User Intent: The Foundation of Search

by Gary on November 8, 2011

in On Page SEO,Organic SEO,SEO,SEO Basics

User Intent - What do they want?

Google’s Quality Rating Program Guidelines makes it clear to us how Google’s raters view pages as they conduct manual reviews. The truth of the matter though, is that perhaps 99% of the pages that are indexed by Google would never even be the subject of manual reviews. The reason for this is that only the pages that make it to the top of Google’s SERPs, or those that are reported for non-adherence to Google’s guidelines (i.e. spam sites), get to be manually reviewed by raters. Does this mean though that you shouldn’t bother with the document’s content as an “in-between” site?

Of course not! Common sense tells us that the guidelines that map the road for manual raters in determining a quality site indicate the same principles that guide Google’s search developers as they continually make changes in the search algorithm in an effort to provide better search results. Ideally what Google wants to happen is for their algorithm to be good enough so that all of the results returned for each search query will be the most relevant ones, without having to depend on manual reviews to ensure that would be the case. In the meantime though, since the algorithm has not yet perfected (nor will it likely ever be able to do so) the “art” of determining relevancy, Google has to depend on manual reviewers to ensure that at least the top results returned will indeed be what the users are looking for.

So, just what is it that we can learn from the raters’ guidelines that we can directly apply to our own SEO efforts today?

The most important lessons we can take away from the document is summed up in the purpose of statement, “Good search engines give results that are HELPFUL FOR USERS in their specific LANGUAGE and LOCATION.” {Emphasis are mine.}

The helpfulness of the search results to the users refers to its relevance. However, in order to determine the relevance or helpfulness of a page’s content , it is important for the raters (and before them the algorithm) to be able to determine the intent behind the query. This includes asking what it is exactly the user is asking for, a question that is especially hard to answer when search terms have multiple meanings. As webmasters, the take away from this is simple, we need to give search engines as much contextual information as we can to help them figure out the specific meaning of the content. This means using keywords and phrases in its various forms and being as specific as possible, not only in your phraseology but also in the use of images. I’ll delve on this topic more in succeeding posts.

Intent also refers to what the user aims to do once they land on a page. As webmasters, you should also know what YOU want your users to do once they get on the page. Is the page primarily a way to get information out to your users, or is the aim to make a sale? Structuring each page so that it is clear to both search engines and users what they can get out of that page will help search engines funnel queries so that users that do land on your will be the kind of users that you are indeed targeting.

Language and location are also key in determining the intent of a query. This makes sense because the meaning of words can vary greatly depending on both factors. An example given in the guidelines is the search term “football”, which would refer to American football the United States, but would refer to soccer in most other places in the world. Simply knowing the nuances of the language of your target users for your sites will automatically help you in knowing ensuring the content indeed contains the “right” keywords.

In short, search is all about USER INTENT. You can’t make user happy if you don’t know what it is they want exactly. So the main take away is to determine what it is your target users want, put in content that would make them happy, structure your site to make sure Google can decipher that it contains the specific information your users are looking for, and only then should you focus on the other SEO strategies. Without this foundation, your site is no better than most sites, which means it’s unlikely you’ll ever make it to the Internet A-list. And even if you do make to the top of SERPs, it’s only a matter of time before manual raters “decide” to demote your page for non-relevance. Get your foundation right if you want to not just get to the top, but also stay there.


Image credit: Adam Sherk

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