That Annoying Relationship between Keywords and User Intent

Compiling lists of keywords and phrases is one of the first things SEO specialists Webtek Interactive do when starting with a new client. Obviously, keywords and phrases are the most important tool for getting a handle on Google. But guess what? They are not the be-all and end-all. In fact, there is this annoying little relationship between keywords and user intent that can make the SEO specialists job a nightmare.

Search Engine Land’s Dave Davies wrote an excellent article in early May (2018) explaining the problem of user intent and how to work around it. In a nutshell, user intent is that which separates search engine results that make users happy from those that leave them feeling like Google has let them down.

Davies explains the user intent conundrum by way of the example of searching the phrase ‘real estate in Miami’. Why would somebody Google that phrase? Davies says the most obvious reason is because you are looking to buy or sell a home. He knows that because he is a human being capable of rational thought. Google algorithms are machines that rely mostly on mathematical equations to return results.

The Problem for SEO Specialists

User intent creates a real problem for developers because they have to account for both internet users and Google algorithms. They occupy a digital no man’s land in which survival rates are not necessarily that good. They have to try to figure out user intent and then work their magic with keywords and phrases based on how Google will use math in an attempt to discern the same thing.

Davies further explained in his piece that Google does not look at just first intent. In other words, there are second and third intentions as well. Let’s use that same example of ‘real estate in Miami’. If you were among the large number of people searching the term because you wanted to buy a house, what other things might you search alongside MLS listings?

According to Davies, you would want to research nearby schools, shopping venues, entertainment options, crime rates, and so forth. Google algorithms attempt to predict those second and third intentions in order to return better results on future searches. This is where SEO specialists can truly shine.

Optimizing for Numerous Intents

That annoying relationship between keywords and user intent does not have to be so annoying if you are willing to try to get a handle on second and third intentions. In other words, the sites you manage do not necessarily have to rank in the top five for a given keyword or phrase in order to be productive.

Let’s say you ranked number 10 on a first intention keyword. That’s great. Let’s also say you’ve been banging your head against the wall for weeks and you can’t get any higher than number eight. What do you do? Perhaps you should refocus your efforts on ranking high for second and third intention keywords.

Maybe the site you’re managing belongs to a real estate appraiser. You can create content around second-tier keywords and phrases like ‘Miami schools’, ‘crime rates,’ and even ‘property values in Miami’. Try to imagine the other questions website visitors might have and then work on them with appropriate keywords.

At the end of the day, search engine optimization isn’t just about ranking high for primary keywords. It is about ranking well for all the keywords and phrases associated with that particular industry. According to a lot of experts, you have to think about user intent in order to be successful. Google algorithms attempt to determine intent, so you should too.

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