The Rise of Intent Research and What it Means for Keyword Research in 2020

February 17th, 2020 by Courtney Cummins

Keyword research has long been thought of as one of the most impactful ways to gain prime real estate on SERPs. In the SEO world, if you’re not focusing a vast amount of your effort into keyword research, then you’re missing out on a great deal of SEO value. Finding and analyzing search terms by users and incorporating them into your website’s content is about as old as SEO itself. But as 2020 gets underway, a new kind of research is out to dethrone this age-old SEO practice. Intent research is quickly making its case as the new leader in SEO research. Take a look at these two types of research and where you should put your SEO effort in the coming months.

Understanding the Basics: What is Keyword and Intent Research?

Gif showing a Google search for Mardi Gras info

Keyword research is, essentially, the process of identifying and analyzing a word or words users choose to include in search queries and then curating your content based on those specific words or phrases. These words or phrases can be categorized by things like popularity or relevance. Having a good understanding of specific topics is also important. Take, for example, searches done around a holiday—let’s look at Mardi Gras in this case. By understanding the topic, you can assume that users are likely searching for words or phrases like “mardi gras beads,” “mardi gras new orleans,” or “costume stores.” Incorporating those specific keywords into your content in the hopes of getting your content to show up in SERPs is the practice of keyword research.

Intent research, on the other hand, is less specific and more concerned about what the user is trying to get out of their search. Rather than focusing on particular words and phrases, search engines spit out results based on what they think the user is looking for. Because intent can be hard to pinpoint, and keywords can have several different meanings behind them, how you interpret the keywords you are targeting is essential. Let’s say you’re researching the keyphrase “how to run a marathon.” The intent behind this could mean several different things. Is the user asking how to train for a marathon? How to sign up for a marathon? In understanding the user’s intent behind their search, you can better create content to drive users to your website.

The Rise of Intent Research

In a recent video where he discussed what to look forward to in 2020, Bing’s Frédéric Dubut claimed that search engines are quickly moving from keyword to intent research. One of the reasons for this, he believes, is in part due to Google announcing that they are now incorporating their BERT language model into search results. BERT, Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers, is a technique for natural language processing. Google claims that BERT “helps better understand the nuances and context of words in searches” to produce more relevant results. The example they give is the importance of the word “to” in the search “2019 brazil traveler to usa need a visa.” In this example, you can see how the word “to” is what ties together the keyphrase in terms of understanding the user’s intent. By reading and understanding “to” in this context, Google is more likely to weed out content that mentions needing a visa from the USA by a Brazilian traveler, therefore providing them with more accurate search results.

Is This the End for Keyword Research?

John Meuller of Google says not so fast. Despite the rise of intent research recently, he believes there will always be room for keyword research. He admits that over time, search engines will become better at understanding a user’s intent, but that at its core, it is more of a balancing act between the two research practices. As he puts it, “even if search engines are trying to understand more than just those words, showing specific words to users can make it a little bit easier for them to understand what your pages are about and can sometimes drive a little bit of that conversion process.”

So What Does That Mean for SEO in 2020?

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In a nutshell, research practices will largely be a team effort in the coming year. As new language is created and refined and updates to search engines are made, search intent will be easier to understand and interpret. However, specific keywords will still be necessary when understanding that intent. Figuring out what type of research is best suited for your business will take a bit of trial and error. One way to get started is by trying to complete searches as if you were a user and see what sort of results populate. Depending on the types of results generated—and the research practice used—you can get an idea of how you should cater to your target audience. If this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Our team of experts is ready to get you on the right path to a successful SEO campaign in the new year. Contact us today for a custom marketing analysis!


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