User Intent: Why search intent and content are more important than keywords


User Intent describes the user intention when entering a word into the search engine we trust. This search intention is individual, subjective and emotional. And yet it is predictable. In this article, we explain what this means for content and how companies can make the best use of knowledge about users.

User intent: We know what you googled last summer – and why.

There’s a day shape, fluctuations in feelings, and momentum – a quantum of comfort. Our intention is different for almost every search query on the web. Even if we searched for identical keywords at the same time every time. Sometimes it’s raining outside and we’re researching different vacation destinations than yesterday when we spent a beautiful day outdoors. Other times we’re googling alternatives to the car so that the commute to work will soon be less stressful and more environmentally friendly from tomorrow, tomorrow, just not today. We let our needs guide and influence us.

Definition User Intent

User intent refers to the intention with which a user carries out a conscious action. In terms of search engine optimization, this refers to the intention behind a query submitted to a search engine. This is also called search intent.

Accordingly, there are various basic needs and intentions behind our web search. In the context of the aforementioned definition, three criteria can usually be assumed:

  • Informational search queries: Here, users want to know more about a topic, i.e. they want to find out more in-depth information.
  • Transactional search queries: The background to these queries are concrete intentions to act, such as buying a product.
  • Navigational search queries: This is the desire to access a specific website, provider or platform.

Tip: Images, texts and videos about these types of search queries are available at textbroker

Search Intention: Basic Needs and their Influence on the Customer Journey

In addition to user intent, Google has defined a total of six basic needs that are used to assess the relevance of information or content. These “6 need states” are:

  • Thrill me (German: “faszinieren mich”)
  • Impress me (German: “beeindrucke mich”)
  • Educate me (German: “trainiere mich”)
  • Reassure me (German: “bestätige mich”)
  • Help me (German: “hilf mich”)*
  • Surprise me (German: “überrasche mich”)

*(sic!) little joke, of course it’s “help me”

Need states are used by marketers to provide a clear, fact-based picture of what motivates a customer to use a product or service [at an appropriate point in their customer journey]. (Source: Tetra Pak)

In the video below, Justin De Graaf, Head of Research and Insights at Google, explains what each need is all about:

All basic needs can be informational, transactional or navigational. According to Justin De Graaf and his own experiences, we rarely get up with a clear intention and the right foot. Rather, needs first trigger an intention or user intent.

For a better understanding of the connections and to show which content is the right one in the phases of the customer journey – a fictitious example:

A family father intends to search for “leisure program for children” (navigation-oriented; transaction-oriented). Apparently, he is researching for inspiring help (impress me; help me) in order to thus satisfy his need for a weekend full of exciting adventures (thrill me). Since he has had good experiences with the urban platform in the past (reassure me), it is once again his first port of call. Especially since the website is free of advertising and thus no commercial offers but interesting facts are to be expected (information-oriented). The father finds what he is looking for and nothing stands in the way of ‘quality time’.

Tip: Practical examples and recommendations for the customer journey can be found here at Zielbar.

User Intent: Snapchat study on user intent in selected social networks

Let’s keep in mind: our basic needs trigger user intent, and that intent in turn triggers a customer journey. In modern marketing, companies take advantage of this simplified formula. They accompany customers on their journey, strengthen the relationship with relevant content and convey a good feeling by satisfying the above-mentioned ‘Need States’.

Therefore, it is important to know the different needs and to provide the users with the appropriate information. By the way, “suitable” is to be taken literally. Suitable content includes a channel-specific, suitable address. In this way, identical content finds its buyers in a more target group-oriented way. What doesn’t fit, is made to fit – doesn’t fit here!

Under the title “Apposphere”, Snapchat conducted a survey together with the market research institute Murphy Research. More than 1,000 users aged 13 to 44 were asked about their user intent on Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, among other things. Specifically, the survey asked how users felt about their app usage. In other words, what need they associate and satisfy with the respective social network.

The results of the Snapchat study are roughly in line with the basic needs that Google uses. Sure, the five times nine most frequently mentioned attributes (see chart) are a subjective cross-section. But they give businesses and marketers a clear indication of emotions as well as the types of content they’re looking for. If YouTube and Instagram are predominantly inspiring, the emotional world of Facebook is more mixed.

Transferred to the content to be offered, this means: entertaining explanatory videos or tutorials on YouTube, visual micro content on Snapchat and Instagram, and in-depth formats such as podcasts on Facebook. The “Content Radar” from scompler shows further examples of content types. In addition to the emotional and functional level, it also differentiates according to the lifespan of content.

Tip: Journalistic research methods for quality content can be found in the article by colleague Marc Ostermann

Search Intent: developments and content implications for marketing and SEO

Following the criteria of search queries mentioned at the beginning, Google introduced slightly modified terms already in 2015. In the ‘Think with Google blog’, the company published a free PDF with the title “4 new moments every marketer should know”. These “4 moments” are:

  • I-want-to-know moments (German: “Ich will etwas wissen” moments)
  • I-want-to-go moments (German: “Ich will etwas besuchen” moments)
  • I-want-to-do moments (German: “Ich will etwas umsetzen” moments)
  • I-want-to-buy moments (German: “Ich will etwas kaufen” moments)

The colleagues from seo2b have written a worth reading article with descriptive infographics. One of them shows the so-called “hub-and-spoke model”:

In order to understand the search intent, the structure of the search engine results pages offers a first orientation. Google virtually orchestrates via algorithms what content searchers are asking for. In this context, it is important for companies and other publishers to know that many search queries involve multiple intentions – ‘multi-intentions’. Let’s recall the example of the family man above. Therefore, the search results page covers different content types. It’s important to adapt to this these days.

And this closes the circle to the hub-and-spoke model: It is recommended to prepare content in the form of topic pages. These topic pages mainly have a summarizing character and present the content elements concisely. In parallel, all modified, in-depth content such as detailed long-tail articles or supplementary multimedia formats always refer to the topic page, the main article or, in new German, content hub.

The hub, also referred to as the hub in the illustration, is thus the central content asset. It is optimized with regard to all relevant intentions and contains the most important keywords. Searchers receive answers to their questions there and, at best, grasp a specific topic in all its diversity. In addition, the hub links to further, suitable internal and external pages with subtopics and content in the appropriate context.

Tip: A guide for a smart and proven marketing concept can be found here

Conclusion – loosely based on Francis Bacon: Knowledge about user intent is power!

Search engines are increasingly geared towards users and their needs – with Google leading the way. Especially in view of the increasing competition for relevant content, user intent plays a major role. The search volume of individual keywords or the optimal backlink profile are of no use at all if the user does not find what he is looking for with his personal intention.

Thus, user intent has become the central factor of content and search engine optimization. This is because Google now recognizes the semantic meaning and context of a search query. Instead of individual keywords, the search engine examines the connection between all words of an input sentence. In short: Knowledge of user needs is a basic prerequisite for content classified as relevant by Google.

In conclusion, companies and publishers are well advised to respond to the needs and intentions of users with their content. Deciphering the implicit user intention one hundred percent may be difficult, but in our opinion there is simply no alternative.

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