25 April 2017 | Jonathan Lyon

How to Conquer Google by Hacking User Intent

Google is constantly getting smarter. Its overall aim is to accurately understand user intent, providing the desired results on page 1, if not in the top 3 search results. Google wants to provide web pages that are valuable and relevant to the user. Google’s RankBrain, part of their overall search algorithm, aims to improve the relevance of search engine results by trying to understand the user’s intent behind unfamiliar search terms. It is also likely that a user’s interaction with SERPs and websites can affect ranking for specific keywords.

The user intent has to play a role in determining the results that Google displays otherwise searchers would drown in irrelevant search results. When searchers use long tail keywords, their intent and meaning can be quite clear, however, short tail keywords are not only vague but could have multiple meanings. So how does this affect SEOs and what should be done about the user’s intent?

What is User Intent?

What exactly did the user or searcher mean when they typed in their search query? That is essentially the answer. There are generally 5 categories of user intent: know, do, buy, website, and local.

These summarise what the user was intending to find. For example, a user may search for “Who played Sherlock Holmes?”, then the chances are the user is intending to acquire information or knowledge from the search results. If a user is looking to watch the Sherlock Holmes film, the may instead type “Where can I watch Sherlock Holmes?”  and their intent will more likely be to buy or find a website where it is available.

Local search is a growing trend, 4 in 5 consumers use search engines to find local information, and the intent behind these searches is very clear. For example using the search term ‘pepperoni pizza in Chiswick’ it is clear that the user is in Chiswick and fancies a pepperoni pizza for their dinner.

Understanding the intent of target audience is a key factor in determining high converting and beneficial target keywords.

Does User Behaviour play a role?

One of the best ways for search engines to correctly identify the intent of its users is to analyse the behaviour of users. Organic search rankings are heavily influenced by user behaviour analytics. Although exactly which factors affect rankings is a topic of debate.

stages of user behaviour flow

Click Through Rate

CTR is a good indication of which results are relevant to the user’s search. If the number 1 ranking result receives significantly fewer clicks than the results below it, then search engines would begin to consider its position. This means two things for SEO: relevant and engaging copy in meta titles and descriptions can have a positive effect on search rankings; SERPs can be a good indication of the intent behind certain keywords.

User Interaction

Beyond the search page, the manner in which searchers interact with the site can have an effect on rankings. Two metrics that are worth considering in terms of user interaction are Bounce Rate and Dwell Time. Again there is debate surrounding the use of these in search engine rankings, but they can offer insight into the relevance and value of the page. Regardless of the click rate of a result, if the page bounces or has a low time on page it would suggest that that page, although effective at attracting traffic, is not meeting the visitors need.

It all comes back to User Experience and Conversions

User behaviour is said to be the next movement in search optimisation. What is likely to be key is how optimised websites are in terms of the user’s experience. Pages that offer the user what they are searching for and a clear call to action will no doubt convert more often, which could also have a positive effect on rankings. With experience in mind, optimising for mobile and speedy page load times is going to have an increasing influence on experience, conversions and ultimately rankings.user experience diagram

It is also wise to consider user intent and behaviour data when doing keyword research to ensure that your site is optimised for keywords that offer the best conversion, where you fulfil the users’ intent and needs. In some cases, reasonable conversions from a highly targeted keyword could be more lucrative than <0.1% conversions from generic terms.

We began this post by considering that Google’s primary aim is to return the most accurate results for its users. To do that they have to consider, in depth, both the intent and behaviour of the user. It is logical that a page acquiring more clicks from searchers should rise above competing pages, particularly if the user goes on to engage and interact with that page. User interaction with that page would suggest that page was relevant, valuable, and fit the original intent of that user.

If you are curious to know more about optimising for the user, its connection to digital marketing and its potential SEO applications, then keep an eye on our blog.  If you’re interested in improving your website’s rankings talk to one of our technical SEO experts today.

Jonathan Lyon