What is keyword intent?

It’s the intent that searchers for a keyword will have when typing into Google.

When I type “how old is Rob Lowe” in Google, my intent is to find out how old he is.

Now that’s as simple as it gets.

Not all keywords are so easy to decipher intent.

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IMPORTANT: As a publisher, it’s your job to serve up the information the lion’s share of searchers seek when they use various keywords you target those keywords. This is critically important. Why? Because Google is constantly striving to improve intent every single day. Google is maniacal about serving up content that meets searchers’ intent.

For the most part, the intent is not hard to figure out.

Here are the two questions to ask when writing/publishing content:

1. What is it the searcher really wants?

2. Can you publish the content that searchers would want?

If you can’t answer “yes” to question two, whether you write it or you have a writer write it, you should skip it.

Even if the keyword difficulty is 0 and search volume is high.

Google is big on intent and if your content doesn’t meet that intent, while you might hit the top spot, chances are it won’t last long.

By now you’re thinking to yourself, “Hey, how about some examples?”

Okay. Here are examples.

1. “Amazon Associates”

About 18 months or so ago Thebalance.com (a Dotdash website) ranked #1 for the search “Amazon Associates”. As someone who logs into Amazon Associates regularly, it was annoying. I don’t know how many times I clicked into the Balance out trigger happiness only having to back out and scroll down to the Amazon Associates link.

99.99% of people who search for Amazon Associates simply want to log into their associate’s account. They don’t want to read about it.

2. Brands

Many brands get searched a ton and on paper don’t appear difficult to rank for. Many have keyword difficulty 2 or less in Ahrefs.

However, that does not mean you should target brands alone. By all means, target them with qualifiers such as “review” or some additional keyword but not on its own.


Because 99% of searches for just a brand want to visit the brand’s website. Not yours.

What about people’s names?

That’s different and this nuanced distinction is a great example of trying to understand search intent.

People who search for a person’s name want information about that person. I often search for people’s names. I actually don’t want to visit their site (if they have one). I either want the full work up on Wikipedia, but more often than not, I want some editorial piece about the person. In some cases, I enjoy those “X name – 25 things you didn’t know” articles. Those can be fun if well done.

3. “How-to” articles.

The aggregate search volume for every how-to search must be billions per month. Many have high search volumes with relatively low keyword difficulty.

However, my position these days is I won’t bother going after any of those unless I or writers include a full-blown tutorial of the how-to with our own photos.

Recently a writer pitched some topics to me. I was busy so I quickly approved them. One approval was a mistake. It was a how-to. When she delivered the article it wasn’t based on her actually doing the full task and documenting it with photos.

To fix this, I had her re-do it and document it properly. That more than tripled the cost (I pay her hourly) but the end result is a really good how-to article instead of some garbage based on theory.

When I search “how to” I expect top-ranking articles to be a full-blown tutorial if it bolsters the topic. Not every “how-to” is tutorial-based, but if it is, do the tutorial and photograph every step.

You can take it to the next level by doing a video of it as well… but that adds a ton of work.

Fortunately, most keywords you find don’t have these issues, but it’s good to be aware of them.

Always ask “can I publish the content that searchers really want?” for any given keyword.

One simple way to see how Google is treating various types of searches

One obvious step to take is to type in your intended keywords into Google and see what Google serves.

Usually, this is helpful, but more and more often I’m finding what Google is doing is serving up a variety of different approaches.

Let me illustrate.

When you type in a local search such as “Vancouver attorney” Google (aside from its Google My Business pages and map) lists out individual law firms but also directories and blogs that list out the “best attorneys in Vancouver”.

In other words. Google seems to hedge because it’s not sure what the searcher wants. In fact, chances are, different searchers want different types of articles.

Therefore, this conundrum likely won’t’ go away because Google can’t please all the people all the time.

Another example is product reviews.

Google serves up customer reviews on merchant sites, user-generated review sites (i.e. Capterra), individual blogger reviews, and review roundups. It’s the shotgun approach to search listings.

Another example is review vs. reviews.

The plural vs. singular keywords, while only differing by one letter and seemingly similar, are very different with respect to intent.

Reviews: folks want a variety of reviews. It may be a variety of customer reviews (user-generated) or a website that focuses on those reviews. TIP: If you publish a product-oriented site, create either a dedicated page linking to all the individual reviews or optimize your “reviews” category page.

Review: folks typically want to read a full-blown review of the product. However, Google expands this intent too often include customer reviews on merchant sites so that readers can choose those many reviews (i.e. Amazon customer reviews) or individual blogger reviews of the product.

So what approach should you take?

This is not always easy but my practice is to take the approach that serves the reader best.

I do not try to target multiple keywords with different intents. For example, I would never attempt to target “review” and “reviews” for the same article. The intent is very different.

That said if there is similar intent but different wording. I may target both. Here’s a great example of this:

Fried chicken recipe/how to make fried chicken

Different phrasing but the intent is identical.

I would create a title such as “Fried chicken recipe – learn how to make the fried chicken”

Which phrasing should come first?

Put first which is more important for you to rank. Note, that this may not necessarily be the keyword with the most searches. Perhaps one phrase has a far lower keyword difficulty but decent search volume. That might be the better keyword.

With the fried chicken example, here are the metrics:

The fried chicken recipe gets 73,000 monthly searches and has a keyword difficulty score (Ahrefs) of 44.

How to make fried chicken: 13,000 monthly searches and has a keyword difficult score (Ahrefs) of 44.

Clearly putting “Fried Chicken Recipe” at the front is the best option.

However, if “how to make fried chicken” had a keyword difficulty score of 7, then I’d probably put that at the front of the title.

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