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This post is a meant to help you think about content creation prioritization: you can’t battle on all fronts, and produce content for every single keyword out there. You have a lot to say, and to many types of users… so where to start? Starting from Search intent can help you segment, target and position your digital content creation.

To understand this process, start by thinking about a physical store: some visitors of the shop are there because the have a need/problem/pain point and are looking for a solution… but don’t know the answer yet. Some other visitors are here because they want to compare and see the product before making purchase decision. Others have just come because they have specific questions about a model and they need the guidance from the shop assistants. In the online world, these different “intent” categories – linked to the “buyer’s journey” – still prevail: visitors are browsing your site, searching on google, with different intents. This is the first reason why studying search intent will help in prioritizing content creation.

Search intent is also the an important parameter in Search Engine Optimization – SEO. Most searches on the web will begin by a search engine like Google, before ending on several websites where the content is developed. You might have seen a change in search engines over the past few years: while Google used to work based on exact keywords, it has evolved to render results that also integrate synonyms, variations, tangentially-related phrases… search intent is now what search engines answer to. Predictive search technologies like Google Now, intelligent conversational assistants like Siri or Cortana have integrated artificial intelligence to search algorithms, because they want to understand what and why you are searching.

“The key to creating a great website is to create the best possible experience for your audience with original and high quality content.” Google’s Search Console Course Section 1.4

TL;DR: you should think about the intent of your keywords, prioritize and develop content based on intent buckets, before you start creating an ad or content that’s targeting it.

1. Start by understanding your visitors search intent

Don’t dive into keyword research right away: start from what you know about your visitors, customers and potential customers. A good framework to use for this first step is the buyer’s journey. Our goal at this stage is to identify our different groups of visitors, and understand the context of your visitors search.

Try putting yourself in your potential customer’s shoes: who are they, what are their activities, what are their pain points? You can start the brainstorm from your users personas, use focus groups or VOC (voice of customer) data to learn more about users intent.

Using the chart below, take each stage of the buyers journey and brainstorm about user stories to identify what their intent is.

Buyer's Journey - Awareness, Discovery, Purchase

Let’s take the example of a surfboard brand called “Kapolei Surfboards”, and let’s build a persona called Anna who is interested in surfboards since she moved to Hawai’i for her studies and would like to try surfing:

  • Awareness stage (informational and navigational intent):
    • Anna is searching on google about “what brands of surfboards” and discovers the”Kapolei Surfboards” brand. Anna has some interest to learn about surfboard brands (informational search, non commercial at this stage) since she thinks surfing is cool and might be willing to start since she moved to Hawaii.
    • Anna comes to “Kapolei Surfboards” website and starts looking around (informational and navigational stage). She likes the boards, but doesn’t really understand the differences between them, or how to choose a board…
  • Discovery stage (informational and navigational intent):
    • Think about Anna one week later: let’s say she is now in the “Reasearch & Discovery phase”. She is now quite motivated to start surfing and has some desire to buy a board. But she has no idea about what she needs. Should she buy a board, and what type, what brands, would renting be easier, she has to educate herself quite a lot, she will start comparing types of boards and brands and models, she might look for videos about the boards, want to learn about the materials…
  • Purchase stage (transactional intent):
    • Anna is now sure she wants the “Shark12”” from “Kapolei Surfboard” since she has all the info she wants and really wants to start surfing. Her intent is now “transactional” and she is in the “purchase” phase of the buyer’s journey. She wants to buy, will search “buy shark 12 maui surfboard” and look to the checkout page on your website.

Search Intent segmentation/categorization

Now that we have brainstormed and have a clear view about their pain points, explicit or latent/hidden needs … we are ready to look at our SEO keywords and segment them in search intent topics/buckets. Instead of only targeting one or two keyword phrases and develop content for these keywords (which can be quite long if you’re targeting 200 keywords), it is a smart strategy to develop content focused on search intent topics.

“Intent beats identity. Immediacy trumps loyalty.” Google’s vp of marketing, Lisa Gevelber. 82% of smartphone users now turn to their phones to help them make purchasing decisions while they’re in a store.

If we go back to our example with Anna’s surfing adventures we could be looking to develop contents for her persona like:

  • Awareness
    1. Search intent: “Are there local surf brands in Hawaii?”
      1. Video: “Maui Surfboards Hawaiian heritage”
      2. Blog: “Famous Hawaiian surfboards”
  • Discovery
    1. Search intent: “Is Kapolei Surfboards a cool and quality brand?”
      1. Blog “How we make custom Kapolei Surfboards”
      2. Video “360 video visit of our surfboard workshop”
    2. Search intent: “What surfboard should I choose?”
      1. Video “How to choose your longboard”
      2. Blog “Choosing a longboard or shortboard”
      3. Blog “Best surfboards for Hawaii surfing”
  • Purchase
    1. Search intent: “Should I buy my board on the web?”
      1. Automation email for visitors who have save a surfboard to their wishlist: “Get a surfboard bag for every online surfboard purchase this week”
      2. Testimonial: “I bought my surfboard on the internet”
    2. Search intent: “What else do I need with my board?”
      1. Infographic “What equipment to buy with a surboard”
      2. Video “How to prepare your surfboard for your first sessions”
      3. Blog post “What insurance for a surboard”

To help you in this brainstorming/segmentation phase (google spreadsheets/ excel will help to organize your thoughts), you can use tools like answerthepublic.com that does a great job generating questions around a topic (here “surboard”).

Search Intent Segmentation

This work could be repeated for other personas, and should lead to you a large list of “customer centric” search-intent oriented content… where should you start?

At this stage you should have an excel sheet with keywords belonging to search intent topics, based on buyers journey stages.

Prioritizing content marketing with search intent

Let’s wrap up: trying to fight on each keyword of your target keywords list (ordered by search volume, keyword difficulty and CPC) can be a great strategy but is an enormous task. A more efficient strategy is to segment your keywords on search intent, and now we need to decide what segments you need to target first, based on the following parameters:

  1. Internal Priorities
    1. Target users: is there a specific target segment you should address in priority (segment size and value) ? Then you should start producing content to serve their intent on the 3 steps of their journey.
    2. Conversion rate optimization: are some steps of your funnel under-optimized? Maybe you should focus on providing more content on the Purchase state ? Make sure you cover your most urgent content needs in a minimum viable way.
    3. ROI: which of these intent queries have the most values in terms of transforming to a purchase? Maybe you should start with content that has an immediate ROI and high value.
    4. Content availability: are there any low hanging fruits? Is there an area where you have very weak content? Can you repurpose easily some content to create variations (video from blog, blog to infographic)?
    5. Social Potential: are some of these content ideas likely to be very successful on social media, create engagements and more reach for your business?
  2. External Priorities
    1. Content gaps with competitors: what are the keywords for which your competitors are not producing content? Tools like ahrefs content gap can help by showing you the topics where your competitors aren’t ranking
    2. SEO difficulty: how does keyword difficulty look like for your keywords? How big is search volume? How well do you currently rank?
    3. Voice of Customer: are visitors always asking the same questions to your support email? Maybe you should make a few details clearer, or provide comprehensive guides.
    4. Content Distribution: are there any content distribution channels, affiliates, medias that you think would be interested in any of these ideas? If some of them are, it can be interesting to benefit from their marketing push too.

At this stage you should have an excel sheet with keywords belonging to search intent topics, based on buyers journey stages. This list should now be ranked according to the above topics on a 1 to 3 scale (you can create a column for each and calculate a weighted average). With this process you should be quite clear on what is the priority for you in terms of content production.

Our recommended reading list about Search Intent Content Optimization

  1. Refresher on STP model: Segmentation, Targeting, Positioning
  2. Business.com on Get the Why Behind Searches
  3. 5 Ways to Evolve Keyword Research to Find Topics and Search Intent
  4. Loop54: Understand Shopper Search Intent to Create Content People Need
  5. Moz’s Ten Types of Content that work best for SEO
  6. Google Says Search Intent Matters More for Marketers Than Users’ Identity
  7. Moz on segmenting search intent
  8. Moz on How to Research the Path to Customer Purchase

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