Google calls it user intent. About.com calls it “mindsets of search”. Whatever label you may put on it, the point is that search is all about the user.
I have already written a post about user intent and how it is the foundation of search. I did not, however, breakdown the different kinds of user intent, which the Google Search Quality Rating Guidelines (2011) spelled out for us.
Google classifies user intent into three categories: action intent (DO), information intent (KNOW), and navigation intent (GO). While the way Google determines user intent when they enter a search term is not really that important to us, we should still be paying attention to what WE intend to provide our users once they get to our websites. What kinds of users can we cater to? Which of their needs can we, or do we want to answer?
Ideally, a page should have different content elements that would address each of the three user intent. However, it is important that the page also focuses on primarily addressing one of the user intents. For example, an online store obviously caters primarily to users with the action intent of purchasing a product in mind. This means that while having a good site structure that will make it easy for users to go to another page when needed, thus answering the needs of users that land there whose real intent is to navigate and browse through the different pages of the site, the page should primarily be designed to encourage user to buy the product. The content that should stand out then, aside from information about the product, are elements like the checkout button, menus for easy colour and size selection, and links to related or similar products that the shopper might be interested in buying.
On the other hand, if you have a blog, then your primary focus is to answer the needs of users who fall under the information intent category. Again, it is better if you also have actionable elements like the subscription/RSS feed button, social sharing buttons, downloadable content, polls, and such to make the blog multi-dimensional. However, you have to ensure in this case that you always have informative content that caters to your audience’s specific needs. I find it a good idea in the case of informative sites, such as blogs, to refer to About.com’s study on the mindsets of search, since the three mindsets (i.e. Answer Me, Educate Me, Inspire Me) discussed will guide you into deciding how to present information so as to make it more authoritative, relevant, and interesting to users with different mindsets. Should you provide short informative snippets on general topics or should you provide in-depth articles on the same topic and have an expert/professional on the field write it? Knowing the mindset of your target audience will help you figure these things out so that you can come up with a better concept for a new website, or overhaul an existing site if need be.
Last but not least, you should realise that ALL users want to have an easy time navigating a website. That means that a good site architecture and alternative ways for site navigation are imperative. However, there are users that have navigation as their primary intent upon landing on a page. Examples of these users are those that look for the homepage of a website (i.e. company site such as Apple.com) with the intention of looking for a more specific page on that site (i.e. iOS 5 page). While you might wonder why they simply didn’t enter the search term “iOS 5” instead of “Apple”, you should realise that people go about search in different ways, and there are people who just prefer to do it this way. Sometimes users also do not know the exact search term but have an idea of where to look for information about it. In this case they might not know the term iOS5, but only know that they want to upgrade their iPhone to the new OS they’ve heard mentioned by a friend. Because of such users, you need to make sure that your homepage does indeed have a very clear and easy way for users who land there to go from page to page. At the least, if they lose their way once they get to subpages, it should be easy for them to go back to the homepage and start searching once again. If you don’t have a clear navigation structure, you can bet that your bounce rates will be high despite good content.
Image credit: ItsFixed.com