Why ‘Search Intent’ Should Fuel Your Digital Strategy


In the past, understanding where and how people were searching for information was enough to formulate strategic digital marketing programs. But things have evolved, and we now need to dive deeper to understand not just what they are searching for but what they are really interested in finding.

This is especially true in the health and wellness industries where searches are nuanced, and someone’s health and well-being are on the line. It is critical that marketers, media buyers, and planners understand the basics of “search intent” and evaluate their advertising partners on their expertise to boost marketing performance.

Ryan Purtill, Healthline’s Vice President of SEO, shares why search intent is so important and takes you behind the scenes to see how successful search marketing delivers on audience needs and creates engaging and relevant content.

The Importance of Search Intent

Search intent refers to the real intent behind what a person is searching for. When setting up a search approach, we now need to go beyond identifying search terms and search volume to understand search intent. This is important for three reasons:

  • Knowing a person’s intent enables you to narrowly target, by mindset and need, whom you are reaching via search, and to deliver the content that the population is actually looking for. When people searching get the answers they are looking for, they feel good about the content you provided, view you as a trustworthy source, and will be engaged consumers of your content in the future.
  • Fulfilling on search intent also ensures that users don’t “pogo” (i.e., click the “back” button) to return to Google because the content they landed on did not meet their need. Pogoing sends a clear signal to Google that your content isn’t good for a specific query.
  • Over the years, Google has become more and more able to determine people’s search intent, giving higher rankings to pages that deliver on the search intent of a specific search query. A more recent addition to Google’s algorithm, BERT*, is even able to understand the nuances and contexts of words like “of” and “with” in searches, and can figure out if, for example, a word like “date” refers to a day, an engagement, or a dried fruit. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your search content and metadata are aligned to the search intent of your audience.

An Example of Search Intent Driving Page Ranking and User Engagement:

In 2018, we ran you through an example of how you can use SERP* features to refine user intent before writing a piece of content. The query was “best drinks for diabetes.”

About 2,000 people a month were searching “best drinks for diabetes.” But what were users really looking for? The best drinks for preventing diabetes? What drinks best regulate blood sugar? Least damaging alcoholic drinks? Where to purchase the best drinks? Specific recipes for drinks? Brand names of drinks?

When we Googled it in 2018, this is what showed up:

Notice that 3 of the top 5 ranking sites also included the worst drinks, or drinks that raise glucose, in addition to the best drinks for diabetes. This highlighted to us that although users typed in “best drinks,” their real intent was to identify both the best and worst drinks for their condition.

Notice how there were no recipes, alcohol mentions, content about specific brand-name drinks, or purchasing websites ranked at the top. That was Google clueing us in that those topics were not related to the primary user’s intent.

When you clicked through on the first ranking to Healthline.com, you saw this:


Notice that we reaffirmed the intent with the headline, “What Can I Drink If I Have Diabetes?,” which is inclusive of both the best and worst drinks for diabetes. We found a dramatic decrease in bounce rate on that page when we matched our headline to intent.

We provided the user almost immediately with content about the five drinks that don’t raise blood sugar. We didn't waste time explaining what blood sugar is or the condition itself. The user was able to quickly get to the information they were looking for without scanning through fluff.

Once we allowed the user to scan the best and worst drinks, we then dived into each drink with research-backed information and helpful tips.

Best Practices to Pay Off on Search Intent

Based on our experience navigating how to pay off on “search intent,” here are some best practices we use to earn and retain a consistent top spot on Google’s results page.

Best Practice #1: Match Title Tag to Intent

Notice how our title tag matches search intent: “10 Best and Worst Drinks If You Have Diabetes.”

Best Practice #2: Pay Off Intent Quickly

Our listing provides the answer to the query in the description tag (i.e., water, tea, coffee, vegetable juice, low fat milk). This clean communication drives up CTR and over time sends a quality signal to Google.

Best Practice #3: Match Headline to Intent

Notice that we reaffirm the intent with the headline tag, “What Can I Drink If I Have Diabetes?” A headline of, say, “How Drinks Can Affect Sugar Levels” would represent a broader intent and may make the reader exit the page to find more focused content.

Best Practice #4: Match Content to Intent

We provide links for “Best drinks” and “Worst drinks” right below our headline to get users to dive right in. Our introductory paragraph, “The basics,” is short and to the point, quickly followed by the lists of best and worst drinks. We serve intent above the fold, in its own paragraph, so scanning eyes quickly get what they are looking for. This creates a better search experience, which leads to better rankings.

An Update

A lot has changed in the world since 2018. Let’s look into how this approach worked out. Here is what today’s SERP for “best drinks for diabetes” looks like today:

Google continues to refine intent and actually opened up this SERP to address other secondary search intents beyond “best and worst drinks for diabetes” to include products and recipes. But Google addressed these secondary intents in carousels, not the traditional “blue link” rankings. The traditional blue links all stayed addressing the intent we identified in 2018. As you can see, all three of our health properties (Healthline, Medical News Today, and Greatist) now rank in the top 5 positions after targeting our content to address this intent. Not bad!

Google will continue to improve their ability to sniff out search intent and test SERP features to address various user intents. For example, if Google notices that the recipe carousel in the SERP is driving a significant amount of user clicks, you can expect more recipe listings and domains to come into the SERP. 

Marketers need to realize that no matter who “owns” the content creation and search optimization functions in their organization or agencies, it is critical to recognize the importance of search intent for information seekers. Deciphering search intent and analyzing results and content performance all open the door to better understanding audience needs, delivering the right content, and helping people live healthier lives. 

Also, keep in mind that intent, like users, is not static; it can change over time. Staying on top of intent is a continuous function. Adept marketers need to keep an always-on pulse on user behavior to ensure that their content is truly serving their users’ needs. So, when you’re choosing publishing or advertising partners, evaluate the players who know how to leverage “search intent” to boost the health of your digital business.

At Healthline Media, we’ve gotten pretty good at search intent. That’s why our sites —  Healthline, Medical News Today, and Greatist — are consistently #1 or #2 in health and wellness searches. It’s helped us grow by 50% in 2020 and helps us be a proven partner for brands driving audience quality. Come talk with us about how our search expertise can impact your campaigns.

If you’re interested in learning more about search intent or how search can be integrated into your marketing strategy, email us today.

*SERP = Search Engine Results Pages

*BERT = Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers

About Healthline Media

As the #1 health media property in the US, Healthline Media reaches more than 94MM unique visitors each month (Comscore, August 2021). We provide credible health information with a compassionate approach.