SEO News You Can Use: A Refresher on User Intent, the Real Backbone of SEO

Lesley Marchant
SEO News You Can Use

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Any site owner knows that the entire field of search engine optimization (SEO) starts and ends with the concept of user intent. Even Google’s increased focus on user experience (UX) is just another offshoot of user intent. After all, every new algorithm update is designed to promote content that meets each individual user’s needs more effectively. And most often, a user’s “needs” and “intent” are really one and the same. 

User intent is simultaneously the most important and most misunderstood aspect of optimization, often overshadowed by a dogged reliance on numbers and metrics. While many SEOs chase keywords and phrases with higher search volumes, the intent behind a search term, regardless of its volume, arguably matters more. Now, we have the opportunity to appreciate the relationship between search queries and search intent a little better than before.

In a brilliant Search Engine Journal (SEJ) deep dive, SEO expert Dan Taylor takes a holistic approach to understanding search intent, from the psychology and science behind it to the practical steps SEOs can take to optimize for a metric that is largely immeasurable. The article, titled “How People Search: Understanding User Intent,” should be required reading for any and every site owner, especially now with user experience taking center stage. Much of Taylor’s advice is backed by Google’s Search Quality Rating Guidelines, which introduces Google’s scale ranging from Fully Meets (FullyM) to Fails to Meet (FailsM).

Some site owners may be familiar with search intent, but there are a few tips about search queries that are always worth revisiting:

  • Do – Know – Go queries: Google believes that all search queries can be segmented into three categories: Do, Know and Go. Broadly, this is the classification that determines which results Google delivers to users.
  • Mobile queries: The increase in mobile users is still actively changing the way people search. We perform searches more frequently, often based on real-time events, but one vital thing to note is that many users won’t go on to satisfy their query on a mobile device. Mobile searches are more commonly used for research and information, and users tend to move to a desktop or tablet to complete their action (for example, make a purchase). 
  • Clickless queries: The Featured Snippet is a valuable piece of real estate for a reason – but it’s not all good news. Appear in “Position Zero,” and, yes, users are highly likely to become aware of your brand. But they’re far less likely to click through to your website. Appear in the special content result blocks (SCRB), however, and you have the opportunity to drive droves of traffic to your site.

It’s also imperative to remember that search intent and results are subject to change – fast. On Google, nothing is forever, and an overnight news event can totally upend Search results for a particular topic. Taylor says this highlights the necessity of optimizing for keywords that provide topical relevance to your particular domain, not just keywords that drive traffic. You never know when something might change user intent entirely, so you want your website to be ready for it. 

More SEO News You Can Use

A New Search Engine Is Joining the Privacy-Focused Race: Open-source browser Brave has entered the ring as a potential competitor for search engines like DuckDuckGo, Ecosia and (hopefully) even Google. Brave acquired search engine Tailcat in the first step towards launching what will be known as Brave Search – the very first privacy-focused alternative to Google Search that offers both a search engine and browser that work on desktop and mobile devices. This announcement comes at a time of reckoning for Big Tech companies, who are losing users to alternatives – in fact, DuckDuckGo recently surpassed Bing to become the number-two mobile search engine in the U.S. With Brave doing what no browser has been able to do before, its unique business model (the company is considering offering free and paid versions of Brave Search) could prove a worthy competitor. 

If URLs Are Too Similar, Google May See Pages as Duplicates: Even with the recent revelation from Google’s John Mueller that duplicate content isn’t a negative ranking factor, for many SEOs, the war on duplicate content continues. The issue was addressed again in a recent Google Search Central office-hours hangout, where Mueller was asked about a site owner’s issue of thousands of URLs not being indexed properly. Mueller revealed that Google’s algorithm doesn’t just look at page content; it also predicts whether pages are duplicates based on their URL structure. In other words, if Google (erroneously) recognizes a URL that it deems identical to another, it won’t even bother crawling that page to see what the actual content is. This piece of information is definitely worth noting if you’re finding discrepancies between the pages on your site and those actually being crawled and indexed.

Struggling To Optimize for Core Web Vitals? Let WordPress Do Some Heavy Lifting: In an SEJ blog by Roger Montti, Montti discussed the very real issue of Core Web Vitals not technically being an SEO issue – rather, low scores are a result of content management systems (CMS) not integrating Core Web Vitals practices at the code level. Just in time, the latest WordPress updates have arrived to help combat this. The newly-released WordPress Gutenberg 10.1 dramatically improves performance across all three Core Web Vitals. What’s more, WordPress 5.7, “Esperanza,” is also officially available, allowing websites to switch from HTTP to HTTPS – a Page Experience ranking signal – with a single click. With the Page Experience Update just a few weeks away, these updates could be the difference between a significant boost and tanking in the rankings. 

Here’s More Advice for Anchor Text From John Mueller: Yes, we’ve been down this road before many times, but anchor text is one of those things the SEO community keeps circling back to. Now, Mueller has revealed in detail the best practices for anchor text used for internal, inbound and outbound links. A few things to note from Mueller’s response is: 1) There’s no such thing as latent semantic indexing (LSI) keywords, so anyone saying Google “relies” on them is mistaken; 2) anchor text for internal links should be explicit and contextual; 3) external anchor text should do the same, clearly indicating what extra information can be gleaned from clicking through; and 4) sorry, but you have no control over inbound links. None of this advice comes as much of a surprise, so when it comes to anchor text, perhaps it’s best not to overthink it.

Google Hotel Search Now Offers Free Listings, Separate From Paid Results: Up until now, hotel booking links on Google had only been offered via paid Hotel Ads. Now, Google has announced it will be improving the experience for users by making it free for hotels and other travel companies to appear in these previously paid-only links. The main difference between the free and paid listings? Hotel ads will remain ranked according to Google’s ad auction, while free booking links will be ranked according to a number of SEO factors, including consumer preference, perceived value, landing page experience and price accuracy. Opting for paid Hotel Ads does not affect a brand’s ranking on unpaid listings, and any business can appear on both. In a time that has arguably hit the travel industry hardest, this new Search offering could make all the difference in 2021. 

Editor’s Note: “SEO News You Can Use” is a weekly blog post posted every Monday morning only on SEOblog.com, rounding up all the top SEO news from around the world. Our goal is to make SEOblog.com a one-stop-shop for everyone looking for SEO news, education and for hiring an SEO expert with our comprehensive SEO agency directory.

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