What is “Search Intent” and Why It Matters for SEO & Content Marketing

June 1, 2021
Ana Gotter

Have you ever found one of those almost-too-good-to-be-true keywords that has a strong monthly volume and low competition, optimized your content, and then been underwhelmed? You get plenty of clicks, but the bounce rates are sky high and the average time spent on the page is unbelievably low, especially from organic traffic?

If your content overall is performing well and this one’s an anomaly, there’s a good chance that search intent is to blame.

You need more than optimization around a high-potential keyword in order to actually get the clients to stay on your page; you need to make sure that you’re actually writing the article they hoped to see when they searched and then clicked.

This is where search intent comes into play, and it’s an essential factor that can impact your success with SEO and content marketing. You need to get it right, and unfortunately, a lot of brands don’t.

In this post, we’re going to dive deep into search intent, including what it is, why it matters, and how you can write to appease both Google and your readers.

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What is search intent?

Search intent is the specific information a user is looking for when they make a search inquiry.

If I’m searching for “how to give dachshund a haircut,” that’s clear search intent; I’m looking for resources that will give me the information I need to give my dog a haircut. I might need advice on techniques or tools, but the “how” is important.

Search results to show search intent of keyword "how to give dachshund haircut"

I’m not looking for different haircut styles for dogs. I’m not looking for a list of groomers. These might be related to my interest, but they are not what I’m looking for; I want to know the techniques and maybe tools needed to do the job myself. So if these pop up in my search results, I’ll keep on scrolling to find what I’m looking for even if these articles are at the top of my SERPs.

Why understanding search intent is so crucial

When I’m working on content strategies for my clients, the very first question on my list is about their goals. And while their goals vary, there is always one that’s consistent: they want more organic search traffic, and SEO is a primary focus.

Search intent is a core part of successfully driving traffic to your site and keeping it there.

If you don’t understand what users are looking for when they’re seeing those search results, it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll be able to deliver the resources that they need. And if you can’t, someone else will.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if you show up in a bunch of searches if you aren’t delivering what users need. People searching on Google are looking for something specific, they’re not browsing social media.

Even if your content ranks well, if your content isn’t aligning with search intent, you’ll end up driving away any potential clicks to your site. This increases bounce rates and lowers the time users spend on the page on average.

Not only have you lost those readers and a missed opportunity to engage them, but Google sees those metrics as an indicator of quality. If you keep having poor metrics, it can lower your ranking in the SERPs.

The biggest mistakes I see brands making around search intent

One of my biggest frustrations as a content marketer is when clients are absolutely determined to rank for certain keywords at all costs… even if it’s not a good fit for their brand.

They don’t really think about search intent, and they’re determined to make high-value keywords work for a topic that they have in mind. I call this “shoehorning keywords,” and it almost always backfires on them.

Here’s an example. Say that you want to write an article about developing thought leadership, and you see that “leadership strategy and tactics” have a much higher volume than “thought leadership strategy.”

Keyword research data through SEMrush

There’s overlap in the keywords, but if someone is searching for “Leadership strategies and tactics” as their keyword, they’re almost definitely not looking for tips about thought leadership. They’re probably looking for business management courses, and trying to shoehorn that keyword into working for you just won’t work.

Here’s another example. If I were to run a social media marketing blog for businesses, and I want to write about “how to set up a Facebook Page for business.” I see the keyword “how to create a Facebook profile.” That’s tempting since it’s got a higher search volume. But ultimately, users searching for “Facebook profile” want help with a personal profile, not a branded page. I wouldn’t be attracting the right audience.

How to factor search intent into your content marketing

Search intent matters, which is why it’s also essential to only ever pair relevant keywords and topics together.

This is where the challenge comes into play, however: Just because we know search intent matters doesn’t always mean it’s easy to understand what users may want when searching for certain terms. The majority of us, after all, do not possess the magical ability to read minds.

Fortunately, there are a few tried-and-true tricks you can use to clue in when it comes to search intent, writing content that users are actively looking for and making it easier for them to find.

1. Incorporate more long tail keywords into your strategy

Long tail keywords are going to be one of your best friends when you want to ensure that you’re on the right track with search intent.

Someone searching for “photography” could be looking for just about anything.

They might be trying to find information about how to become a professional photographer, or simply how to improve the qualities of their own pictures. They could want advice on equipment to purchase, or looking for a professional photographer to hire.

Diverse search results of broad keyword "photography"

Long-tail keywords, however, are much more specific and there’s often not much guessing involved. Think “how to become a professional photographer” or “how to take better photos outside.”

Even going from “photography” to “photography equipment” or “outdoor photography tips” can make a huge difference in understanding search intent.

These keywords give you a very clear understanding of what your audience is looking for, making it easier to ensure that you’re showing up in relevant searches and with relevant information.

2. Analyze the top-ranking posts for chosen keywords

Have you found a keyword that you think fits your topic (or a topic that suits a high-value keyword) and you want to double check?

Take a quick look at the top 5 results that are currently showing up on Google. This can help you make sure that you’re on the right track.

Let’s say that you’re an interior designer and you want to help people organize their kitchens in a way that makes sense during a remodel; a clear cabinet for pretty glasses near the bar or fridge, and under-stove droves for oversized ranges for their pots and pans.

You find “how to organize kitchen cabinets” as a keyword and think it might be a fit.

Before you write that post, though, take a look at the top search results.

Search results to show a topic's search intent

Every single one is looking at tips and tools to help you organize inside of cabinets in a kitchen that’s already set up. Think moving to a new home and planning out where you’ll put everything.

This keyword, therefore, might not be exactly the right fit. It could be more beneficial instead to look at something like “how to plan kitchen cabinets during remodel.”

3. Think about what questions users will have when reading

Search intent is largely about understanding what users need when they make a search.

It’s important, however, to be extremely thorough when answering that question and delivering the information. You don’t want to give a straightforward, 100-word answer max and leave it at that. (Though you should include those in-post to rank for featured snippets, but that’s another post for another day).

If I were to Google “current interest rates on mortgage,” the straightforward search intent is that I want to know the standard range of interest rates on a conventional 30-year mortgage right now.

But maybe I’d be interested to know in the interest rates between a 30-year mortgage and a 15-year mortgage. Or maybe I also want information on when or if that rate range is expected to change and why. A few tips about how to know if I’d be at the high or low end of the range would also be useful.

So if your blog post was super short and literally only answered the “what is the current interest rate for mortgages,” then there’s a chance that I’d get the information I needed at face-value… but I’d have more questions left that would keep me searching.

And since the person who answers your question best and not first is the one the user cares about, you want to be thorough enough to answer all of their questions they may have, and at least link out to other resources as needed.

4. Add in relevant secondary keywords

If you’re only focusing exclusively on a single, primary keyword, there’s a good chance that you could improve your SEO by adding in secondary keywords to the mix.

Secondary keywords are other relevant keywords that you include in your blog post to help Google establish context. At least two mentions per post is a good call.

Let’s look at the mortgage example again. The primary keyword is “current mortgage interest rates” because that’s fairly straightforward and easy to understand. We’re also going to include secondary keywords of “how to lower mortgage interest rates” and “15-year mortgage vs 30-year mortgage” in the post.

This will help our post come up in the right searches, boosting relevance for search intent.

5. Look at keywords with objectivity & Common sense

I know there’s an alarming percentage of the population running around without common sense, but unfortunately it’s something that’s needed here when you’re assessing search intent.

Some keywords will be easier to interpret than others.

A term for “Facebook Ads” is too broad, and could mean anything; do they want a tutorial, a link to create the ads, benchmark information, or something else?

The keyword for this post, however— search intent—, is easy to understand. People who are looking for it really want to know what it is and how to leverage it for their SEO and/or content marketing.

Some short-tail, generic keywords are going to be easier to interpret than others in terms of what most users want to see. Be objective and use common sense, and this tip combined with the others will steer you well.

Final thoughts

Content marketing is like a big, complex puzzle, with so many pieces that need to fit together exactly right. Search intent is one of those major, centerpieces, and you need to have it or everything else just doesn’t make sense.

While it’s an extra step in a fairly long strategic content creation process, taking the time to ensure that you’re on the right track with search intent when pairing together topics and keywords will absolutely pay off in the short term and long term futures.

Need help improving your content marketing? See how Wordable can help streamline the content publishing process here.

Ana Gotter
Ana is a strategic content marketer specializing in business, finance, and marketing writing, though she's worked across a range of industries. She works in Orlando with her three dogs and can be contacted at www.anagotter.com.

About the Author

Ana Gotter
Ana is a strategic content marketer specializing in business, finance, and marketing writing, though she's worked across a range of industries. She works in Orlando with her three dogs and can be contacted at www.anagotter.com.