In 2018, Google published some astonishing insights on how online search challenges how marketers think about traditional marketing concepts. And in particular, how the classic sales funnel has become less linear as customers use search engines to alternate between asking precise questions and researching broad topics.
As digital marketers, we know we’ll see diminishing returns on our efforts if we don’t adapt to changing audience demands. By understanding search intent and using high-intent keywords, we can anticipate customers’ needs and provide more value as they google their way through their unique customer journey.
Understanding Search Intent
Search intent (or user intent) is why someone conducts a search engine query. It’s what a customer aims to find when they search for something online.
Determining keyword intent can often feel like trying to read a customer’s mind. But by understanding types of search intent and the language people use when they’re in the final consideration stage, you can better align your marketing tactics with your customers’ needs.
There are four categories of search intent, though you’ll likely come across keywords that combine language from multiple categories.
- Informational. Searchers are looking for a specific piece of information or answer to a question. This is the broadest keyword category. Who, what, when, where, why, etc.
- Navigational. Searchers are researching local businesses or attempting to find a specific webpage. Directions to [place], [place] store hours, [business type] near me, [site] login, [company] customer service number, etc.
- Commercial Investigation. Before making a purchasing decision, searchers compare their options. Review of [product], best [products in a category], [brand A] vs. [brand B], etc.
- Transactional. Searchers are at the end of the sales funnel and are ready to make a committment. Buy [product], price of [product], get a [product], coupon code for [product], etc.
What Is a High-Intent Keyword?
When we use the term “high-intent,” we’re referring to keywords that clearly signal the customer is ready to make a purchase or is in the final stages of deciding between products. Commercial and transactional keywords typically have the highest intent.
Here are some examples of high-intent keywords:
- “buy glow in the dark shoelaces”
- “best senior dog food brands”
- “ahrefs vs hubspot”
- “salesforce pricing”
In many cases, long-tail keywords have the strongest intent as customers look for particular brands or products with specific attributes. When a customer includes a lot of detail in a query, it typically indicates they’re passed the research and awareness phases of the sales funnel and are closer to making a sales decision. Think about the difference between “best dog foods” and “best organic senior dog foods for large breeds,” for instance.
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How To Find High-Intent Keywords
1. Think like your customers.
Discovering high-intent keywords requires insight into how your audience thinks and the questions they have when learning about your niche. I suggest roleplaying as a potential customer who isn’t aware of your brand. What questions would you ask? What kind of research would you do to find a solution to your needs? This should help create a starting point for keyword research.
If possible, I also suggest consulting your sales team to learn about the customer acquisition process and what qualities customers were searching for in a company before choosing yours. Did they choose you because you offer a particular product or service that no competitor does? What other companies were they considering? How did they learn about your company? Finding these answers can help you reverse engineer the customer journey.
Google those answers to learn more about what type of content exists and who you’ll be competing with. Use this information during your keyword research.
2. Identify high-intent keywords through keyword research.
You can customize your regular keyword research process to uncover high-intent keywords. Keep in mind that long-tail, high-intent words may have a lower search volume than what you’re accustomed to — but low search volume doesn’t necessarily equate with low quality.
Start with a broad seed keyword, then narrow down related results. For example, let’s use the Ahrefs Keyword Explorer to find high-intent keywords about coffee beans. Using “coffee beans” as our seed, we can view results for all keyword phrases and questions containing “coffee beans.”
Then, we can use the Keyword Explorer’s Include function to manually filter those results to include terms containing both our seed and any intent-specific terms we choose, like “best,” “buy,” “how to,” “near me,” etc.
Broaden your search to consider keywords that meet different intent categories. Don’t limit yourself to keywords with strictly commercial or transactional intent. Ideally, try to capture customers at all stages of the sales funnel, including those still in the primary research phases.
Look at related search and autocomplete suggestions. On the SERP for a keyword, look at what questions or terms Google features in the “People also ask” box or the related search box at the bottom of the page. These results can help guide you by providing semantically-related ideas for keywords.
3. Create a keyword theme.
I recommend creating keyword themes when planning your high-intent content. Keyword themes are groupings of semantically-related terms all sharing the same search intent.
For example, the keyword theme list for a chocolate cake recipe page may include terms like “chocolate cake recipe,” “make a chocolate cake,” “how to bake a chocolate cake,” and “chocolate cake baking steps.” People searching for these terms all share the same final intent, even if they might phrase their search queries a little differently.
Optimizing for semantically-related terms gives your page a better chance of reaching more people while remaining focused on a single topic. Read our guide to keyword themes for tips on uncovering these variations.
What If You Can’t Find High Intent Keywords?
Sometimes during keyword research, you’ll find relevant keywords that have extraordinarily high keyword difficulty. Often, these SERPs are populated with big names. When competing in SERPs against a behemoth like Amazon, I recommend targeting a related keyword with a lower keyword difficulty on a blog page and then linking to the higher-difficulty page using the high-intent keyword as the anchor text.
For example, for the keyword “buy chairs,” instead of competing with Amazon, Wayfair, and Overstock for that phrase, target “styles of dining room chairs” with an informational blog post. Then include a sentence like “when you’re looking to buy chairs for your room” in the blog post and link “buy chairs” to your product page.
Optimizing or Creating Content Around High Intent Keywords
You have your keywords and understand their intent — now what? Let’s talk about putting those keywords to work.
Step 1. Find pages with appropriate search intent and content.
You’ve done the research and created a keyword theme. Now it’s time to match those keywords to existing pages on your site or determine if you need to create new content.
If your site already has pages that logically match your new high-intent keywords, I recommend reading our guide to optimizing existing content to learn how to bring them to their fullest potential.
If you’re looking to create new pages, you’ll need to determine where these pages will fit into your overall site architecture and closely examine what competitors are already offering users. We’ll explore this process more in the sections below.
Note: Sometimes, you may have pages with similar keywords. However, as long as the search intent is different, there shouldn’t be any keyword cannibalization.
Step 2. Analyze the pages ranking in the top spots for your desired keyword.
A quick competitive audit of your target keywords will show what value potential customers already receive when conducting their searches. When looking at existing search results, ask yourself these questions:
- What types of pages do you see the most? (Blog posts, product pages, review pages, etc.)
- What are the goals of these pages? Do they match up with the keyword’s search intent? (Product purchases, appointment schedules, account sign-ups, etc.)
- Does your page’s copy length match these pages? Does your page need more copy to reach competitive parity, or should it be trimmed down?
- What value could you offer that would set you apart from the competition? Are there any knowledge gaps or missed opportunities your page could fill? What could you do better than the competition?
Step 3. Ensure the page copy matches search intent.
Whether you’re editing an existing page or writing fresh content, search intent should be the driving force behind every line and creative decision. Now is the time to laser-focus on your customers’ needs. If you were searching for this keyword, would this page answer all your questions or meet your needs? Does it provide everything a customer would need to make their decision?
If you’re struggling to add more persuasive value to your page, here are a few suggestions for content:
- An FAQ section that anticipates what else a customer may want to learn about
- Links to demos or free trials
- Downloadable free resources, guides, or ebooks
- Recommend related pages
- A chatbot or customer service line where customers can ask more questions
Keep in mind that this content shouldn’t get in the way of a customer making their purchase or distract them from their end goal.
Step 4. Add keywords to titles & metadata.
In addition to working your high-intent keywords into a page’s body copy, add your target terms to these spots where appropriate:
- Page title
- Page URL
- Meta description
- H1 heading
- Image alt text
Remember to avoid keyword stuffing. Incorporate keywords naturally throughout the page copy, and only include terms where they’re logical and relevant.
Step 5. Create internal links pointing traffic to your page.
Internal links draw visitors and bots from page to page on your site. A strong system of internal links naturally invites people to explore related pages while helping bots better understand the anatomy of your site.
As you publish new pages or update existing content, take a moment to place internal links pointing back to this fresh content. Here are some suggested spots for an internal link:
- Navigational menus (headers/footers)
- ‘Explore More’ suggested content elements
- Blog/news or product category hub pages
- Links in the body copy of other pages
Tip: I recommend using your primary high-intent keyword as your anchor text when possible. Descriptive anchor text tells search bots what the linked page is about, which can influence how pages appear in search engine results pages (SERPs).
Step 6. Ask Google to recrawl the page via the URL Inspection Tool.
After republishing a page, it takes time for Google to recrawl that page and update its index accordingly. Once you’ve finished optimizing an existing piece of content, use the URL Inspection Tool to speed up the process by manually requesting a page be recrawled.
Step 7. Establish a link-building strategy.
An effective SEO campaign doesn’t end after hitting ‘Publish’ on a page — it should also include a strategy to build backlinks offsite. A backlink from a third-party site lends algorithmic authority to your page and can act as an essential source of referral traffic.
Your content strategy should ideally include room for link building for both new and existing pages. Read our guide to link building for ideas on how to acquire backlinks.
Keyword Research Services To Boost Your Search Visibility
Harnessing high-intent keywords can help you reach customers in the most critical stages of their purchasing journeys. Discovering these powerful keywords can be challenging, which is why help from an SEO expert can provide a crucial step up over the competition.