Google takes your search term and works hard to discover the underlying intent behind the search. Bringing to bear the vast historic and current search landscape as well as trending queries, your search term is interpreted very early on in the decision process. The results ‘most likely to match your intent’ are then presented in SERPs.
This is not really news to the SEO community, but we often choose to ‘skip over’ the deeper implications and what this means to how we optimise sites and advise our clients.
In a recent interview with Emily Moxley, an example was given for how a short tail search term was augmented in order to ensure the ‘most likely’ search intent was represented in the results:
Emily explains that searches for ‘Tom Cruise’ often include a reference to Tom’s height. Google decides that all searches for ‘Tom Cruise’ are likely to be related to Tom’s height, so should therefore include results that confirm Tom Cruises height is 1.70m – even though the original search didn’t include the height request. Google knows that in the majority of cases, anyone looking for Tom Cruise wants to know how tall he his.
Therefore, Universal SERPs are made up of variety of ‘best guesses’ at the meaning or intent behind the search. The results are not simply a mix of news, videos and images related to the query term. The results are a mix carefully selected to match the search intent behind the term.
Try the search intent tool to gain a more complete understanding of the intention of the searcher in Google.
For example, a search at the time of writing for the term ‘sandy’ will produce a page of results relating to the hurricane Sandy. It is assumed that the intent behind the query is to discover the latest news on the hurricane rather than the definition of the word ‘sandy’ or a search about beaches.
Notice that the knowledge graph result is for a local businessman ‘Warwick Sandy’, living in Longtown, Carlisle.
The same search from Inverness produces a Google+ page for a local photographer called Fea Sandy as well as the hurricane related results:
The same search ‘sandy’ from London produces a different map and a different set of results (including the Guardian in second place):
If the location is changed to ‘Bedford’, then the search results for the term ‘sandy’ include the wiki entry for Sandy the small town in Bedfordshire:
It is clear that the intent behind the query is determined from multiple sources:
- Trending and historic search terms related to query e.g. sandy storm, sandy hurricane, tom cruise height
- Search location to produce relevant results e.g. Local business, or local information
- Previous queries and sites visited ie. search history
Typically, Google ensures that results include associated terms when the original intent is not clear.
More than ever before, it is important to understand the intent behind queries, then ensure your site content satisfies that intent. Google will prefer to show sites that best match the intent behind the query, not simply match the query to the title or on-page content. Matching keywords to content isn’t enough anymore.
Matching the intent behind the query to on-site content is more likely to produce results as Google gets better at determining what the query actually means rather than simply matching the key words themselves.
So if you are trying to rank well for ‘Tom Cruise’ then be sure you mention his height…