SEO has and is becoming less about keywords and more about searcher intent. Search engineers have this strange idea that humans and computers should be one. Not that humans should be allowed to legally marry a bot – not quite that far, but that search engines should be able to read the mind of its user.

Here are six mile stones of search engine progress over the years and what this means for SEO.

Latent semantic indexing – keywords return search results for singular, plural, ing and other relevant forms of the root keyword, even synonyms.

Search suggestions, Autocomplete and Instant – Google and other search engines provide suggestions based on real search activity. Suggestions vary by popularity, location, language, personal history, and freshness (terms that spike in popularity). Learn more.

Panda – To better deal with all the clutter on the web, Google launched the Panda Algorithm along with its many iterations which continue rolling out today. After the initial launch of Panda, Amit Singhal (Matt Cutts boss), published a rare article: More guidance on building high-quality sites. In it he outlined a number of questions Google is concerned about when ranking content. Famous quote: “Our site quality algorithms are aimed at helping people find ‘high-quality’ sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content.”

Keyword (not provided) – Google began encrypting queries in 2011 for users logged in to Google for privacy reasons. But recently Google has been encrypting all organic searches regardless. This means that no web analytics software, including Google Analytics, can track organic keywords from Google and businesses are left with educated guessing and perhaps Webmaster Tools to get some of that data back.

Conversational search – “hotwording” voice activation search. With voice activation search you can ask a question, get an answer (Knowledge Graph), ask a follow up question and get the answer without starting a new search. This is close to what goes on in normal conversation and keys off of hotwords and context from previous questions.

Google Now is predictive search – it knows your location and often what you are doing and has amazed people who use it. Danny Sullivan: “Before I spoke, Google Now already had the trip up, with the estimated travel time, along with a link to start navigation. It had quite literally anticipated what I needed to know before I thought to search.” Google Now is currently on Android, iPhones and iPads, but it’s expected to hit desktops in the near future.

Hummingbird, Google’s latest update, is more like a new engine that runs everything more smoothly.

Can you see where the puck is going?

It’s likely that the term search engine will be a reference to a bygone era – we’ll just think and our Google implant will tell us stuff. Google Now is knocking on the door of this possibility.

The question to ask now about web content is will it be hyper attractive to the target audience it’s intended for today and tomorrow? Google and all search engines will know based on how people interact with it.

It’s challenging I know and it also means that more content is not better than quality content. In my estimation, Google is shifting from displaying keyword focused content to content that fulfills searcher intent. So what does this mean?

  • Prepare content for people searching with a purpose whose intent aligns perfectly with your business
  • Do not prepare content for search engines
  • Provide content that satisfies the searcher in terms of quality, presentation and further discovery

This also means that focusing on specific keywords is not as important as it used to be. You’ll want to measure content engagement from search engines and I agree with Nathan Safran to ask these kinds of questions about your content:

  • How satisfied are searchers with content, not just for ‘X’ search result, but all search results that show your domain?
  • How often do searchers click back and then click on another result or try a new search?
  • How does that bounce/re-search rate compare to your competitors?

Not so much the on page optimization but searcher intent and their satisfaction with what they find is an all important factor in search rankings today.

Keyword research and using keywords in content is still a good idea if the words you use align with the way your target audience thinks or communicates.

Use both keywords and content to strategically focus in on different types of prospects so that your content aligns perfectly with them in their quest.

Alignment optimization is now a fundamental part of the new SEO and it’s what marketers want – it works even if you don’t care about search rankings. Yes, another reason to gain independence from Google!

Have you enjoyed this series on the new SEO? Let me know.

Tom Shivers
Tom Shivers

I'm a ecommerce SEO consultant and President of Capture Commerce. I've managed digital marketing campaigns for scores of clients since 2000 and found that every business is unique with its own challenges and opportunities. When I see that I have contributed to the success of a business by helping them grow, it makes me feel awesome! That’s the coolest thing and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to do this.

    7 replies to "How To Upgrade Your SEO Strategy From Keywords To Searcher Intent"

    • Heather Stone

      Hi Tom,
      This is extremely interesting, particularly the part about intent. The question is what strategies Webmasters can use to predict this? Any suggestions? Love if you could share your thoughts in the comment section of the BizSugar community.

    • Tom Shivers

      Thanks Heather,
      Keywords are clues about what searchers are after but their motives, desires, fears and frustrations are often the reasons people go searching. It means brands must get close enough to the prospect that they know what they are thinking at every step. So that might mean preparing content in a conversational way so prospects find what they want and engage with it immediately.

    • Jane

      Creating content for search engines won’t work anymore (it didn’t work earlier either). Panda and Hummingbird have improved the search results a lot!

      While we shouldn’t create content for search engines, we shouldn’t ignore SEO altogether either because keywords are essentially the clue – they say what our target customers are hungrily looking for!

      Thanks for sharing Tom!

    • David

      The more things change…the faster things change!

    • Tom Shivers

      Thanks Jane,
      Conversational search is on the rise probably due to voice activated search and it will soon be a normal part of search. So it makes sense to account for this type of person in your content strategy.

    • Emory Rowland

      Great serious Tom! Hope to hear more from you on this subject!

    • Stephanie Riggs

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