User Intent: What is it and How does it affect SEO?

Back in March Google confirmed, via Twitter, that it had indeed updated its core algorithm:

They were, as usual, cagey about what exactly had changed – they like to keep us on our toes – but they did go on to say that it was not to do with the quality of content (as many people suspected) but more to do with the quality of the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Various webmasters out there have run tests to try and determine exactly what the algorithm has affected, and it seems from their results that it was to do with ensuring that the search results were optimised to for user intent rather than quality.

We could write pages and pages about user intent in search and what it means, but we won’t bore you to death with it. All you need to know is that when people are searching for something on the internet they usually have one of two goals in mind.
1. They are looking for information relating to the keyword they have used
2. They are looking for general information about a topic

search engine results page for Sainsbury'sThe intent is also affected by how specific the searcher is in their intention and also how exhaustive they are as well. So a searcher who is specific will have a very narrow search intent and want answers to their particular query, whereas a not so specific searcher will have a broader scope around the sort of results that they want and be more prepared to have results that are spread around a particular topic or two. For example, if a searcher is looking for Sainsbury’s their intent is more likely to be finding their local Sainsbury’s rather than information about the Sainsbury’s head office.

There are lots of studies available online which are concerned with trying to understand the intent behind a search query, and there are also a lot of mentions of it in Googles own Search Quality Rating Guidelines. Within these guidelines is a sliding scale called the “Needs Met Rating Guidelines” which go from Fully Meets (FulllyM) to Fails to Meet (FailsM) and which also contains flags for any content that doesn’t load, is offensive, is in a foreign language or is porn.

Where your content appears on this scale will not only determine where you appear in the web results, but also whether you appear in the Rich Snippets and other search features as well.

One fascinating section of the Needs Met Rating Guidelines is the section entitled “Examples of queries that cannot have fully met results”. This covers:

Queries with multiple meanings
The language we use on a daily basis is so diverse that many search queries can easily have more than one meaning – the most obvious example being ‘Apple’ where the searcher could be searching for a piece of fruit or the latest offering from the electrical goods brand! Google is apparently aware of this potential issue and so has developed its algorithm to be able to classify searches by interpretation in three ways:

Dominant interpretations – what the majority of users mean when they search for a specific phrase.
Common interpretations – many common queries have multiple interpretations available, and so Google cannot provide an exact result, so instead, it produces a variety of results to cover all bases.
Minor interpretations – many queries will have less common interpretations, and the majority of these will be dependent on the searcher’s location.

So, following on from this, what Google does is to segment searches into three categories: do, know and go and it uses these classifications to determine the type of results it delivers.

Do – these are transactional queries where the searcher is looking to perform a specific task such as booking a holiday or buying the new iPhone X. ‘Do’ searches tend to be most important, therefore, to e-commerce websites as searchers will be looking for a specific item or brand.
Know – these are informational queries where the searcher is looking for information about a particular subject. They are usually about product research and so are not classed as either commercial or transactional. However, they are still essential searches in that they provide user value – for example, if they input a ‘know’ query such as summer city breaks Europe and your website provides them with the information they need to narrow down their choice of destination, then they may well make a holiday enquiry with you as well.
Go – these are queries where the searcher is looking for a specific website or location, e.g. Asda. There is no point in Google showing the searcher the Sainsburys website as the searcher is apparently looking for the Asda website.

How does search intent affect the customer journey?
A lot of marketing in the past has been based on the customer journey and how people navigate around a website, and while mapping out this process, it is important to also keep in mind how people search. The word journey tends to make people think of a straight path between A (landing page), B (Homepage), C (product page), D (checkout) but actually, it isn’t this linear. Searchers don’t always know exactly what it is they want to do, and the advent of both smartphones and voice search have had a direct effect on our user journey as well and has meant that Google no longer has a single search results page as it has to cater for both of these different ways of searching as well.

So, what does all this mean for you? Well first things first, don’t panic. If you did see a loss in rankings as a result of this broad core update, then as Google says it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong. Any losses you did see were probably not drastic ones, and they will have been short-lived. As long as you keep publishing valuable content which tries to satisfy user intent and puts the searcher first, then you should be OK.

If you are struggling with any aspect of content marketing, then please get in touch today. We offer a comprehensive service covering all aspects of content marketing and SEO.

2018-07-04T12:29:29+00:00June 13th, 2018|Digital|

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