On-site SEO: optimizing for user intent

Guest Author, Nick Stamoulis

User-intent plays a huge role in SEO. Understanding why someone uses a particular keyword or keyword phrase to search helps you better optimize your site to meet their needs. There are three kinds of searches that site owners have to be aware of (informational, navigational, and transactional) when it comes time to optimize their site. Each search type reflects the goal and motives of the end user. Is your site optimized for all three to help it reach all of your target audience?

Informational Keywords

Millions of people turn to the search engines every day to conduct informational searches. Informational searches are exactly what they sound like; a user is looking for information. This could be anything—how to change a tire, the phone number of a local beauty salon, comparing reviews on mountain bikes and so forth. Informational searches don’t necessarily have to deal buying (looking up the local weather, for instance) but from a business perspective these types of searches are often associated with the beginning of a consumer’s buying process. Informational searches are used to find out more information so the consumer can eventually made a well-informed purchasing decision.

So how do you optimize your site for informational searches? One way to do so is to create content that mimics a FAQ. Let’s say you own a shoe e-commerce site. If someone searches “best running shoes for flat feet,” why not write a page of content called “Shoe Fit Chart” and offer suggestions for the kind of running shoes someone should be buying based on the type of foot structure they have.

Having your site rank well for a user who is conducting informational searches is both good and bad. It’s good because if you are able to give them the information they need right away, you might be able to convince them to stay on your site and convert. Sometimes consumers are looking to make a quick run through their buying cycle (choosing where to go for lunch, for instance). However, if someone is “shopping around,” chances are they are going to leave your site to see what others have to offer. There is no guarantee they will come back.

Navigational Keywords

Navigational searches are when someone searches for your brand or company by name (“Nike running shoes”). If someone searches for your site by name, this is a good sign that you’ve developed a strong brand presence, both online and off. Users that search by brand name might be brand loyalists and repeat customers, but they could also be potential customers who heard about/saw your brand elsewhere and searched for it by name. Branded searches aren’t restricted to company name. Someone might search by product name, model number and so forth.

So how do you optimize your site for navigational search? If you’re site sells high-tech equipment that comes with user manuals, make sure those manuals are properly optimized with company name, product name, model number and any other identifying information a user might search for. For instance, don’t just call it “Company X User Manual,” rename the content to “Company X Product Y Model 123 Owner’s Manual, Updated for 2011.” That way, searches will know that content is exactly what they need.

Optimizing your site for navigational search can also help maintain brand integrity. There might be another company online that has a similar or same name to yours. Incorporating branded keywords helps the right searcher find your site.

Transactional Keywords

A user will conduct a transactional search when they have reached the end of their buying cycle and are ready to make a purchasing decision. Oftentimes their search will include buzzwords like “buy,” “purchase,” “shop” and “order.” Transactional searches also tend to focus on the long tail keyword as opposed to more broad keywords (“buy ASICS women running shoes” vs. “women shoes”). This is because a user knows what they want and are looking for it specifically.

So how do you optimize your site for transactional searches? Simply include call-to-actions throughout your page content and site components like Meta tags and descriptions. Let’s say your website sells computer software, try to incorporate phrases like “Download the latest version of our X software today” and other variations. Transactional searches typically have a lower search volume than informational searches, but they also lead to a higher conversion rate.

You need to optimize your site based on your business goals and the kind of visitor you hope to attract. It’s not easy to optimize one single piece of content for all three types of searches, but it isn’t that complicated to do once you spread your efforts across an entire site. For instance, individual product or service pages are great place to incorporate keywords that target navigational or transactional searches. Company blog posts are perfect for incorporating informational search keywords. Just remember that you want to target 2-5 keywords per page, based on the content of that individual page.

About the Author – Nick Stamoulis

Nick Stamoulis is a Boston SEO expert and President of Brick Marketing, a full service Boston SEO company. With over 12 years of industry experience, Nick Stamoulis shares his knowledge by posting daily SEO tips in his blog, the Search Engine Optimization Journal (or SEO Journal) and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 140,000 opt-in subscribers.