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Why Understanding Search Intent in SEO is Important for Creating Great Content Marketing

BY: Robin Riddle
PUBLISHED: 02/14/2023

Five easy steps for creating content marketing based on what your audience most wants to know.

Like me, you may have heard the phrase “if content is king then distribution is queen” a lot. Well, content may still be king, but I very much think the queen is now search engine optimization.

To better understand how SEO and content marketing work together and why optimization is such an important factor in driving traffic to a site or a piece of content, you need to understand something called “search intent.” In essence, search intent is why someone came to the search engine in the first place. In digital marketing, we tend to refer to intent in the singular fashion, but there are actually three different types of search intent:

This user is looking to better understand a subject. It could include how things work, recipes, inspirational ideas and more.

The user is looking to make a purchase. They’ve probably made their mind up and are ready to act.

The user is relying on the search engine as an address book or as navigation to a specific website.

Let’s break them down in a bit more detail.

Understanding the 3 types of intent-based search

Informational intent is the most popular type of search, with estimates suggesting they account for between 50% and 80% of all searches. This is great news for us, as this type of search is especially well suited to what content marketing offers.

In a typical sales funnel, a change of need state triggers a “customer journey.” Here we’ll use the example of a person coming into some spare cash and looking for options to create a rainy-day fund.

The first logical step would be to look at your options for storing cash. From there, by reading through the Google search results you might learn that CDs are relatively safe, easily accessible and earn a reasonable return. Searches like this are known as informational. They serve to educate by providing answers to specific questions.

Once you have a better sense of the options, you might perform a transactional search, such as “what documents do I need to open a CD account at Bank XYZ?” From there, you might search directly for your chosen bank’s page. This last type of search is considered to be navigational.


Simply put, it means content marketing informed by the questions users ask about specific subjects and how they ask them — as revealed by SEO data. It provides information that fits a brand’s voice, that consumers find helpful, and that is of high enough quality to justify the time spent reading it. It doesn’t seek to make decisions for the audience, but when the content is done well it empowers them to make decisions that are right for their circumstances.

Good content marketing is especially useful for educating and informing. It allows marketers to demonstrate expertise without being overly promotional in tone and thereby helps them build consideration and trust in their brand. To connect content with searchers, it’s important to better understand how and when searches are being conducted, the language that people use in their searches, and who is winning the traffic by ranking highly on the search engine results page (SERP).

Our 5-step process for creating intent-driven content marketing

This is where our 5-step (review, audit, optimize, distribute and repeat) SEO process comes in. It’s possible that not all of these steps are best conducted by your content marketing agency. Some of them are probably best done either by an in-house SEO team or your dedicated SEO agency.

I’m not advocating here that your content marketing agency should become your SEO agency. It shouldn’t. There’s a lot more to SEO than figuring out informational intent. However, there are some big areas where your content marketing agency should have a voice, and figuring out topics and keywords is one of them. (This is also the subject of a forthcoming article I’m writing, so more on the role of the content marketing agency versus an SEO partner in a later post.)

Let’s look in a little more detail at each of the steps we recommend for our SEO review (and who can best handle them).

  1. Review: This is your research stage, and is the time to tackle some of the more strategic issues like identifying your goals. In this context, it really should be about using content to drive awareness and consideration. In other circumstances, content can also be effective at retention and even conversion, but let’s focus on the first two in context of SEO. This stage is also about assessing the strength and weakness of your competition. When you look at your competitors (natural and organic) in a tool like SEMrush, it should be really obvious who is deploying an SEO strategy and who is not. The latter group will be the rankings you’ll be looking to replace in the SERPs. These are all places where a good content marketing agency should be able to add value and work in conjunction with an in-house or external SEO agency.

  2. Audit: This stage is all about making an assessment of where your site is from a purely technical point of view. For this you’ll need access to a tool like Moz or SEMrush (that you connect to Google Search Console) to conduct a technical audit of the site. You’re looking to see how accessible it is to the search engines, how your pages are currently optimized (or not), while identifying technical issues that need attention, such as how long it takes for your pages to load. This work is usually done in house or through a specialist SEO agency.

  3. Optimize: Once you’ve done the audit, then it’s time to really dig in and start fixing some of those errors. SEO tools usually have a ranking system that identifies how critical the errors are and which ones need immediate attention. Some things, like broken links, headers that are too long, missing metadata, etc., should be prioritized. Most sites will have a laundry list of things that need attention, so don’t be put off if you get quite a few errors. Just focus on the ones that really affect search performance. Again, this work is usually done by a specialist SEO agency who has access to your site.

  4. Distribute: Backlinks are arguably one of the most valuable factors contributing to search performance. They’re also the hardest for you to control — which is probably why it’s the ranking factor that has endured.You should know where your current backlinks are coming from, where your competitors’ links are coming from and which sites/pages you’d ideally like to link to your content. One of the best ways to generate backlinks is by having high-quality original content that addresses users’ needs.That’s what great content marketing is in a nutshell. So if you’re not getting backlinks organically, you should be asking yourself what’s wrong with your content.

  5. Iterate: The thing I learned very early on with SEO is that it’s always changing and moving. Best practices evolve as quickly as Google changes its algorithm, which is pretty often. Google has done around 14 major updates to its algorithm since Panda was introduced in 2011. Since then, we’ve seen updates to counter spam, optimize for local and mobile, the introduction of AI (Rankbrain), as well as prioritizing “helpful content.” Things will continue to change, so you should never think that your SEO is done. It’s really not set and forget. You need to track performance, taking note of winners and losers that happen with each update. Then modify your content to re-optimize it.

Finally, as a reminder, if SEO is your queen, then remember our five-step process for optimizing your intent-driven content marketing: review, audit, optimize, distribute and repeat. I will add here that you shouldn’t go crazy optimizing around every technical aspect of SEO. Great content needs to read well for humans and not just search engines.

If you need help creating an intent-driven content marketing program (or great content that people actually want to read), please reach out to me. My contact info is linked below.

Robin Riddle is the Chief Strategy Officer at Foundry 360 where he leads content marketing strategy development. He works across B2B as well as B2C and specializes in financial services, insurance and health care. Prior to his time here, he led content marketing businesses at both The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.

A passionate advocate for the value of content marketing, Robin is also heavily involved in industry issues and speaks at many events on the topics of content marketing and native advertising.

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