Have you noticed lately that when you Google something like “that film where a guy solves a mystery from his wheelchair” you automatically get back search results that answer your question, even if your query didn’t include specific details or keywords? That’s because Google has been busy implementing something that many SEO practitioners have been talking about for quite some time: predicting user intent.
The newest Google algorithm, Hummingbird, was the first incarnation of this feature. Without delving into a long, detailed description of Hummingbird, we can sum up the changes by saying that Google can now answer questions and predict user intent by becoming better at semantic search. Semantics is a branch of linguistics that concerns itself with the meanings of things within a language: the relationship between words and phrases, what we refer to as “context.” Semantic search seeks to improve accuracy and relevancy of results by understanding the searcher’s intent and the contextual meaning of the search words.
This change represents the natural evolution of SEO practices built around strict keyword optimization to a broader, more context-based search model. It means that the overall content of your website becomes crucial to its visibility. The quality and usefulness of your website content is more important than ever; low-quality content will continue to be devalued and those pages will not rank as well in search results.
This also means that having a holistic online marketing strategy is now more important for good SEO. The standard tactic of optimizing website content around target keyword phrases will not cut it anymore, at least not without looking beyond the keywords to the content itself. A long-term content plan will ultimately be more successful than sticking with the knee-jerk tactics that many SEO companies exhibit with each and every algorithm change.
The challenge for SMB marketers is to create useful, high- quality content and it’s a heck of a challenge. If you’re the New York Mets, say, then your website content comes ready-made: game results, news from the clubhouse, player interviews, etc. But if you’re selling insurance, then producing engaging, attention-grabbing content may be more difficult. However, not every insurance company needs a talking gecko to be successful. The key is determining what type of content will be meaningful or valuable to your customers and potential customers.
Which brings us back to user intent. Instead of fretting over ranking for the highest-volume, lowest competition keywords, take the time to think about what information your customers are searching for. If you’re creating quality content that answers their questions, addresses their concerns, or just makes them smile when they think about your brand, you will build a steady influx of traffic to your website and garner trust with your audience. Never try to sell something directly; your expertise on and the information you provide will allow your products and/or services to sell themselves — or at the very least generate leads that can be nurtured into future sales.