SEO: Determining Searcher Intent with Matt Bailey
Moving up in SEO ranking factors, addressing searcher intent is a low-dispute best practice. Your page must engage. And search engines are getting better at deciding what types of pages will best serve the searchers. But how can we know what searchers are expecting? Find out here in this impromptu interview with author-expert Matt Bailey, hands-on SEO, bestselling author and corporate trainer from SiteLogic.
|This episode is brought to you by: WordTracker. Reveal 1000s of long tail keywords using data from Google, Wordtracker, and Amazon. Visit wordtracker.com for more information.
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Determining Searcher Intent:
Michael: All right, welcome back to the OMCP Studio. And with us today is Matt Bailey, author, educator, and CEO of SiteLogic. Matt is at the forefront of digital marketing and best practices and training for some of the largest brands in the world. I’m your host Michael Stebbins, and today we’ll be discussing how to determine search intent for SEO and putting pages together. Matt, welcome to “OMCP’s Best Practices” podcast, thanks for being here.
Matt: Okay, thanks for the invitation and always fun to have a conversation with you. So, I’m looking forward to it.
Michael: And we tend to go off on all kinds of fun tangents, we’ll allow for a little bit of that today, but we will convey some of the best practices for search intent. I know a lot of SEOs are struggling with this, trying to figure out, “What do I put on the page that allows me to rank?” And so much of it has to do with addressing searcher intent. But before we get into that, I just want our audience to know you are the author of “Internet Marketing: An Hour a Day,” published by Wiley Sybex. I know, [because] was grateful to be the technical editor on that. And that was fun.
Michael: And then, you have a new book out. And I believe that is …walk me through because I always get it backwards, right?
Matt: “Teach New Dogs Old Tricks.”
Michael: Okay, good. And that is available at Amazon?
Michael: And if I remember right, this goes to the core of how sales training actually helped build out a digital marketing industry for you.
Michael: It allowed you to help people. And there’s a lot of insights in there. Give us a quick synopsis.
Matt: Quick synopsis. So we’re going to talk about searcher intent?
Searcher Intent and Why It Matters — beyond SEO
Matt: And one of the things I learned in sales is how to drill down to what people really need. Listening to the words they say. And it’s the concept of mirroring. So, if you are telling me, “Matt, what I’m really looking for is I want a phone that does these things. Cost is a consideration. And this is what I’m looking for.” What I learned from that is I’m going to repeat the highlights of what you said, and when I present it I’m gonna ask you, “Does it look good?” Because you used language that says you’re more visual because you said, “This is what I’m looking for. This is what I wanna see.” So I’m gonna use that type of language.
I’m also going to listen to the keywords, the selling points. What you’re looking for. That’s intent. And I’m going to say it back to you. Maybe rephrased, but what that does is it lets you know that I’ve listened to you and, “Oh, he knows what I’m looking for.” So it gives you confidence that I’ve listened, I understand. I’m using your same words. I’m using your same style. And that’s sales. But we do the same thing online with searcher intent.
So, a lot of “Teach New Dog Old Tricks” is understanding the “why.” Why do we do some of these things? What’s the psychological reason behind it? And also, once you understand them, it makes you better not only in sales but in communication overall with people.
Michael: All right, “Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks.” Check it out on Amazon. And it sounds like that will boost your knowledge of how to address searcher intent.
For best practices, Matt, a lot of folks who are, you know, that cracked their knuckles, they are looking at their web page, it’s blank, they have to fill it out. And, you know, this came up recently because I was given a session on SEO for writers. I felt like I touched on searcher intent and yet, you know, I didn’t have the time in the session to fully explain what it meant.
Let me tell you what I did say and then we can maybe branch off of that for some of the best practices. What I did say is I said we need to understand that the search engines are trying to put the most relevant pages up top because by getting trusted users or trusting users, they have more inventory to advertise to. So it behooves them to make more advertising revenue if they have lots of customers who trust the results. So it’s in everybody’s interest to put the most relevant pages to the top. And one of the ways that we know that Google and some of the other search engines are assessing whether a page is relevant is if somebody doesn’t come back and click on another result in the search engine results page, right. And so, that generally, is a signal that that page is relevant and that’s a hint to the search engines to leave it up in a higher ranking position.
So, what keeps somebody on the page? And it’s all I gave. And I said, “Look, if you’re addressing the searchers intent, then, you know, that’s a way to keep somebody on the page.” But obviously, there’s more opportunity beyond that.
Matt: Oh, absolutely.
The Easiest Way to Start Seeing Searcher Intent
Michael: So, what’s something you can think of that would help somebody determine search intent in the first place?
Matt: I would recommend for anyone who’s doing any marketing SEO or anything like that, a great resource is, I think, with Google. Google is publishing a lot of their research data. And one of the things that they talk about are what are called micro-moments in search. And a micro-moment is when you pull out your phone and you’ve got a need. And they’ve grouped these micro-moments into four major categories of “I want to know, I want to go, I want to buy, and I want to do.” And those are what are driving most searches.
And so, that initiates this look into intent. What do people want? What are they looking for? What do they want to accomplish? And so, to me, this isn’t just the foundation of SEO. This is the foundation of paid search, it’s the foundation of content marketing, it’s the foundation of social. It’s the foundation of knowing what your customers actually want.
And so I have found that the more time you spent researching keywords, researching customer intent from search data, the easier it is to optimize, to develop campaigns, to create content, because what you’re developing is really a cross-reference of what people are searching for. And when you understand that, everything gets easier because now I’m writing to what the searchers are telling me is important.
Why Don’t We Rank for ________?
Michael: You know, you told me a story earlier before we started the recording about somebody who had good intent, in one of your sessions, raise their hand and said, “Hey Matt, why don’t we rank for X?” And they put out a very generic term. Like a one-word term that had plenty of meanings. And then you went through a dialog asking that person, who I think represented the sales side, right, a couple of questions that further refined how the keyword might bring him more qualified visitors. Can you recall that story for us?
Matt: Yeah. And this comes up fairly often. You know, usually, people are looking at “Well, this term gets a million searches. Why aren’t we focusing on that?” Well, let’s examine this. First of all, what do you see when you search on that term? And chances are you’re gonna see Wikipedia at the top. If it’s a single word-term, you’re gonna see Merriam Webster, you’re gonna see…definitions. So, right away, that tells you that what Google is showing you, if they’re showing you definitions or what it is, then they’re seeing that people are searching for the word simply base to know what it is. Does that define our customers?
…do they really want our product or are they just trying to figure out what it is?
Now, let’s look at the word and figure out what do people want. If they’re searching for the single word, do they really want our product or they’re just trying to figure out what it is? Now, if they search for that word plus our brand name, absolutely.
Michael: And will probably rank for that, anyway.
Matt: Absolutely. Yeah. Now, if they search for that word with a problem, if they search with it based on a brand name of an associated system, now that tells me they’re doing research. Does this fit with this? If they’re searching on how-to’s, if they’re searching on, you know…And so what we’re trying to find is who are people that are at the beginning of the buying cycle, and what would be the most likely terms they would use? Who are people in the research phase, what would be terms they’re most likely to use? Where are people in the decision phase? And especially if you’re looking at…You know, one example of this was a major software purchase. So you’re gonna have people from IT doing research, people actually using it doing the research, probably people from purchasing, you know, maybe HR getting involved. What are they looking at? It’s got to fit their requirements.
Michael: And I love that you asked this salesperson, “What would your customer use to describe the problem? What kind of modifier? So, if we just used a simple word like security, right? Security can mean so many things. Security can mean the security on my house, right? It can mean security NS stock or an investment. Security can mean, you know, cyber-security. All right, it can mean a lot of things.
Matt: Or a pet or a blanket. It can go beyond. And that’s what I’ve noticed is especially in these single words, people are thinking of their industry themselves. My favorite example is nested tables.
Okay, when I hear “nested tables”, I think of programming. When my wife hears nested tables she thinks of furniture. So, who’s right? We both are. It’s the context. And usually, a single word like “security,” what’s the context? There’s no context to a single word search which is why they get so many. And then people, invariably, this is when you watch people, this is when you give them a task.
The Search Refining Process
Michael: And a refining process begins.
Matt: Absolutely. Because how many of those millions of searches are people typing the word and going, “This isn’t what I want.”
Michael: And then the very next thing they do is try a refinement. And then they don’t like that, and so then they try another refinement and they start seeing what they want. And I think your idea of walking that sales person through the process of what would your customer do was quite telling, because within a few minutes of that conversation you would start seeing the modifiers that would align for a better searcher intent to address on the page. Let’s say that they started searching for, you know, the word “solution” or “tool,” right, or “comparison” to other tools or something. Well, now we’re looking at security tools, right? Is security tool something that monitors the cameras at your house or is it something that addresses threats, you know, in the cyber-security world?
Michael: Right. And those are the places where the engines are going to bring something up. So, I think the first takeaway here, that’s important for best practices is: Do a search on Google and look at the results. You pointed that out earlier, and take a look. If the first page is Wikipedia, then Google, with a lot of machine learning and a lot of experience has learned that the intent first people who are searching for a simple phrase like nested tables is probably, “What’s the definition ?”
Matt: And now, what we’ve got to deal with is Wikipedia is not even gonna be number one, what’s gonna be number one is Google itself with a snippet from Wikipedia or another site…
Michael: Yeah, positions zero.
Matt: Yeah, giving you the definition. So now you’re not even getting a click through of someone going to your site because, for simple questions, Google is giving simple answers. And you don’t even have to click through to go to the site. So, if you see Google is doing that, right away that should tell you, is it worth it to compete for this because you’re competing against Google itself.
Michael: And I have seen product companies manage to rank for a definition phrase, a very broad definition phrase, by coming up with an authoritative page that does a better job of explaining than Wikipedia does, gains a ton of authoritative links and has been there for a while, and they rank at the top.
Next, Check Your Analytics
Matt: Then you get into your analytics. And this is where I love talking about the long tail. And unfortunately, it’s a concept that I’ve had to re-explain it lately, because I think we’ve got to like a whole new generation in doing this work and a lot of the body of research has already been done and it doesn’t come up often. So the long tail tells us that there are going to be top terms that every month are gonna show up as your top referring terms. And usually, when we look at our analytics reports, we look at the top terms. Oh yeah, single terms. And if you looked at just that, you would be distracted because this is my concept of big numbers lie. That when you just look at the big numbers, it’s gonna lie to you because you’re gonna think that those are the most important terms.
And what it doesn’t tell you after your top 10 terms are tens of thousands of other terms that maybe get searched on 2 times, 5 times, a dozen times a month. Yet, when you tie together all of the data. What this will tell you is all these terms that are searched on a few times a month, if you add them up, add up to be significantly more than that top 10 term.
Michael: With more qualified customers who are ready to learn about what you have.
Matt: Yeah, because as they use more modifiers, they go to different pages. Specifically about that content. Then you connect it to your sales or lead data and what you’ll find is the inverse of the Pareto principle. So, the Pareto principle is the 80/20 rule. That 80% or what is it like 80% of my income comes from 20% of my users.
Okay, this is the opposite of the long tail. The long tail will tell you that 20% of your visitors come for very popular single-word terms. And they will only produce 20% of your income. Whereas, 20% of your users will use modifiers, four to five, six-word phrases, go to the page that is specific to it. And if 80% of your visitors come in that way, 80% of your revenue is created that way. So, it’s almost a reverse of the 80/20, that it’s a true 80/20. If I’m explaining it correctly or clearly.
Michael: You got it right…
Matt: Yeah, yeah. Eighty percent will be extended search phrases, modifiers. And that will produce largely, 80% revenue.
And I can honestly say, probably, every analytics, every business I’ve looked at, it happens, regardless of whether or not you’re optimizing, regardless of whether you’re doing anything or not, it just naturally happens that way.
Tools For Searcher Intent
Michael: You know, a great tool that I found for taking a look at what’s going on with long tail…And, by the way, for those of you who don’t know what long tail is, we’re talking about the…I know you touched on it but to be clear, these are search terms that rarely occur but are highly specific. And so, the reason that it’s called long tail is when you look at a graph of the top-search terms down to the…in terms of frequency, it’s the thin, long tail of many different terms that only show up a few times.
So I love using the Search Console from Google, inside of Google Analytics. And what I’ll do is I’ll use a regular expression to filter the terms and show me the terms that include my favorite keyword that I really would like to rank for in generic. And so it’s inclusive of all of the modifications of those terms that I rank for,
maybe on page 12 or something like that. Well actually, I don’t think it goes that far, but I let’s just say page 3 or 4. And it shows the click through rate and it shows, you know, my improvements over time, and it shows how many people came through for those. And then later on, once I find out the page, it’s not intuitive, they don’t tell you what page they came to in that report but you can pretty much figure that out by using other tools and seeing where that page ranks for. And then I go back into Google Analytics and see what the conversion rate was for people who entered on that page. And this is a great sign.
You know, another way to dig in and find out a little bit more about commercial intent…and I think that’s what a lot of people are looking for is “How do we get people who had commercial intent?” Is to go into the keyword planner tool in Ad Words. And when you type in a praise, if it’s a competitive phrase, you can see which ones are getting the highest bids, and that’s a hint as to what might be commercial intent for that keywords for that specific tool.
Matt: Yeah. Well, a couple things. So, I’m gonna backtrack a little bit because I also use Bing’s Webmaster Tools. Because Bing will show me the word where it ranks and the associated page.
Michael: Oh, they will mention that?
Michael: So dump that to Excel spreadsheet and look up in your own free…
Matt: No, it’s Bing’s algorithm not Google’s, but usually, when I look at my value per visitor, Bing sends me higher value visitors just less of them. So…
Michael: It depends on your market.
Matt: Yeah, yeah. So yeah. And that’s the thing, unfortunately, with Google not showing us keywords. We can’t really get to that data anymore. Google’s in the Ad Words interface, they’re combining keywords. And this is their machine learning. So, for example, one that we looked at all the time was people searching for a pool table versus pool tables. Google will now tell you to bid on pool table, and they will include pool tables, plural, in your campaign. That’s the same intent. and from doing all this research, I’m sitting there going, “No, that’s not the same intent.” That there is a massive amount of difference between people looking between plural and singular. And what this is just…what we’ve seen is when people are searching for plural, they’re shopping. When they search for singular, they’re ready to buy. And so, for Google to say in the, you know, this is the same term. Just use it interchangeably. No.
Michael: And they should know better.
Matt: And there’s a world of difference in singular and plural. Before they took away the keywords, we could put a number value on the singular and plural. And we knew that plural is going to convert at this rate and produce this much revenue. Singular is going to convert at this rate and produce this much revenue because of the intent behind it. And you just learn “What are people thinking when they use plural, when they use singular, when they use this word as opposed to the word.” What’s going on in their minds? And it takes a lot of putting yourself in that buyer’s position or actually going and talking to people.
And so, this was my favorite thing to do, is actually go to the company and anyone is selling pool tables, let’s keep that going. Go to the floor and talk to people. “What are you looking for? Did you ever own one before? What did you like, not like? What’s important to you? What’s your fear?” And usually fear was, “Will it fit?”
Michael: Yep, that’s important.
Matt: You know, and so you find out what’s on their brain. And then you go back and you look at the keyword research data and how are they taking what’s in their brain and putting it into a search term?
How This Affects The Page Content
Michael: And that whole…just to bring it full circle for what might affect what goes on the page. If you learned that people’s intent and research was to find out if it would fit and that was the number one thing that came up, then if you put something on the page that addressed what the clearance should be on either side of a pool table, therefore, this size pool table would require this size minimum room. Don’t you think that that would engage visitors enough to stay on the page, and keep them from going back to the search engine results page, therefore, showing your page as most relevant?
Matt: And also you’re writing content that’s more valuable. Like, how to know if a pool table…you know, if you’re building a man cave and you want a pool table, what size do you need? And different tables will have different requirements. But now you’re creating more engaging content rather than just, “Oh, it’s, you know, pool table Tuesday.” You know, something like that… where you’re like, “Oh, it’s Tuesday, I got to write something.” So, when we actively did client work. When we got a new client we would probably spend at least a week doing keyword research and have five to six people, five to six hours a day, doing nothing but keyword research. Number one, getting the global view how many words are relevant? Let’s just get as many as we can. Put them into a spreadsheet and then we start dividing them. Okay, what are intent? How many have a location? How many have..you know, let’s look at our primary group keywords. Let’s group them according to that.
Okay, now let’s regroup them. Let’s regroup them according to buying cycle. How many are looking for, you know, research terms? How many are looking for early search terms, late search terms?
Okay, now let’s divide them by questions. What questions are they asking, what information do they wanna know?
So, what this helps us is number one, understand the buying cycle for that particular product. Helps us understand any location, brand associations, issues. But what was really cool was when we started looking at what questions people were asking. Because now, all of a sudden, we started to build a framework for content that people are asking these questions but when we look at the website are we answering those questions? And, we’re not.
So we’re not gonna rank for the questions people who are asking. So now it transforms your content strategy because now I know what questions people are asking and I can go look at my site. I don’t have the content or if I do have the content it’s not…You know, does it fit in the room? That’s a practical, hard-edged question that actually makes an answer. And I’m amazed at how much of our web content doesn’t really answer anything, and we’re assuming we know the question.
Michael: And it comes to a sense of arranging. In my session with writers, they were very eager, “How do we arrange the page?” In that sense, if you know that somebody is researching pool tables and they wanna come to the page, there was a section close up in the top that said, “Here are the top-10 questions people have about pool tables.” Now that draws them into the content. And then you can offer: Do you know if fits, do you know if the top will last? Is it coin operated?
I mean, you know, all these modifiers that help but the point is is that now people who are looking for information about these are drawn into the content, they can navigate the page and stay on the page or maybe even further into the site. And now we have presented a relevant page that keep people from signaling to the search engine that it’s not relevant by going back and clicking on something else. You know, and now our page is structured in a way that those answers are presented in a meaningful and easy-access format. Especially on mobile to the folks.
Matt: Yeah. And as far as content and ranking. So, one client, we were able to figure out all these questions and all of a sudden, it opened up a whole new set of ideas, like, “Let’s do a series of videos. Twenty-second videos of how not to do this.” And so, for example, if this were a pool thing it was what could go wrong if your room is too small? And it’s, you know, pulling back the stick and poking your friend in the stomach, spilling, you know, drinks and knocking out windows. And they created this series and it was engaging because it was funny of, you know, “I bought the wrong size.”
So now, based on the search terms we had an idea of we could create content around this.” And now it created this great campaign, they were able to write scripts. And what they were telling us is not only did the campaign work well? We spent less money because we knew what we wanted the video guys to do. And we told them the concept, we show them the scripts. Everything was done quickly. Usually, when we do a video shoot, we have no idea what we’re doing. And the video guys are standing around until we would figure it out. Now, that they’ve repurposed and they put them on YouTube, they used them in emails. They also did it as an education campaign to previous customers asking if they had these problems. And they had previous customers turning their old tables in and buying new ones.
You know, and so it was re-purposed all the way, but it started by learning the questions people asked and the concerns that they had. And how do we address that.
Transactional, Navigational, Information, and Pain
Michael: So one great way that I think you pointed out is you said in this conversation you had with this person who started out thinking we should rank for a generic term, you lead them to the process of saying, “What would your customer be typing and describing the problem?” And then the concept of observation. Watching a customer search for something like this is so telling.
So we have a couple of resources. Let’s just go back and talk about the first off where it was the…I think was using Google resource….it talks about the four different types of searches that they [Google] categorize. There is the typical teaching that you see in SEO:
Right? You can look at it that way. You can go to the search engine results pages and look at, you know, what Google is putting in and there’s pretty good bet that they are getting a good idea of what people are looking for on that page.
Matt: And what are you competing with? Am I competing against video? Am I against local results? Am I competing against news, am I…You know, look and see where the opportunities are but look what you’re competing against because Google will change the results based on the type of search it is. We have the transactional stuff like that.
One thing I love to add to that list, ” pain.” Is there pain being expressed so someone typing in, you know, “breached cyber security.” That’s a pain point, and which means the motivation to find an answer is right now. And so, if I can find those pain point searches, there is an immediate opportunity to, “Let’s help you solve your problem.”
Michael: Yeah, it’s procedures. Here’s a procedure that you should be using. Interesting, yeah.
Matt: Yeah. And those are high-motivational, high-converting because they need it now.
Michael: Yeah, the other resource that we have is going in for commercial intent and you can get some hints by using the paid search keyword planner tools that will show you who’s bidding high. And you can see that in SEMRush and in other tools as well. So those are the resources to get a hint at searcher intent. And of course, in the next phase, and if we can get you back in the studio, next time, Matt, we’ll talk about what’s going through the page.
Matt: I wanna throw in Wordtracker.
Michael: You got one more?
Matt: Wordtracker is like one of my favorite because I can look at different countries, I can look at different amounts. There’s a lot of filtering tools within it as well so it’s probably one of my favorite tools.
Michael: And where do you find Wordtracker?
Matt: I believe it’s wordtracker.com.
Michael: Making sure. So, wordtracker.com, and if that’s different we’ll put that in the show notes as well. Well, that’s all the time we have today for talking about searcher intent. I know, Matt, you and I will be doing a few more podcasts. Some of them will go on Endless…
Matt: Coffee Cup.
Michael: Endless Coffee Cup which is on…
Michael: …you get there by sitelogic.com.
Michael: So check out Matt’s training schedule, and see if you want to book him to come in and train your marketing teams on best practices and digital marketing. And Matt has got an incredibly good history of great results and helping teams achieve their potential. So, sitelogic.com, right, Matt?
Matt: Yeah, that’s it.
Michael: And check out his book, Teaching New Dogs Old Tricks, available on Amazon, and give that a read. Matt, thanks so much for coming in the studio today.
Matt: Thanks for the invitation, Mike, always fun.