Keywords Intents: Why You Should Focus on Search Goals

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If you ask SEO tools how many search intents there are, almost every tool will tell you that you have 3 intents: informational, transactional and navigational.

Why?

Because most SEO tools believe that everyone has at least one of those search intents when searching for a keyword. If prospects search for “informational” keywords, they are just looking for top of the funnel content. Whereas, when they look for “transactional” keywords, they are in buying mode.

The labelling originates from SEO tools categorising queries into buckets following this logic: “If someone searches for how to disinfect a wound, this is an informational search because they want to find a guide on how to do it. When someone searches for a comparison of water vs saline, they are looking to buy a wound disinfectant solution and have to make a decision”.

Yes, in theory, every keyword belongs to one of those three categories.

But in reality, this is a big assumption and often a missed opportunity to do better. SEO tools let us believe that the searcher wants to achieve a specific task, so they label the search query accordingly. This is not true, and it results in a huge simplification that often misses the point of the search intent.

In reality, unless your are looking at a specific keyword where the intent is crystal clear (which is extremely rare), with a keyword search you want to complete one or more tasks. The logic is not “Keyword A leads to intent A”. It’s more like “Keywords A should help me accomplish task A”. These tasks can include one or more of the three intent categories. There are many reasons why a prospect wants to search for a keyword. They don’t just fall under the “informational” category. Instead, they are trying to accomplish a task.

Another way of saying this is that most prospects start a journey that ends somewhere on the Internet. They want to be educated AND fulfill their task. They’re looking to accomplish something with a search where often their level of knowledge is very low. And therefore, they need to perform more than one search, starting from , for example, “how to cure a wound” and ending in “which product is better for a wound” or “alcohol free products for wounds”.

Therefore, I think a more effective keywords research project should prioritise the searcher task accomplishment to capture the underlying goals. We need to capture the entire buying process which means capturing people who are searching for a solution to their problem, but they don’t know what the solution looks like.

How this concept would be applied to my SEO consultancy business

Let us imagine that I need to build a keywords research project for targeting businesses looking for SEO consultants.

Myself, Luca Tagliaferro, have one product: SEO consultancy, which includes a multitude of services: WIX SEO Consultant, Content Marketing, SEO Audits for companies that want to just hire me to do SEO for them.

At no point I tried to rank for “SEO consultant” with a guide trying to educate searchers with lots of information, despite this keyword has a clear “informational” intent.

Why? Because what type of information does this guide need? Information in what sense? A guide on how to become an SEO consultant? A guide on what does an SEO consultant do?

Producing a guide for that term would not help searchers accomplish anything, because searchers already know who is an SEO consultant, what he/ she does and don’t need to be explained further. The keyword is clearly transactional, not informational, and the underlying goal of the searcher is to make an enquiry on how much the SEO services cost and what value those services bring to their website.

If I wrote about who is an SEO consultant, I’d probably not be able to rank on top 3 positions in the UK for that keyword and all of the variants.

If I had to write a guide on “Who is an SEO consultant” following the “informational” label that SEMRush is providing, I’d write about job role, skills of an SEO expert and hope that, at some point in the future, Google would love my guide and rank it high. But it’s not Google that has to like it, it’s the user. This is what most bloggers and content marketers get wrong when writing content. They optimise for search engines, not for people. They write a piece of content to make Google happy.

What I do instead, is identify the underlying goals searchers have and what criteria users (not Google) use to evaluate results, then I create content to rank for those keywords and include all of the goals and jobs that need to be done by the searcher. When you satisfy the searching goal and understand the criteria people use to evaluate your content, search engines will follow your lead, instead of you following search engines hoping for better ranking.

The fact is that search engines have enough data to predict what users like the most, so they are able to rank content according to the underlying goals that people have. Similarly to Google, also marketers and bloggers need to research what the intent is and prioritise those goals first, before even focussing on that the content format looks like (a guide, a listicle, a landing page).

In this blog post, I am going to back up the above arguments with real client data, hopefully convincing you that websites should focus on satisfying goals first and develop content that covers a wide range of intents, not just one.

Informational, Transactional, Navigational Intents: Why they have no SEO value

To further support my argument, let’s look at an example of a company targeting a bunch of keywords and see how they do it.

SEO-Audits.io is a website that sells audits. (I have no business relationship with this company, but the story of how it was born and why I believe is very fascinating).

If we look at some of their top ranking keywords, we find the following list on the top #3 results: “seo audits”, “seo auditing” and “SEO audit London”.

Then if we look at the intent for those keywords, we find them to be all “informational”.

Now, you might be thinking, “the keyword has an informational intent and you are supposed to offer guides and checklists on how to do SEO audits! It’s an educational keyword!”.

Right? Nope.

The reality is that seo-audits.io/ is an SEO agency, offering to do an audit instead of teaching you how to do one.

If you had to make a decision based on the informational intent, you’d be developing a guide or a tool. But you look at the search results for “SEO audits”, you’ll find that all of the 10 results are indeed guides or tools, except for one, seo-audits.io at #3.

If someone wants to compete for this term “SEO audit”, they would probably use the Skyscraper Technique and try to write a better guide or build a better SEO tool for doing audits. Would that tool or guide fully satisfy users’ intent, though?

Not entirely.

It’s a huge missed opportunity for someone to produce a guide or a tool only on how to do SEO audits trying to satisfy users’ intent. Not to mention the fact that the content ranking right now is already of great quality and written by SEO experts.

What’s worse, your article will be about the same topic as the other ones, which Google already rewarded with top positions. This means Google doesn’t have any intention of presenting users with new articles when the existing ones already satisfy their search queries. Copying what others have written is doing you no favours in helping you rank higher.

So your chances of ranking high with a copy-cat content or tool are extremely low.

You need something new in order to have a chance of ranking high for a competitive term such as this one. For example, you could think of offering an auditing service, instead of a tool or a guide.

Why?

Those who want to do an audit are not necessarily SEO experts in need of a tool. The audience searching for this topic might be consisting of business owners, digital marketing managers, marketing directors, CMOs, web developers and product managers who have no intention of “learning” how to do an SEO audit and don’t know what to do with the data provided by a tool.

The task of this type of audience is to hire an SEO specialist who is able to perform some of the best audits out there and they are also happy to pay a fee, in other words, they need an auditing “service”. In fact, as you can see on seo-audits.io page title and meta description, this website is different than the others: they offer audits as a service.

So, the fact that SEMRush told me “SEO audits” is an informational keyword means I should be focussing on producing educational content. But the keyword is clearly not just informational, it’s also transactional as it serves multiple purposes for a wide variety of audiences: SEO pros, product managers, business owners, CMOs and Marketing Directors. Each with a different task in hand and each looking for different things online.

But if an auditing service wasn’t currently ranking, how could you be so sure my SEO audit service page will?

Now, some of the arguments I hear when trying to rank something new on search results are: “These existing results are coming from established websites, you’ll never outrank them” or “You can’t rank anything different than what is already ranking because Google otherwise would have showed it, already”.

Well, sometimes you can rank for difficult keywords if you do your research right.

How? I give you two steps of doing audience research that meets real users’ intents.

1. Think in terms of audience intents instead of keywords intents

First, instead of thinking in terms of keywords intents, think in terms of audience intents. Every search result has a variety of audiences who have several different pain points, goals and needs, dreams and expectations. Audience is not created the same.

These are very different people with very different jobs and functions. SEO pros don’t build websites like web developers. CMOs don’t do SEO audits, they hire people and agencies and delegate tasks to them. SEO pros do SEO audits.

Take again the keyword “SEO audits”, which I showed above. Let’s map the current search results, to see which type of audience would benefit from them:

Remember: those in needs of SEO audits are not just marketers. Who are they? People that lost traffic after a Google update. People who run a business and want to get more our of SEO. People who are doing a website migration and need an audit to get the migration right.

So, is teaching them how to do an SEO audit helping in any way? Or giving them an SEO tool that spits out data about the audit. Do business owners know what to do with that data?

When presented with these results, these types of audiences are left with two options: either learn SEO or use an SEO tool. This is not meeting search intent, this is missing it. What about people wanting to hire an SEO audit professional? If you produce another guide and expect to rank high, be my guest.

2. Provide completion to their goal

The second step to rank higher is to provide excellent experiences, which means offering a solution to their goals. Most top 10 results on Google provide excellent experiences (whether it’s a tool, a landing page or a blog post). So what content marketers do is tend to copy-paste what is already ranking on top 10 and then write something a bit better.

So it’s not true to say “My site can’t rank for an extremely competitive keyword”. Yes, there are instances in which you are outranked and probably won’t be able to hit page 1, but one of the most powerful SEO strategies you can use is to satisfy users’ intent. Google wants to provide the best answer to their users, which is how Google became the largest search engines on the planet.

We can look at how serving business owners instead of marketers for the same keyword can take you far.

For example, the image below shows you the SEO metrics of the top 5 ranking pages for “SEO audits”. The fact that seo-audits.io ranks on POS 3 for the term indicates that it’s extremely relevant to the audience. Look at the numbers of backlinks, Authority Score (AS) and total referring domains: seo-audits.io has the lowest metrics compared to other results.

List of top 5 pages ranking for SEO audits in the UK

If in these 5 results we can see different intents (2 guides, 2 SEO audit tools and 1 SEO audit service), why would you still think that this keyword is just “informational”? What makes you think that copying your competitors is what you should do? What if your audience is also made of business owners?

Now, let’s be clear: I am not saying that there is no place for writing something better than your competitors in SEO, but I am making an argument on what you should prioritise when considering of targeting a competitive keyword: why would you produce the same content your competitors write about, prior to making proper audience research first?

I believe in the “search goals” approach to keyword research: focus on your audience use cases of the keyword, tasks at hand, jobs to be done that provide you with a clear mapping of search intents. For the keyword “SEO audits”, the jobs to be done are essentially three:

  • Automation: SEO audit tools and reports
  • Education: SEO audits guides and “how-to” content
  • Services: Custom SEO audits services

Taking this approach would result in uncovering new use cases and jobs to be done, then producing some new and extremely relevant content for your audience.

How many search intents are there?

I get common questions about this approach, one of them being “Okay, that makes sense, but what happens if there aren’t a ton of these search intents for my target keyword?”

Related objections are “I offer a product, not a service, so I can’t compete with other products because I they are established and I am a new player” or “We are creating a new way of doing things with our product and, as a result, there aren’t many intents, such as ‘SEO audits’ that covers guides, tools and services”. These can be legitimate concerns. The key is to remember that my audience intent first strategy is about prioritisation.

Even if your keyword doesn’t have many audience intents, you should still do audience research.

But from an SEO perspective, how limited is the scope of intents? Well, websites often fall under a bucket of intents. Let’s share two extremes first, then we’ll discuss the middle.

Lots of search intents

You are in a keyword category that is likely to satisfy many audiences in many ways. In this case, whichever your solution, you can meet your audience needs. Going back to the SEO Audits example, they can be performed in two ways: manually or automatically using an SEO tool. In both cases, you need to learn about how the tool works or how to do an audit yourself, which creates the third audience intent: educational. For a keyword like this one, you have plenty of intents.

Now, I get some pushbacks from website owners who say, “Yes, there are many intents, but my product is unique. I offer the best nutrition courses with nutrition certifications and that’s it”. They think that because they offer a certification, their audience is only made of those people who look for a course and the intent is educational only.

That isn’t true.

Your product is a bypass to solving a wide range of problems. Your customers could be looking to change career and become nutritionists, in which case your audience intent is about career education, instead of nutrition education, which would allow you to meet those career changers. Or they want to find a job without going to Uni, in which case getting a nutrition qualification could be a great option (targeting Uni drop outs or younger generations who don’t like Uni).

Essentially, your audience can complete the goal of getting a qualification coming from many different paths. The main core business is nutrition knowledge, but that doesn’t change the fact that this knowledge can be acquired for many future goals. Not everyone of your customers will become a nutritionist, some will and some will not. So the question is, how do you cover every possible audience intent?

That’s why you have to prioritise audience research about everything else, even content format. Using the nutrition courses example, you already have the following keywords intents:

  • Education: Content on how to change career into nutrition
  • Product: Courses of nutrition
  • Byproduct: online courses of nutrition
  • New Career path #1: learn nutrition without becoming a nutritionist
  • New Career path #2: learn nutrition for becoming a nutritionist

If you don’t do audience research, you will be missing out and leave money on the table.

Few search intents

You are in the business of providing one product that can’t be replaced, automated or taught, let’s say you are a pharmacy selling pain killers. There is no way to stop headaches by producing a guide on “How to stop a headache without medicines”. In this case, guides and educational content won’t help your target users. The intent for the keyword “headache tablet” is cristal clear: I need a medicine.

However, even in this case, you could find several buying intents. I want to emphasise that to meet your audience at different buying stages or composed by different demographics, you have to do audience research, first. Even those who want to buy a headache medication need to know which one works best. Is it Syndol? Sudafeed? Anadin or paracetamol? In this case you could produce a buying guide for different use cases of each medication. Syndol is for headaches, but for dental pains it’s best to use Paracetamol, for example.

And even if your audience knows that Paracetamol is the right one, they might not know how many they need or how often, or what are the side effects they have. Can they drink alcohol with Paracetamol?

Suddenly, we found educational content that can support your medicine sales and help people take an informed decision. Your site could rank for the following terms and intents:

  • Buy: The Paracetamol product
  • Education: side effects, precautions

These are not many intents, but you can create new ones if you study your audience first.

Content Marketing: How to identify search intents to meet your audience goals?

Identifying audience intent is something we have covered briefly above, and it starts with knowing what the top goals are that lead your users to search, in the first place.

When you know what your audience goals are, you can identify the intents that are more likely to meet their objectives. I call this process Jobs to Be Done SEO. These goals are specific, not general (to get back to the “SEO audit” example, think, “I want someone to do an audit for my website” as I am a business owner).

The more specific you are in identifying goals, the more the topic can be relevant and has the chance of ranking high on search engines. This assumption is based on the “Information Gain Score” patent that Google launched a few years ago.

Step 1: It all starts with studying the current search results

We want to figure out two things here: what type of results is Google showing for a given keyword, and what formats these results are presented in.

This article on my site will share the most important keyword metrics you need to look at when conducting SERPs analysis to figure out which results are ranking and why.

Step 2: Increasing your Information Gain Score

After you have identified which types of content format is ranking on Google for a given keyword, ten you’ll use that information to back into what other content you could write about to meet your audience needs and goals.

I present you “Information Gain Score”. This is a component of a Google patent, which has been significant in causing considerable confusion among SEO professionals during recent updates to search algorithms. This could signal the end for the SkyScraper content strategy.

Granted in July 2022, this patent aims to alter the methods used for ranking, finding, and presenting web content to users, heralding a new era for SEO and content marketing strategies. The patent suggests a method by which Google could give precedence to content that is not only useful and unique but also showcases expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (EEAT), thereby meeting the needs of its users.

Google Patent on Information Gain Score

This article on SearchEngineLand.com will tell how Information Gain Score affects search rankings. The score calculates how unique your content is compared to other contents within the same topic.

Example of companies I’ve grown using Information Gain Strategy

As with every other article on my website, I don’t like to say this is a process os strategy you should follow without backing it up with real case studies.

So here is a case study I present you where I was able to rank on #1 a single page using Information Gain.

How I grew Future Fit’s Personal Training Courses page to #1 nationally in the UK

As I explain in the case study, the information gain approach consisted on providing more and more useful information about personal training courses, formatted in a comparison table, rather than a sequence of sentences.

Back then in 2019, when I first introduced the idea of providing better and clearer information to users, Information Gain wasn’t a thing, but the whole concept of providing unique content never changed.

So, after looking at how users were approaching the page, the pattern of questions they asked to the sales team and the way they were surfing across the page, it was clear that the difference between Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 Personal Training courses wasn’t clear enough for them to make an informed decision. This made users to go back to search results, which is something you don’t want to happen because it sends Google a signal that your content doesn’t satisfy users’ intents and goals. The thing that affects rankings is the clarity and uniqueness of the information on your landing page followed by a clear path to conversion. If you don’t tell people exactly what you are offering and how to buy on your offer, how can they complete that goal? It’s very difficult. Your job is to make that easy for users.

Once I started to differentiate the different offering in a nice layout, with a great comparison table and a clear call to action (learn more about Level 2 Personal Training, for example), both ranking and visits increased.

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