The goal of Google is to deliver content that answers a searcher's questions. So they constantly monitor user behavior to learn about the queries people search. Specifically, the search engine is looking at searcher task accomplishment. This refers to whether a page appears to answer certain queries based on bounce rates.
So if a page shows up in a relevant SERP, but users can't find the answer to their question, its rank will go down. Shallow and gated content are definitely bad actors. The domain authority or number of backlinks is irrelevant. Google expects searchers to have a satisfactory experience.
This makes user intent an increasingly important part of any SEO strategy. It's 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 define concepts like user intent and searcher task accomplishment. We also provide actionable tips on writing good content. That's the type of content that answers your readers’ questions and fulfills intent. It's also the sort of content that ranks highly for relevant queries.
Let’s start off with some basics. What do 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. Covering a focus topic and all its related topics ensures your site answers almost any question someone may have about that 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.)
You can address user intent by creating topically comprehensive content for each stage of your sales funnel. (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, it makes sense. Every algorithm update that Google has publicly discussed has had the same goal. That's to make 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. They can monitor user behavior on their sites in a similar way to determine which content leads to searcher task accomplishment.
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. Plus, it's 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 differs. Some use a very broad one-word query while others use whole sentences. As a result, grouping terms to target is not that easy. Using categories like branded, short-tail keywords, and long-tail keywords isn't very effective. 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 requires that your domain matches your business name. There are also other on-page signals that play a role. Brick-and-mortar or regional businesses should read 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 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. YAn About Us page, FAQ, Meet the Team, and Our Philosophy are some good suggestions.
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. They also need to be 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. 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, you'll most likely brainstorm topics and follow your intuition. But data-driven marketers usually take a different approach. They create blog posts around keywords with the highest volume and lowest competition.
Intuition and keyword metrics should be considered. But 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, you’ll hopefully see many of these searches coming to your site. Provide comprehensive production information pages to ensure they convert.
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, like those that sell expensive items, are different. They should view each transactional query that lands on their site as a potential huge sale.
The content you create around these transactional queries needs to be highly focused. So does 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. Think 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 seamless journey. It's one that moves users from awareness-stage content, to evaluation, to purchase. Of course, it’s not always that perfect. But organization and optimization can help you move users through the funnel with minimal friction.
Let's look at what type of content fits into each of these buckets. We'll also discuss 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. It also incorporates 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. Then 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. It can also provide 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. It all depends on your industry. If you’re a SaaS business, consider targeting terms like “integration” and “requirements.” E-commerce businesses can answer questions related to fit, materials, and 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. 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, test to see whether your CTA is strong enough. Also consider what questions you’re still not answering.
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, white papers and e-books. You can even use 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. That way 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. You want the material to be accessible to everyone, even if it’s only partial.
The CTA on purchase-stage content should focus on the value you provide to your customers. CTAs can be practical or aspirational, but they should never scream BUY BUY BUY. Those days of online marketing are over, fortunately.
Think about your content in terms of stages in the customer journey. But make sure it’s organized by focus topics that are covered as comprehensively as possible. The next section discusses how to create topic clusters and achieve topical authority.
Topical Authority is Key to User Intent
Ensure you answer all your users’ questions 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. They will become the foundation for your user intent-based strategy.
Each focus topic should have its own dedicated pillar page, with supporting pages 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. As a side benefit you’ll gain rankings not just for your targeted keywords, but for all related terms as well. Imagine doing this without ever having to do keyword research!
Our post on topical authority provides step-by-step instructions on creating pillar pages. Plus, you'll learn how to organize related content around those pages. The article is full of helpful details. But can skip to the end to learn how to build topic clusters.
Using MarketMuse to Optimize for User Intent
MarketMuse helps you build outlines for content that answers the questions your audience is asking. Whether you’re creating new posts or want to optimize existing content, it doesn't matter.
Here’s a video of our Customer Success Expert David Juengst explaining how to use our platform to optimize for user intent:
Essentially, you want to have a question to answer in mind. 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.
Replicating the information MarketMuse provides for one blog post requires great effort. First you have to conduct a thorough analysis of the top 20 ranking pages for that post’s focus topic. For each page, you need to list every concept covered and rank them by importance. You also need to determine word counts and other on-page factors. Then, you have to come up with a scoring system to determine the depth and breadth of each page. The aim is 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. That's 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.