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How does User Intent Impact SEO?

Google’s mission statement: “Organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

Google’s end goal is to be a hub for all the world’s information. In order to succeed in this mission, the company has to successfully accomplish two things:

  1. Find and accurately categorize information as quickly as it is produced online
  2. Sort all the information in a way that can efficiently answer consumers’ queries

Since 1997, Google’s bots have been crawling the internet, finding and categorizing data. All of this has made Google arguably the most successful search engine at accomplishing the first goal. But the biggest challenge for the company since its inception has been figuring out how to sort the data in the best way possible. Up until recently they have relied far too heavily on keyword usage and links to determine what should appear first. With RankBrain and advances in AI, however, the search engine has begun pushing another overarching ranking factor: user intent.

User Intent

While the SEO industry is still figuring out all the nuances of a UX-focused algorithm and what weight clicks from Google have in comparison to links or keyword counts, we do know that if you aren’t answering the user’s question then you won’t rank long-term. The most successful SEO pages today no longer just need to have a keyword-rich page and powerful link profile, but they need to focus on the need of the consumer and fully address it. To help make it clear what consumers are looking for, Google has now begun segmenting search queries into three categories:

  1. Informational
  2. Transactional
  3. Navigational

Let’s see what each of these look like.

Informational

An informational query is when someone is looking for information but isn’t ready to buy. These are searches that typically fall under the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey. You will easily be able to recognize these SERPs because they are filled with blog posts and more general pages as opposed to product pages. They most commonly have a featured snippet and a ‘People Also Ask’ box up top.

Informational SERP

If you want to compete in these SERPs make sure you:

  • Optimize for the featured snippet
  • Address the questions under ‘people also ask’
  • Do TF-IDF research to understand what associated terms or topics you may be missing

Transactional

This is where the majority of your ‘money pages’ will appear. Transactional SERPs appear when someone searches a phrase that indicates they are ready to buy. These types of SERPs may include a blog post or two about products, but the majority of pages in the top ten results are intended to directly drive sales. You’ll commonly see Google shopping ads, e-commerce pages, and local boxes appear here.

Transactional SERP

If you want to compete in these SERPs make sure you:

  • Use schema markup for your local NAP, product reviews, etc.
  • Provide a clean user experience and easy checkout

Navigational

A navigational SERP is reserved for brand names and hyper-specific queries. Google will show only results that help people navigate to their final destination. For example, if you search ‘Titleist’ you will first see the company’s homepage appear along with site links as opposed to a third part blog post about the brand. Commonly you’ll see a knowledge box, branded social channels, and sometimes sitelinks near the top of the SERP.

Navigational SERP

In most cases it won’t make sense to compete for a navigational SERP you don’t already control.

Conclusion

Google has spent years trying to understand what users want and through data has begun to segment queries to better address consumers’ needs. As a result, SEOs are now required to optimize not only for the keyword but for the consumer. This doesn’t mean that links, word count, keyword count, and other ranking factors take a back seat. Instead, figure out which segment your keyword falls under, then update the page (and your link strategy) to better fit that user intent.

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a campaign manager at 97th Floor. He works with clients around the world to help them engage with and convert consumers online.

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