User intent. You’ve probably read that phrase more than once on CalgaryHomeBusiness.ca (such as in our “Future of SEO” article), but if you are like a lot of business owners today, you are probably somewhat confused as to what that means. Don’t be.
User intent is exactly as it sounds: what your user/potential customer is intending to do do or find. The reason why I started an article about keyword research and search engine optimization with the worlds “user intent” is simply because the intent of the user will determine which keywords make sense for your business.
How User Intent Influences Keyword Research
Keyword research is the process where you attempt to find valuable keywords that effectively mate your business objectives with your potential customers intent. During keyword research you are always taking into consideration various factors, such as:
- Monthly search volumes - How often the keyword you are researching is actually searched. I like to use exact match figures localized to my target market.
- Level of competition - How many websites are optimizing for that term? Are the websites that are ranking strong rankings (lots of incoming links, optimized on-site factors, etc.), or are they ranked due to lack of effective competition?
- User intent - What is the user likely looking for when they type this keyword in to a search engine? Is the keyword research/comparison focused, or is it buying focused?
In our Basics of Search Engine Optimization article we talked about which keywords make sense to optimize for depending on where you are at with your business. For most home or small businesses, buying keywords (keywords like “buy Honda Civic Calgary” as opposed to “Honda Civic Calgary”) make more sense due to the decreased level or competition as well as obvious purchasing intent of the user. Purchasing-oriented keywords tend to receive fewer monthly searches, but those searches are inherently more valuable due to the mindset of the searcher.
When you are starting to plan your SEO strategy it is important that you consider who you want finding you. I don’t mean “I’m looking for car shoppers in Calgary”, I mean “I’m looking for car shoppers in Calgary looking at buying a car in the next 30 days”. The difference between the two mindsets is the difference between a search engine optimization strategy that pays off almost immediately versus one that takes several weeks (or months) to pay off.
The first question you should ask yourself when researching keywords for your SEO program is “what do I want the people who find my website/business to be thinking“. Once you’ve determined what you want them to be looking for it becomes much easier to select keywords that make good business sense.
Examples of User Intent in Keywords
Sometimes it can be confusing to determine what a user is looking for when they are searching. Many people seem to jump from research to purchase at the drop of a hat, and without an effective SEO strategy, it can be impossible to attract that visitor. However, without accurately predicting what your user is looking for it can be impossible to implement effective SEO. Nice catch-22, isn’t it?
What we can look at is what a user has searched for versus the results that are being displayed. Google has done an excellent job training people to expect certain results when they search for certain things. When it comes to creating your search engine optimization strategy, now is not the time to reinvent the wheel- now is the time to carefully and strategically select when and where your website appears.
Example: You are a carpet cleaner operating in Calgary
As a carpet cleaner in Calgary, would it make sense to appear for the phrase “Carpet cleaning”? Well, let’s do a bit of research…
First, let’s see how often the keyword is searched and how competitive it is. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest is to use the Google Keyword Tool and get the information straight from Google themselves. For comparison purposes I also put the keyword “carpet cleaning Calgary” in the mix. Here’s what Google has to say:
According to Google both keywords have equal competition, but one has much more traffic than the other. Seems like a no brainer, right? Well, to be safe, let’s see who we’re competing against.
Click the image on the left for a full size picture.
Oh dear, now it’s a completely different situation, isn’t it? Now we have our work cut out for us as we are suddenly competing with…
- Wikipedia - With millions of incoming links, the liklihood of overtaking a Wikipedia page is almost zero.
- HowStuffWorks.com – Same situation as Wikipedia.
- Sears.ca - It’s always hard to uproot a major brand.
- Websites based in Toronto, Vancouver, and other places - Since we didn’t put a specific location, Google displayed results that it thinks make sense based on a variety of factors.
Now, just for completeness, let’s see what the competitive landscape for “carpet cleaning Calgary” looks like:
Looks much more approachable, doesn’t it? Instead of competing with national brands, major websites with thousands of pages, or Wikipedia, you are competing with local businesses that don’t have thousands of pages or incoming links.
Even though “carpet cleaning Calgary” has fewer monthly searches, due to the competitive landscape, it makes the most sense.
But, what is perhaps the most important point from this example is the fact that we know exactly what the user is looking for. By simply appending “Calgary” to the end of “carpet cleaning” we can accurately predict that they are looking for a carpet cleaning service in Calgary, as someone simply looking for information about carpet cleaning, or perhaps a walk-through on how to clean their carpets, would have typed a keyword that is more broad and research oriented.
In Conclusion, It’s Always Vital That You Think of User Intent First
The next time you sit down and start doing some keyword research remember to think of your users intentions first. Aside from ensuring that you target the right person at the right time, considering user intent could save you a lot of time and money on your search engine optimization!