SEO: Keywords Versus Customer Intent

SEO: Keywords Versus Customer IntentSEO has evolved a lot over the last couple of years. Sure, Google makes little tweaks to the algorithm driving SEO all the time, but recent Panda and Penguin updates really changed the whole nature of SEO; penalizing a number of high profile sites for keyword loading and other shady SEO tactics.

And, SEO is changing again. Search Engine Watch (one of my 2 favorite SEO websites) recently published a post entitled, “Keywords are Dead? Long Live Customer Intent“. It’s a great post and demonstrates the extent to which the new normal of Google search impacts the way you do business.

History of Google Search

It seems a little silly talking about the history of something that’s less than 20 years old, but a lot has happened in that time when you’re talking about SEO strategy. The changed mean great things for searchers, who now find more targeted results matching their queries more closely, but a nightmare for folks running websites and PPC campaigns who need to maximize the number of eyeballs they attract in an increasingly crowded Internet.

In the early days of Google search, searchers entered simple keywords (literally, a word) or maybe a few keywords using Boolean operators such as “and”, “not”, “or” and sifted through the mountain of search results hoping to find what they were looking for. Today, keywords is really a relic of that era because searchers now enter complex phrases that bring much more accurate results. Of course, results are ranked (based on a complex weighted algorithm) so that the most likely results that satisfy your search are near the top of the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).

Webmasters learned to manipulate their SERPs (to show up higher in search) by estimating factors in the Google algorithm, then optimizing their sites for these factors (termed SEO – search engine optimization).

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What’s New in SEO?

So, how have things changed with respect to SEO? Let’s hear from Grant Simmons’ post on Search Engine Watch”

The old interpretation of keywords is no longer true; users are not typing simple keywords that yield simple Google results. Users are entering “queries” – phrases that match specific search intent – and Google attempts to match that intent based on search data, click data, and heuristics, and then serves richer (and hopefully more relevant) intent-based results.

A number of other changes also affect SEO such as:

  • Autocomplete – when a user begins typing something in to the search bar or entering a URL, Google attempts to “guess” at what they want and begins filling in possible results related to this guess
  • Local search – when optimized properly, Google will return results nearby first in the SERPs
  • Spelling correction
  • Dictionary returns results based on definitions, rather than strictly adhering to the same word entered in the query

Customer Intent on SEO

Thus, firms need to anticipate customer intent in their SEO strategy. What might consumers look for that you can satisfy? This involves a VERY different strategy than the old keyword strategy that relied on using the keyword as many times as possible on your website.

Instead, firms must anticipate customer intent and use words throughout their website conforming to customer intent. And, the firm must use terms (language) used by consumers, not the industry. And, add descriptions for visual elements, such as images and video.

Optimizing Your SEO Strategy for Customer Intent

Consumer research

The first step in building your new SEO strategy involves understanding what consumers want to find and how they use language to frame that query. And, firms aren’t great at this. All you have to do is look at the way they construct their own search capabilities to see how poorly they understand what consumers search for.

For instance, look for a special occasion dress. As a consumer, you’re likely interested in a particular color, length, maybe even style (Aline, versus ball gown). Yet, the website might list irrelevant search criteria such as designer or SKU. Maybe some consumers care about who designed their dress, but more will care about other criteria. So, you need to start THINKING llke your consumers.

Use your website’s search as a way to see what consumers search for on your site and do focus groups with your target audience to understand what they are looking for.

Better descriptions

Not only do you have to use terms matching consumer intent, you need to describe what you offer in similar terms. Search engines don’t “see” well. If the consumer is searching for a shoe with a little bow on the side, the search engine won’t see it in your picture. So, describe your stock.

Don’t forget traditional keyword research

You’ll still need traditional keyword research, but supplement this with exploratory keyword research. Un-tick the “exact match” option in your keyword research and scroll down to see what terms are similar to your keyword.

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Discuss This Article

Comments: 1

  • Thanks for quoting the article Angela… the tactical use of keywords really has changed away from a pure pattern match to intent based understanding of how to connect search intent to content.

    Keep reading Search Engine Watch… there’s more to come! :-)


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