When it comes to creating visible website content, a good rule of thumb is to give the people what they want! And make no mistake – people are hungry for quality digital content.
But how exactly do you go about doing this? Hint: It takes more than adding a dollop of keywords into your page copy.
Intuition and any existing audience research are both good places to start. Moreover, you can mix-in with Google, who has been working hard to understand the intent behind keywords that users search for.
But before exploring how to team-up with Google when decoding keyword intent, let’s delve into why it’s essential to do so before whipping up a new batch of content.
Why is Keyword Intent Important?
Years ago, getting your site’s content to rank well organically was [mostly] a matter of:
- Identifying relevant keywords that had decent search volume, and
- Adding them verbatim to your title tags, descriptions and page copy
Less focus was placed on the needs of the user, while exact-match keywords within content were given top billing. That’s what was needed in order for search engines to function.
Today, Google and its competitors are a lot smarter. They no longer take keywords quite so literally. Search engines have learned how to recognize synonyms and interpret keyword intent so that users end up with a list of results matching their actual needs – not just the words typed into a search bar.
What Does This Shift in Search Mean for Your Content?
Now that search engines have opened themselves up to a larger realm of possibilities, competition is stronger than ever. For any given search term, your site is likely to be returned along with thousands or even millions of other relevant web pages.
Also adding to the content competition level is the ever-changing landscape of search engine results pages (SERPs). Ten “blue links” is not the norm anymore. Space above the fold is being taken up by:
- A larger number of paid ads
- Local listing 3-packs
- Google Answer Boxes
- And more
Ranking well has become harder—yet, it’s even more necessary now in order to get organic traffic to your site. This is why decoding the intent behind keywords is of the utmost importance.
Taking time to not only identify keywords with strong search volume but also analyze them for intent is what’s needed to make your site a contender in the evolving field of organic search.
How to Decode the Meaning Behind Keywords – 3 Simple Steps
In the spirit of the recent holiday season, let’s use a festive example to explore how Google can help you crack keyword codes. We will take a look at the phrase “healthy holiday cookies” in order to determine what type of information users are likely looking for when conducting this or a similar search.
The first step is to do a search for a chosen keyword. We can see from the screenshot below that over 26 million results were identified for this phrase:
However, not all results are of the same caliber. To help shed light on the intent behind a keyword search, focus on the top 5-10 organic results. Explore each of these results in order to answer the following questions:
1. What other terms are associated with this topic?
Skim through the copy on the SERPs as well as within each individual page, to identify words that are used repeatedly. Terms used often and among multiple sites are likely meaningful to users and should be considered when writing a web page.
Below are examples of terms with strong ties to “healthy holiday cookies,” and the inferred relevance of each one:
- Christmas – I consider this a synonym for “holiday,” especially in regard to cookies.
- Recipes – What if I don’t like Snickerdoodles? Don’t just give me one recipe idea, give me several to choose from!
- Substitute(s) – If I can’t use butter and sugar, then what can I use?
- Nuts, oatmeal, peanut butter & dates – These seem like reasonable substitutes to try using in my recipe.
- Calories – Before I try a new recipe, I want to make sure it actually is healthier.
- Delicious – I also want validation that my cookies will still taste good.
2. What additional content elements can support this topic?
In today’s competitive world of content, it often takes more than plain text and a few extra words to attract an audience. And because search engines now take stock (to some degree) of how long users stay on a page after clicking through, it’s in your best interest to keep them actively engaged. This can be achieved by including content elements like:
- Images and infographics
- Videos and podcasts
- Downloadable guides
- Calculators and other tools
- Rating and reviews
- Internal and external links
To get an idea of which elements would best suit your topic, take a look at those being used by top-ranking pages. Elements that appear to pair well with “healthy holiday cookies” include:
I eat with my eyes. And should I choose to make this recipe, I would like a visual way to determine whether or not I did it right.
- Recipe ratings –
You said these cookies were delicious, but that’s just one person’s opinion. I’m interested in knowing what others have to say about these treats.
- Links to full recipes –
I don’t want to scroll through multiple sets of ingredients and baking instructions right now, but once I choose a cookie to pursue, I’d appreciate easy access to the recipe.
3. How should content on this topic be formatted?
As a page is being written, there are several additional touches that can make your content further standout. Is there an opportunity to bold or italicize a key point for emphasis? Does it make sense to use a bulleted or numbered list so that copy is easily skimmable? Can information be presented in a table or chart?
Not only will thoughtful formatting provide users with a good experience, it will likely impress search engines, too. And as just one example of how formatting can support SEO, Google tends to choose Answer Box content that contains these extra features:
You can also make note of copy length. Looking at the healthy holiday cookie content, you might notice that most of it comes in “bite-sized” paragraphs (indicating that readers don’t need or want a novel about each cookie in order to choose a recipe).
Taking Intent and Making It Your Own
Once you and Google have uncovered a list of terms, elements and formats to “borrow,” you can decide which items make the most sense and can realistically be incorporated into your content.
But don’t stop there!
To truly take your content to the next level, go a step further. Think about how you can not only match your competitors, but surpass them. How can you take insights from others and make them your own?
As an example, it was noticed that several “healthy holiday cookies” pages share the number of calories per cookie. To make this information easier for users to read and compare, one could create a chart that lists out each cookie and its corresponding calorie count. And that’s just one of many possible ideas.
So the next time you get ready to write, use your target keywords to research and develop a list of potential ingredients for consideration. Coming up with your own content recipe is half of the fun (using it to yield growth in organic traffic is the other half)!
SEO has slowly but surely transformed into more than just optimizing for search engines. Learn how SEO will change in 2017 and how you can adapt by reading How to Set Your 2017 SEO Strategy: The Essentials.