Keywords and user intent: a guide for content marketing

Forget SEO – for content marketers looking to make a splash via search, there’s nothing more important than intent

Old-fashioned reliance on getting your website on Google’s first page doesn’t cut the mustard anymore.

Shoehorning a few high-scoring keywords into your content is a crude relic of search engine strategies gone by. Catering for different types of intent, not raw quantity of traffic, is the new marketing money spinner.

But how can content marketers get to grips with these changes? There are two elements to be aware of – different types of keywords and different types of intent. Here’s an explainer:


Short-head – high-volume phrases traditionally targeted by firms hoping to boost SEO. Short-head keywords around a topic can usually be found quite easily by having a look at Google’s search recommendations. Typing ‘content marketing’ into Google’s search box, for instance, brings up ‘content marketing institute’, ‘content marketing agency’ and ‘content marketing association’ as the top results.

Although targeted for their perceived value, such keywords provide little insight on user intent.

Long-tail – much more specific phrases that crop up around a given topic. Typing ‘what is content marketing’ on Google (one of the most searched questions around content marketing), for example, offers results for ‘what is B2B content marketing’, ‘what is digital content marketing’ and ‘what is a content marketing agency’.

These examples provide much more insight on the type of information consumers are trying to gather around a subject. Understanding this is the first step to harnessing the powers of search and producing useful content.


Informational – users want to find out more about a product or service. At this stage, content geared towards finalising a purchase immediately will deter potential enthusiasts. Informational intent is signified by keywords like ‘why’ and ‘how to’ around a subject.

Transactional – indicates a possible future intention to buy while finding out more about a product or service. Transactional intent is signified by keywords like ‘reviews’ and ‘vs’ around a subject.

Commercial – imminent intention to make a purchase. Commercial intent is signified by terms like ‘buy’ and ‘deal’ around a subject.

Navigational – keywords containing brand names. For firms, this means being aware of and capturing the best ranking keywords around their brand.

Why content is vital

The relationship between keywords and user intent is a complex and constantly changing one. Mastering the latter can only be done via a subtle approach to the former. There are three important steps to take:

Evaluate – it might be that your current content strategy places an undue focus on short-head keywords at the expense of long-tail phrases. Or you could be writing informational headlines when your consumers have reached the transactional stage. A varied approach to the different kinds of keywords and intent on offer could enhance your existing content.

Amend – perhaps a few minor changes to your content’s keywords could improve its value by making it more informational or transactional. For example, you could change a bland case study to a dynamic ‘review’. Doing so could turn vaguely interested followers into devoted customers in the long run.

Create – after evaluating and amending appropriately, it should be possible to create new content on a more keyword focused, intent-led basis. Using software such as Kparser or SEMrush to work out keywords around a topic, you can use content to guarantee you are hitting all the user intentions around topics relevant to your firm. This means starting with ‘how tos’, continuing with reviews and concluding with call-to-action content.

All of this adds up to a segmented content strategy that ensures you’re publicising your business where it needs to be publicised, then honing down user intent to the point of purchase. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C content creator, this makes a balanced approach to the different types of keywords and intent at the foundation of your strategy essential.

The shifting digital landscape can make it hard for businesses to stay on top. Content Cloud’s bank of editorial, strategic and insight experts may be able to help. Send us an email to find out how.

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