Converting Keywords & User Intent Into Marketable Content

What is mar­ketable con­tent? The com­bi­na­tion of under­stand­ing your com­pa­ny’s key­words, your audi­ence, and the intent of the per­son behind the query.

Charlie Williams By Charlie Williams from Screaming Frog. Join the discussion » 0 comments

We’re famil­iar with using key­word research to help us build con­tent. But to cov­er a key­word top­ic suc­cess­ful­ly, we need to seg­ment our key­words by intent. This way, we can build con­tent with true pur­pose. Armed with this knowl­edge, we can mar­ket our site by help­ing users, no mat­ter at what stage of their deci­sion they’re at.

Our goal as mar­keters is sim­ple: to gain traf­fic for our sites that has the poten­tial to con­vert. As com­pe­ti­tion increas­es and search engine sophis­ti­ca­tion improves, brands look­ing for a sus­tain­able strat­e­gy are rely­ing on con­tent. How­ev­er, there’s a lot of con­tent noise. Sim­ply cre­at­ing con­tent for content’s sake is no bet­ter a tac­tic now than when we were busy cre­at­ing land­ing pages for each minor key­word vari­a­tion in the past. Indeed, that was the remit of my first SEO job, under­stand­ing key­word vari­a­tions and pro­duc­ing con­tent on what now seems a ludi­crous­ly gran­u­lar lev­el (which would get hit by Pan­da now). While the detail and nuance of key­word research has hap­pi­ly grown almost beyond recog­ni­tion since then, pro­duc­ing con­tent that is mar­ketable in either a search or con­tent mar­ket­ing cam­paign often proves frus­trat­ing­ly out of reach.

Leaning On User Intent

This is where under­stand­ing user intent comes in. We must have a deep under­stand­ing of our audi­ence, and make the most of intent. Why? Well because that’s what Google is deter­mined to do. To pro­duce the best results, Google wants to inter­pret intent. As Tom Antho­ny excel­lent­ly explained, Google is iden­ti­fy­ing more implic­it sig­nals, so the user intent behind spe­cif­ic queries (e.g., “Chi­nese restau­rant”) can be answered accu­rate­ly through the con­text in which they are asked (device, loca­tion, time of day, etc.). Google is real­ly keen on this. Google recent­ly revealed that one of its machine learn­ing sys­tems, RankBrain, is used to guess at either what new phras­es mean, or what the intent is behind more ambigu­ous search­es. Unlike the infor­ma­tion retrieval for­mal­ly at the heart of the algo­rithm, RankBrain is learn­ing to under­stand intent. It is already said to be the third most impor­tant sig­nal con­tribut­ing to the result of search query. For long-term, sus­tain­able SEO suc­cess, we need to appeal to Google’s desire to present the finest match for the user intent they inter­pret is behind a search query. Build­ing such con­tent is use­ful because our audi­ence finds it valu­able, and because Google val­ues fac­tors such as on-page rel­e­van­cy, qual­i­ty sig­nals, and cita­tions (e.g., links) for rank­ing pur­pos­es. Hav­ing thor­ough­ly dug into our sub­ject to find all the key­word top­ics our audi­ence might search for, it’s time to build con­tent that has the poten­tial to search mar­ket your site. (If you haven’t gone deep into key­word research yet, go and start right now, you’ll quick­ly uncov­er a buck­et-full of tasks to improve your cam­paign) So, faced with a big range of ideas, how do we start to break down what those mar­ketable pieces of con­tent are?

Finding Marketable Content

How do you find mar­ketable con­tent? The key is not to look at your key­words as a homoge­nous mass. Instead, we should not only tag each top­ic buck­et by the cat­e­go­ry, prod­uct or theme, but also markup the intent behind each of the terms we iden­ti­fy, espe­cial­ly those we deter­mine should form the core of a page.

    Com­bi­na­tion of under­stand­ing our key­words, our audi­ence, and their intent behind the query = mar­ketable con­tent

We must have a defined pur­pose behind each asset or page. We know what our pur­pose for the page is (if your pur­pose is for SEO then you prob­a­bly should think again), but to know what the pur­pose is from our audience’s per­spec­tive, we need the user intent. If we don’t, then even with the best key­word research, we’re not going to serve our read­er, nor meet Google’s expec­ta­tions. A great way to seg­ment our audi­ence in this man­ner is by con­sid­er­ing the online buy­ing cycle. A sim­pli­fied dia­gram of the clas­sic cycle looks like this: Simple online buying process At a search mar­ket­ing lev­el, we can tar­get all the stages up to pur­chase, with our product/service pages often direct­ly tar­get­ing the con­ver­sion itself. Indeed, this is the stage most of our cur­rent efforts focus on. Key­words with pur­chase intent, such as a prod­uct name or terms with mod­i­fiers such as price, buy, order and deliv­ery can be tagged as pur­chase terms. Of greater inter­est for build­ing mar­ketable con­tent is exam­in­ing the aware­ness and con­sid­er­a­tion key­words. Those with com­po­nents such as:

  • help with
  • best way to
  • how to
  • prob­lems with

All high­light searchers at the begin­ning of the cycle whom we can help under­stand their prob­lem, what they can do to fix it, and what their options are — excel­lent top­ics for con­tent mar­ket­ing efforts as well as SEO. Terms with mod­i­fiers such as:

  • review
  • best or top (espe­cial­ly com­bined with list, top 10 etc.)
  • com­pare

Sim­i­lar terms help high­light the deci­sions your audi­ence has to make. Know­ing what these com­mon ques­tions are, under­stand­ing the top­ic, and what help you can offer plus what your audience’s goal is will give a defined pur­pose from your audience’s per­spec­tive. This should guide you on the mar­ketable con­tent your audi­ence will be recep­tive towards; buy­ing guides, how-to’s, intro­duc­tions to a top­ic, mod­el com­par­isons etc. These ear­li­er steps in the buy­ing cycle are crit­i­cal for mar­ketable con­tent that helps your site be dis­cov­ered.

Adding Depth: Keyword Research By Intent

Depend­ing on your prod­uct or ser­vice a dif­fer­ent fun­nel could be used, or anoth­er method entire­ly. For exam­ple, in 2007, Rand Fishkin iden­ti­fied four com­mon seg­ments of user intent, sug­gest­ing four types of search query types. These can be used instead of, or indeed in addi­tion to, a buy­ing cycle break­down to con­sid­er what is appro­pri­ate con­tent for each key­word top­ic. At the most basic lev­el mark­ing each term you are build­ing con­tent for as com­mer­cial or infor­ma­tion­al will keep add clar­i­ty. The key is not assum­ing our audi­ence has the same mind­set or pur­pose with each search query, and adapt­ing our con­tent accord­ing­ly. By tag­ging our user-led key­word research by intent, we add an extra lay­er of analy­sis depth to unveil some excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ties. Whether a sim­ple answer or more nuanced, with knowl­edge of the stage the user is at, the query intent and buy­er per­sona insight, you can plan for not only on the con­tent that is need­ed, but for­mats that will appeal and how to serve the pur­pose behind the key­word. This not-so-secret ingre­di­ent is what is com­mon­ly miss­ing. By under­stand­ing our audi­ence you give your­self a chance to appear at each stage of the buy­ing cycle for your prod­uct or ser­vice. A metaphor I use when explain­ing con­tent and SEO is that our web­site is the online equiv­a­lent of a bricks-and-mor­tar store, and our con­tent acts as our staff. The best under­stand the cus­tomer, what ques­tions they have, what prob­lems we can solve, and how to tap into their mind­set.

Final Thoughts

Google’s attempts to answer intent make it impos­si­ble for us to con­tin­ue to dic­tate on our terms how the con­tent con­ver­sa­tion unfolds. This reflects offline com­merce — what’s the bet­ter shop­ping expe­ri­ence, one where your ques­tions are answered or where the sales­per­son runs through their script? Through this we can build mar­ketable con­tent as we know we are adding val­ue. Val­ue doesn’t mean that is has to change reader’s lives, just that they found it helped com­plete their task. A sim­ple, clear, easy-to-use prod­uct page is as valu­able to a user as an edu­ca­tion­al the­sis if it answers their query. By tag­ging for intent we break down our con­tent oppor­tu­ni­ties by suit­abil­i­ty for each user and their needs. And when plan­ning how to reach our audi­ence with mar­ketable con­tent, know­ing the needs of the audi­ence, and the pur­pose they have for search­ing, puts us in a bet­ter posi­tion to answer intent than key­word research alone. This mind­set mir­rors Google’s, helps us think across the entire sales fun­nel, and gives def­i­n­i­tion to what we should cre­ate. Not bad for one extra key­word tag.

Charlie Williams

Written by Charlie Williams

SEO Manager, Screaming Frog

Search veteran and content enthusiast, Charlie is a regular writer & speaker on SEO and content. He specialises in content development, technical SEO & keyword research. He also runs Optimise Oxford, a meetup on SEO, social media & PPC. Passionate about helping websites communicate with their audience & how everyone can improve their SEO, he finds inspiration in the potential being online gives us all to deliver outstanding content experiences. You can find him talking SEO, content & food on Twitter, or in the kitchen.

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