How to Understand What Brings People to Your Website

Keyword research is only the first step in search engine optimization. It’s an important foundation, don’t get me wrong. At the same time, just as no site metric exists in a vacuum, keywords lose a lot of value if you understand nothing about the people typing them.

In short, you know what searches bring people to your site, but do you know why? 

Let’s say someone types in the search term ‘Tonka.’ Are they looking to buy a toy truck? To read about the Tonka brand? To research the 1958 Disney movie? To learn more about rocket fuel? 

Without further information, you simply cannot know. But you need to. Understanding search intent is critical to optimizing your site, and crucial if you want to provide your audience with the best experience possible. 

Let’s start with an overview of the different types of search intent.

Learn, Locate, Purchase, Research: 4 Types of Search Intent

According to SEO firm Yoast, all searches fall into one of the following categories.

  • Informational queries are entered by users who are looking for information of some kind. This could include information on the weather, current events, marketing tutorials, and so on. These users have a specific question and are looking for a specific answer. 
  • Navigational queries are entered by users who are looking for a specific website. It’s usually not worthwhile trying to rank high on a navigational query – it either happens organically, or your site isn’t what people are looking for.
  • Transactional queries are entered with the intent to purchase in the immediate future. They usually include keywords like “buy” or “purchase.”
  • Commercial/Investigative queries sort of blend transactional and informational. These are people who plan to purchase in the near future but want to learn more before they do. They’re looking for reviews, for advice on which product is the best, etc. 

Why People Search: Understanding User Intent on Your Website

Now that you know the different types of search intent, the next order of business is figuring out which of them drives traffic to your website. The good news is that you likely already have all the data you need for this. All you really need to do is read between the lines.

First, consider the type of page that’s receiving search traffic. A product listing is probably going to draw in users with either transactional or investigative intent. A blog post or white paper on the other hand will draw in users who’ve entered informational queries. 

It may also be worthwhile to examine the search engine results page. What ads are displayed on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)? What is the nature of the other sites that have ranked?  Take a bit of time to study, and try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s entered the keyword or keyphrase, and ask yourself: what are they looking for, and how do the results meet that need? 

That is, after all, what nearly every Google algorithm update to date has been about – establishing a better understanding of user intent, and better meeting user needs. 

Per SEMRush, you should also pay particularly close attention to the following search features

  • Informational: Live results, knowledge cards, tweets, top stories, featured snippets, videos
  • Commercial: People also ask, shopping, reviews, videos, knowledge panel, featured snippet lists
  • Transactional: Paid product panels, paid knowledge panel additions, shopping, knowledge panels, reviews, images

Finally, take a look at how people are engaging with your content. An abnormally high bounce rate could indicate that your content doesn’t quite mesh with what people are looking for. Again, though, don’t measure bounce rate in isolation.

A thought leadership post, for example, might have a high bounce rate coupled with high time on the page. Sure, you ideally want people to respond to your call to action. But many of them will probably read the piece, find that it fits their needs, and move on. 

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3 Ways to Improve Your SEO Knowledge

Want to learn more about search engine optimization (SEO)? You should. Knowledge of SEO might not be as critical as it used to be, but it’s still one of the core pillars of success on the web.

So whether you’re establishing foundational SEO skills or shoring up existing knowledge, it’s always worthwhile to learn more. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to teach yourself more if you’re willing to put in the effort. Here’s what we suggest. 

Read a Guide

There is a wealth of high-quality, comprehensive guides on search engine optimization on the web. Of these, The Beginner’s Guide to SEO, published by Moz, is probably the best. It covers more or less everything you need to know, starting with the absolute basics. 

If the Moz piece is a bit too much to digest, you could also check out Neil Patel’s SEO Made Simple: A Step-by-Step Guide. Although it’s not quite as comprehensive as Moz’s piece, it still gives you all the information necessary to get started with basic SEO. Plus, Patel himself is a pretty big name in digital marketing, referred to by many as one of the web’s top influencers. 

Finally, there’s also Search Engine Journal’s Complete Guide to SEO. Updated annually, this one’s a bit more advanced. It also covers emerging trends and techniques in the SEO space. 

Try a Few Tools

Although studying should definitely be your first step, you can also learn a lot just by fiddling around in the dashboard of an SEO tool. The Google Search Console is probably the best place to start here. You can use it completely free of charge, and it provides you with all the basic information you need to understand in order to measure your SEO efforts. 

Combine the Search Console with the Google Keyword Planner and Google Analytics, and you’ll even be able to get started researching the right terms and phrases to bring people to your site.

These are not the only tools available to you if you’re looking to learn SEO. Ahrefs is one of the highest-quality search engine optimization platforms on the web, providing more or less everything you could possibly need to get your SEO to an acceptable level. And if you’re on WordPress, Yoast SEO is an excellent plugin to explore.  

Learn by Doing

Ultimately, the best way to acquire SEO knowledge is by applying it in the real world. After reading through an SEO guide of your choice and exploring an SEO tool or two, take what you’ve learned and use it to optimize your website. It will probably be difficult at first.

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