Matching user intent

Seo > Let users know they have found the right page

Updated: April 30th 2016

This is exactly what I was looking for

What is matching user intent?

  • Matching user intent occurs when a user sees your page and instantly understands that the page is likely to help them.
  • If a user wants to buy something and nothing is for sale, user intent is not matched
  • If a user is looking for cat photos and sees dog photos, user intent was not matched
  • The main power a webmaster has in matching user intent (regardless of the subject) is the design elements of their pages.

People judge your site the instant they see it. They will determine if they want to use your page or hit the back button.

This means that the visuals of your page must provide context as quickly as possible. The way typography and images are used determines if a user will stay or go.

Visual subject matter

Here is a website that offers worldwide office leasing...

visual subject matter should match intent

The above page does several things right, however for now we are highlighting the visual subject matter. The page shows office things and city skylines. The page shows a prominent searchbar (a visual cue that they have offices to search for). The headline is prominently stating the page purpose.

Now let's keep some of the some of the good things, but change the visuals...

visual subject matter not matching intent

Office leasing sites should not have food or trees as their visual subject matter, they should have office stuff.

These two sites may have better offices, superior search results, cheaper prices and may be in every way better than the site we showed above. It won't matter though, because when a user encounters their pages they will be less likely to interact because the visual cues are not telling them that this is what they are looking for.

These examples may seem simplistic, but they are real (there are actual office leasing sites that have tree visuals and food visuals).

It isn't always just having the wrong subject matter. Sometimes a webmaster may opt for a "safe" design look and not give any visual cues, or they may have a strong personal like of a certain look or concept that may not be accurately conveying to a user what the page is about.

How to ensure you are matching user intent visually

Search for your search term in Google, then click to the image results.

When we look at image results for "office leasing" we get an overview of images for that term, and we see that they all are buildings, desks, conference rooms, people in suits pointing at things, etc.

If you do an image search for your search term and your visuals do not have the same subject matter, then you are likely not matching user intent.

This is not to say you should just copy things. When you do an image search for your search term you also have a great opportunity not just to get a general feel of user expected images and visuals, you also get to see what images are the most popular and how to make yours more distinctive and better.

  • Visuals must create a sense of "this is what I am looking for" to a user.
  • Use Google image search to see what visuals are being used for your search terms
  • Observe the images found for your subject matter and try to make better, more distinctive images that still convey the message

Headlines and their prominence

The most prominent words on a page should be words that help users understand they have found the right page.

We all know words are imortant, but there sure are many sites that do not make it easy to see what the most important words are.

Far too often prominence is given to branding, "about us", or other things which do not have anything to do with solving the users problems or matching their intent.

headline examples

Not to say branding isn't important, it is. But the flow of events for a visitor to your page should be something like...

  1. Wow this is exactly what I wanted to find
  2. What is this website?

This doesn't mean you have to make your headlines ridiculously giant and your branding absolutely tiny, it just means that the prominence should be given to what the user wants.

A good page will always make headlines that accurately, descriptively and prominently tell a user what the page is about.

If a user has to seach to find the headline, then we can't really call it a headline can we?

Images and headlines

Headlines should be, at the very least visible on the page right? We can all agree on at least that.

Let's look at a common scenario that occurs often, especially in blogposts, where an image is placed above a headline.

headline pushed down by image

Because of branding and the intro image, the headline is not even visible.

In this scenario, the user has no way to really determine what this article is about.

This can be resolved by simply placing the headline above the image.

headline above image

In this case a user can see the headline, and determine if the page is relevant.

I am not stating that there is some rule that headlines must always be above images.

The only "rule" is letting a user know what the page is about as quickly as possible.

Continuing our example, an image can be above the headline but to do so we would make the branding smaller...

headline below image

A user must immediately be able to see what a page is about

The more quickly a user is able to understand your page can help them, the more likely they are to use and interact with your page, service or app.

There are several basic ways to convey to a user what your page is about, they all seem simple at first but it is actually rare to find a site that uses all these basic things well.

This is good news for you, because it means there is opportunity for you to improve one or more of these basics and make them better than your competitors.

Patrick Sexton by