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Dec 21, 2022

What is User Intent?

Suman Samal, Asst. Marketing Manager
Suman Samal
What is User Intent?

Contents

User intent, as you might probably be able to tell, is the purpose behind a user query with a keyword or phrase on Google or another search engine. It describes what the aim of the searcher is and why they look to a search engine for answers. It also gives us an idea about the reasons behind the terms and keywords used by the searcher. 

As user intent gives us an insight into the ultimate goal of the searcher, it goes without saying that it has a rather huge bearing on one's SEO and SERP (search engine results page) efforts.

Understanding and incorporating user intent into your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy means catering to the end user's goal. Focussing on user behavior has a direct hand in bringing in organic traffic, improving conversion rate, and securing higher rankings. It also influences how long searchers stay on a page or if they decide to go back to the search results page.

Why is it important to map user intent with your content? In short, it helps your SEO strategy and SERP ranking. When you put out high-quality content that answers what people are searching for, your page automatically gets more organic traffic. 

Of course, an analysis of different search terms, common search queries, keyword research, target keywords, and metrics have to be taken into account and is quite vital. 

But that is not enough. Fulfilling user intent is what facilitates ranking, be it on Google, Bing, or any other search engine. If it doesn't satisfy the intent the search engine gauges to be a good fit, it will not rank well, no matter how good the content strategy.

There are various factors on which user intent depends. One of these is that there can be multiple interpretations of the same keyword. Some keywords are quite ambiguous and can have more than one meaning. 

Take the word 'bark' for instance, it could mean the bark of a tree, or it could refer to the sound dogs make. A search engine might infer this in a different way. It is worth noting that the smaller the keyword, the higher the probability of ambiguity. 

If you use Google search for the word 'dog', it could mean you want to see images of a dog, learn about dog breeds, or a movie called 'dog'; the possibilities are almost endless. However, long-tail keywords are more specific and longer, so the chance of ambiguity is much less. 

Imagine you are looking for a specific landing page or searching for a particular product on a specific website, such as 'blue cap at Target'. You will get a pretty specific search result.

Google looks at what the phrase could mean and segregates the interpretations into:

  • Dominant Interpretation: The dominant interpretation of a search query is what the majority of the users mean when they type in a query. This will be quite clear to you after doing some SERP research.
  • Common Interpretation: A common interpretation of a query is what many or some users mean when they type a query. It can have multiple common interpretations.
  • Minor Interpretations: Sometimes, you will find less common interpretations. These are interpretations that few users have in mind.

Another major factor is that query meanings keep changing; they are never static. What one keyword might mean today can change tomorrow depending on current events or other things. 

Say, your search term consists of a state's name, as you might be visiting soon and would like to know more about it. That state is hit by a devastating hurricane the next day. 

If you search for the name today, you might get general search results, probably mentioning 'things to do' there. But when you search the next day, news or articles regarding the hurricane might dominate the search results instead. Thus, search results are ever-changing, and the user intent is open to interpretation.

There are other factors that have a bearing on queries, such as location or how the search engine might choose to present different interpretations of a search term.

Recap on types of user intent and their purpose 

Let's talk about the different types of user intent. There are three major kinds of user intent:

  • Informational - This includes search queries to do with information. Users might be looking for specific or general information on a topic. Informational intent is when a person wants more information related to a particular need or problem and how they can solve it.
  • Navigational - This is when users have navigational intent to go to a specific landing page or home page. Users might be searching for a brand website, or they might want to search for a product or service on a particular page.
  • Transactional - This is when users are looking to buy or purchase a product or service. People with transactional intent typically look for product and brand names, along with search terms like ‘price’, ‘deal’, or ‘sale’.

To read about the type of user intent or search intent in more detail, check out this blog, ‘Keyword Search Intent And SEO: All You Need To Know.’

The science behind user intent

User intent can be understood in terms of different search objectives. The searcher could use terms that are definite, particular, and precise, or extensive and far-reaching.

Do-Know-Go is a conceptualization that outlines a possible categorization of queries to understand search intent:

  • Do - Users want to do something specific, like make a purchase. This pertains directly to transactional queries. Users might be searching for a specific brand or item. It has been found that these queries primarily take place on a laptop or desktop compared to mobile devices.
  • Know - Users want to get to learn or know more about something. This is to do with informational queries. As more users gain access to the internet, they want access to real-time information such as a bus timetable, the distance to a particular place, or broader general queries on the go, such as the weather or humidity levels. These queries majorly happen on mobile devices.
  • Go - They want to navigate or go somewhere, maybe to a specific landing page. These queries are primarily navigational in nature.

Now let’s look at how Google specifically understands search intent. It is similar to the concept mentioned above in terms of how it categorizes intent-based queries to shortlist and show results. Google categorizes queries as:

  • Know query, some of which are Know Simple queries. The intent of a ‘Know’ query is to find information on a topic. ‘Know Simple’ queries seek a very specific answer
  • Do query, when the user is trying to accomplish a goal or engage in an activity
  • Website query, when the user is looking for a specific website or webpage
  • Visit-in-person query, some of which look for a specific business or organization, while others look for a category of businesses

Of course, it’s not that simple. There are other factors that have a bearing on shortlisted results as well. 

According to Google's search quality evaluator guidelines, it also takes into account search quality rating (PQ) and needs met (NM) rating. Page quality rating has to do with the reputation of the website. It looks at the purpose of the page, its potential to be harmful, and what real users think about a website and rates it accordingly.

Google's 'Needs Met Rating Guideline' focuses on the user and how helpful the page is in meeting their needs. Here is a snapshot of what that looks like:

Google’s Needs Met Rating Guidelines

How to discover the user intent of keywords and optimize content? 

Optimizing content begins with mapping user intent. This is done by identifying search intent and interpretation of user expectations

When it comes to the interpretation of user expectations, Google articulates this through the earlier mentioned ‘needs met’ categories. All queries are categorized based on how helpful they are deemed by the users. This is based on the interpretation of how clearly a result understands and caters to the user's expectations. 

For now, let’s delve into identifying search intent. Here are some ways to discover the user intent of keywords as well as to optimize content:

  • Analysis of top SERP results: Scrutinizing the top 10 search results to gauge what the user associates with a keyword will hugely benefit how you plan your SEO strategy. Some keywords might be associated with transactional intent, even though you might be aiming at informational intent. For example, you want to write about hiring content editors, but those keywords show that most SERP results are transactional in nature (people looking to hire or jobs for content editors) instead of more educational content, as you intend. It helps to identify different types of keywords. Particular types of keywords can point to more specific user intent, like long-tail keywords. (To learn more, read the ‘14 types of keyword’ blog.) You can optimize content for SEO by making sure that the intent of your blog post aligns with the intent the general public assigns to those keywords. 
  • SERP page modules: The 'related searches module' and 'people also ask' modules give insight into how the user views a keyword. For example, if you search for 'Apple' on Google, you will find that the company Apple dominates the SERPs. If your blog post is on the fruit or the place in Oklahoma, it might not rank well on the algorithm. People might need to use more specific keywords to view the page. One can pinpoint or recognize user intent from other Google SERP features as well, such as maps, featured snippets, shopping results, Google carousel, etc. It helps us understand how the search engine views a search query. SERP results can also tell us what type of content would work best.
  • Images and video content: Written content is one type of content. Users sometimes prefer to consume content in the form of images or videos. These can be ‘how to’ videos, say ‘how to make a bow’. It is quite clear that the search intent for these keywords is connected to the image or video results.

Some factors to be kept in mind when optimizing content are:

  • Intent mismatch: Intent mismatch happens when the searcher is looking for a particular result, but the search queries do not reflect that. They might use general terms or different terms when looking, which results in mismatched search results. Basically, their intent does not match the search engine results. 

For instance, say you create a blog post for a specific website specializing in management topics, and the post references a fishbone diagram as 'fishbone picture.’ (A fishbone diagram is a tool to help management teams with root cause analysis of a problem.) The search results for 'fishbone picture' are images of a fish skeleton and have nothing to do with management. Hence, your page might not turn up in the search results when people search for ‘fishbone diagram.’ This means that your target audience is probably not going to find your page because there is an intent mismatch. You intended to present a management tool, but the way it was referenced means the search engine understood your intent differently. 

To overcome intent mismatch, you should plan your content accordingly and use the correct key terms that match the user intent. In this case, one word could make a world of difference. 

Changing the key terms to 'fishbone diagram' or 'fishbone figure' would yield the right results, and your page would be seen by the intended audience as you match the specific user intent.

  • Fractured intent: Fractured intent is when the search engine results for a keyword present several pages with different goals with different interpretations for that keyword. 

The more generalized the keyword, the less relevant the results. Long tail keywords and more specific search terms yield more relevant results. Take, for example, if a searcher types in the word 'mercury'; it could mean the planet, a chemical compound, an insurance website, or a car brand. A long tail keyword would be more specific, such as ‘Mercury insurance’. Now the search engine will have enough context to send people looking for insurance your way.

This is why it is vital to make sure your content is optimized to meet the specific intent that the user is looking for. 

It would also be prudent to think of search queries your user might use that might be ambiguous. An example could be someone typing in ‘auto insurance with authorized repair shop’ or ‘condo insurance when condo rented to others’. 

These are long-tail keywords that competitors might not think to optimize for. If your SEO strategy incorporated these different angles into your content planning, you might be able to stay one step ahead of your competition

Thus, specific keywords and different types of user intent have to be kept in mind as part of the overall marketing strategy. 

Use SERP analysis and social listening by Scalenut to better understand your users

Scalenut’s SERP analysis feature analyses the data from the top-ranking pages on the SERPs. The tool includes a keyword research tool that provides a list of NLP-extracted key terms that you could use, as well as valuable insights into them, like their frequency and importance, all of which go a long way in helping your content rank well. 

These keywords help provide exclusive insight into the user's needs as the tool analyzes search results to give you information that will aid your SEO strategy. For instance, it generates a report that includes the average word count, readability, and average quality score of the top-ranking SERPs. 

The tool also provides competitive insight. It curates competitive content through social listening, giving you an idea of the content grade and word count for a particular topic. There is also a ‘common questions’ or queries section, with questions taken from Quora, Reddit, and Google. This helps with a deeper understanding of your user’s search intent.

Last but not least, the tool also provides you with a guided workflow to help you create a content outline, giving you headers, subtopics, and relevant keywords. The SERP ideas feature is unique to Scalenut. You can enter the topic for which you want to extract content ideas and select an idea (from a populated list of ideas based on your topic) that you want the AI to write about. 

The functionality then creates unique content based on information from existing high-ranking web pages. This information is factual, considers the latest and current information, and analyzes keywords and user intent to make sure it ranks well on SERPs. The consumer’s search intent is considered, which results in content closely matching searchers’ queries. 

As you can see, with Scalenut, you can ensure that your content is aligned with both the user and search engine. Over time, a tool such as this improves quality in content creation and boosts ranking on search engines. 

About Scalenut 

Scalenut is an AI-powered SEO and content marketing SaaS platform that helps discover and create relevant content for your customers. Be it brainstorming ideas, creating comprehensive briefs, or generating the content, Scalenut has made the process extremely easy. Click here to create a free account and explore the many features of this tool. 

Suman Samal
Asst. Marketing Manager
ABout the AUTHOR
Suman Samal
Asst. Marketing Manager

Suman Samal is a Asst. Marketing Manager at Scalenut. She is a technology enthusiast with a keen interest in content marketing and SEO. She truly believes that with the right set of tools every organization can improve the ROI of their content marketing campaigns. She spends her time managing content operations at Scalenut and ensuring that everything we publish is of the highest quality.

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