SEO 101: Keywords & User Search Intent
At the core of all good SEO strategies is a smart approach to keywords. By incorporating the right words and phrases into your page content, you’ll be able to draw more traffic to your store, build authority with search engines, and boost your SERP ranking. But how do you know which keywords to include?
In this third article of our four part SEO 101 series, we’re going to go through the fundamentals of keyword research and user search intent. Having a better understanding of both these concepts will help you to identify what your target audience is really looking for and how you can start to adapt your SEO strategy to suit.
Keywords & Keyword Research
Let’s start on a simple note - what are keywords? Keywords are the words and phrases users input into search engines. They can be short and straightforward such as “pet carrier” or more complex such as “what’s the best pet carrier for travelling with a border collie?”. Keywords are the core of what we do with SEO, as they’re what people are using to find content on search engines. The process for how these words help Google goes as follows: your page includes a keyword, Google crawls the page and indexes it when it finds that keyword, it then presents that page in SERPs for users when they search for that keyword. The more people visit your page and the more external sites backlink it, that page builds authority or trust with Google, and it begins to rank more favorably.
But there is one step that comes before this process begins - Keyword Research.
Keyword Research then is our method of finding which keywords are most relevant to our target audience. Once you find out what your audience is searching for, you can optimize your store’s content to include the keywords they’re using and start to rank on Google for those words. Knowing what people are searching for allows you to focus on creating content for your site that people are actually interesting and engaging to users, rather than wasting your time on content that doesn’t attract any meaningful traffic. Moreover, finding these keywords can help guide your wider content marketing strategy as you’ll know not only the words and phrases your target audience are searching for but also what search terms your current audience has used to find your store previously.
User Search Intent
Knowing the keywords people are searching for is one thing, but understanding why people are using those search terms is a key piece of the puzzle. To simplify things, we can usually define intent by the following categories:
Navigational - The user is looking for a specific page to navigate to. For example, “Nintendo Online Store” or “Shopify Twitter”.
Informational - The user is looking for more information about a specific subject or topic, e.g. “Who is the CEO of Apple” or “Paris landmarks”. Under this category you can also include “Local Queries” where the user is looking for more information about something local to them, e.g. “Coffee Shops in Chicago” or “Train times Edinburgh to London”.
Commercial Research - The user is intending on making a purchase but they're looking for more information first, e.g. “best coffee subscriptions” or “Canon vs Fujifilm cameras”.
Transactional - The user is looking to make a purchase and is ready to do so. For example “buy coffee online”.
Once you start questioning the user’s search intent, it adds an extra layer of depth to your keyword strategy. You can then look at your own store and consider what a user’s search intent is when they might find your store. For instance, if you’re selling coffee beans then you can tailor your keywords to suit different types of intent. You might include keywords such as “chemex vs moka pot brewing” to satisfy users who may be looking for more information about brewing techniques. Another example may be to include keywords more directed to being able to buy specific varieties of coffee from your store, such as “Brazil Fazenda Pantano buy online”.
How to find keywords
Step #1 - Brainstorm and Review
Knowing where to start any research is half the battle. With keyword research, your first port-of-call is to look at which search terms are already leading users to different landing pages on your store. Next, brainstorm note which keywords you want to rank, and which landing pages you want people to find your store from. These keywords should relate to your business, niche, and industry as well as variations on those terms and what you think people might search for if they were looking for your product niche. For example if you sell houseplants you might note down terms such as “houseplants”, “indoor plants”, “calathea”, etc. From there, you can use a Keyword Research Tool to discover related keywords, as well as the search volume for different terms. The higher the search volume, the more competitive it’s likely to be. This means that in some cases you might want to look at keywords with a lower search volume so that your store fares better. To use our previous example, the term “houseplants” is going to generate a high volume of traffic but perhaps “calathea ornata buy online” still has a decent volume but will be less competitive to target. Whilst you should still aim to incorporate these high volume keywords, ensure you’re striking a balance between high and average volume terms to give your store the best chance possible at ranking and reaching the right audience.
Step #2 - Look at your Competitors
The next step in finding that magic mix of keywords is to look to your competitors. There are two ways you can identify your competitors and find out which words they’re ranking for. The first is by using a tool specifically for discovering which search terms are leading to competitors’ landing pages. The second option is a bit more direct - start searching! Take those terms you previously identified and start plugging them into search engines. See what the top ranking pages are on the first SERP, and analyze. For broader terms you’re likely to see results that don’t necessarily reflect your competitors. Let’s use an example and say you sell chess sets; the obvious first term to search for is “chess”.
Okay, so that’s a little broad and sites such as Chess.com and Wikipedia aren’t exactly competitors. What we do from here is look at what additional terms Google suggests and see what complementary terms we can find.
Now if we search “Chess Set” …
That’s more like it - we’re starting to see stores coming up on the results page. You can then start to explore even more related terms, and see which stores rank for these. Go to these landing pages and analyze the content.
Your strategy for knowing which keywords to target in relation to your competitors can involve two different tactics. The first is to target the keywords your competitors are ranking for, and the second is to target those terms which have a decent volume of traffic but your competitors have perhaps overlooked.
Step #3 - Consider search intent
The partner in crime to your keywords - user search intent. The easiest way to get an idea of what search intent might be for different keywords is simply to search for them yourself and see what comes up in related searches and Google’s “People Also Ask” and “People Also Search For” sections. Let’s use the example of the keyword “hiking boots”.
We can see when people search this term, they’re also usually asking about good brands to buy, reasons for why they might want to buy hiking boots, and some of the brands they’re searching for. This gives a good indication of what sort of content you could start to create for your store in order to satisfy user search intent for the keywords you want to rank for.
At the end of your research, you’ll likely end up with a strong list of keywords that you want your key pages to rank for. The best way forward from there is to focus on a few of those terms, and put a lot of consideration into how you incorporate them into your page content. Review and revise your keywords and focus every few months - as time goes on, you’ll be able to incorporate more keywords into your strategy. Keep on top of ongoing keyword research so you develop a keen eye for trends and missed opportunities, and you’ll be well on your way to building a strong SEO strategy.