SEOKeywords Are Dead! Long Live User Intent!

Keywords Are Dead! Long Live User Intent!

Your brand's online presence needs to align around targeted customer intent, not keywords-focused optimization. Focus on tactics that will play to Google’s more complex side: mapping queries to actions, intent research, and aligned content creation.


SEO has long relied on keywords to define content development, URL structure, and anchor text tactics.

We won’t dwell on Google’s Penguin and Panda updates as the nails in the coffin for over-optimized content and link profiles, but just know both of these algorithmic animals contributed to considerable change in SEO tactics and strategies over the past 18 months, including how SEO practitioners should be looking at keywords.

Keywords Are Dead!

Back when search engines were young and users less savvy, Google introduced keywords as the search methodology. With the maturing of search algorithms and the growing sophistication of Internet users’ behavior most searchers:

  • Know how to “Google” (a verb since 2006).
  • Understand where to click in the results.
  • Expect relevance after the click.
  • Know how to refine a non-relevant search.

The old interpretation of keywords is no longer true; users are not typing simple keywords that yield simple Google results. Users are entering “queries” – phrases that match specific search intent – and Google attempts to match that intent based on search data, click data, and heuristics, and then serves richer (and hopefully more relevant) intent-based results:

  • Knowledge graph “instant results” for people, places and things.
  • Local results.
  • Google Autocomplete.
  • Google spelling correction.
  • Product listings / shopping for buying signals.
  • Dictionary results for “definition-based” queries.

Long Live User Search Intent!

We live in an online world where users know what they’re looking for and search engines are getting much better at satisfying the user intent through their search results. But where does your brand fit into all this?

Your brand’s website and online presence needs to align around targeted customer intent(s) not traditional keywords focused optimization. What does this mean for your 2013 strategy? Focus toward tactics that will play to Google’s more complex side: mapping queries to actions, intent research, and aligned content creation.

Mapping Queries to Value

  • List everything your company does and potentially wants to be found for. Look at it as an exercise in topic relevance. Ask yourself, for what kind of topics or queries should you appear? (Products, services, expertise, location etc.)
  • Segment these topics by types of intent. List each topic under one of four headings:
    • Navigational.
    • Informational.
    • Commercial (note: a commercial query is an informational search with future business implications – i.e., comparison searches).
    • Transactional.
  • Assign value to each topic in each column to help prioritize efforts and resource allocation. Values can be assigned as either a dollar amount or a simple 1 to 10 value. For example: An informational intent topic search that includes a location would have a greater value than one without.

Intent Research

  • Doing traditional keyword search volume type discovery is still necessary, but search marketers must now also understand a user’s intent around a particular keyword or query.
  • Look for new sources of query research like social monitoring, owned assets (social profiles), and onsite polls, surveys, or contests.
  • Don’t discount research performed on your own site. If you have a search box on your site, are you collecting valuable intent based data? How are users formulating queries? What are they specifically searching for and from which page?
  • Move offline with your research with informal meet-ups, focus groups, and peer groups and ask simple questions like “how would you search for product or service x?”

Creating Content That Connects

Now that you have a prioritized list of topics, it’s time to figure out what content will satisfy the user intent and brand goals. Let’s go back to our topic categories, and think about what type of media, style of editorial, graphic, data points, message, and / or story would need to be created for each.

  • Navigational queries are generally lower in value unless directly targeting your business. Brand searches can typically be deflected to informational content, but it can take time, effort, and valuable resources for low returns.
  • Informational queries can be satisfied through articles, images, videos, infographics and other media that offers a good balance between information, entertainment, education, and inspiration.
  • Commercial queries can be valuable if you can gain interest and engagement. Any opportunity to add multiple touch points to the relationship can provide future conversion opportunities. A good way to do this is by offering free information through email subscription, polls, surveys, feed subscriptions, or a series of specialized articles.
  • Transactional queries are the most valuable, competitive, and the easiest to lose if you don’t provide a simple and easy way to convert. On-site engagement, uncomplicated conversion funnels, and obvious next steps all contribute to intent satisfaction. It also increases the likelihood of evangelism, sharing, liking, or creation of social signals that improve search visibility.

Out With the Old and in With Intent!

By identifying topic relevancy, exploring new query research, understanding user intent, and providing content that connects, savvy search marketers can look forward to more valuable traffic!


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