Closing the Gap: Optimizing Your Content with Search Intent

Content writers and marketers, the successful ones anyway, have always understood the need to write to their audience. If you are trying to sell custom leather footballs, then you should not only be writing about activities that use your footballs, but also periphery content dealing with footballs. For example, you might write an article that focuses on how your footballs are made, how they are used, or why your footballs are better than others.

The average searcher has learned to get very specific in their queries, and trying to understand the intent of their search is the SEO dream. Getting into the mind of users, understanding what they need and want, and serving up the most relevant content to them at just the right moment in the buying cycle—that’s the goal of all SEO professionals.

While the idea of search intent is not a new one – even Rand Fishkin at Moz saw the need for segmenting by search intent almost eight years ago – it is still a hotly discussed topic in the SEO world. As Google continues to adjust its search algorithm to become ever more intelligent about what a user’s search intent may be, it is more imperative that online content evolves with this change to stay relevant and visible in search engine results. So, how do you make search intent work for you?

First, let’s start with an overview of what search intent is.

Focusing on a single keyword, or variations of a keyword, and optimizing a single page to rank highly for it is becoming a thing of the past. With the introduction of Google’s Hummingbird release, Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) are becoming much more relevant to exactly what is on a searcher’s mind as they try to find a particular solution (e.g. “new leather football for my kid to use,” “best football for college games”). Search intent is about understanding what sort of queries are relevant to your business and how you can focus your content to be the best provider of authoritative, relevant, and needed answers (Tweet this!). It’s about letting go of the one keyword, one page rule and opening your content up to the world of topics and sub-topics. Scary, I know. But highly necessary, in this day and age, where search technology has become much more advanced.

It has been generally accepted that there are four categories of search intent: navigational, informational, commercial, and transactional. (However, it needs to be taken into account that overlap can exist, so with all things this is not an exact science but rather a guide to how to better focus your content so that you can better engage your users.)
  • Navigational – A specific site destination is in mind. Users may access the address bar in their web browser or the Google search box and type in “www.acmefootballs.com,” or the words “ACME footballs.”
  • Informational – The user is looking for information. This is the biggest intent bucket because so many searches start off with exploring a topic. Examples: “footballs,” “football gear,” “football equipment,” “how to break in a leather football,” “how to play football,” “why are footballs made of leather.”
  • Commercial Investigation – The searcher is looking for information to help them advise a buying decision. They may not be ready to buy just yet, but they want to be well-informed about how they will be spending their money and if the product or service is worth the investment and time. Examples: “best leather footballs,” "reviews ACME football."
  • Transactional – The searcher is ready to become a paying customer. They will tend to use keywords in their search that are focused on buying a particular product or service. They may use keywords that have contextual modifiers such as buy, coupon, discount, deal, and shipping. Examples: “where to buy ACME footballs," or “discount on ACME football.”

Bringing it all into context.

Once you have a good understanding of what types of searches are bringing visitors to your page(s), you can then investigate what others terms your page may be missing by running a content gap analysis. A content gap analysis looks at your current content and compares it to that of your major search competitors and popular search queries, determining if you are missing relevant content that could be added to your pages to give your users extra value.

There are a handful of tools available that can help to discover what keywords are being searched and which are triggering your pages in the SERPs, including both Google Adwords Keyword Planner and Webmaster Tools. Starting out with these tools can help you get a pretty good view into what your core keyword target bucket should be for a particular page.

Next, you could use a tool such as keyword.io to help analyze your user’s intent and to gauge if there is potentially a gap in your current content and/or if you are not meeting the needs of your users.

Let's try an example.

I used the term “leather football” in the keyword.io tool to determine what sort of searches were being used and what search intent buckets potentially exist. The majority of the very top level results are in the informational bucket:

*Note: There was much more data in this report than what is used in this article—this is just a small snapshot.

Using the results, we would then break down the information into three intent categories in an effort to better understand where our gaps exist and where the largest interest is:

Finding those wonderful, modifying contextual words.

The keyword.io report also indicates what would be the best contextual modifiers to be using along with the term “leather football.” Contextual modifiers are additional relevant words that can be added to your content to help support the main subject matter, thereby making your page the most relevant to search engines in response to a particular search intent. Some words that could be added to our page include: leather, football, ball, accessory, sport, and NFL.

How to use this information.

Let’s optimize a fictitious landing page to demonstrate how to implement our analysis. Based on what we know from our research, we will aim to inform potential customers about the ACME line of leather footballs, the benefits of owning one, and ultimately provide a means to purchase them.

Page structure:
Make sure the title tag and meta tags are properly optimized for the intent of the page.
  • Title: Hand-Stitched Leather Football | ACME Sporting Equipment
  • H1: Hand-Stitched Leather Football
  • Description: A NFL-certified, hand cut and sewn, leather football to add to your collection of quality sporting equipment.
Page content:
  • Body copy: make sure to have enough relevant marketing copy on the page to help support the main theme and to entice the visitor with industry leading footballs. Quality product, quality content.
  • Navigation & Breadcrumbs: should be properly optimized.
  • Link to supporting pages using appropriate anchor text.
  • Have a clear call to action to let people know how to buy. In this case, a large “BUY NOW” button (with the listed price) would probably work best.
  • List product benefits, and if relevant, a comparison chart to show why ACME footballs are the best.
  • Multi-media element: consider adding a video showing a sports celebrity or the value proposition of the football (i.e. tough leather, NFL certified, etc.).
  • Include customer reviews of the product and be sure to have them properly tagged so that they show up in a Google search.
  • FAQ section: add an area to your page where you answer the most frequently asked questions about the product. Put additional questions on a separate FAQ page.
    • How to break in a leather football?
    • How to clean a leather football?
    • Why are footballs made of leather?

So, to wrap it up: don’t fret or stress.

You don't need to reinvent the wheel, or start from scratch on your pages’ content if it is already ranking for your key terms. However, if people are pogo-sticking out of your site, or if your page is not converting or meeting the appropriate engagement metrics, then consider running an intent gap analysis on your content. With a good understanding of your visitors’ needs, concerns, questions, and issues, you can align your website to better suit users than your competitors, and can ultimately improve your position as an industry leader.

Shannon Robinson is a SEO Strategist at Red Door Interactive. In the past she has been involved with various online projects, involving both service and product-related websites of small to large scale. Her work experience ranges from in-house SEO at ACTIVE Network and Life Technologies, as well as independent consulting work. Shannon is constantly thinking about new ways to attack old problems and always enjoys learning from others.

comments powered by Disqus