User Intent and SEO: What Retailers Need to Know for Higher Rankings
When it comes to eCommerce SEO tips that help retailers rank, user intent is a critical component that is often left neglected.
As a result of numerous technological advances and algorithm updates, Google has become increasingly capable of understanding natural language and the intent behind a user’s search.
While keywords are still a vital component to a brand’s SEO strategy, optimizing different pages for intent should be one of a retailer’s primary objectives.
Here, we will explore the various kinds of search intent and some of the forces driving the intent-based optimization paradigm, as well as how retailers can effectively apply this understanding to achieve higher rankings in the SERPs.
Why Does User Intent Matter?
Before diving headlong into the specifics of how to optimize an eCommerce site for user intent, it is necessary to first possess a firm understanding of what “user intent” means.
To understand user intent through the lens of search engines like Google, it is helpful to be aware of Google’s mission, which (in part) reads:
“Our goal is always to provide you the most useful and relevant information. Any changes we make to Search are always to improve the usefulness of results you see.”
This means that Google is continuously striving to display pages that are extremely “useful and relevant” to the user’s desires, as Google understands them.
Therefore, user intent is the end-goal that the searcher seeks to achieve.
This instantly gives rise to the next question: What goals might users have when searching?
Types of User Intent
As it stands, there are four primary categories of search intent:
- Informational: These users have a specific question or seek to know more about a topic. The intention is to find information and become more knowledgeable.
- Navigational: Such searchers are attempting to get to a specific website. Instead of utilizing the address bar, these users employ search engines to get where they want to go.
- Commercial: These consumers want to make a purchase in the near future, but are still researching their options.
- Transactional: These folks are ready to make a purchase and employ Google to find the page that will enable this end.
With a proper understanding of user intent and its importance at our disposal, let’s explore the current elements impacting this optimization element and how to build pages to meet this aim successfully.
Google’s BERT Update: A Leap Forward for Intent
In October 2019, Google’s BERT algorithm update was unveiled.
BERT (an acronym meaning Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers) has been billed as one of the most significant updates to Google’s algorithm since RankBrain’s inclusion back in 2015.
Standing to impact 1 out of every 10 queries, BERT aims to allow Google to more fully understand user intent through augmenting the company’s already significant Natural Language Processing capabilities. As Google states about search language understanding via BERT:
“BERT models can therefore consider the full context of a word by looking at the words that come before and after it—particularly useful for understanding the intent behind search queries. By applying BERT models to both ranking and featured snippets in Search, we’re able to do a much better job helping you find useful information.”
In effect, what this means is that through BERT, Google has become more effective in its ability to interpret complex, long-tail queries and semantic context, returning increasingly relevant results based on the intent of the search.
Naturally, given that this update impacts Google’s understanding of searches as opposed to how pages are ranked, retailers are attempting to establish ways to optimize their ecommerce business for voice search, standard long-tail queries and other types of searches that BERT will impact.
Optimizing ecommerce Under BERT
While most Google updates come with a set of tactics that merchants can employ to help raise their rankings in the SERPs, Google has openly acknowledged that no such strategies exist for BERT.
However, just because there are no concrete, BERT-specific tactics that sellers can employ, this does not mean that merchants can’t optimize their sites under this new paradigm.
The fact is that BERT enables Google to comprehend natural language to a greater degree. In essence, this implies that content creators can worry less about catering to Google and place an increased emphasis on the end consumer.
Therefore, quality content reigns supreme under BERT.
Much in the same way that—when asked about optimizing for RankBrain–—Gary Illyes tweeted, “you optimize your content for users and thus for RankBrain,” the way that retailers optimize for BERT is by writing in a naturalistic style and successfully and comprehensively addressing the intent of the query that a page targets.
The fact is that the era of producing ultra-long-form 10,000-word pieces of content that dive into every conceivable facet of a topic is now coming to a close. In the age of BERT, retailers should seek to generate content that achieves several things simultaneously:
- It answers a user’s question or addresses their need as quickly as possible
- It is still comprehensive in nature, though increasingly focused
- It provides significant value to the audience
- It is worth noting that this is not a call to do away with long-form content.
This type of content is still critical as it will contain tons of keywords, semantic variants and the like that tell Google the page is relevant to a search and its intent.
Instead, it is a call to utilize the skyscraper technique to its fullest to provide answers and information. However, to successfully speak to the intent of a search and implement the correct keywords and phrases, retailers must understand how to match up terms to their ultimate intention.
How to Optimize for Intention
When it comes to optimizing ecommerce pages for user intent, there are three main steps that merchants must carry out, including:
1. Identify Keywords for Which a Site Ranks
The first step in this process requires retailers to understand which keywords their site surfaces for in the SERPs. By gaining insights into this area, sellers can establish which queries are having a positive impact on their organic rankings and where keyword gaps exist.
To harvest this information, go to Google Search Console and export data on queries, clicks, impressions, CTR and average position data for the past year.
Analyze this data to determine which queries and pages are receiving the most clicks and impressions for the site. Those that are earning clicks are likely well-aligned with the intent of the search.
However, those that generate a sizable number of impressions but garner few clicks are likely to be misaligned with the user’s intent, thereby presenting an optimization opportunity.
At the same time, retailers should take this opportunity to identify any potential keyword gaps for their site by establishing the terms and phrases that they wish to rank for, but for which they earn little to no visibility.
2. Evaluate Query Intent
With knowledge of the queries that are earning site clicks and impressions, it is time to dig a bit deeper and conduct a more thorough analysis of the pages that are surfacing for those terms and phrases.
Therefore, the next thing merchants will want to do is evaluate the top results produced by Google for the keywords identified. This process will help sellers to establish the user intent of the search (or what Google has deemed the most relevant results, at least).
There are a variety of tools that merchants can utilize to avoid analyzing the SERPs manually. However, it is worth conducting the manual legwork and asking probing questions such as:
- What types of sites rank for this keyword (blogs, reviews, retailers)?
- What type of content is featured (landing pages, articles, product pages)?
- Are any SERP features present (Answer Box, Knowledge Graph, etc.)?
- What related searches are shown at the bottom of the SERPs?
By asking these and similar questions, retailers will be capable of uncovering important information about the intent of the search, as well as tactics that will enable them to better align their pages with the user’s end goal.
3. Apply the Knowledge Earned
Now it is time to take the findings uncovered thus far and begin to optimize landing, product, content, and other essential ecommerce pages to address the intent of the user’s search.
Moreover, in this stage, retailers might have to go beyond optimizing existing pages, opting to create entirely new ones that target intent-based searches. No matter if retailers choose to do one or both of these things, optimizations made to a page should include:
- Using the primary keyword in the H1 tag
- Utilizing the primary keyword in the title tag and meta description
- Writing content naturally to include the target phrase and semantically-related terms
- Using relevant images and filling out the ALT attributes
- Ensuring high-quality, informative, engaging copy
The goal here is to ensure that core pages of the website are being optimized to target the correct keywords and search intent that will generate impressions, clicks and conversions.
That said, while keywords are necessary and informative, sellers should allow their efforts to be led by intent.
By utilizing tactics to organize and categorize keywords based on their intent, retailers can effectively apply those terms to the correct pages to enhance their site’s visibility and performance.
However, if sellers really want to up their brand’s marketing efforts and profitability, email marketing is second to none.
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