If you’re still thinking of search engine optimization (SEO) in terms of managing singular keywords and H1 tags; then yes – or at the very least antiquated. With Google’s ever-changing search algorithms – from Panda to Penguin to Hummingbird – it’s critical to reevaluate your SEO strategies and adopt a new approach focused on your users’ intentions. The goal is to take the user’s purpose of the search into consideration to reach your target audience.
Out with Meta, In with Search Intent
The practice of SEO previously involved a number of tactics – including keyword matching, domain authority and query deserves freshness (QDP) – by an independent group within Marketing to obtain higher page rankings within search engines. This “meta-centric” behavior also focused on ensuring the website was technically optimized with metadata and link references. Many companies received higher page rankings due to more links and brand familiarity. This methodology no longer works with new shifts in search engine algorithms.
Today, SEO should be broader to be successful. Organizations must take a holistic, strategic approach by integrating content and SEO to ensure topics match users’ intent on search engines. “Intent-centric” behaviors require cohesive work between content strategy and SEO where you create audience-focused content to meet the needs of your target audiences.
So, what does “intent” actually mean as it relates to SEO? With the introduction of the Hummingbird algorithm, Google stated, “the perfect search engine will provide you with exactly what you need to know at exactly the right moment, potentially without you having to ask for it.” It’s about making search more contextual and answering real questions, rather than just about keywords.
People use search engines for three primary reasons:
As such, singular keywords and phrases rarely provide the necessary contextual meaning behind the intent of a user’s particular search. You must attempt to identify primary topics and questions users are looking to answer when conducting a search, and then create content to address those specific needs.
How Do You Determine Search Intent?
Understanding in advance the likely intent of your target audience and providing the information that addresses their needs will help drive higher page rankings. But how do you determine search intent? Determining search intent still requires some keyword research, but with intent around a particular keyword in mind. A few resources to consider include:
- New sources of research, such as social monitoring and onsite polls, to determine what your existing customers find most useful
- Traffic from search terms on your existing site to help your target audience with their potential questions or problems
- Content created from existing FAQs or the most commonly asked questions to your Customer Support group
Creating Content that Connects to Intents
Once the search intents have been defined, those organizations that stay ahead in SEO create high-quality content to serve the implied meanings behind a user’s search phrase – not merely content with the right keywords. At this point, it becomes a matter of designing specialized content along the content journey to address each major intent. For example, articles, videos and infographics may best serve informational searches during the Awareness phase; whereas whitepapers and webinars are more useful conversion tools for a user within the Evaluation/Consideration phase.
For example, let’s say a company is considering migrating to a new content management system (CMS), but is not sure if they want to leverage an open source or enterprise solution. Their initial informational queries may revolve around “comparison of enterprise versus open source CMS.” A CMS provider will want to ensure their content plan incorporates content around the advantages and disadvantages of enterprise versus open source CMS solutions to educate their potential target audience. As the user moves through the buying cycle, your content plan should align with the questions and topics the user has.
How You Can Proceed
So, how can your business leverage the new intent-centric approach to SEO? In addition to combining your content marketing and SEO departments into one group, the following steps provide you with a great start:
- Develop an audience journey map, and identify your target audiences’ top intentions.
- Conduct a content audit across your digital experiences—including your website, email campaigns, social channels, mobile apps and all other aspects.
- Create and map your content plan against the intentions identified.
- Assign target metrics for determining content value.
Search engine optimization is still a crucial component to marketing for organizations, but it’s much more sophisticated than before. Not only must you create quality, thorough content but also it must align with the needs of user intent when conducting search queries. Those organizations who can successfully integrate SEO with content marketing and focus on creating highly relevant content from a user’s perspective will be the ones who achieve higher page rankings under the new search engine algorithms.