If your Google search rankings aren’t improving, I’m pretty sure I know why. In this article, I’m going to help you quiet the noise and identify exactly what needs to happen on your website for it to rank highly for your most valuable keywords. The solution lies in your understanding of the concept of search intent.
Why Search Intent Is Critical to Improving Google Search Rankings
The larger context of ranking highly is that Google’s goal is to give its users the most satisfying possible answers to their search queries. When it does that, people spend much more time on Google, effectively turning it into the utility it is—not that different from your gas or electric company in how subconsciously you rely on them. Your reliance on Google is worth billions in advertising revenue to the company.
So now, knowing what Google’s true motivation is, you can easily understand that to rank highly, your articles must be very tailored to the people looking for information on whatever topic you’re writing about. This is where search intent comes in: you cannot satisfy a person if you don’t understand what they want. Too many content creators and SEO agencies gloss over this basic truth, writing articles that have a loose connection to the keyword they’re targeting rather than attempting to hit the bullseye of that searcher’s curiosity when they typed in their search query.
In this article, I’ll zero in on search intent and show you how to think about it like a pro.
Satisfying Search Intent in 4 Steps
Inside our agency, we have a four-step process for creating content that deeply satisfies the searcher’s intent:
Determine the goal of the piece. Creating a piece of content is an investment. You’re about to expend time, money, and the opportunity cost of writing a different piece. Before you do that, it’s important to know why you’re making the investment in the first place. Is it purely to drive leads? For use in social media and email marketing? To distribute to your sales team to help close deals? To help with internal training? To support your company culture? It would make sense to bullet these goals out, in order of importance, at the top of the doc before writing the piece.
Understand what the search query means. To understand what a search query means, begin by understanding the individual words or phrases inside it. Then proceed to hypothesize what the entire search query means to the person who typed it. For example, if your search query is “seo agency lead generation,” your first step is to think about whether you fully understand what an SEO agency is and what lead generation means to a searcher. While that may appear obvious, have you ever considered the difference between an SEO agency and an SEO company in people’s minds? (My opinion: “agency” implies a bigger, more professional organization.) The second step is to parse out the reason why someone would combine those two phrases, in that order, into a single search query.
Figure out who is searching. If you want your investment of creating a piece of content to pay off via a high ranking on Google, you must be able to reverse engineer who the searcher is based on your understanding of their search query. Doing so allows you to deliver exactly what they are looking for with your piece of content. This is not a skill everyone has, but it’s likely someone in your company, or at your content marketing agency, possesses the ability.
NOTE: A properly-structured SEO campaign will deliver already-vetted keywords to the content writer within an editorial calendar, so they don’t have to determine who the searcher is for the first time. It’s critical, however, for every person involved in the content creation process to thoroughly understand both who the searcher is and the intent behind a given query.
Overdeliver. After completing the first three steps, you’ve effectively put yourself in the searcher’s shoes. Now it’s time to impress them. Your goal is to create the most engaging piece of content possible in response to who they are and what they searched. This means not only directly answering the question they asked but answering the questions they would have asked had they thought to do so.
For example, in my review of CEO peer group Vistage, I’m responding to the search query “vistage review,” where somebody is evaluating joining the organization. I begin by describing its pros and cons, which provides a direct answer to the searcher’s inherent question. But I also go the extra mile and include sections on the costs of joining, who the organization is truly right for, and who the organization is definitely not right for, questions the searcher didn’t ask but probably wanted answered.
The Workflow Behind Improving Google Rankings
Once you understand why satisfying search intent is the key to high Google rankings, the next step is to put a workflow in place so that your organization can implement an effective SEO campaign.
The practices I describe below should be handled by a separate individual—a strategist, let’s say—within the context of an editorial calendar, which I describe below. The strategist does much of the preparatory thinking that results in a successful piece. For example, they determine the goals of the piece and ensure that the keyword’s meaning and implied searcher persona line up with those goals.
However, once the writer is assigned the piece, they need to ensure they agree with the strategist’s thinking. They are the last line of defense before the investment is made, so to speak, and will only be able to write an effective piece if they have a clear understanding of who the searcher is, what the searcher is seeking, and the commercial goals of this page of content.
Here is the workflow for creating a piece of content:
Maintain an editorial calendar, from which all content will originate
The editorial calendar should have a column for each of the following:
- Root/container keyword (if using a hub and spoke strategy)
- Search intent
- Target audience persona
- Page type
- Content plan (usually three to five sentences)
- Goals (e.g. lead generation, branding, drip campaign, internal training, culture building)
I’ve visualized an editorial calendar below.
At the top of each article, re-state the keyword, root/container keyword, and audience persona
Below that, break down the keyword’s search intent by estimating the makeup of searchers of that keyword. For example, my previous example keyword “seo agency lead generation” might produce the following breakdown:
Keyword: “seo agency lead generation”
This exercise is more important than you might think because it forces a level of active thinking that many marketers skip, causing articles to be mistargeted and lose all their utility. To succeed in this exercise, I recommend starting by considering the keyword yourself with no help from Google—what do you think people who search it are really seeking, and are they likely to be members of your target audience? It’s sort of like answering a fill-in-the-blank test question.
Only after that does it make sense to search the keyword on Google and see what websites that rank on the first page have published, allowing you to glean their interpretation of the keyword’s audience makeup.
Outline the plan for that page of content by starting with a “perfect response”
Ask yourself “If I had every resource in the world available to me, what would I put onto this page that would maximally satisfy the searcher’s intent and do so in a highly skimmable and interesting way?” Often, the answer to this question involves:
- Delivering original research results and proprietary data in beautiful graphical form.
- Giving highly targeted examples and case studies that illustrate the important concepts.
- Offering expert insights or compelling analogies that only years of experience could produce.
Asking yourself this question is so beneficial because it pushes you to think creatively; without it, most content creators will approach a piece with built-in limitations about the resources available to them.
In the examples above, a person who might have ordinarily wrote a standard-quality article might now try to survey the company’s employees or clients to generate some original research (or at least put whatever research they do have into a well-designed table). They might ask a team member for any relevant case studies or stories that can be made into case studies, or grab a half-hour of an on-staff expert’s time to offer an original insight about the topic at hand.
While quite granular, enacting these practical steps into your content creation process is often the difference between a campaign with average ranking and ROI results and one with spectacular results.
Putting It All Together
If you’ve been struggling to hit your SERP targets despite making sure that you’re following best practices—establishing a keyword strategy, publishing regularly, and writing at the right reading level—the missing link is almost always correctly considering search intent. We hope the above guide will help your team write content that truly provides the best answer to your searchers’ questions, and ultimately, rank highly on Google.
We won’t pretend that the process is always easy; the critical thinking required to accurately satisfy the search intent behind each keyword can be difficult to budget time for when your marketing team is busy with other campaigns. One option is to outsource the SEO campaign as a whole, or hire an SEO agency to handle the planning and strategy so your team can focus on the content.
If you’d like to know more about these options, get in touch. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have more than a decade of experience helping companies master search intent to get the most from their SEO.