S4E1 Adriana Stein, Why search intent is the most underutilized and powerful element of SEO

Keira Davidson (00:01):

Hello, and welcome to the TechSEO Podcast, where we explore technical SEO and everything that comes with it. My name is Keira Davidson and I’m an SEO consultant at SALT. Today I’m joined by Adriana Stein, founder and B2B SEO consultant at AS Marketing. Welcome to the podcast today, and how are you?

Adriana Stein (00:20):

I’m doing awesome. Thank you so much for hosting me. Super excited to be here today.

Keira Davidson (00:25):

Definitely. I can’t wait to speak about search intent and everything that is involved in that. But before we get into the ins and outs, I always like to get to know a bit more about our guests. So to kick things off, how did you get into SEO? How did you manage to get to where you are today?

Adriana Stein (00:46):

Yeah, it’s kind of a crazy story. I’ve had a bit of a crazy career I would say, because I didn’t start out having the intent … speaking of search intent. I didn’t have the intent actually to start out in SEO or even in marketing generally, it just kind of happened on accident. So I’m originally from the US, from Oregon, but I’ve been based in Hamburg Germany for six years now. I think it’ll be six years on April 4th, so nearly the anniversary of my expat move. And I originally moved here to actually do my master’s degree because you can do them for free in Germany, which is amazing in contrast from the US. But long story short that actually didn’t end up working out, which was a blessing in disguise because I started out as sort of like an intern for a couple German companies and working in the marketing department. Because when I first moved to Germany, I was in German language school for a total of about nine months.

Adriana Stein (01:52):

So my German was pretty decent and that was kind of a in-demand skill, being able to speak and work in German, but do some content writing or translations or something like that in English, because there’s a lot of German companies who want to market to the US or UK or countries like this that speak English. So basically that was just the first job type I got, because that’s what fit my skills. And they happened to be in the marketing department. And I got a lot of training there, especially in SEO in content marketing, because when you can do that from a really local level, that’s really the best possible goal that you want.

Adriana Stein (02:34):

And I kind of realized, after I spent my first two clients that I worked with as a freelancer, these were these kind of two internships I did, I realized a lot of German companies actually needed these skills. So it just grew from there to where I was growing my freelance client database. And then that got quite successful as well, and so I decided to scale up into an agency and that’s when AS Marketing was born. And now, still true to the original intent behind what I did, that’s what we specialize in is, helping companies with a very localized approach to their marketing strategy and typically also with an SEO first approach because SEO is still my biggest passion, and I think it’s the majority of our team’s passion as well. So even though we do provide holistic marketing, definitely our bread and butter is SEO and localized SEO for global companies.

Keira Davidson (03:42):

Okay. So typically then, as a founder of an agency and consultant, what does an average day look for you?

Adriana Stein (03:53):

Yeah, that’s also kind of a funny question because it’s changing a lot. When you are growing a boots strapping business. So, boots strapping basically means no investment, just doing my own thing, winging it, it changes a lot. My world really changes a lot. In the beginning it started out more as sort of like a project manager or account manager for the clients, and then as our team grew and we got some really experienced project managers, then I’ve taken my hands off of project management, which has been really great because now I have more time for things like being on this podcast and to work really on our brand strategy, just ensuring that everything financially is balanced. That’s one of the most difficult things about scaling a business.

Adriana Stein (04:43):

I don’t even want to say an agency because I think every business feels this, that when they’re scaling you kind of, you have to always find this balance between, what are our sales and marketing and operations budgets? What should we charge clients? How do we run those projects at a profit? There’s a lot of financial elements in there that I didn’t plan on having to become a expert in. But I have to say it’s a good problem to have.

Adriana Stein (05:08):

So that’s kind of where I’m at right now. Just mainly overseeing the general financial balance of the business, working on administration things and definitely building our brand now. Which is super fun because now it’s kind of like the next step and I hope we can kind of start to make our mark in the world a little bit.

Keira Davidson (05:28):

That’s so exciting then. So you had such an opportunistic sort of time to really sort of grow and showcase what you do. So the plan for today is to talk about why search intent is the most underutilized and powerful element of SEO. And I think the best place to start on this is to explain what intent is and to elaborate on the different types of search intent.

Adriana Stein (06:02):

Yeah. So the reason why search intent definitely can be described as the most powerful element of SEO is because, when you connect the content to the keywords, that’s really where you are going to find that SEO can have the biggest impact on revenue. And so if we start by defining search intent. Basically the idea behind search intent is, anytime that someone Googles something or they use another search engine, they’re looking to find a specific type of information. They have a question or they need to know something and they’re typing in a certain phrase or set of words to find that information. And so search intent, understanding search intent, is the process of trying to find the information that the person is looking for and then create that information from within your marketing department. And it should be in a way that informs that person properly. So if you’re matching search intent, then basically you’re matching the information that you provide as a company in your content to the information that the person is searching for.

Keira Davidson (07:19):

Yeah. And I think, in my experience, it’s really important to ensure that you are matching the intent, as if you don’t, people aren’t interested, that’ll move on the next thing, they won’t click on you. I think one thing is that, the intent can be defined in different types.

Adriana Stein (07:42):


Keira Davidson (07:43):

I’m thinking there’s four?

Adriana Stein (07:46):

I think it depends on who you talk to on how many different types there are. There are some categories and some rationale that you can put things into, I think, informational and transactional or … I don’t remember exactly, but I think the most important thing that you want to consider is, when someone is searching for something, what type of information are they looking to find? So I can give a more concrete example. If someone is typing in a question that’s like a, what is. What is something? Then they probably are not looking to buy something right away. They’re just trying to understand what something is. How do I understand this concept? So a search intent mismatch would be that, if you tried to create like a sales landing page for a, what is type keyword, that really wouldn’t make sense because that’s not the information that the person is searching for.

Adriana Stein (08:42):

You’d rather want to start with just defining, what is the thing that they’re searching for? How is this information going to be helpful to them? What else do they need to know surrounding this topic? And then that’s going to bring them deeper into what’s known as the sales funnel. So search intent and the sales funnel are super connected. For those that are newer to the sales funnel, basically there are three main categories. Sales funnels again, can vary dependent on who you talk to. But there’s always awareness, consideration and decision.

Adriana Stein (09:18):

So awareness. If we talk about a, what is keyword, that’s just someone who’s becoming aware of a topic, so they would be considered at the top of the sales funnel. They don’t necessarily have any purchase intent yet. But if you can inform them in the correct way about the concept that they need and maybe connect them to some further helpful information, some use cases or things like that, so then they can become more aware of their problem. Then kind of start to understand, okay, then I need to solve this problem. And that’s where consideration comes in.

Adriana Stein (09:52):

So consideration is where, maybe you’re comparing different solutions to your problem. So for example, let’s say that, first you were starting with the search term, what is SEO? Since we’re on a SEO podcast today. What is SEO? So that’s going to be in the awareness stage. And you want to get better at your SEO strategy in your company, so probably you need a tool. I mention Semrush. So maybe once you understand what SEO is and that you need a tool in order to get better at it, you would start comparing tools, that’s consideration. So maybe you look at Semrush versus Moz versus Ahrefs. There’s lots of tools out there. So here, maybe you would have some sort of … you would look at some sort of guide on, best SEO tools. That’s helpful for the consideration stage, and that’s a very common keyword as well.

Adriana Stein (10:48):

And then maybe you would have a decision level content piece, that’s more focused on SEO software. If you are Semrush yourself or Moz yourself, then you would be creating this kind of what’s called, bottom of funnel or high purchase intent page that focuses on capturing people who are basically ready to make a purchase decision. So it’s all really aligned, this process of the sales funnel and search intent. And so really at the end of the day, it matters because you have to provide the person with the correct information that they’re searching for. If there’s some sort of mismatch there, then they’re not going to be interested in your brand at all. There has to be … you have to provide a level of help first and a level of information first, before you can sell stuff. Just direct selling doesn’t really work anymore.

Keira Davidson (11:44):

So essentially without intent, you are negatively impacting the site’s opportunity, revenue opportunity, which is why obviously it’s so powerful and a key element of SEO. So in terms of commercial pages. I find that there are certain words that you want to include, because they kind of signal that this is a transactional sort of, you can buy something, it’s a product page. So I would usually use, buy. Or if it’s something online I’d put maybe, buy online, or something like that. Do you have any other go to keywords for the different intents?

Adriana Stein (12:31):

Yeah, absolutely. So at AS Marketing, because we’re mainly working with B2B, especially tech, then anytime that you find keywords that basically exactly describe your product, then that’s what your high purchase intent keywords should be. That’s what you should use on your product pages. And we do find that one of the ways that you can really scale this out is to find product synonyms and then match them to different use cases. So there are a lot of different ways that you can use an SEO tool. You can use it for keyword research. You can use it for competitor analysis. You can use it for understanding your domain metrics. So those are all basically use cases for a certain tool. And the angle really is just to find out all of the different ways that you can talk about how this product is useful. And then those can go into product pages.

Adriana Stein (13:27):

However, there is the caveat that you shouldn’t have this very loaded stacked site with so much content that is difficult to look through. So you kind of have to piece out, okay, what are our most important product related keywords that we know are really the closest match to what our product is, what we call it, what our audience knows what it is. And then that’s going to go on, let’s say your evergreen or your … I don’t say permanent, because content’s never really permanent, so mostly permanent content. And then maybe the rest would go into the blog, that you’re kind of elaborating on the topic a little bit further.

Keira Davidson (14:05):

I don’t know whether … about you, but I personally find having content that meets the intent of each different stage of the funnel is really important. But then also using that content, it’s like a mini hub and spoke to then link and feed customers, users, up through the funnel. So then eventually it results in a transaction or an action, which then in turn benefits the company.

Adriana Stein (14:36):

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, any type of marketing activity that you do, regardless of SEO or something else, there should always be intention behind it. I’m using this with intention. But there should always be intention behind what you do. So one common mistake that we find with our clients is, everyone has kind of come to the conclusion by now that doing content marketing is worth it, having a blog is worth it, having generally nice content on your products is worth it. But sometimes it’s not really done with intent. And what I mean by this is with purpose.

Adriana Stein (15:14):

So it’s really important that you, if you put in the time and the resources, i.e. the money into creating content, that you have some intent behind it, some purpose behind it. That it connects with your audience. That it matches a certain stage of the sales funnel. That it does follow the customer journey that your audience goes through when they’re making that purchase decision. So that they basically, from the top to the bottom of the sales funnel, they have that information at a very easily understandable and easily findable flow so they can feel like, “Okay, well that was so simple for me to find the solution to my problem. So I’m going to go ahead and buy this thing.”

Keira Davidson (15:55):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Just out of interest, do you find that using the likes of FAQs on pages or having a dedicated FAQs helps customers on those journeys and helps to match the intent of certain queries?

Adriana Stein (16:13):

Yeah, that’s a really good point. So, one thing that we try to do quite often on our projects, because we have SEO and typically performance advertising projects that are combined, is we create pages that actually function for both. So you can create a page structure that, it has those conversion elements at the top. Like your hero conversion, whatever is. Book a demo, or book a pretrial, or talk to a sales person, et cetera. So you can still use that and put your social proof or your statistics or your data towards the top so that it could still work for paid advertising. But then you can also optimize the FAQ section at the bottom for SEO as well.

Adriana Stein (16:57):

And FAQ is a really perfect space to rank for, People Also Ask. So this is the space when you Google something and then you see that there’s these boxes that have related questions, you can get a featured snippet which means, appear under those questions by filling in the FAQ section of your content. So whenever you’re doing keyword research and you understand the search intent behind that keyword, you can actually just Google what else is showing up. And the People Also Ask search words, and then that’s what should go into your FAQ section as well.

Keira Davidson (17:35):

And then, so you mentioned around your keyword research and making sure the intent aligns. On typically speaking, would you use a tool where the intent is highlighted or identified, or would you spot check certain terms? Because I’m getting, you naturally have an understanding of what kind of intents are relating to you for certain terms.

Adriana Stein (18:08):

Yeah, so I think a tool can help you maybe if you want to summarize data. Like in Semrush, maybe we might tell a client, 30% of your keywords are informational search intent or something like that, if you’re doing some sort of report just to kind of look at. Are we creating content that follows through the entire sales funnel? Are we creating content that is more transactional so that it can lead to conversions? But I think actually, still quite a lot of the process is manual, because a tool can’t really understand the strategy behind your business. And it also doesn’t know your site structure, it doesn’t know exactly how your products work. So you can use it as a starting point, but we typically tend to do a lot of that still quite manually. Which I think is especially beneficial when you’re looking at how keywords vary across different regions.

Adriana Stein (19:05):

So you might have a different intent or a completely different search engine results pages for the US versus the UK, for example, and then you need to make sure that the content that you create matches the regional search intent and what’s really appearing there. So a lot of it is still quite manual and it’s worth it to check that. Because a third party tool again, it’s not going to totally understand how your product functions. It’s just making some guesses. Even this categorization in Semrush, I think is only new from the end of last year. So it’s still pretty rudimentary.

Keira Davidson (19:44):

Mm-hmm. and in terms of checking it, would you do it on … would you check every keyword that you’re looking at or would you just be like, “Oh, I’ll check this one. Oh, and that one.”

Adriana Stein (19:57):

Yeah. I think that’s a question that our team discusses quite regularly when we do something an SEO audit. We’re always like, “How many keywords should we check?” But a lot of it has to do with how big and developed the website is. So if you have a new website or a really small website, then probably you do want to actually check quite a bit of the keywords and what we call serv-analysis. So checking what is appearing for those keywords. So that when a new website or a starter website, it may be difficult for them to invest in those resources to create content. So you want to make sure that is as efficient as possible. And when you check the search and the search intent behind the keywords and you know that you have a match there, you can basically ensure that time and that budget is being used efficiently.

Adriana Stein (20:51):

When you have a bigger website though, that maybe you’re already on 200-300 pages or something, it’s simply not possible. It’s too much manual labor. But what you can do is try to focus on the general topics as a brand that are relevant. So sometimes people use the term, topic pillars or topic clusters, in this case. We at AS Marketing, we might define that a little bit differently than other SEOs do, but in our case, we are talking about what topics in general are relevant for this brand, relevant for their products. And then how do we create content around those topics that holistically covers the topic and also follows the entire sales funnel?

Adriana Stein (21:37):

So you can do some general keyword research there and just look at what’s known as the seed keyword or the head keyword. So it may be something that’s a high search volume kind of a little bit vague keyword about what is the search intent behind it, like a two word phrase you don’t exactly know. But you can dig deeper there into the long tail versions and then just create a keyword list from that. And then you can still get a pretty good idea that that’s going to match what you’re looking for there.

Keira Davidson (22:09):

Yeah. I think there are also occasions where, for example, a commercial page, such as a product page, and then an informational resource page, both appear in … I’m not saying it’s the same site, but both appear in the search results. So the search results are quite mixed. It might be recipes, videos, product pages. How would you go around deciding whether you decide to go for that intent or whether you decide to completely miss that opportunity or pick between the informational or commercial page to go for, to target that?

Adriana Stein (22:50):

Yeah, that’s a really good question. And actually we had a recent project where we actually faced this issue and it was a larger website. So it was not worth going through every single keyword to really check if it’s an exact match. But, for example, one of the pages we came across this was with the seed keyword, urban mobility. So urban mobility, that can mean a whole lot of things. And of course for that … the search for that keyword are, some of them were product pages, some of them were blog articles, some of them were ultimate guide type things. And that’s when you can tell that, actually this keyword is quite vague and that’s why Google itself even can’t understand the search intent. But we know that, because urban mobility for this company was a very, very relevant brand related topic. Then we knew for their strategy that this is worth it.

Adriana Stein (23:46):

So what we did is basically just expanded on the keyword research. You always want to start with this seed keyword such as urban mobility, and then kind of fill in the rest of your keyword cluster. So semantically related keywords to urban mobility that do have more of an exact match search intent. So, for example, we would go from urban mobility to urban mobility planning software, or urban mobility simulation software. Or something like this that’s a little bit closer match. But you still over time, when you create content that fills in this entire topic cluster you can start just a link for a keyword like urban mobility. Which in this case was worth it for this brand because they wanted to be known for this topic. So that’s where this strategy bit comes through that you have to understand, what is the strategy of the business. And then if it’s a worthwhile topic for them, even if the search intent is a little bit vague, then it can still be definitely super valuable to create content for [inaudible 00:24:55].

Keira Davidson (24:55):

So from my understanding then, intent is something that should be considered throughout a whole SEO strategy. It shouldn’t be like, “Oh, well, think about intent at the start when we’re doing keyword research.” And then you’ve looked at it, you’ve put it back down, and then you run about creating content. And obviously if you create that content without that intent in mind, that content might not be valuable, it might not have the purpose. So in a sense it’s wasted or resources not utilized as best. So no matter where you are in the strategy, you should be thinking about intent.

Adriana Stein (25:33):

100%. I think it’s a daily thing in your SEO strategy that you should really be looking at, the search intent. And always make sure that your content has a purpose and it matches what your audience is looking for. I can give another example there that, is a really common problem that we run into working largely on B2B projects is, sometimes there is a mix between B2C and B2B search intent. Or it’s kind of hard to tell which is which, and for a B2B company is this phrase really worthwhile for them. Or is it mostly end consumers who are looking for something different and then it’s not worthwhile. So one thing that we tend to do there is, again, this serv-analysis, you can tell if you’re … especially if you’re reading meta descriptions and Google starts coming up with phrases, because Google actually changes meta descriptions quite heavily, automatically now, sad day for SEOs who wrote them manually for so many years.

Adriana Stein (26:35):

But you can see if it’s pulling up a bunch of meta descriptions that sound like it’s talking to just an individual person. You can probably get, “Okay, maybe this is a B2C search. This is an end to consumer search, not a business related search.” Or if you get meta descriptions that say like, something for your business, or grow your business, or it helps you with this with your business or something. Then you can see, “Okay, this is a B2B type search. People from businesses are looking for this.” So then it’s worthwhile to check and create your content on.

Keira Davidson (27:09):

Yeah, definitely agree on that. So I have one final question for you. Where’s the best place people can find you on social media?

Adriana Stein (27:22):

So I’m most heavily active on LinkedIn. I think you can just look up my name. I have a LinkedIn handle with lots of numbers in it, so I won’t say that word for word now. But I’m also on Twitter as well. Adriana K. Stein. So feel free to reach out if you have any thoughts or questions or just want to chat, then I’m all ears.

Keira Davidson (27:44):

Perfect. So thanks again for joining us today on the podcast. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks for your next installment of Technical SEO. That’s all for this episode. And we’re always looking for other experts to join us and give us a fresh perspective on technical SEO. If this is of interest to you, reach out to myself, Keira F. Davidson on Twitter, and we’ll get something arranged.

Join the discussion