Google is constantly monitoring user behavior to learn more about the queries people search and how to deliver content that will answer their questions. Specifically, the search engine is looking at searcher task accomplishment, or whether a page appears to answer certain queries based on bounce rates.
In other words, if a page is showing up in relevant SERPs because of backlinks or domain authority but users can’t find the answers to their questions there – whether because the content is shallow or gated – then its rank will eventually go down, regardless of other signals.
This makes user intent an increasingly important part of any SEO strategy, and one that satisfies both your readers and search engines. But content that targets user intent isn’t just a part of your strategy for organic traffic, it’s also a tool for your sales team to make leads into customers.
In this post, we’ll define concepts like user intent and searcher task accomplishment, and provide you with actionable tips on how to write content that addresses your readers’ questions, fulfills intent, and ranks highly for relevant queries.
Let’s start with some basics behind what we mean when we talk about user intent and the types of queries that signal different objectives.
What is User Intent?
User intent is the goal your readers want to accomplish when they enter a term or phrase into a search engine. It’s a simple concept, but determining just what a user is looking for based on a search query isn’t as straightforward.
This is one reason why the MarketMuse philosophy is based on topical authority and comprehensiveness, because covering a focus topic and all its related topics ensures that your site can answer just about any question users may have about that focus topic. (How do we know this? Here’s a case study we did on Neil Patel’s blog, and another one on a client, SelectHub.)
Addressing user intent can be accomplished by looking at the different stages in your sales funnel and creating topically comprehensive content that fits into each bucket: awareness, evaluation, and purchase. (Much more on this later.)
What is Searcher Task Accomplishment?
Searcher task accomplishment is when user intent is successfully fulfilled. It’s thought widely among SEO experts to be a ranking factor for Google (though we can only make educated guesses). But it makes sense, considering that every algorithm update the search giant has implemented and discussed publicly has had the underlying goal of making search results more relevant and helpful to users.
Here, Moz explains how Google evaluates searcher task accomplishment:
- Expression of need (a query)
- Underlying goals (Google determines what information you’re seeking)
- Evaluation of results (analysis and ranking of relevant content)
- Selection (user clicks on a page)
- Evaluation of task completion (Google monitors user actions after a click)
- Discovery of additional needs (user returns to Google for follow-up search)
By analyzing these steps, Google can determine which pages effectively fulfill user intent for certain queries, and rank them accordingly. It’s helpful for marketers to know how this evaluation occurs, because they can monitor user behavior on their sites in a similar way to determine which content leads to searcher task accomplishment and which does not.
Next, let’s talk about the different types of queries that signal user intent. This information can help you understand the intention behind each query and make it easier to determine what searchers are looking for when they land on your content.
Three Types of User Intent Queries
The way people search online ranges from a very broad one-word query to whole sentences, so when you think about terms to target, it’s not as easy as divvying them up into categories like branded, short-tail keywords, and long-tail keywords. Instead, categorize your target terms by intent:
- Navigational: Seeks a specific URL
- Transactional: Seeks to make a purchase
- Informational: Seeks information on a product, service, or concept
The answers to navigational queries are usually straightforward, so optimizing for this type of search is a matter of your domain matching your business name and other on-page signals. If you’re a brick-and-mortar or only serve certain regions, we recommend reading our guide on optimizing for local search.
Content that fulfills user intent usually addresses either informational or transactional queries. Let’s dig into what this means:
This type of searcher input either seeks to learn more about your business or more about your industry. Informational queries range from vague (“women’s accessories”) to specific (“wool versus silk scarves”)
Information about your business should be readily available from the main menu on your homepage. You can write an About Us page, FAQ, Meet the Team, Our Philosophy, or any other page title you can think of that will encompass what you want to tell your visitors about your company.
Having too much information about your business is rarely an issue, but having too little frequently causes confusion and, in turn, high bounce rates. The key is to make these pages easy to navigate and thorough enough that there’s no question as to who you are and what you do.
Information about your industry is likely to be substantially broader than your business info, so this is often where companies struggle when developing a content marketing strategy. In fact, some don’t even attempt one because they aren’t sure what to write or how to get their content to rank.
If you’re a true creative at heart, your instinct is probably to brainstorm topics and follow your intuition. Meanwhile, the data-driven marketers will most often find the highest volume/lowest competition (or whatever the metric combination du jour) keywords and create blog topics around them.
While intuition and keyword metrics should be considered, deciding what content you need to create doesn’t start with either approach. Machine learning software like MarketMuse automates data-based recommendations on what content to write and how to write it. We’ll elaborate more on this later.
This type of search has high value for marketers, because it indicates a customer is ready to buy. If you’re an e-commerce company selling women’s accessories, you’ll hopefully see many of these searches coming to your site – and you’ll want to ensure that they convert by providing comprehensive information on your product pages.
If you’re a SaaS business or agency, these queries are going to be less frequent, but have much higher value. Businesses with a long funnel (i.e. those that sell expensive and/or hard-to-implement products or services) should view each transactional query that lands on their site as a potential huge sale.
That means the content you create around these transactional queries needs to be on point in terms of the information it provides and the call to action. Read more about this below in the Bottom of Funnel Content section.
How to Target User Intent by Sales Funnel Stage
Creating content that comprehensively answers your users’ questions can be simplified by thinking in terms of stages of the funnel: awareness, evaluation, and purchase. Your funnel might look a little different depending on your goals, but most businesses will include at least these three stages.
Your goal here is to create a workflow where users move from awareness-stage content, to evaluation, to purchase. Of course, it’s not always that seamless, but organization and optimization can help you move users through the funnel with as little friction as possible.
Here, we’ll discuss what type of content fits into each of these buckets, and how to distribute it to reach users in the right stage.
Top of Funnel Content: Awareness
- Answers broad questions
- Deep coverage of focus topic
- Highly visible and accessible
- Leads visitors into a workflow
Your top-of-the-funnel content includes broad, deep overviews of your focus topics, as well as high-level blog posts, graphics, and videos. People are just getting to know you via this content, so ensure that it’s on-brand, engaging, and leads to a clear next step with a call to action.
Search terms that signal intent to educate often start with words like how, when, where, what, and who, but they can also be general keywords like “SaaS companies.” You’re thinking broadly here, so begin with your focus topic and determine the most prominent questions your visitors may have, and answer them.
It should be easy for your users to navigate to your awareness-stage content, so consider including links to your pillar pages in your homepage menu or blog homepage.
After reading about your product or service, a reader may not be quite ready to make a purchase. CTAs for top-of-funnel content can offer supporting material, case studies, demonstrations, or downloadables like e-books and whitepapers.
Middle of Funnel Content: Evaluation
- Answers more specific questions
- Deep coverage of related topics
- Accessible, but potentially gated
- Helps visitors evaluate your product and see value
You wouldn’t go from a first date to a marriage proposal, so don’t expect your visitors to convert after the awareness stage. You need to have supporting material and resources that answer questions related to your focus topic.
Words that signal a user is in the evaluation stage include “pricing,” “comparison,” “competitors,” and more, depending on your industry. If you’re a SaaS business, you could consider targeting terms like “integration” and “requirements,” while an e-commerce business might consider answering questions related to fit, materials, or other product-specific queries.
Your middle-of-the-funnel content can be housed on your blog. But this is also a good opportunity to collect leads, since you know the user is likely interested in making a purchase, so you could consider gating some of this content via a download form.
One caveat on gating your content: If it’s not accessible to search engines, it’s unlikely to rank because the text isn’t visible to crawlers. Gate your content wisely and not too often.
Your CTAs should inspire visitors to see a demo, talk to your sales, team, or visit a purchase page. If you’re noticing a lot of drop-off on these pages, consider what questions you’re still not answering or whether your CTA isn’t strong enough.
Bottom of the Funnel Content: Purchase
- Specific; addresses prominent pain points
- Deep coverage of the solutions and benefits you offer
- Accessible on your site, but potentially distributed by sales
- Makes a case for visitors to act
The content you use to assist with conversions can include case studies, whitepapers, e-books, or even a purchase page if you have a low-friction funnel. This may be your final chance to convince a prospect, so put time into creating this content and its CTA.
When a customer is ready to convert, they may search your product along with “buy,” “purchase,” “pricing,” or “sign up.” Again, this may be industry specific, so target terms that make sense for your product or service.
If you put a lot of resources into a whitepaper or e-book, you may want to keep it gated on your site so only your most qualified leads have access to this high-value content. Bottom-of-the-funnel content is also commonly distributed via email by sales teams, but be sure to have companion blog posts, teasers, or download forms on your site so the material is accessible to everyone, even if it’s only partial.
Your CTA on purchase-stage content should focus on the value you’re providing to your customers, rather than making a push for them to act. CTAs can be practical or aspirational, but they should never scream BUY BUY BUY. Those days of online marketing are over, fortunately.
In addition to thinking about your content in terms of stages in the customer journey, you should also ensure that it’s organized by topic and that each of your focus topics are covered as comprehensively as possible. The next section will discuss how to create topic clusters and how to achieve topical authority.
Topical Authority is Key to User Intent
One way to ensure that you’re answering all your users’ questions is by having a site that is an authority on your focus topic. It’s easier said than done, but artificial intelligence can help.
You can start by focusing on your top-of-the-funnel content, or your pillar pages. These deep, broad pages will cover each of the focus topics of your site, and will become the foundation for your user intent-based strategy.
Each focus topic you want to rank for should have its own dedicated pillar page, with supporting pages on your site all linking to it. This is known as a topic cluster, or a group of pages that discuss concepts related to a main topic. Topic clusters allow you to build on your topic coverage in a way that’s easy for your users to navigate from one subject to the next.
Also, by creating topic clusters and discussing each topic related to your focus, you’ll gain rankings not just for your targeted keywords, but for all related terms as well – without ever having to do keyword research.
For step-by-step instructions on how to create your pillar pages and organize related content around them, here’s our post on topical authority. You’ll find helpful details throughout, but can skip to the end to learn how to build topic clusters.
Using MarketMuse to Optimize for User Intent
Whether you’re creating new posts or want to optimize existing content, MarketMuse can help you build outlines for content that will answer a specific question or group of related questions.
Here’s a video of our Customer Success Expert David Juengst explaining how to use our platform to optimize for user intent:
Essentially, you'll want to have a question to answer in mind, and enter your focus term along with a term (even a whole question) into the Content Analyzer. This will give you a list of recommendations for topics to cover, as well as a target word count and quality score. You can create your own brief based on this data, or our account team can handle it for you with our Managed Services.
Creating pillar pages and supporting content is made simple with MarketMuse, which provides content creators and strategists with comprehensive content briefs based on real-life data.
Our patented technology removes the guesswork for content marketers by identifying the word count, topics and subtopics to cover, questions to answer, links to include, competitive analysis, and almost any other factor you want your writers to know before they begin.
MarketMuse is your virtual content manager. Combined with our managed services that provide big-picture planning, it becomes invaluable to content teams with several writers, whether in an agency or enterprise setting.
Replicating the information MarketMuse provides for just one blog post would entail a thorough analysis of the top 20 ranking pages for that post’s focus topic. For each page, you would need to list every concept covered and rank them by importance, as well as determine word counts and other on-page factors. Then, you’d need to come up with a scoring system to determine the depth and breadth of each page, and aim to create a piece of content with a higher score than any of the top 20.
Creating a brief from this information would entail a whole new list of steps, which is what makes MarketMuse a valuable platform. Our clients love it, and we’re always available to tell you more.
- User intent and searcher task accomplishment are essential to ranking in 2018
- You need a multi-faceted strategy that takes into account stages in the funnel as well as topical authority
- Machine learning is your friend
The ability to answer questions both known and unknown is priceless in a fast-paced environment. Get a strong hold on your user intent-targeted content by talking to our team of SEO experts today.