When it comes to narrowing down your keyword list, there are two factors that are often recommended as the gold standard: search volume, and competition.

While those are important considerations, there is one that is often overlooked and which can have more impact: user search intent.

In this post, we’ll introduce you to user intent. This will include a definition of the term, as well as how it applies to search engine queries. Then we’ll break down the three ways that you can harness user intent for SEO.

What Is User Intent?

User intent, sometimes called user search intent or search intent, is the purpose behind a search query.

The purpose for such a search will often fall into one of these three categories:

  • Informational: These are often posed as questions, though in general, informational queries are those seeking information. The “how,” “who,” and “why.”
  • Navigational: These are searches looking for a specific website. These are often branded search terms. For example: “Nike,” “amazon,” or “Adidas sweatshirt.”
  • Transactional: These searches are done with the intent of making a purchase. They may be branded, and they usually include terms such as “buy,” “purchase,” “price,” “cheap,” and “where to buy” or variations of that sort.

While it’s possible for a user to search with various intents, there is usually one overwhelming intent which search engines attempt to categorize through user behavior and analytics.

How to Harness User Intent for SEO

Now that you know what user search intent is, here is how to harness it for search engine optimization.

1. Manually Analyze Your List of Keywords

The first step is to understand how Google classifies your keyword terms. Remember, the results they’re serving up are based on user search intent among other things.

To start, simply search your query on Google.

Are the majority of the posts returned informational? Navigational? Transactional? Are there gaps in the current content offering? What other questions are people asking (using the “People also ask” feature on SERPs)?

You may be surprised by the results, or it may be in line with your target audience.

If it’s not aligned with your target audience, though, you don’t have to scrap the query altogether.

Let’s say your target keyword “blue t-shirt” is returning more navigational search results while your goal is to target transactional searches. You can “tweak” this keyword by adding a verb (e.g. “buy,” “order”) or more specific noun (e.g. “cheap,” “on sale,” “XXL”) to the keyword.

2. Learn from the Top Ranked Content

Now that you know what results your queries are returning, it’s time to dig into the content that is ranking.

This will help you to better understand not only the search intent of the content, but also the type of content (e.g. blog post, product page, landing page) and format of the content (e.g. listicle, how-to guide, white paper).

Once you understand what those top 10 search results are doing well, you can look to replicate some of that for your own content. However, you can also look to fill gaps that those other content pieces are missing.

This is a win-win for both you and your audience.

You win because you’re creating content that search engines are proven to promote. Your audience wins because you’re meeting their needs and possibly even meeting them in ways that was previously neglected.

3. Narrow Your Keywords to Meet Your User’s Needs

You know your audience better than anyone else. Use that to your advantage by narrowing your list of keywords to more directly target your users.

Let’s say you started with a list of 20 target keywords, all of them fairly broad and uninspired. Think along the lines of: “white shirt,” “black pants,” “blue sweater,” etc.

You now know from your research that the above queries return results from the top e-commerce websites and brands. While these are transactional results, as you’d hoped, there’s no way you can compete with them.

So why not take a different approach?

From your website’s analytics, you know that your visitors are mostly women in their mid-20s to early 30s with a median household income of $40,000. While quality if important to them, so are savings.

With that in mind, you can tweak your queries to more accurately target your audience.

For example:

  • “White shirt” becomes “modern womens’ button down”
  • “Black pants” becomes “budget black slacks”
  • “Blue sweater” becomes “cozy blue pullover”

The goal is to target the right audience. Even if your queries have less search volume according to Google, a high ranking on one of these SERPs may be getting your brand in front of the audience that matters.

Do you have more questions on user intent? Leave them in the comments below!