How to understand user intent and give your audience what they want

Alex Andrews

SEO can seem like a daunting landscape for newcomers, prone to seismic shifts at the hands of merciless overlords and riddled with pseudo-scientific jargon.

The reality is that the same one-two punch has underpinned much of SEO since day one: understanding the questions your audience are asking and being better than your competitors at answering them. Simple, right?

What you need

Due to the proliferation of handy tools available – many of which are free – you don’t need a crystal ball or even a PhD to anticipate the next question your potential customers will type into the search box.

For this exercise, all you need is the following:

What pages need the most love?

Use Google Search Console’s ‘Search Analytics’ feature to find out which queries are leading users to your content. To find the keywords with the most potential, you’ll need to filter out any branded terms.

Google Search Console - Filtering out branded terms

Let’s say you’re in the property business. Most of your traffic – barring any branded terms – is likely driven by high-volume, commercial queries such as “houses for sale” or “flats to rent.”

Rather than focusing on the queries that are already working overtime, scroll down and look for any long tail or even more conversational queries – like “how much is my house worth” or “how to sell my house” – that send modest amounts traffic to your site.

Use Search Console to see which pages are benefiting from these queries and ask yourself the following questions:

If you have a page ranking for the query “how much is my house worth,” but the page title is ‘House values 2016,’ then this could be an opportunity to optimise the page based on user intent.

Google Search Console - Mismatches

Don’t have time to review your pages one-by-one? Moz’s Cyrus Shepard has a handy tip for finding the pages that need the most love: use Search Console to spot URLs that have a high number of impressions but a low click-through rate. This mismatch is an indication that even though the page may be ranking well, it’s failing to fulfil the searcher’s intent.

How to re-optimise your content

Once you’ve gathered a list of pages that require action, it’s time to channel your inner Hemingway. Try searching for the query yourself and get a sense of the competing URLs; this will help you to craft a brand new, highly relevant page title and meta description combo that really stand out.

Don’t stop there: a well-crafted page title and meta description will help to boost a page’s click-through rate, but if there’s a disconnect between what the page appears to offer in the SERPs and the actual content on the page, you’ll only end up with a high bounce-rate.

Sticking with the previous example, if you know that people are on your page because they want to find out the value of their house, you need to give them this information. Refresh the copy on the page as a priority and rewrite the headers. Beyond that, think visually: an interactive tool could provide a neat solution to this enquiry, but if that’s not possible, a simple graphic representation – you can use websites like Data Wrapper or Statista to create cool charts – may suffice.

Questions and answers

Another reason to optimise pages that are ranking for conversational queries is the incentive of scoring an answer box, which can help you to usurp far more authoritative domains simply by structuring your content better.

Google Answer Box - Deposit

Use Search Console to see which conversational queries your content is already ranking for, by searching for words such as “how,” “what” and “why.”

Make sure the query is included word-for-word on the page and wrap it in an H1 tag. Then, provide a coherent and concise answer directly beneath the query in an ordered list (perfect for a step-by-step guide) or a single sentence.

A simple solution to user intent

The idea of matching user intent is something you’ll read about on most SEO blogs. While this something that certainly falls within the realm of technical SEO, it doesn’t require much technical skill to execute.

Whether you’re optimising older pages in line with the data available or you’re creating new content, you simply need to bear the same two questions in mind: If I was searching for a solution to this query, would I click on this page? If I landed on this page would I want to stick around?

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