I was working with a client that couldn’t figure out why their content wasn’t ranking. It turns out that the issue was that the posts weren’t aligning with the search intent.
Here’s the exact email I wrote:
While search intent is sometimes very straightforward to deduce, other scenarios can be rather tricky.
In addition, “search intent,” is a rather broad term. The above scenario discusses an issue with the post’s structure misaligning with the search intent.
However, it’s also possible for a single paragraph to misalign with the search intent.
Given the complexity of this subject, I wanted to write down a simple process I developed that ensures every post (and every part of that post) aligns with the search intent.
Let’s jump in.
What is Search Intent Optimization?
Search intent optimization is ensuring your content presents the information the searcher wants in a format that makes sense.
It sounds simple.
However, deducing what the searcher wants and how they want it presented can be a little more tricky.
So I’m going to dive into how you can optimize your blog posts to avoid search intent issues, though I also wanted to first address two scenarios where there’s not much you can do to optimize your search intent.
Search Intent Issues Caused by Disagreement Among The Searchers (Google Splits The Search Intent)
Using my process, you’ll be able to solve virtually any search intent issue. However, there are two types of search intent issues that don’t really have a solution.
These issues are caused by disagreement among the searchers themselves. The first example is of keywords that have two different meanings.
For example, the keyword “dovetail alternatives” could be referring to a SaaS product or a type of woodworking.
In this case, there really isn’t anything you can do to make sure you rank above an unrelated post on the other topic. I’d still target this keyword because it’s valuable, but Google has no way of knowing whether a searcher is looking for the SaaS product or the woodworking tool. Therefore, it will show both.
Thankfully, if you build significantly more popularity (links and traffic) to your post than any of the other posts on woodworking, you can probably still outrank them. In addition, you can at least be the top ranking SaaS result for that term.
The second scenario is if you’re targeting a head term that Google doesn’t know what kind of content the reader wants. So instead, it will show an assortment of different content.
The keyword “cars” is a great example of this. Unlike the dovetail alternatives keyword (you know they are looking for a list of alternatives), this scenario doesn’t give you a hint about what kind of post structure to create.
Google isn’t sure if you want to see the latest news about cars, information on Cars the movie, or if you want to see a list of cars for sale. Instead, it shows many different results with high engagement and domain authority.
Often, you can solve these kinds of search intent issues by targeting a longer tail keyword instead. For example, you could solve this issue by targeting “car dealer in Phoenix” instead of “cars.”
Fortunately, it’s pretty rare that the search intent is that split, so let’s get into some more practical examples.
Search Intent Issues Caused by Post Format
This is probably the most common and the most detrimental search intent issue.
In this case, the post is structured in a way that doesn’t provide the content that the reader wants.
You saw this in the introduction. In this case, my client had a post that was structured as a comparison post (a detailed discussion of the features and pros and cons of two different products).
However, anyone searching for a keyword with “alternatives” in it is clearly looking for multiple tools that could replace the competitor – not just a comparison of two different tools.
Google virtually any “(competitor) alternatives” keyword with decent difficulty, and you’ll find that this is true. See below that all of the posts are list posts?
However, if you look at the SERPs for the keyword “Hubspot vs. Close,” you’ll see that virtually all of the posts are a detailed analysis of the two tools rather than list posts:
However, what happens if you have a keyword like “HubSpot alternative?” As this keyword is singular, wouldn’t a landing page be a good idea?
In virtually any case where you are unsure, just Google the term and see what structure Google favors.
I know it sounds like super simple advice, but it’s true. The only caveat is if the keyword has a very low difficulty score (under 15 on Ahrefs’ metrics), as this might mean that Google isn’t super happy with the result, but they just need something to show the reader.
I often find that people use search intent tools or other software to do this for them, but Google is really the best tool you can use. While these search intent tools may tell you if a keyword is “informational,” that doesn’t really help you understand whether they want you to write a list post or a how to post.
Search Intent Issues Caused by The Writing (Content)
Search intent issues that occur within the content itself usually fall into one of these two categories:
- The content includes irrelevant sections
- The content is too far above or below the reader’s knowledge level
These issues often stem from a lack of understanding of the ideal customer. Let’s jump into the first one.
The Content Includes Irrelevant Sections
This issue usually occurs when writers are trying to fulfill a certain word count and simply have nothing more insightful to say on a subject.
For example, I once updated a post targeting the keyword “storytelling content examples.” When I first looked at the post, it was clear that the writer wasn’t really thinking about the searcher’s intent.
While they did include several examples of storytelling content, there were 1800 words discussing storytelling content before it got to the examples. It discussed virtually everything you could possibly want to know about storytelling content, from the origin of stories to the neuroscience behind storytelling.
However, the searcher’s intent is just to see a few examples of how brands use storytelling content. They don’t care about its origins or the science of it!
While you could chalk it up to “including fluff,” the content was, in all fairness, very well written with extensive statistics and examples to back it up.
The only problem was that it was completely irrelevant to the searcher’s intent.
To hammer home the point I’ve made throughout this post, well written content isn’t necessarily great content. Content that serves the search intent with reasonable explanations and examples is great content.
Therefore, for every piece of content that you write, look at each paragraph and ask yourself, “does the searcher of my target keyword really want to know about this information?”
The Content Speaks Above/Below The Reader’s Knowledge Level
If you aren’t constantly thinking about your target audience’s persona, it’s likely you’ll end up speaking too far above or below their knowledge level.
For example, let’s say that you’re writing a post targeting the keyword “expanding a sales team.”
In this case, you’re talking to a sales manager that has been in the sales field for several years.
Therefore, it would be a mistake to include a subheader like “why a sales team is important.” This person already knows exactly why a sales team is important. In fact, they could probably explain it even better than you could, so they’ll probably bounce if they see an elementary section like that in your post.
However, they would probably be interested in learning how to pick off sales members at competing companies and other practical tactics to build an effective sales team.
On the flip side, if you’re writing a beginner’s guide to SEO, it would be a mistake to go too far into detail on any particular topic (particularly the technical aspects of SEO).
This type of article is just supposed to give them the 80/20 of the various SEO tactics. In this case, it also probably would be relevant to include a “why SEO is important” section.
A great way to understand whether or not the content is speaking at the reader’s knowledge level is to just read through your customer research documents. You can learn more about my full customer research process here.
In addition, I highly recommend interviewing an expert if you feel that you’re talking to a knowledgeable audience that knows more about the subject than you do. In my own company, we interview the CS and sales teams for expert advice on most of the topics we write about.
Fixing Search Intent Optimization Issues
In general, search intent optimization issues tend to stem from a lack of understanding of the customer.
That’s a key reason why we have an entire customer research process here at Ignite My Site.
If you’re working with freelance writers, give them some customer research material to read through before they start working with you (or just use the step-by-step customer research process we use with our freelancers).
If you’d rather just work with an agency that actually does all the customer research for you and ensures that each piece nails the search intent, you can contact me here, and I’d be happy to help.