Chapter 1 - Understanding User Intent

There have been huge volumes written about the importance in SEO today of understanding keyword intent or as we prefer to phrase it ‘User Intent’. It is now seen as an essential part of the SEO keyword and audience research process.

We’ve written extensively about it ourselves on our blog, covering our philosophy for interpreting user intent for SEO and debunking some of the dictionary-based approaches favoured by some leading SEOs; we have produced a Tea Time SEO session on YouTube with some well-known industry experts and have some great new features in the core SEO platform that can add user intent scores for each of the 4 main types of search intent to your keyword research and rankings.


The 4 types of Search Intent

  1. Navigational – the user is looking for a specific entity: e.g. A company, website, brand, product, event, location, social media handle, etc.
  2. Informational – the user is looking for general facts or information about a topic that has no commercial intent.
  3. Research – this is ‘commercial research’ where the user is researching a product or service and is looking for relevant data about what to buy and where to buy it to inform their decision.
  4. Transactional – the user has narrowed their research and is now looking to purchase a specific product or service.

However, in practical terms not so much has been written about what you can do with this intent data. In practical terms, as an SEO what can you do with this data that gives you an edge over the competition?

Well firstly, take a look at the following 4×4 matrix. The intent behind some search queries do fit nicely and neatly into one category. But in many cases there is not a dominant user intent and a keyword or group of related keywords will sit across two categories, sometimes three if there’s a bit of brand in the term.

Understanding The “Smell of the SERP”

By categorising and organising your keywords into keyword groups by user intent, you can start to understand the buyer journey and map your content accordingly.

By seeing which groups of keywords and related pages are higher up the buyer funnel you can match your on-page content to the users’ needs and give Google and its users what they want.

Once you have these groupings, all you need to do is understand the “Smell of the SERP”. This is a term first coined by a leading French SEO and friend of Authoritas, Laurent Bourelly.

It conveys a simple notion; what does the SERP smell like for a particular keyword or set of related keywords? What type of pages is Google showing in the top ranking positions and does your content match?


Laurence O’Toole

Authoritas CEO

Hopefully, Laurence needs no introduction. He’s the CEO and founder of Authoritas and has been actively involved in the SEO market since hiring his first SEO agency about 20 years’ ago. He has the grey hair and scars to prove it.

Watch our Tea Time SEO session here:

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Can we help?

If you are looking for an easy way to automate much of the advice given in this guide, then please book a call with one of our platform experts to explore whether we have what you need.

Take these two examples:

Example 1: If you want to rank well for users searching for queries related to ‘best family cars’ then you’ll probably find that Google is favouring high quality articles written by automotive experts from well established industry publications, motoring websites and newspapers with motoring sections that contain long paragraphs, interspersed with high quality images and videos. If you want to rank well for these queries then you need to ensure you have the right kind and format of content and layout to match.

Example 2: If you want to rank well for users searching for queries related to ‘second hand SUVs’ then you’ll probably find that Google is favouring category or search listing pages from well established classified sites. If you want to rank well for these queries then you need to ensure you have the right kind and format of content and layout to match.

If you find that some of your key landing pages are ranking well for one group of keywords and not so well for other small clusters of keywords, then this could be a good indicator that your smell is off!

You may be better off creating a new page(s) with the right content types and layout to target the keywords where your site and page is deemed relevant enough to rank reasonably well, but the page quality does not quite necessarily match the users’ needs well enough to rank much higher for these terms.

We’ve all seen many instances of SEOs optimising eCommerce category pages with additional text to try and improving its ranking and whilst there are many cases of this working to some extent, John Mueller, Webmaster Trends Analyst at Google has warned against adding so much content that you risk confusing Googlebot’s analysis of your page type by mixing informational and commercial research/transactional intent too much.


Tip – So don’t overdo it. But with a greater in-depth understanding of the user intent of your keywords, how this maps to your pages and what type and formats of content Google really wants in each micro-topic, you are well set to build a great SEO and content strategy.

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