Understanding search intent has always been a vital aspect of creating content online. Sites that give searchers what they’re looking for have been popular forever, but with recent developments in digital marketing Google is now able to reward them as well.
Google’s understanding of search intent is improving with developments to its natural language processing (NLP) capabilities, most recently through the BERT algorithm update. At the same time, voice search has become an increasingly popular phenomenon and users are submitting more complex, long-tail queries than ever.
With these advancements in mind, it’s crucial that we produce content which aligns with what users are really looking for when they enter particular search queries. Creating content that addresses different types of search intent and explicitly targets different phases of the conversion funnel is an excellent way to ensure that we achieve this aim.
In addition, matching search intent makes users more likely to engage and convert once they land on your site, which increases the commercial value of the traffic that you attract through organic search. Your content strategy should never be separate from your wider business goals.
The Different Types of Search Intent
Getting to grips with search intent is all about being aware of why a user has searched for a particular term and what they hope to achieve by doing so. It’s important to understand the difference between the search terms “best MacBook 2019” and “buy 2019 MacBook Pro”.
This is a pretty clear-cut example: in the first instance, the user is most likely searching for information about the different types of MacBook available in 2019; the second query, on the other hand, is likely from a user who wants to buy the most recent Macbook Pro.
These two queries exemplify informational and transactional searches, two of the four types of search intent. Most search terms can be assigned to one of these four types of intent:
- Commercial Investigation
When thinking about search intent, it’s useful to consider the different parts of the conversion funnel (see the image below). Users tend to search for informational queries when they are in the awareness or interest phases of the funnel; commercial and transactional searches are usually made further down the funnel during the interest, desire, and action stages.
As the name suggests, informational queries indicate that the user wishes to find some sort of information on a given topic. Informational search terms are often – but not always – phrased as a question. An example of an informational query is “what software and hardware do I need for graphic design?”
We’ve already seen that informational searches are usually made during the awareness or interest stages. At this point, the user often recognises that they have a need which they would like to satisfy. They’re not sure about how to achieve this yet so they’re looking for information that might be able to help them.
It’s also important to note that not all informational queries have commercial undertones. Many users search for information on Google without any intention of buying something.
This type of search intent is not necessarily connected with the customer journey. Users often submit navigational queries into search engines simply to navigate to the website of a particular brand or organisation. An example of a navigational query is “Facebook” – here, the search engine is just being used as a more efficient means of reaching Facebook than entering the URL.
Further down the conversion funnel, we have commercial investigation queries. Although not always recognised as separate from informational, these queries nevertheless serve a recognisable purpose.
Users make this type of search when they realise that they want to buy a certain category of product but need more information before they make a purchase. This usually occurs somewhere around the desire phase in the conversion funnel.
For example, a user who wants to compare the different features and prices of the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro might search for “iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro”. Commercial searches such as this are characteristic of the evaluation of alternatives phase of the consumer decision-making process – having identified a need and narrowed down the options, the user now wants to choose between potential options.
Transactional queries occur right at the end of the conversion funnel during the action stage. This type of search is made with the intention of buying something in particular even if the user doesn’t know where to buy it from yet. Developing on the example above, the user may have decided that they want to buy the Pro version of the latest iPhone and so searches for “buy iPhone 11 Pro”.
What Is a Content Strategy?
Now that you understand the different types of search intent and how they fit into the conversion funnel, it’s time to return to the question of content strategies. But before we go any further, it’s important to define what we mean by a content strategy and take a look at an example of a content roadmap.
A content strategy outlines the planning, creation, and management of the content to be published by a particular organisation or brand. To design a content strategy, you first need to understand what kinds of information your target audience is looking for and how they are phrasing their searches. This is usually achieved through a combination of competitor analysis and keyword research.
Once you’ve discovered what kinds of posts are ranking and driving traffic to your competitors’ sites, it’s time to come up with titles for your own blogs and designate target keywords that have sufficient search volume. At this stage, it’s useful to create a content schedule (sometimes referred to as a content roadmap) that outlines when blogs will be written and published as in the example below.
How Search Intent Can Inform Your Content Strategy
From the example content roadmap above, it may already be starting to become more clear how search intent can inform your content strategy. We can ensure that we reach users who are at each stage of the customer journey by using a roadmap like this one.
Each piece of content that you plan should be targeted at a specific point of the conversion funnel. In the example, the first blog (Solving Cash Flow Problems) targets the awareness stage. To make sure that this content reaches users who are recognising that they need to solve their cash flow issues, we might target a keyword like “how can I solve my cash flow problems?”
Producing high-quality informational content that answers users questions can be beneficial for many different types of business:
- E-commerce firms that sell physical products can communicate the benefits of their products through informational blogs.
- A service provider that uses its site for lead generation could create informational content that helps to position the brand as a thought leader within its field and earn the trust of potential clients.
Of course, not all of your content should be designed to address informational queries. It’s important that you cover the full spectrum of queries in your content roadmap and vary the type of search intent that your content addresses. As in the example above, we can create content paths for users to follow that guide them right through the decision-making process (users could even be encouraged to click through the sequence of blogs via internal links).
The aim here is to reach users in the awareness phase who have identified a need, communicate how your product or service can help them, persuade them to choose your company, and then ultimately encourage them to convert. Whilst it would be difficult to achieve all of this with a single blog post, planning your content strategy to target each stage with dedicated pieces of content ensure that you don’t miss out on any potential customers.
- With developments such as voice search and the BERT algorithm update, it’s now more important than ever to supply content that explicitly addresses the intent behind searches.
- The four categories of search intent are informational, navigational, commercial investigation, and transactional – these types of query map onto different parts of the conversion funnel (awareness, interest, desire, action).
- As part of your content strategy, creating a roadmap that specifically addresses particular types of search query and parts of the conversion funnel ensures that you don’t miss out on prospects who are at different stages of the customer journey.
- A comprehensive, targeted content strategy can help you to guide users through the decision-making process, ultimately encouraging them to convert.
Hopefully this blog has given you some useful guidance on how to create a content strategy that takes search intent into account. The SEO team at Impression has a number of content specialists who can help you with crafting a comprehensive content strategy to suit your company’s needs – contact us now to find out more.