Strategizing for Intent: An SEO Guide

Optimizing for intent leads to increased performance across the board, whether measured in terms of content engagement, rankings, or conversions. It’s a core part of a successful search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. 

However, many companies adopt a faulty approach when it comes to understanding intent. They fail to look beyond the surface meaning of keywords and determine why searchers use them in a fuller and more nuanced way. 

This post outlines practical steps for understanding and leveraging searcher intent. You’ll learn how to work from a complete knowledge of keyword intent rather than a partial one, as is often the case with SEOs. 

1. Create Content Based on Intent and Not Keywords

Before you dig into the specific intent behind a keyword that’s lined up for an article or landing page, it’s important to understand a key principle: content should always cater to the aims of searchers and shouldn’t focus exclusively on sets of keywords or other technical ranking factors. 

This can be a subtle distinction from an SEO perspective. For example, when a searcher enters the phrase, “How to bake an apple pie,” they are likely looking for a short, visually informative and straightforward recipe, rather than a long page of content that includes every possible keyword iteration. 

In this case, length and keyword density are seemingly at **** with a more traditional SEO approach. However, search engines are increasingly devaluing ranking factors like these.

For example, Google states the following in the webmaster guidelines for its recent “helpful content” update: “Are you writing to a particular word count because you’ve heard or read that Google has a preferred word count? (No, we don’t).”

Another well-known example are Google’s EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trust) criteria, which are designed to evaluate how well content satisfies the specific searcher needs behind the keywords, both in terms of information and format. 

2. Understand the Loose Categories of Keyword Intent

It’s important to understand the well-known categories of intent. However, keep in mind that these are just general frameworks. The nuance of the meaning behind a keyword is determined by evaluating a range of factors—existing results, seasonality, location—that we’ll look at later on.

Keyword intent usually falls into one of the following categories:

  • Learn and Understand: Queries for educational content. Informational phrases can range from one-sentence definitions to in-depth academic papers. “How To” articles fall into this category. 
  • Browse and Consider: Queries that form part of a research process prior to purchase. Product reviews are an example of the content that caters to this intent. “Best microwaves 2022” and “Reviews of laptops” are typical phrases. 
  • Buy and Convert: Queries from searchers that wish to make a definite purchase. They are sometimes called “transactional” keywords. “Macbook Air 2022” and “Latest Stephen King novel” are both examples. 
  • Navigational: Queries designed to return specific site links, such as “Wikipedia” or “Facebook.” Users want to “navigate” to a particular site. 

It is helpful to know these categories because it helps orient you when digging deeper. If you know the general intent of a keyword phrase, you can work within an established framework to add more detail and subtlety. 

BrightEdge’s Data Cube can help SEOs and digital marketers connect intent with keyword research. Start with a keyword such as ‘mens’ shoes” and see tens of thousands of searches related to that term.  Layer on the Universal Results filters, and users can isolate those keywords where Google is showing Universal Results that correspond to “learn and understand” signals. From there, SEO teams can create a new keyword group to track and measure progress for that audience. Repeat this exercise for other Universal Results that correspond to the intents you are targeting for a holistic strategy that matches all stages of the customer funnel.

3. Create Processes to Discover Deeper Intent

Understanding keywords in terms of the categories described above (“learn and understand,” “browse and consider,” “buy and convert,” and “navigational”) is the beginning.

After this initial stage, you should broaden your approach to gain a more comprehensive, precise understanding of why searchers are using a particular query. 

Evaluate the following factors to gauge the deeper intent of keywords:

  • Competitor pages: Which competitor content performs well for your chosen keywords? High-performing content is often (but not always) an indicator of what search engines value. However, keep in mind that competitor content is best seen as a reliable guide only when it doesn’t conflict with other factors. Sometimes, content of a certain type may rank highly because better alternatives have not yet been created.  Brightedge’s Share of Voice provides a clear view on the competitive landscape, allowing visibility into who your true competitors are. When keywords are mapped to intent, Share of Voice will demonstrate how the competition is faring throughout the purchase journey, to see where you are winning or falling behind. 
  • High-performing content on your site: Which content on your site has high levels of engagement and conversions and ranks well? Most importantly, can top-performing content be linked to specific keyword sets? Looking at your web pages is preferable to evaluating those of competitors exclusively because you can verify they rank well and meet intent signals like time on page, low bounce rate, conversions, etc. 
  • Location: Are your chosen keywords tied to geography? If a searcher is looking for a local organization, information about nearby events or other geographically-tied results, creating generic content will not meet a keyword’s intent. Some keyword phrases, like “how to learn football,” may have partial geographical intent. Learning to play football in the United Kingdom will likely be a different process, in part, from learning in the US. 
  • Seasonality: Does a particular query have a seasonal dimension? It’s important to evaluate intent within the broader context of country-wide or even global events that may contribute to the reason a searcher is using a set of keywords. Often this approach can elucidate seemingly meaningless phrases. For example, the terms “game time” and “team ****” make more sense if you also know that the Superbowl is upcoming. 
  • Channels: Which media formats—articles, videos, images—are most popular for a keyword? The means of communication is often just as important as what is being communicated when it comes to intent. Current rankings are a useful, if not infallible, guide. 

4. Match Intent With the Different Stages of the Buyer’s Journey

Understanding the intent behind keywords clarifies aspects of your customer journey and enables you to match content with the different stages of the purchasing funnel.

Keyword intent categories (“learn and understand,” “browse and consider,” and “buy and convert”) can also be understood as stages. When you see keyword phrases as signifying different degrees of buyer interest and motivation, you can provide searchers with exactly the kinds of information, lead magnets and purchase opportunities required to move them through your sales funnel. The SEO department should map its strategy against your company’s sales funnel if it doesn’t already.

For example, the term “best leather handbags” is best understood as a “browse and consider” keyword with medium “buy and convert” intent. As such, it sits somewhere in the middle of the sales funnel of a typical online store, between “consider” and “purchase.” Once this is understood, lead magnets and promotional materials can be added to content accordingly to encourage the visitor to make a purchase.

5. Use Intent to Shape the Structure of Content

The structure of web pages is just as important as content when it comes to satisfying intent. An understanding of a page’s primary keyword intent can determine the ways you use a whole host of on-page elements, including headers, images, videos, bullet points, lists, schema markup, and so on. 

For example, informational content with high “browse and consider” intent should account for featured snippets and make liberal use of short answers, bullet points, numbered lists, and so on. It is also essential to incorporate the correct use of structured data so as to increase visibility in search engines. 

A well-structured web page guides users through relevant content, satisfying their needs and effectively meeting intent. The upshot is that they are much more likely to move into a subsequent stage of their journey, such as from “browse and consider” to “buy and convert.” In this way, “cold” visitors are more likely to sign up for a demo, consultation, or make a purchase.

Commercial content, in particular, should make use of structured data to communicate important information about reviews and product features like pricing. And this applies just as much to university courses as to hair products. Structured data is instrumental in moving people from the informational phase to conversion.


Google and other search engines are increasingly moving towards a model that prioritizes searchers’ intent. The success of zero-position snippets is testament to this, along with a host of recent algorithm changes such as the “helpful content” update and a series of adjustments rolled out this year that target low-quality reviews. 

Understanding what information your potential customers want and how they want to consume it is an ongoing process that should draw from various disciplines like analytics and user experience (UX).

As SEO departments move towards a democratized model, previously separate disciplines can be accessed to generate new insights and ideas, all of which can help SEOs understand and leverage keyword intent. 

More Resources

9 Tips for Bulletproof SEO: Algorithm-Proof Your SEO Strategy

The Democratization of SEO: A Practical Guide

How to Optimize for Featured Snippets and Position Zero

11 SEO Myths That Will Damage Your Rankings in 2022

Effective SEO Writing: 5 Steps

Mobile SEO: Why It’s Important and How to Optimize Your Site in 2022


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