How to Understand Search Intent for SEO

In today’s article, I’m going to teach you how to better understand search intent so that you can better prepare your article briefs as well as any long-form content marketing pieces that you are trying to rank on page one for.

By the end of this article, you’re going to better understand how to actually look at search results, to create the sort of content that Google is looking for you to fulfill when it comes to ranking on page one.

Digging into our first example for today

For today’s example, to start out, I’m going to think about it from the lens of if I were writing a post on tips for entrepreneurs. So if I go ahead and hop into my browser here, I am going to go ahead and search for tips for entrepreneurs. And from here, what you’re going to see is a ton of different results.

What I want you to do is I want you to always look at the top three to five results to see what sort of content is coming back for you. So in this situation, I’m looking for the term tips for entrepreneurs. If I were just to instinctively think about what that might entail, I’m going to guess that the search results are going to cover things like a laundry list of tips or some sort of strategy list and things like that. And as we start to work our way through these search results, you can tell that Google also thinks this too.

What I always want you to look at first is what is the featured snippet telling you, or what is the top snippets showing you in terms of your search result.

In this situation, when I searched for tips for entrepreneurs, you can see that this top result is talking all about the 10 tips for becoming a successful entrepreneur. And you can see how it’s a numbered list. So right off the bat, Google is sending me a signal that this is likely going to be something in which if I were to create a post as well on tips for entrepreneurs, I probably need some sort of number lists or some sort of a bulleted list in general.

But just to really prove to myself that that hunch is correct, I’m going to look a little bit deeper. So if I go to the second featured snippet, what you can tell us is that this one is 21 success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs. So just like the first one, it is a numbered lists around this particular long-tail phrase. So one and two is already giving me some clear signal that I was correct in my initial hunch that what they’re looking for when I’m creating a post is something around tips for entrepreneurs in a numbered list form.

But to really prove this, I like to look at numbers three through five. So let’s go ahead and take a look here. So what you can see in the third, fourth, and fifth sections is that these are all posts around numbered lists as well. So you can see here, this is the 10 tips for becoming a successful entrepreneur, then we’ve got the 10 business tips for new entrepreneurs in 2022, followed by 15 success tips for first-time entrepreneurs.

And as I open up these respective pages, you can tell how they are indeed numbered lists posts. So these are very similar in structure. They’re essentially just structured by the numbered tips and then followed by a descriptor for each of the number tips.

So just from this first example, what are some of our learnings? Well, the first thing is look at the top snippets and see what are the nature of the snippets. Are they showing us something about what they want to see? The second thing to look at is what is showing up in positions three through five? Does it reinforce what we saw in the featured snippets or does it show us something completely different.

Digging into our second example for today

Now that we have this understanding of this first example, let’s go ahead and take a look at our second example that might be entirely different.

In this case, I’m going to imagine that I’m buying a new pair of Nike sneakers. So what I’m going to Google into is I’m going to search for blue Nike sneakers on Google and see what Google gives back to me. All right. So I’ve gone ahead and searched for blue Nike sneakers. And what you can tell from the very first result is that they are giving a lot of emphasis and authority to Nike. And that makes sense, because what Google understands in this situation is that Nike is a branded phrase.

So you can tell here that they have searched through Nike’s site and they’re outputting the index for blue shoes from, but something else is also different with this search result versus our first search result. In our first result, we just had a number of lists. There were no real visuals around what was going on. It was pretty much just a number list with some long-form text content. Whereas in this situation, what you can tell us that when we search for blue Nike sneakers, there’s a lot more commercial intent around here. So by commercial intent, I meant the thought of trying to sell somebody on something here. And the reason why I say that is because what you can see is there’s all these visuals around an actual product and what you might be looking for in terms of that product.

And what I mean by that is that you can just tell that they’re putting a lot more emphasis on the visual component of things here with the images, as well as the image results for blue Nike sneakers. So what does this tell me right off the bat, above the fold in the first two spots? Well, it tells me number one, that this is probably something in which people are much more likely to be buying things as opposed to looking for information.

So it’s commercial intent instead of informational intent, which was our first example. And we will also see as it might be the case in which people are literally looking for a lot of pictures and they’re clicking a lot of those pictures when it comes to the search results. And so what this is showing to us is that this is clearly a commercial intent page in which one, most people are searching for blue Nike sneakers. They’re looking to buy blue Nike sneakers. They’re not looking for some sort of long form post around blue Nike sneakers. I’m not even sure what you would actually write about for a thousand words on blue Nike sneakers.

But as we go further down the page, you can see that this is again, further reiterated. I always emphasize looking at the third, fourth and fifth positions as well. And in this case, what you can tell is that all of these positions are places where you would actually buy blue Nike sneakers. You would see things like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohls as well as Run Repeat. And again, they’re indexing for all of these shoes that are potentially tied with being blue.

All right, so from our first example, we had an example of informational intent. In our second example, we had an example of commercial intent. Now you’re starting to hopefully get a stronger understanding of how to just look through the search results of what Google is communicating to you so that you can then think about how you’d want to position your post.

To really dig into the commercial intent side, we can open this third, fourth, and fifth links to essentially understand what the structure of these pages looks like. So that’s what I did in the first example, too if you recall at the tips for entrepreneurs in this case, what I look for is I can see exactly why I’m being shown this page. This is something in which Google has looked through Nike’s entire websites sitemap. And essentially output the things that are matching the criteria of blue shoes. And what you can also see is that this is a very similar website and Kohles in this case. And you can see that this is also the case in the Dick’s Sporting Goods example, where they’re isolating for blue Nike shoes here.

And you’ll also see this in the Kohl’s website where they’re also filtering for blue Nike shoes. So what this tells you is that when the SEO’s were building these particular websites for these commercial pages, they were looking for ways to incorporate these sorts of tags on the left-hand side so that it could be indexed by Google when people were looking for search phrases, like I just looked for in blue Nike sneakers.

You can take this approach for any kind of longtail phrase. All you need to do is input the long tail phrase you’re looking to rank for, and then look at what are the nature of the sorts of snippets that Google is giving back to you. Then from there, dig into the third through fifth results to understand the sorts of pages that are still ranking in the top section of Google.

And you have a pretty strong understanding of exactly what Google wants from you when people are looking for that particular phrase. It’s always really important to do this, especially when you’re preparing article briefs, because in the case where we had taken the approach of writing a long form post for blue Nike sneakers instead of actually doing this preliminary search intent research, we would have completely missed the mark, not ranked for our phrase and wasted our time.

And that’s the number one thing that we often have the same amount of is the amount of time. And so it’s really important that when you’re doing your SEO research that you’re using your time intentionally and setting your team up and your website up for success.

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