Keyword Strategy and the Keyword research behind it is more than simply identifying a range of keyword terms that people are searching for and which you’d like to rank for.

A Keyword strategy is about identifying every term in which you need to be seen and can get found for by your target audience and where you have, or can produce, relevant content with which to target these terms, that can answer every question and fulfil every need that your target user or customer might have.

A search intent-based keyword strategy identifies your target search terms, the intent behind them and then defines the content which is required to achieve visibility which answers the questions and fulfils the needs of your target audience.

What is Search Intent?

From the day it was founded, Google has set out to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

As Google strived to deliver the most relevant results for each search query, it realised that to make a better search engine and a better search experience for its users it had to better understand search intent, i.e., what a user is actually trying to achieve when they type or say a search query.

We can break this Search Intent down into 5 main areas: –

The 5 Main Areas of Search Intent

  • Navigational Search Intent – people want to go somewhere on the web. Many of these searches are branded keywords, e.g. “BBC” or “Facebook login”
  • Informational Search Intent – people want to know something, e.g. ‘how to cook a pizza’ or ‘what is woke’.
  • Transactional Search Intent – people want to do something, i.e., complete an action (a conversion). This could be a purchase, an email signup, a download, a form submission, a store visit, a phone call or any transactional term that relates to an action a website wants a visitor to undertake.
  • Commercial Investigating Search Intent – people are looking to buy something or complete an action in the future but here are carrying out research, e.g., “what is the best hand sanitiser”, “most reliable used cars”
  • Local Search Intent – people are looking for things where they are geographically located. These could be queries which include the place name, e.g. “best lunch break spots in Harrogate” or where the searcher is relying on Google’s understanding of their geographical location like “fuel oil suppliers near me” or where Google understands that the search is local, e.g. ‘pizza delivery’, after all people won’t be happy finding out about a Pizza takeaway that is 200 miles away.

Google updated its Manual Search Quality Ratings Guidelines around these areas of intent in its December 2019 revision.

As well as the different type of answer Google expects to see from each type of search intent, Google also modifies its Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to reflect search intent with different SERP Features for each type of broad intent.

So, for instance, for the query ‘how to make a pizza’, Google displays 3 video snippets, 3 recipe snippets and a related questions (People also ask) feature before the usual 10 organic results, which, in this case, are all recipes.

The query ‘what is woke’ returns a dictionary definition, a knowledge panel and a related questions box.

For the query “what is the best hand sanitizer”, Google shows the Paid Shopping Snippet (featuring 5 shopping ads), a text ad at the top, a featured snippet featuring a bulleted list and a related questions box­.

The query ‘fuel oil suppliers near me’ features 4 text ads, a snippet offering other results on local directories and the Google local pack (a map with 3 results from Google My Business, based on geographic location factors).

As you will see, all of these searches push the normal 10 organic listings well down the page (below the fold), meaning users have to scroll quite a way before seeing these results and ensuring that on these types of searches, the click-through rate of the top 1-3 results is significantly lower than might be expected from a normal top 3 result.

Google continually refines its search algorithms to improve relevancy and a big feature of these changes, since the August 2018 E-A-T or Medic update, is the increasing individualisation of searches based upon specific factors relating to each and every query and the type of content and site it expects to see, rather than traditional factors such as domain and page authority (links), content depth, quality, keyword usage etc.,  A search for ‘coronavirus symptoms’ for instance, contains just 2 links from non-public medical sites (the NHS, WHO, etc.,), whereas a search for “best credit card deals” is dominated by comparison and informational sites with no links to providers.

All of this has created a whole set of new challenges for traditional keyword research and a need for a new sort of keyword strategy, a search intent-based keyword strategy

Developing a Search Intent-Based Keyword Strategy

Keyword Research is now much more than deciding upon what terms you might like to be found for and how many people search for these terms. It is about fully understanding your proposition, the buying cycle, what people might need to know and how you and your website need to be seen and can get found.

Once you have formulated this and carried out your research into these sort of search terms, you then need to understand what the SERP for each of these search terms looks like and how and where you need to be found. So, for instance, in a search with Transactional Search Intent, which of the paid or organic features do you need to be found in, and for a search with Informational Intent what features dominate the SERP, is ranking organically the best option, could you capture the featured snippet or knowledge panel and so on.

Creating a Multi-Level Keyword Strategy

Your keyword research will need to be extremely extensive and intensive. You will need to think, not only about every term that you need to be seen and get found for, but you need to decide where and how you will be seen and get found and, after all of this, you will need to fully research and analyse the competitive landscape, to establish if it is possible to do so. If the SERP is dominated by a certain sort of site, of a type which yours isn’t, then you might need to think again. If the paid ads you are competing with are from larger, better-resourced competitors with deeper pockets, then you may need to carry out further research to define your niche.

Essentially you need to create a very large and diverse list of keyword terms that answer every question and fulfil every need that your target customer or user may have.

You then need to analyse each one of these terms to assess:-

  • The Competitive Landscape and whether you have a realistic chance of competing with the current ranking sites and achieving high visibility.
  • The SERP Feature Landscape and whether you can achieve high visibility with the current range of features that are served for that keyword query, e.g. if paid ads/shopping ads are displayed, could you viably compete in this; if a Featured Snippet or knowledge panel was displayed could you, realistically, capture them; if video snippets are prevalent can you produce video content and is it appropriate for the query, etc.,
  • The SERP Query Landscape, namely can your existing content, or the content that you can produce, answer the search intent of the user and does this content match what Google believes are the E-A-T factors for that query, ie content quality, depth and context and the Expertise, Authority and Trust of the Author and Publisher
  • The Dynamism of the SERP. Is Google constantly changing/testing the features, are the results changing frequently or are they fairly stable?

Once you have defined this list, we believe it is best to categorise these into short, medium and long terms targets, as there will be some wher it is possible that you can rank for fairly quickly and start to get you established, some that, as you develop the content depth, Authority, Expertise and Trust of your site, you will rank for in the medium term, whilst the long term targets may take a little longer and require more depth, expertise, authority, trust, links, and so on.

You then need to decide where, and how, you will achieve visibility for these terms. Which of these terms will you target through shopping ads, which through text ads, which through video snippet, which through local, which through the knowledge panel, featured snippet, image snippet, related questions, ‘traditional’ top 3 ranking and so on. Don’t forget that you will often target one term through multiple features, as the more that you are seen, not only is it that the more you are found, but the value, leadership and trust of your brand is multiplied.    

Having created this list, you then need to define the landing pages for each of these terms. Some of these will be existing pages, that may need improvement; some will be current pages that need to be changed or refocused and some will be brand new pages, requiring brand new content.

The final stage is to create a content plan, detailing the content; what sort of content it is; it’s depth; style; features and how it will link to other content and sit in your hierarchy. This also needs to detail the author, related keyword terms, the time when it will be produced; KPI targets, essentially everything so that the writer and team are aware exactly what they are trying to produce and achieve with it.  

The Value of a Good Search Intent-Based Keyword Strategy 

If you’ve got this far, you will appreciate that developing a good, strong search intent-based keyword strategy is an extremely complex and time-consuming occupation, which requires considerable thought, understanding of your business or organisation; its objectives; business strategy and website, a range of sophisticated analytical and research tools, not to mention a degree of skill, expertise and insight. It will, however, form the foundation of an SEO, SEM and Search Visibility strategy will achieve the optimum return on your digital investment.