WHAT IS SEARCH INTENT CLASSIFICATION?
Search Intent Classification (also referred to as User Intent) is an Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning technique that pinpoints the PROBABLE intent from what the user said/typed into the Search bar. Do they have a question they want to be answered? Do they need to find specific instructions/directions? Perhaps they want to buy, quote, or inquire about something?
Consultants often use the Apple example. When someone types in apple, what do they really want? An Apple computer? An iPhone? Do they want to buy apples? Info about apples? An apple recipe? Images of apples? Apple jokes?
But it goes deeper too… What do I want when I search for a shovel in the Spring? Something for my garden. What do I want when I search for a shovel in the Summer? A sand shovel with a bucket. What do I want when I search for a shovel in the Winter? For it to stop snowing, a Magical Shoveling Fairy to appear and, you know, something for my walks/driveway.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT NOW?
In the ole’ days (read: 5 years ago), a search engine’s primary goal was to quickly steer the user off their page and into a site that would give them what they were looking for ASAP. (Let’s be honest… They also preferred that the user clicked on an ad so the search engine could make some money along the way.)
With the rapid increase in Voice Search, things have changed. The search engines still want to help people (and get paid for it), but their goal is to answer the question in the best, fastest, most efficient way they can. Sometimes that means sending searchers somewhere else. Other times, it means answering the question right on the search results page, screen (ex: Google Home device), or verbally through a voice assistant.
As we rapidly move into a One-Ask-One-Answer Concierge world (where your voice assistant becomes your own personal assistant), it’s pretty likely that you will get advice/info and make most of your decisions from just 1-2 reputable sources that you trust. This loosely translates to all the big players (Google, Bing, Apple, Amazon, and so on.) are jockeying for position to be your Personal Concierge.
HOW IS SUCCESS MEASURED WHEN IT COMES TO INTENT TARGETING?
How can one of the players win a space in your heart/brain? By delivering the most relevant results to you as fast as possible. The ultimate goal is to answer your question before you’ve finished asking it.
What are some metrics that prove this? Reduced bounce rates, higher AAUS (Active Average User Session), more pages viewed, and more hand-raisers. (Hand-raisers include email/SMS captures, cart adoption, orders, etc. Areas where the user signals their explicit intent.)
The better the traffic drivers think your site is for a particular search, the more likely they will show your listing(s). That often means winning Position 0 or increased audience reach. (Position Zero is the information displayed above the first search result.)
We used to obsess about being on the first page of Google. That’s outdated thinking. Now you need to concentrate on being THE #1 answer/response for all the things that are most important to you. Different things are important to different companies, but most marketers will focus on being the #1 find/answer for things they can make the most money on.
WHAT ARE THE MAIN TYPES OF SEARCH INTENT?
Search Intent is broken into several areas. The main ones that marketers should know about are Navigational, Information, and Transactional.
Queries can be anywhere on the spectrum from vague (“apple”) to specific (“buy 512 iPhone 13 Pro, graphite with 6.7 screen.”)
Informational searches are the most frequently used. They make up 60-80% of the traffic. These are the who, what, when, where, why, and how type of searches.
Transactional queries are the ones marketers most often want. They’re typically the big money-makers. They are also referred to as Market Value queries. Something has market value when a person is willing to swap their X for your Y. (You give your email address to a company to get an instant savings 10% off coupon.)
Navigational intent is to get the user to a specific website or a page on a website. The majority of these searches are branded.
Many SEOs also refer to a category called Commercial or Advertorial. Marketers tend to include this under Transactional.
WHICH CATEGORY IS MOST IMPORTANT?
All of them. It’s easy to hyper-focus on transactional queries, but there’s gold in all the categories. If you ignore Navigational Intent, you miss out on your branded traffic. If you avoid the Informational queries, you skip all the people who don’t know you or your brand.
HOW DO I OPTIMIZE FOR SEARCH INTENT?
There are proven SEO techniques for structuring your content, so be sure to talk to your SEO about what you need to do technically to ready your site. You’ll want to discuss things like where and how to add questions and answers to your site, what you need to do with your page titles, HTML header tags, and meta descriptions, and how to best prepare your product/service copy for maximum benefit.
You’ll also want to talk to your Creative and/or UX teams about your accessibility, copy/design, forms, cart/and checkout, and Call to Actions (CTAs). Be sure to identify any areas on your site that would cause user friction, ESPECIALLY on entrance.
Explore how/where you can add landing pages throughout your site to increase captures, adoption, and conversion. Look at other places where you can use Frequently Asked Questions besides just on your product detail pages. Ensure you have appropriate places for visitors to land when they’re looking for specific products, services, and brands that you carry, instead of just forcing them to work through the navigation on their own. Determine if/where social proof/sentiment helps you. Remember, users engage with sites in lots of different ways, so if you can’t get an immediate order, you need to work your tail off to get a hand-raiser/inquiry. (This could be an email address, a text number, a phone number, etc.)
WHO USES SEARCH INTENT CLASSIFICATION?
Search engines use intent classification to provide results in rank order, but eCommerce and online marketers use it to organize their sites, too. It helps with your paid strategies, developing more robust content, maximizing user sentiment/feedback, optimizing organic traffic, ranking and aligning your content, etc.
Using Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, many companies have designed their own intent models in-house. These days, a lot of data is anonymized, so you may need to use outside services/tools/scrapers for supplementation, but you’ll have more than plenty to build a worthwhile model if you choose.
AS A MARKETER, WHERE CAN I LEARN MORE ABOUT WHAT MY USERS’ SEARCH INTENT IS?
Most marketers spend the majority of their time looking at the incoming traffic – which is undoubtedly very important – especially if you tie the info into metrics. Example: you get 3,232 visitors this month from STOP SIGN. How many bounced? For the ones who stayed, what was the average number of page views per visit overall? What was the Average Active User Session? How many used your internal search function? How many cart starters and adopters carts did you get? (If you’re not in eCommerce, you’d look at things like lead/quote generation instead.) And so on. That gives you an indication of what propensity they have when they get to your site. However, that’s the traffic that arrives at your site.
A better place to start looking is when you’re still in Google/Bing/Etc. Look at the “People Also Ask” and “Related Searches.” It’s also helpful to look at the keyword clusters under the Images Tab. And yes, you can buy all sorts of software packages that help you with this, but I’d recommend you do this without the help of a tool at the beginning. Be sure to look at the traffic you’re currently getting and the traffic you want. Those aren’t always a match; more often than not, it’s easy to see why after reviewing a few of them. (Incidentally, Answer the Public is helpful too. Yes, even the free version.)
A Down-and-Dirty Definition for Marketers. (Read more about these here.)