Intent Segmentation in SEO: Is it What’s Missing from Your Content Strategy?
If you find that an SEO campaign isn’t working how you expected, it might be that you’re misunderstanding what the user really wants from your content. It’s easy to fall into the trap of creating content that serves your business, but what about the people that you actually want to read it? Are you meeting their needs?
Intent segmentation is the most effective way to ensure that your content aligns with the requests of your target audience. But what actually is it, and how can you segment keywords by intent for SEO? Also is SEO different for CMS? Let’s find out.
What is search intent segmentation?
Search intent segmentation is the process of understanding what your target audience wants to achieve by finding the answer to their query, and then grouping and prioritising the keywords you’ll capture by what they want to achieve with the search.
Someone who searches ‘burgers vs hotdogs nutrition’ is probably looking for some educational content to help them make healthy choices. While they’re interested in burgers, they’re not about to buy one. This is fairly low intent (we could say ‘informational’ or ‘educational’).
Conversely, someone who searches ‘Shake Shack near EC1’ likely already decided that they want a burger; they already have their vendor in mind; and they’re looking for an address to finalise their purchase. This is high intent (we could say ‘transactional’).
High intent traffic is obviously more lucrative, in the short term, than low intent. So we segment our keywords to identify and prioritise high-intent traffic.
We do this by assessing what the searcher’s intention was when they typed a certain keyword or phrase into Google. Are they looking for an answer to a question they have? Do they want to understand a topic better? Are they looking to buy a piece of software?
This information is then used to inform the content your business creates to ensure it adds value to the reader and satisfies the intention they had when searching for particular keywords and queries. It can also be used to help businesses prioritise specific keywords and content in their plan, as it indicates which terms and queries are of a higher value.
Why is it important to segment terms by their intent?
The importance of segmenting search terms by their intent ties back to the broadest purpose of SEO: providing the most useful response for the person searching. If you try to address a specific keyword without first understanding what that term means, or what the searcher is seeking, the content you produce will be futile in the eyes of both Google and the reader.
In fact, as Google’s algorithms continue to develop, they’re becoming better at understanding people’s search intent and also better at finding the content that best serves this. If your content isn’t directly addressing the question a user wants answered or providing the information they’re looking for at the right time, it’s challenging – if not impossible – to rank well on SERPs. Not ranking makes it difficult to grow site traffic and capture new leads, so can hold your business back.
However, understanding and addressing the intent of your reader more accurately is also important beyond appearing on the first page of Google. By delivering the right content to users in the right way, you’re more likely to experience better engagement from your site visitors, and also higher conversion rates. Which is, after all, why most businesses invest in content marketing and SEO.
The 4 Types of SEO Intent
1. Navigational intent
Keyword searches with navigational intent usually happen where the person searching wants to find a specific website. With these searches, users usually type in the name of the product, service or website in order to reach it.
For instance, if someone was already aware of what a specific company is called and what they have to offer, they might type that company’s name into Google’s search bar. These are often called ‘brand keywords’. For example, users will simply type ‘Facebook’, ‘Salesforce’ or whatever it is they’re searching for. This usually happens when the searcher doesn’t know the exact company URL and relies on Google’s search engine to find it for them.
Since the intent for these navigational searches can be incredibly broad, they are often deemed to be low-value searches.
2. Informational intent
Informational intent exists when an individual searches for certain keywords online with the intention to learn more about a certain subject or topic.
Usually, they are asking a specific question, or they want to know what something is. These searches typically happen when a searcher is looking to find out more information about something, but they often won’t have developed the intention to buy it yet.
Some common examples of informational intent will be ‘pasta sauce recipe’, ‘what is the weather like today’, or in our industry, ‘what is contract automation?’. These types of queries often start with ‘what is’, ‘how to’ or ‘where to find’, and they will usually be best fulfilled with guides and explainers.
Whilst those searching for these terms may not be interested in or ready to buy your product or service yet, introducing them to the relevant topics can subtly introduce them to what you’re selling and build brand awareness.
This, in turn, increases the likelihood of them returning to you when they are ready to buy, as you’ve already established your knowledge and credibility in the field.
For this reason, most informational intent queries are considered to be of medium value.
3. Commercial intent
Searches made with commercial intent are often used when a searcher is investigating or evaluating different products or services. These searchers usually aren’t ready to buy just yet, but they are interested in finding a solution that meets their needs.
The most common types of commercial intent searches include comparisons of products or services, searches to find the best type of software or a search for alternatives for a certain popular product.
A good example of this is the search for ‘DocuSign alternatives’, which is searched 1,800 times on average each month according to Ahrefs. Similarly, people also search for ‘Procreate Vs Photoshop’, hoping to find out which solution suits their needs best.
Since individuals searching for terms with commercial intent are actively seeking certain products and solutions and evaluating these, it’s likely that they are going to be ready to buy in the near future.
Therefore, by responding effectively to searches with this intent, you can move these individuals further along their buyers journey and hopefully persuade them that your solution is best suited for them when they are ready to buy.
As a result of this, most commercial intent queries are deemed to be high value.
4. Transactional intent
The final type of intent is transactional intent, which usually exist when someone is ready to buy. Therefore, these queries usually include the words ‘cheap’, ‘price’, ‘buy’ or ‘rent’.
The kind of content that you deliver for these keywords ought to have a clean layout, pricing and a direct CTA that takes people to buy a product or service, or in our case, book a demo.
For instance, if you search ‘buy tomato soup’ on Google, you’ll be presented with a wide range of results, usually from supermarkets, that allow you to purchase this soup in just a few clicks.
It isn’t a description about what tomato soup is, where it comes from or how to make it, unlike informational content. It’s just about finalising the purchase. This is usually because the user knows enough about what they’re searching for already.
Since transactional queries have a much higher intent to buy, these queries are often of the highest value.
4 Best Practices for Intent Segmentation in SEO
#1. Envisage yourself as the searcher
The most effective way to assess user intent is to imagine yourself as the search user and understand what someone in that target audience at that time might be looking for.
For example, if someone is searching for ‘what is contract management software?’, they probably want to know not only what it is, but also how it works, if it works and how it can be useful for them.
Likewise, if someone is searching for a recipe for a certain meal, ask yourself what they need to know. Do they want a list of ingredients? Do they need to know the measurements? Is it important to provide the timings for certain stages of the recipe? Would images of the process help the reader?
Using this human thought process can add detail beyond that which software can provide, helping you better align with the user’s expectations.
#2. Review existing content that performs well
Another effective way to evaluate the intent of a keyword or query is to look at the content that already exists and ranks for that term. This is simple and can be done by searching the term on Google yourself.
From here, you should look at what the content that performs best covers, as well as keeping a close eye on what it doesn’t. By doing this, you might find new opportunities that enable you to address the user’s intent better than competitors do.
Alternatively, it will give you a clear idea of what isn’t relevant to this user’s search, so what to exclude. For example, you might find that on informational pages there are fewer CTAs and discussions about price or how to purchase, and for good reason.
When doing this, ask yourself:
- How early do they address the user’s question, and in how much detail?
- What words and tone do they use throughout the content?
- How many visual elements are on the page, and what are they?
- How is their content structured?
- Have they used schema markups to signal to Google that they’ve covered certain content?
- Who do they address the content to?
Including intent segmentation in your competitor analysis is an effective way to ensure that you’re dedicating time to the right content and adding more value for the reader than other businesses are.
#3. Implement search intent evaluation tools
Another way to quickly and easily establish the intent of a specific keyword is to use tools that automate the process. These include SEMRush’s keyword magic tool, or a free tool like Answerthepublic.com.
These tools (and others) automatically establish the intent of certain keywords and queries by looking for intent modifiers and trigger words.
However, this shouldn’t be your only method of research when assessing user intent, as there’s no guarantee of accuracy, and there are few details about what the user actually wants from the search. Instead, these platforms are best treated as a source of inspiration.
#4. Check how Google structures SERPs
Google will also show a ‘people also asked’ box on some results pages for certain queries, and these are a great way to help content marketers better understand the broader picture for certain terms. There’s a good example of this in the image below.
This can be a quick and easy way to understand what you should cover in your content, but also if there might be value in creating a new piece of content to address other related terms that the same search users are asking.
But Google also includes other rich feature snippets too. For example, the top recipes are displayed in a rich snippet with pictures, reviews, ingredients and the time it takes to complete the recipe.
It’s likely, therefore, that if your recipe doesn’t include a clear image of the dish you’re making, or the time it takes to make it, your recipe won’t be included in the snippet at the top of the results page.
Behind every good SEO and content marketing strategy is a firm understanding of who your target audience is, what they want to know and what they search to find it. These three things form the foundation of intent segmentation in SEO, and without them, your content will lack purpose.
Fortunately, segmenting user queries by their intent is one of the easiest aspects of keyword research. Whilst there are tools out there that can do it for you, the best insights usually come from adding a human perspective and studying what has and hasn’t worked so far.
It all boils down to what the search user wants, and how well you can deliver it. We often make SEO incredibly complex, but in fact it’s beautifully simple.
About the Author!
Tom Bangay is Director of Content & Community at Juro, an all-in-one contract automation platform helps visionary legal counsel and the teams they enable to agree and manage contracts in one unified workspace. Tom writes regularly about SEO, content marketing, thought leadership, community-building and startups.