Understanding User Intent is the heart of successful SEO; without it, it’s all but shooting in the dark and expecting one might stick where it is supposed to. But the cost of what doesn’t stick often costs a website its results in terms of traffic as well as rankings, but also a large chunk of time and money. If you as a brand are to succeed and go far, you need to have a firm understanding of who are your users and what their intent is. Since the goal of search engines is to provide the best possible search experience for its users, it all comes down how best you can cater to your users’ intent and acquire higher the SERP results. It’s a threefold strategy: understand your users’ intent, create content around what might best meet their intent or even go beyond, and lastly, optimize your link-building strategy by bringing your users’ intent into the picture. But before we delve into how focusing on user intent can leverage link building for you in 2022, let’s first understand the depth of what you are going to be dealing with.
User Intent: Understanding the Core
What exactly is User Intent? Simply put, User Intent, also known as Search Intent, is the main goal a user has when he types in that all-important search term or phrase in a search engine. Where one user might be searching for ‘hummus and falafel recipe’, another might be searching for ‘nearby restaurant serving hummus and falafel’. And yet, there might be another user who is simply looking to gain more knowledge on this delicious Lebanese cuisine by searching for ‘hummus and falafel history’. Each of these searches, while revolving around hummus and falafel, has different user intent. For an SEO expert of a local Lebanese restaurant’s website, ‘nearby restaurant serving hummus and falafel’ is the primary search intent in hope to gain both virtual visitors and restaurant customers. Whereas for a Chef and Food Blogger looking to gain more website traffic and subscribers, ‘hummus and falafel recipe’ is search intent his or her SEO efforts should be focused on.
Breaking Down User Intent: The Types
The search terms may be in high numbers, but the search intent can be broken down into 4 categories, categories that best define what a user intends to do with the query. These are:
Informational – Know
As the name suggests, informational intent is where the user is looking for, well, information. Searches where users are looking for information makes up for a major chunk of all the types of searches combined. It could be a how-to guide, for example, ‘how to clean up your windows laptop for faster performance’. It could be in the form of a recipe, for example, ‘tofu satay recipe’. It could be in the form of looking for a definition, for example, ‘meticulous definition’. Or users could simply type in ‘Will Smith’ and go through the results in pursuit to know more about him and some happiness. Pun intended. In summary, users are looking to “know” more about a certain something or someone.
Investigational – Compare
Investigational intent is where the user is looking to explore or inspect further the nature of the query. It could be a product, service, or a brand. At this stage, users are usually well past the informational intent are looking for clear-cut answers as to how to solve their query before moving on to the next stage in their intent. Sometimes, Informational and Investigational Intent overlaps. Prime example would be searching for ‘Best Smartphones in 2022’ and going through the results to both gain more informational as well as compare smartphones from different brands before finalising which one to buy. In other cases, a user could be looking for ‘Best Smartphone Repair Shop near me’ to “compare” the options at hand before picking the best one.
Transactional – Do
By this stage, the user is usually pretty sure about the purchase decision and is looking to make a purchase. It could be a product, service, or subscription. A user might altogether skip the informational or investigational stage of intent because either his or her mind is already made on what to buy or he or she already has a fairly good idea about what to buy. But in certain cases, here too, both informational and investigational intent may overlap with the transactional. For example, a user might type in ‘Buy Louis Vuitton bag’ and opens up Louis Vuitton’s official website to make a purchase. In this case, the transactional intent is set – buy a Louis Vuitton bag from Louis Vuitton’s website. However, the user may still be looking to “compare” different Louis Vuitton bags and get to “know” more about different bags on offer before “doing” something about it, which is “buying”.
Navigational – Go
Navigational Intent is where the user is, more often than not, looking to get to a particular page on a website without knowing its exact address or finding it too much of an effort to type in the whole thing in the URL bar. For example, an existing Netflix user might be looking to know more about his or her Netflix subscription and might simply type in “Netflix FAQs”, scan through the results, and “go” to the page he or she thinks will answer all the important queries. On the other hand, if it is a potential Netflix customer looking to know more about what he or she is getting into then this is also a clear overlap between Navigational and Informational.
How User Intent Impacts SERP Rankings?
Amidst all the unpredictability, if there is one thing you can be dead sure of that is Google (and other search engines) wanting to provide an optimal search experience for their users. And that can only happen because Google is rapidly evolving when it comes to understanding user intent and presenting its results thereby accordingly. Needless to say, that is how user intent impacts SERP Rankings. This is how Google ranks websites and lays out all the pages in the way it does. So, naturally, a website randomly creating a page as per what the relevant keyword is, may not rank as high as when it takes into consideration the user intent and optimizes its content accordingly. Google wants to present nothing but the best results forward, and that will only happen if the content on your page accounts for user intent.
How to Determine User Intent?
SERPs are Your Best Friends
Yes, indeed. This is the best way to go about business and determine what your users are intending when it comes to search. Just type in the key phrase or search term you want to rank for, look at all the results Google puts in front of you, and examine it all carefully. It might take a while but it is worth investing time in. Do this for all the search terms you are targeting, and you’ll be able to tell what kind of results Google deems fit for every search term.
Keyword Tools are Your Best Guides
You may have the keyword phrase in place that is more or less around the exact phrases users are searching for, but it pays well to know the exact phrases and their relative substitutes. That is where keyword tools come into play. And luckily for you, there are many you can use to create a list of keywords based on your users’ intent and start creating relevant content around each one of it. Using filters, you can omit certain words or phrases and decide what to do with them.
How to Optimize Link-Building Content for User Intent?
Size Up Your Competition
Chances are you pretty much very well know who your direct competitors are what position they hold on the SERPs. It is always a good idea to go through the top relevant pages and examine each one of them based on what kind of content they are putting forth, what their tone is, what all do they cover that you don’t, what all can you cover that they aren’t. Doing all of this before you start creating pages and finding ways to surpass them should be your first and foremost step on your way to leveraging your link building strategy.
Proper Keyword Research and Analysis
As discussed above, SERPs are your best friends and keyword tools are your best guides. The next step is to study what all keyword phrases your competitors are ranking for and list them all down. Using keyword tools, you can further extend your keyword list to add more relevant phrases and terms. It’s recommended that you invest a good amount of time in this process and do not rush through. For this is the foundation of a well-laid-out content strategy that will drive traffic to your website and will converts visitors into customers.
Categorize Content by Types of User Intent
Now that you better understand user intent and the types of user intent, and have a fair idea about who your competition is and what they are up to, you need to categorize all the keyword phrases under all the four categories and start creating content accordingly. If you already have a few pages in place with written content, use all this knowledge to optimize them all and use them to your advantage. This is a holistic approach to being as close to the user intent as possible. And since SERPs are inherently unpredictable in nature, it will help if you can manage to create a wide range of content for each type of user intent category. Who knows what is ranking well today might see a downward trend in the coming months, which is why having as many pages as possible is always the recommended strategy.
Format Content as per User Intent
Be sure to format each piece of content according to the user intent category it is assigned to. This includes but is not limited to having the keyword in the H1, H2, and H3 tags, having relevant image titles (yes, with the keyword) and ALT Text, and in the URL slug. Also, write a crisp copy for the Title Tag as well as Meta Description that is catchy enough to draw attention but not as clickbaity that might put off some users (and search engines). Last but not the least, organize and assemble your content on the page in such a way that users find it extremely easy to navigate through and get a fair amount of feeling that this will eventually end their search for relative intent. Think subheadings, bullet points, numbering, or highlighting in bold the most important sections of the copy.
Use both Internal and External Links as per User Intent and hope to gain relevant backlinks
When it comes to creating an efficient link building strategy base on user intent, it is important to have both relevant internal as well as external links in place. This is where anchor text comes into play. Each of your pages should link to at least two pages within your website as well as at least one page outside your website, linking to other relevant websites within your niche. This gives an impression to both the user and search engines that you are not trying to hog the limelight and wants users to genuinely have the best experience. Doing so sends out a positive ranking signal that your website values authentic and valuable content on other websites as well.
When you link to other websites, chances are, every now and then, someone would link back to you as well. Nothing like gaining a backlink without asking or paying for it. That is not to say that you can’t ask or request for it. You can approach media websites, your competitors, and other relevant websites within your niche, pitching to create a guest post for their website that would ideally be useful to both the parties. You can also use directories and social media to create your business profile to gather more traffic and virtual presence. All this, however, be a futile exercise if your content is not optimized for user intent. Get going straight ahead; 2022 is yours for the taking.