Understanding Search Intent and SEO: A Quick Guide for Shopify Merchants
Search engines thrive on delivering the most relevant results to answer user queries. If you were to use Google, and the suggested results weren’t what you were looking for, you’d be disappointed. To avoid this as much as possible, Google seeks to answer more than just keywords - they seek to satisfy user intent.
What is user intent?
Every time you use a search engine, you’ve got a purpose in mind for what you want to find. Maybe you want to find out more about a topic, you’re looking for a recipe, or there’s something that you want to buy. User intent (or search intent) reflects that purpose a user has when entering a search query.
User intent is your key to truly deepening your optimization efforts. Understanding what keywords people are using is one thing, but understanding why is just as important. By having an idea not just of what phrases and terms people use to find your store, but also the purpose behind their search you can ensure that your site’s content can perfectly satisfy their query.
Why is user intent important?
Satisfying intent is important to Google
Google wants to provide users with the most useful and relevant information to answer their queries. After all, it’s what search engines are designed to do. The key however are those two words - useful and relevant. These are vital to the success of search engines like Google, as without them people won’t use them. If you use a search engine, and it fails to give you results you actually find useful then you have no reason to continue using it. Therefore Google puts a great deal of emphasis in ensuring its SERPs are filled with only the most relevant and useful content that satisfies a user’s search intent. Whether it’s including it in their Search Quality Rater Guidelines, or implementing machine learning programs such as BERT to improve their understanding of natural speech, they’re always developing new ways to help them improve the results users see. It’s importance to Google is clear, and if it’s important to Google then it’s important to your SEO strategy.
It helps merchants reach more customers
The goal with SEO is to drive more quality traffic to your store. User intent covers a broad range of consumers at different stages in the marketing funnel or customer journey, from brand discovery all the way to making a purchase and beyond. By analyzing your content and optimizing it for different types of intent, you’re essentially broadening your reach and potentially finding new customers that you wouldn’t otherwise have found. If you focus too much on conversions and driving transactions, then you could be losing out on those potential customers who are much further behind in their journey and may still be discovering new brands. Understanding intent gives you a deeper understanding of how people are finding your store, and how you could better improve your content so that even more people find it.
Understanding search intent and ecommerce
There are many different goals and purposes behind any given search, however we can group them into four different categories to help understand each - Navigational, Informational, Commercial Research, and Transactional. In a large number of cases, there will be crossover between these categories.
When it comes to ecommerce, many merchants typically will focus on transactional, and maybe commercial research. This is natural given stores are inherently sales related, however merchants can still target each of these four types of intent. We’ll dive into the sort of content you should create to do so, but for now let’s look at each type of intent.
As the name suggests, the user in this case is looking for information. This may be about a topic, a recipe, a guide, etc. Some standard examples may be terms such as “easy vegetarian recipes” or “train times to London”, or “how to change a tire”. In ecommerce, this may be more related to your blog and the articles you write. For example if you sell coffee this might be “What grind is best for an Aeropress?” or “Differences between coffee regions”. You’re giving the customer information on a subject they want answers about.
This one is straightforward; the user is looking to navigate to a specific page. For example they might search “Twitter login” or “Amazon” - they already know which site they want to land on. For merchants, this will be when a user is directly searching for your brand name, product, or a login page.
When a customer is interested in making a purchase but isn’t quite sure what they want to buy yet, they conduct commercial research. Search terms with this intent may be along the lines of “best laptops for working from home”, “Instant Pot reviews”, or “running shoes for beginners”. This may also include more local search terms, such as “coffee roasters near me”. They’re now looking for the best solution for their needs.
At this stage, the customer is ready to make a purchase. They’ve done their research, they now know what they want and are looking to hit “Checkout”. Search terms may be branded such as “Buy Converse”, or they may still be open to other brands and use terms such as “buy hi-top sneakers”.
These different categories of intent can represent different stages of the customer lifecycle. Informational and commercial research can play into the discovery phase, whereas transactional intent is further along that journey when the customer is more ready to make a purchase. By optimizing your store’s content for these different types of intent, you can attract more high quality traffic at different stages in the customer lifecycle. Your content should satisfy these different types of intent, for example if you sell coffee tumblers then you want to catch their attention from when the user searches for “how to keep coffee hot for longer” to “best coffee tumbler reviews” to “buy coffee tumbler”.
How to optimize for search intent
Identify keywords and uncover intent
The first question a merchant may ask when they’re looking to optimize for intent is how to actually find out the intent behind search terms. For many keywords, this will be fairly obvious for example “buy t-shirts online” versus “best t-shirt for yoga”. Uncovering the intent behind keywords is extremely valuable to your SEO strategy as it will allow you to develop content that satisfies the intent behind the keywords you want to rank for.
If you already have keywords you’re looking to rank for, then a good way to discover what user intent is behind them is to simply search them and analyze SERPs.
- What pages are ranking for this term? Is it product pages, articles/reviews, guides etc.?
- What other questions are in the “People Also Ask” section?
- What terms are in “related searches”?
- What other brands are ranking for this term? What content are they ranking with?
Answering these questions will help you to see what kind of content you should have on your store in order to rank for these terms. For example if you want to rank your product page for a term but all the other pages are typically blog or news articles, it may show you need to tweak that keyword or content in order to match the intent behind it. For instance perhaps you want to rank your product page for “best plant pots” but all the results are blog articles about how to choose the right pot. You could then change strategy and write articles about how to choose the best plant pot in order to rank for that term, and tweak your product page keywords by incorporating modifiers to get specific e.g. “buy plant pot for a Monstera”.
Review your site content for intent
Chances are that your store already has a lot of existing content, and you aren’t starting from scratch with your SEO and content. If that is the case, you want to review the content that already exists on your store and determine if it’s useful or relevant to different types of user intent. For example, what are your blogs achieving? What types of intent are they targeting, and are they providing relevant information for the user that lands on it? This also applies to pages with transactional intent such as product pages and catalog pages; are you giving the user enough information that they’ll find useful?
Optimize your product pages
Content might be king for SEO, but the type of content is the most important when it comes to optimizing for intent. Let’s say a user searches for “sewing machine reviews”, they’ll be looking for long-form articles that go into detail about different types of machine, their features, pros and cons etc. If they instead search “buy sewing machine”, then they don’t want that lengthy and in-depth content; they want information that will help them make their purchase. They want to know the specifications of the machine on the product page, its features, how skilled they should be to use it, etc. Therefore you should optimize your product page content based on that transactional intent. Think about what details a customer will want to know, provide them with high quality images, and include reviews on the page so they can get a full understanding of the product in question before making a purchase.
La Colombe’s product pages give all the details about each product that a customer may need, alongside reviews and a Q&A. It satisfies different types of intent also, for example if a user searched for “gluten free canned coffee” or “best lactose free coffee cans”.
Create content that targets intent
Outside of your product pages, your best tool in targeting intent is your blog. You can create a wide range of content using your blog that allows you to speak to users with different types of search intent. You can target informational intent by writing blogs that answer questions people may have about topics related to your products. Here’s an example from Homesick:
This topic answers queries about the product category with a general care question. This allows them to not only rank for users looking to buy a diffuser, but also users who are looking for more information about diffuser care. They also have articles about how to make a reed diffuser last longer, and how long they last. If you look to Google’s SERP around terms related to “reed diffuser” you’ll get results like these in the “People Also Ask” section:
Using search terms to find what questions people are actually looking for is a great way to discover what kind of content you can create around your product category that will satisfy different types of intent.
Every search has a purpose behind it. By considering user intent before creating content for your store, you’ll be able to ensure that you’re creating the most useful and relevant content for every search term you want to target. Not only will this bring in more high quality traffic, but it will also allow you to create content that targets different stages of the customer journey and bring in new customers who may not otherwise have found you.