Search intent in SEO is what the user truly wants to find on Google. Well, it’s obvious… you’ll tell me. Yes, if it weren’t because that intention is often not reflected at all in what the user types into Google.
Since Google started operating in 1997, its objective has not changed: to offer the user the best answer to their query . What has changed since then is the way Google tries to achieve this goal.
It has been a radical change whose multiple updates are basically summed up in leaving behind a mechanical algorithm, albeit a sophisticated one, and increasingly using artificial intelligence to better understand searches and how content responds to them.
The consequences of this change are much deeper and more significant for you, as the author of content that you are trying to position in Google, than it might seem at first glance.
For this reason, today if you intend to position your website, you have to understand how Google “thinks” now and in this the concept of search intent and how Google treats it is the key.
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Why keywords are no longer “the key”
In the early years of Google, the way to decide the position of a page of results for a certain search was a mathematical algorithm , albeit very new and sophisticated, but a simple algorithm.
Basically, it was articulated around these three things:
- The keywords (those typed by the user in the search engine) that appeared in the structure of titles, subtitles and the text of the page.
- The number and authority of incoming links to the page.
- The “anchor text” the texts of those links.
The concept of taking links into account was very novel and effective, and as a result, Google quickly outpaced major competitors like Yahoo and Altavista with clearly better (more relevant) results than them.
Therefore, at that time, to position a website, everything revolved around doing a good job of analyzing keywords (that is, what searches are carried out by users, what volume and competition they have, etc.), targeting the text of the page to these words and get links.
The happiness was short-lived because after a short time, fraudulent sites began to appear that tried to trick Google as fake link server farms or “gross” techniques such as keyword stuffing (using the keyword(s) disproportionately in a certain way). page).
A few years of Google’s fight against these fraudulent techniques (known as “Black Hat SEO” ) followed with the famous updates by Panda , Penguin and co. that allowed Google to detect fraudulent techniques and penalize the websites that used them .
You can see this update history in detail, until today, on this very interesting Moz page that compiles all the Google updates that are known to date.
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How Google’s vision turned how to respond to searches
It was clear that, both to make a significant step in the quality of its results and to break the game of cat and mouse with the Black Hat, Google had to go beyond a simple mathematical algorithm , however sophisticated it might be. to be.
And the ideal was to go from being a sophisticated but ultimately dumb mathematical algorithm (that doesn’t understand what it’s doing) to an intelligent system that understands what it’s doing at a level that’s as close to human as possible. Thus the results would be of better quality and the system would be much more difficult to deceive.
This is how artificial intelligence entered the algorithm. Personally, here I would highlight, above all, two aspects:
- The introduction of the Knowledge Graph in 2012 that adds semantic understanding (ie meaning) of relevant content and context.
- The analysis of user behavior in searches and on landing pages, which gives Google very important clues about how well or poorly the page in question responds to the search.
These are the two keys that redefined how you have to think today if you want to be successful in your SEO work.
Is keyword analysis dead?
The big change this raises is that:
- Before , working with keywords (those typed in the search engine) was basically literal , with nuances such as Google understanding certain synonyms, etc.
- Today , it is semantic . What matters in the first place is the meaning behind the words typed in the search engine, not the words themselves.
Does this mean that keyword analysis is dead?
Not at all . But it does introduce new nuances of great weight and, therefore, it must be approached in another way .
The information associated with the keywords (monthly volume, etc.) continues to have the same value and importance as before, but… to position content, now the first thing is to have a clear search intention .
From there, a whole set of keywords will come out that can be very different from each other and that before would be treated as different searches and could be answered with different content that uses these words.
For example: “go on a fast diet” and “lose weight in a short time” .
Google now understands much better that both searches reflect the same thing (have the same search intent).
If before the optimal strategy would have been two pieces of content, each one optimized for two keywords, today that strategy would probably be harmful because by responding to the same intention they would generate a cannibalization problem .
Cannibalization is a phenomenon that occurs when Google finds more than one page responding to the same query and usually means that all the pages involved drop many positions. More details here:
Ultimately, keyword analysis is still fully in place, but it needs to be done in light of search intent .
That is, a given search intent will group a set of keywords . If you do not establish this relationship correctly , you are in great danger of “burdening” your SEO work from the first moment.
How to find out the user’s search intent
Now that we know that it is no longer enough to work with keywords, but that we must be very clear about what Google understands that this search means for most people, the obvious question is how to find out what that search intention is after certain keywords .
And the answer couldn’t be simpler: do the search and look at the results .
With a small example you will see it very clearly:
Suppose a user types “octopus a feira” in Google, the result will be this:
Note that, at no time, have we told Google in our search that what we want are octopus a feira recipes . However, Google only presents us with recipes, it does not present us, for example, restaurants in which to eat this dish.
Because Google knows that what people are referring to in this case , for the most part, is the recipe.
However, if we put “octopus a feira madrid” , the result changes radically:
As you can see, in this second case the search results are completely different.
The word “Madrid” has been enough for Google to understand that when mentioning a geographical area what we want is to eat that dish in that geographical area and that, therefore, we are referring to restaurants, not recipes.
As a simple side note, I remind you how extraordinary it is that this reasoning is being done by a machine .
Although for a human it would be something trivial, that a machine is capable of doing this type of reasoning, and in an infinity of different fields, it is a very clear example of how far we are going with artificial intelligence.
3 Examples of Search Intent vs Keywords
With what we have seen in the previous section, I think that you will already be clearly seeing where the shots are going with the search intention, but let me give a few more examples to have it definitively clear.
Incomplete context searches
I’m going to start with what seem to me to be the clearest examples of the shift from thinking about keywords to thinking about search intent and what I’ve called incomplete context searches .
They are searches, like the octopus a feira example above, in which the user types something completely out of context, typically a concept, but does not say what they really want to know about that concept.
For example, if we search for “blog” , we will get results like the following:
What happened here?
The result reflects several search intentions , an indication that there is no clear predominance of one intention over the others . The results clearly gravitate towards the intent of “what is a blog” , but we also see results for “best blogs” and “ how to blog ” .
Notice, what a coincidence, that these search intentions are made explicit by Google in the little box with its alternative search suggestions.
In addition, you can see a rare case in which the results of the same website appear as search results in the first positions without being “cannibalized” for that search, a website that, by the way, if you look closely, turns out to be ours ?
The latter (the absence of cannibalization) is probably explained by the fact that the search intentions on the respective two pages are clearly different ( “ what is a blog ” vs. “best blogs” ).
Therefore, at the keyword level ( “blog” ) we have cannibalization, but not at the search intent level , which includes both pages. This is, on the other hand, another example that the real weight in the results has the search intention, not the keywords.
What reading do we get then when it comes to wanting to position our page?
What common sense dictates: that there is content that satisfies any of these three search intentions, although it is probably easier for us to answer “what is a blog” .
Let’s take another example: “running shoes” .
Again, we typed in a simple concept, but now the result turns out to be much more focused at the search intent level.
It seems that, in this case, Google understands that the search intention is “buy running shoes” (or “buy running shoes” ), there is only one different result that is a comparison that would respond to a search intention of the type ” best running shoes” .
Therefore, it is clear that here those who have the best chance of positioning themselves are the content oriented to purchase, the catalog of one has online or a niche affiliation website for sneakers, etc.
Implicit local lookups
Anyway, above I said that to make sure what is the search intention that Google interprets behind certain keywords, you should do that search in Google. So, in order not to screw up, let’s do the exercise to see what comes out.
If I was correct with my theory that the actual search intent behind “running shoes” would be something like “running shoes” or “buy running shoes” then searching for just this should result in something similar to “running shoes” .
Let’s see what comes out to “buy running shoes” :
Wow, they seem to be quite different than the “running shoes” results …
Calm down and let’s analyze what happened. Compare both results for a few minutes and you will see that, in reality, they are not so different.
The first thing that draws attention is the Google Maps box with the local results, we clearly see that with the word “buy” we have introduced a local bias in the search (because I have searched while being geographically in Madrid), something that, if we do not this test, it would not have been obvious to someone who does not know Google well.
But if we think about it, it makes a lot of sense. We are indicating a firm will to want to buy the product and when that happens, it is usually accompanied by a desire for immediacy. Hence, it makes a lot of sense to list the closest stores.
For example: in the most generic search, a page in the sprinter.es catalog appeared as the first result , but now, if you look at the list of the most specific search, it is no longer there. The same thing also happens with Decathlon .
But, in reality, now Google has incorporated them into the table with the summary of stores. The product catalog page no longer comes, but the information with the physical address of the store. The result has been adapted to the context of the search .
Ultimately, the search intent behind the keywords “buy running shoes” seems to be something like “buy running shoes [city]” where [city] would already be the city you are in when you search.
Depending on the location from which each person searches, the results would be specific based on the supply of stores in that area.
If I now search for “buy running shoes Madrid” to check if that was really the search intent, I see that the result is very similar, not exactly the same, but enough to confirm how Google understands the search intent here.
As you can see, search intent is something that can be quite complex and even elusive . There are very obvious searches, but there are also others where, to have a clear idea of ??what Google expects as an answer for a certain search, you have to mess around.
The third example is one that I find particularly interesting . I have already come across it several times and I have called it “false synonyms” because they are keywords that you intuit are equivalent, but that later show totally different search intentions .
A recent example is this content on how to increase visits to a website:
Among many, one of the searches to be analyzed was “web visits” . When performing the search in Google to see the search intention that Google interprets here, the result was this:
As you can see, the result clearly indicates that when people perform this search, they are referring to the problem of how to measure the traffic of a website . That is, what tools exist, how to integrate them into your website, etc.
The content referred both to websites in general and to the particular case of blogs, so I also checked if there were specific searches of the type “blog visits” as seemed likely.
There was indeed some volume for this search, however, when checking the search intent, even though one phrase seemed practically synonymous with the other (a blog is still a website), I found that the intent was completely different in this case:
As you can see, search intent has become how to increase visits to a blog , not how to measure the visits the site receives. The two questions are obviously closely related, but they are still completely different search intentions.
The 4 “classic” search types
Lastly, I would also like to show you here a “classic” classification of searches that is also perfectly applicable to Google’s current search intent-oriented vision.
This classification has always been very useful for me to see more clearly how to best respond to a search. In other words: what objective is the user looking for with that search and how, therefore, should I respond with my content.
In addition, you will see that they maintain a lot of consistency with the examples that I have been putting previously.
These searches are those in which the user simply wants to expand their knowledge about something , obtain more extensive information on a specific topic.
This corresponds largely, though not exclusively, to the famous six basic questions of journalism : what, how, when, who, where and why?
- When will the next leap year be?
- Which countries belong to the European Union?
- Celebrities with the most followers on Instagram
These are the questions where you want to reach a certain website.
Very typical of these searches are those that use the brand that are known precisely as “brand searches” :
- Buy online Mercadona
- High self-employed social security
- Citizen Blog 2.0
These searches, by the way, are very favorable for the authority of the website in question because they are a signal to Google that the brand and its website are relevant in its niche.
So, if you can proactively promote this type of search among your followers, it is a good trick to give an overall boost to the positioning of your website.
We now move on to a very interesting point if you have the goal of creating a website to generate income in one way or another. If that is your case, you should pay special attention to this type of search.
I am going to start first with commercial searches, these are the searches in which a commercial interest is clearly detected, although still immature , the decision to buy the product or contract the service and which specifically is not yet completely clear, the user still need to investigate more.
However, they are very interesting searches because if you manage to put yourself “in front” of a person with this type of interest with your website, you have a great opportunity to present an attractive offer and take the cat to water with a purchase:
- second hand bike shops
- Audi A3 vs BMW 1 Series Comparison
- Best mid-range Android phones
Depending on which source you read, you may find searches that are otherwise labeled “transactional” included in commercial searches .
Personally, it seems to me that differentials make sense since, in transactional companies, unlike commercial ones, the decision to buy is already very mature and very specific , so much so that they often include the brand or the location:
- Buy cheap iPhone 11
- Adidas Running Shoes 2020
- Octopus at fair Madrid
These are the searches, along with the commercial ones, they are the typical searches around which niche websites are created (websites such as “tyresbaratos.com” ) because they have a high conversion (a high % of purchase).
Here you will see many online stores and websites that generate income with online advertising or affiliate marketing and, although it may not be the most exciting way for many to do it, it is one of the most obvious and fastest ways to create a website that generates income.
But equally, even if your website is not a niche website, such as this very blog, I strongly recommend that you give special weight to this type of search in your SEO work. It is very possible that you have opportunities to generate income with this type of unexplored content.
If you want to do modern SEO successfully, you have to be very clear about the concepts of search intent and keywords , and how they relate to each other.
After reading this post, you will surely agree with me that the vision with which Google acts is very consistent, in fact, it is more and more like how a human would do it , with the added advantage of also having behavioral feedback. of the users.
This, on the one hand, makes it easier for you to position your content because Google is increasingly capable of recognizing the quality of content, that is, that it responds to a specific search as the user needs it.
But, on the other hand, this does not mean that you can do without SEO at this point. SEO is still as necessary as ever, starting with keyword analysis to simply detect the “demands” of Internet users, what they are looking for.
And in this lawsuit, not everything is what it seems, which is where search intent comes in .
Before, with a much more mechanical, silly Google, in short, everything was reduced to adapting a text to the target keywords. Now, with a much smarter Google, you have to really understand what you’re responding to . Only then can you succeed in modern SEO.