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: 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:
- best or top (especially combined with list, top 10 etc.)
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.
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.