Intent is Keywords 2.0

I'm surprised at how long it is taking the SEO community to twig to this - search engineers have been talking about it for years. The key is to work out what the searcher wants. If someone types in 'Hoover' are they after the branded vacuum, the dam or the FBI guru? Hoover is the keyword but it is the searcher's intent which is most important.

Let's say you've a client who sells MP3 players from their website. That's all they do. Are you going to go away, do some research and then conclude that keywords include "ipod", "zen", "mp3", etc. Ah! Perhaps you'll talk about the long tail and claim that the keywords are keyphrases that include "black 80gig ipod with free shipping". That's better but that's not good enough.

The intent phrase there is 'free shipping'. What does that tell you? The searcher is rich enough to go for the 80gig but poor enough to care about the shipping. A student, then? We can also be fairly sure that this searcher is ready to buy. If they're thinking about shipping then they're not researching. It would be best to target a "buy" page to this intent phrase. A buy page is unlikely to have an essay of text on it. Many SEOers who try and persuade their client to shoehorn as much keyword laden text on to their 80gig ipod page as possible.

But what about the 80gig ipod? The MP3 client should have some strong and authoritative ipod pages. In this example an authoritative page is one which offers useful information about ipods and actually gives people a reason to link to it. That's a tough call. Could you write a page about ipods that actually stood out well enough to persuade people to link to it? This is where social media (social search) can factor in as we could button this page to encourage users to tag it in search engine friendly social bookmarking sites.

The authoritative pages are the first stage in the search cycle. They target the researchers. They're there for people talking about ipods online and should begin to enjoy natural forum and blog links. The authoritative pages link to the buy pages. Yeah, it would be worth having a different page for "free shipping" than the normal "shelf page" if you can avoid duplicate content issues. Users intend to avoid body content that they've read already.


Anonymous said…
Good post Andrew. Search behavior can tell a lot about where someone is in the buying funnel. That's why the long tail is so important because the more detailed the search the closer the buyer is to making their decision. The more searches you have to analyze the better you get at delivering the right message to the right audience.
JC said…
Good post!

I've been reading your blog since Christmas (now via google reader) and I've enjoyed your posts.

Just thought I'd stop lurking and say hello.

Anonymous said…
I am not sure it wasn't spoken about.

Ammon Johns has written an article about three page optimization (with different types of pages for different types of searchers) years ago.

As you note, the article was written about different search engines, but this one is also about different types of pages for different types of visitors - what you have been discussing here.
Andrew Girdwood said…
Hi Yuri,

I'm not really sure Ammon was writing about the searcher's intent when he did that post. He was writing about how to optimise for the evolving algorithms.

Nevertheless, I agree with your point. The seeds of the idea have been kicking around in the SEO world for many years now. It is common to find a SEOer tell a conference that people clicking on AdWords are often those who've decided to make a purchase. What surprises me is that this hasn't really grown. I would like to see more and more SEOers write about Intent. Traditional marketers are fixated on demographics and "language" whereas SEOers all too often ignore it. I think the right place to be is somewhere in the middle. Intent and customer targeting is key in search.

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