The searches performed on your site will tell you how site visitors generally phrase their queries, what they usually look for, what words they often use, and what pages they usually visit. If you’re still not using these on-site data, then hey! Get up and do so!
  1. Analyze common keywords. Make a list of the popular keywords related to your niche as well as other possible keywords that come to mind. Try to see if each keyword can have more than one meaning. You can check the meaning of each word in the dictionary or simply type it into a search box to see what comes up.

Going back to our example, try to see what results come up when you perform a search for “homemade cakes.” If you get local results for places where people can buy homemade cakes, then you’re good to go with that keyword. If, however, the results present only recipes for homemade cakes, then you may have to find other keywords or phrases to rank for, like “buy homemade cake” or “where to find homemade cakes.” Understand that when people don’t find what they’re looking for using a certain keyword, they’re bound to add a few more words in their query.

  1. Don’t take local for granted. You have to remember that when people do an online search, they usually appreciate finding a business that not only addresses their needs, but is located right within their area. In fact, many users are now localizing their searches and even Google has recognized the value of local search. Learning more about optimizing for local search is therefore an essential part of user intent-focused keyword research.
  1. Go offline. Keyword research doesn’t have to be done on the Internet. This is especially true when you’re doing user intent-focused keyword research. Set up focus group discussions, arrange informal meet-ups with some of your target customers, and gather a few of your peers. Ask them questions that’ll give you valuable information about their search habits. “If you wanted a customized cake for your son’s birthday, how would you search for it online?” would be a good question.

The concept of user intent, practically ignored for the longest time, is now getting recognized as an important SEO focus metric by online marketers all over the world. A huge part of the reason for this could be Google’s own increasing effort to understand the intent behind queries on their site, as exhibited by their algorithm updates, particularly Hummingbird.

By understanding user intent, you get to create more relevant content, and with more relevant content, people will be more likely to look to you for whatever they need. This can only be good news for your business, right?

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Traian is Founder and Director of Search Marketing at Pitstop Media Inc. He has more than 11 years experience in helping small and medium businesses generate and convert organic traffic from search engines. Connect with Traian on Google+


5 Responses to “User Intent as an Important Metric in Keyword Research”

  1. Steve Waller said:

    May 09, 14 at 2:57 am

    I think one of the biggest reasons that so many SEOs think most about traffic rather than conversions is simply because so many of them rely on impression and click based sources of revenue such as Adsense and those that do try the affiliate marketing route still don’t understand the different approach that is required.

    Small businesses who are actually selling a product or service should be even more focused on the keywords used by potential customers over and above those with the highest search volumes as you quite rightly point out.

    I’d prefer to rank for “wedding planner in Jackson Mississippi” than “wedding planner” on it’s own because nobody in their right mind would hire a wedding planner on the other side of the country regardless whether they ranked #1 for it.

    Nice post Traian.

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  2. Traian Neacsu said:

    May 09, 14 at 3:18 am

    Steve, thanks for reading and commenting. Indeed, many of us focus on metrics such as search volume or impressions to chose the keywords to target with SEO. I think that considering conversions in the decision making process can add more insight on what to start with, especially for small businesses.

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  3. Samantha said:

    May 22, 14 at 6:52 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see how everything is effected with the newest update with Panda when it comes to SEO.. Interesting article.

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  4. Nidhi said:

    Aug 28, 14 at 5:29 am

    I am new into SEO and just got trained on this. On keyword research and analysis I learned about using Google keyword planner, uber suggest, few other tools and local and long tail keywords. And this is a really nice read for me to understand how search queries with focus on user intent can make the differences in ranking. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  5. Ishmam Tahaseen said:

    Sep 05, 14 at 8:12 pm

    Keyword Research is very Important Issue for SEO. Most of Blogger Spend Huge time for Keyword Research. Thanks.

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