How to Build a Search Intent-First Website Architecture

Continuous improvement approach for building an intent-driven website architecture
Continuous improvement approach for building an intent-driven website architecture

Background to Intent-driven Website Architecture

Website planning is complex and it can get quite messy and we, SEOs, are often involved in this process. The trouble is that we are involved as secondary or tertiary stakeholders and we often have to raise our voice a little bit higher to ensure that the architecture that is being built is the best for users and also for search engines.

The importance of having these conversations and this involvement is that essentially the architecture is going to be a key component of the performance of the website and it’s also going to impact how we are benchmarked and how the performance of our work is being evaluated.

So, because these conversations can become very difficult to have, and sometimes there are multiple stakeholders involved in the planning, and there are many things to consider – they can often feel quite daunting. So, to help with this, in the following post, I’ll be exploring this topic in-depth in the light of user search intent. Hopefully, it will feel a lot less daunting after the end of this post than it did in the beginning.

Here is what this post will cover:

  • propose a continuous improvement planning approach for web architecture
  • highlight the importance of goal-driven site architecture planning
  • highlight the relationship between site goals, user personas, and search intent
  • demonstrate ways of considering search intent in both page planning and structure planning
  • highlight the benefits of having an intent-driven website architecture
  • highlight different ways to troubleshoot for intent mismatch
  • recommend some further reading to get set you on a path of success ✨

This talk was originally presented as part of the SEO Mastery Summit, and if you want to check out the slides I’ve used for the presentation, alongside this write-up, please feel free to access them via the Slideshare link below:

Before we begin, I just want to quickly re-cap what is search intent.

Background to Search Intent

Search intent represents an objective that the searcher is trying to accomplish through their online journey.

There are several commonly-identified search intent categories that have been sustained since the days of library searches, and are reflected in academic research and also in Google’s guidelines there are multiple subtypes which we’re going to discuss a bit later on:

  • informational search intent
  • navigational search intent
  • transactional search intent
  • localized search intent
  • Commercial search intent

Understand what is search intent in organic marketing.

Understanding intent and how to target it can lead to better performance management. There is a clear relationship between the search intent funnel and the conversion funnel. The higher the likelihood of conversion, the higher the intent.

Understanding the intent categories is only the first step in the process. It can enable a few (very important) things:

  • conversion prediction.
  • a full-funnel, search-first marketing strategy
  • and not to mention – understanding intent and alligning the website architecture to it can also lead to very happy visitors. And who doesn’t want that?

Let’s see how we can achieve this in practice.

Approaching Website Architecture and Search Intent with a Continuous Improvement Mindset

We need to take a continuous improvement approach to website architecture planning and this approach needs to be aligned with intent-defined user personas and goals. Review this five-step process and the steps, which we are going to discuss throughout this post. The key thing about this process is that it’s continuous – you can start at every single stage and you can still be successful with the successive steps in this process.

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Website Architecture Planning using Search Intent – A continuous improvement approach.

Here is a summary of the 5-step intent-driven continuous improvement process for website architecture:

  1. Define what are the KPIs of the website are – What are the primary goals that you want, maybe the pages to fulfill or the website as a whole? How do you measure success? Is it organic visits? Is it new users? Is it revenue or leads generated? Whatever it is, you need to be very clear about how you want to benchmark your website.
  2. Thing about the type of visitors are needed in order to fulfill these goals – What are their personas? How do they behave in terms of search? What is their demographic information, what languages and terminologies do they use when they interact with search engines, and what is their ideal behavioral path on your website?
  3. Define your visitors’ intent type – You want to know what their intent is the intent of your ideal personas. When you know this, you will know what kind of value your website can provide that is unique to what your competitors provide. Here we would need to look into competitive advantages, intent matching and value driven planning.
  4. Think about how you can bridge the gaps between what your users want and what you want them to visit – There are inevitably going to be some differences there. It’s important to organize the website architecture with tactics and techniques in order to bridge the gaps efficiently between what users came to see and what your website’s main money-making pages or actions are.
  5. How can you evolve alongside search Intent? – The user journey is extremely complex and we know from the fact that the search engine results page are changing constantly that intent is evolving. It’s a living thing and that goes to show not only for individual pages, but for topics. Being wary of these changes, benchmarking and modifying your website architecture is the key to success.

Now, let’s deep-dive into each of these steps in the following, separate sections.

How to Build Intent-driven KPIs and Performance Evaluation Metrics for Your Website

What is the main defining characteristic of a high-performing page? It’s an intent match.

How can we measure intent-match using common metrics and analytics patterns? Intent-match is demonstrated by organic sessions and clicks going up, combined with a decreased bounce rate and an increase in other engagement metric models such as, for instance, average time on page or average pages per session.

An intent match typically results in a higher keyword ranking position over time for these target keywords. The reason for this being is that Google wants to promote content that is saving resources essentially, and that is the quickest path to success for their users.

Then, if you look at the queries of an intent match page, they will signal the prominent intent that this page has matched. The different characteristics from a linguistic standpoint will signal a particular category of intent.

Other query characteristics can also be a signal for engagement. For instance, if you have short-tail, high-volume keywords, these are typically informational in nature and don’t engage users for long. So, you might expect that your engagement metrics are not as great when the intent match is within this type of category. And if you have long-tail, perhaps lower (or even zero-) volume queries, you might be seeing higher engagement metrics such as decreased bounce rate, higher average time per page, and things like that, which might also lead to higher conversion.

Intent match for high volume keywords will result in more impressions and respectively, a higher search metric performance, so more clicks, more CTR, and maybe even a greater position in search engine results pages too. However, high traffic for low intent keywords will result in a lower likelihood of conversions, so worsened goal completion rate. And in this context, goal completions can be anything like signing up for a newsletter, filling in a contact form, or completing a web-mediated transaction.

You need to be aware of the different trade-offs that you have with the different KPIs based on the different intent match categories that you will achieve with the pages on your website.

How to Build Intent-Driven Website User Personas

Web Personas are typically something built by the Web Design team, before the process of development of the website. They are a great tool for expressing the main types of ideal visitors of the website, however, where they often fail from the perspective of an SEO consultant, is that they fail to incorporate search characteristics and search intent.

My suggestion to you as, an SEO professional involved in the consultancy for website architecture planning, would be to look at these personas and try to understand what their search patterns are, or otherwise:

  • Why do they visit particular pages?
  • How do they search?
  • What are their unique characteristics from a query perspective?
  • What are their shared pain points?
  • What are their shared experiences?
  • What are their shared expectations?

And so on… Building Personas is all about pattern recognition and segmentation.

The process will also highlight the inevitable – your website will likely have to target different persona types in order to satisfy vastly different goals. For instance, one of these contradictions is to have higher traffic and a higher likelihood of conversion like goal completion because these are vastly different intents that you would need to target. So, the website architecture is the thing that will help you in order to achieve this goal. When you think about personas, a spectrum will form.

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Organise Your Website’s Ideal Visitor User Personas and Tie this with the Site’s Goals and KPIs

So, on the left-hand side, you will likely have your least ideal visitor. This is likely going to be someone that has informational intent. It’s a one-time visitor. They are likely going to be maybe bouncing off your website fairly quickly, pogo-sticking, or otherwise – returning back to the search engine results page, entering a new query… Or they might simply be information-driven. They will just skim through your page and continue on. They might even not notice the branding or service.

Next, you might see informational intent, but then you see a repeated visit, you see more interactions. Someone starts returning to the website. That means that they will more likely start to build brand awareness. And this increases the likelihood of navigational searches appearing related to your brand in Google as well.

Further down on the spectrum, you might see someone with a high intent commercial intent, but they might still have a single visit or maybe a visit with no goal completion. While this user is better because they put you into consideration for a high-intent purchase-related decision, they’re still not your ideal visitor. The purchase is left uncaptured, while the intent was present, which is a missed opportunity.

Finally, down on the right-hand side, you might see your star. ✨ This is your high-intent visitor with a single visit and with goal completion. This is just your one-click person short time to completion and your revenue-driving visitor.

What is more important is how these visitor personas tie in with the KPIs:

  • The one on the left hand side might lead to more new users, more clicks, but then a decreased number of goal completions and the high bounce rate or worsened engagement performance. This persona might lead to more sessions, more clicks, but then a worsened goal completion rate, or almost no interactions at all.
  • With the center-left persona, you might see better performance with these type of visitors because essentially they are now more engaged with your site – they spend more time on it, they click on more pages at each visit they explore.
  • Then with commercial intent (center-right), you might see the market is just becoming smaller and smaller. High intent users typically are not a lot, henceyou might see less sessions, less clicks, but more interactions, and money-driving interactions too.
  • With your star (right-hand side), you will have to compromise on your goal for sessions and clicks, but you will capitalize on money-making interactions, contact form submissions, sign-ups, downloads, purchases, whatever that may be for your website. This is actually the high intent and the transactional and commercial captured search.

Placing user personas on an intent spectrum, alongside the types of goals and KPIs they will fulfill will change the way that you see subsequent keyword research and link building. It will streamline your perception of off-page optimizations and on-page optimizations that are needed in order for you to reach your goals.

Now you can start optimizing the site’s main pages based on the type of intent that they serve.

How to do Intent-driven Keyword Research and SERP Analysis

Intent-focused Keyword Research (resources linked)

Intent-driven on-page optimization starts with intent-driven keyword research and SERP analysis. Because I have previously talked about how to incorporate search intent into keyword research and how to do intent-driven international and industry-specific keyword research, as well as have built some tools that will be available for you to help with these processes, such as the Search Intent Keyword Classifier (Data Studio Template), I’m not going to go too much in-depth into keyword research in the following section.

Intent-Driven SEPR Analysis

The SERP analysis is a very important step because it helps you determine your search competitors. In practice, these might be very different than your real-life business competitors. Knowing what your search competitors’ unique advantages and limitations are, allows you to identify the market gap where you are going to be able to serve users best.

Google has the advantage of scale in search patterns and hindsight (or otherwise – a large, large database of historic searches), which enables a great deal of reinforcement learning and prediction of search patterns and user intent. They strive to satisfy all user queries and aim to enhance the user experience when in search and to get the users the content that they require as quickly as possible.

Knowing this, we are aware that the result pages are full of content that is reflecting what most of the users are searching for and what the predominant intent is. So, this is where your research should start. You will be able to see that there are also different elements in the search engine results page that indicate the intent of the users. When the search engine results page has a mixed intent or it is uncertain, Google has introduced a variety of rich results alternatives that can serve as indicators for a potential intent distribution.

For instance, you might see things like People also ask boxes, which indicate informational intent. You might also see page jump links in some of the results as well, which indicate the bottom of funnel user enhancement. When the intent is a little bit mixed, you will be able to notice it from the search engine results page, as there will be different rich result elements, which aim to satisfy all intent types for this particular query. In other more transactional-focused searches, you might see things like product placements and shopping carousels.

Start by researching the search for intent-driven keyword variations of your main target phrases.

In order to do this, you need a solid grasp of the main phrases and query characteristics that signal intent. Each of the three main categories of intent, i.e. informational, commercial or transactional intent can be illustrated by common key phrases that users use in order to describe what they’re searching for on the web. Here is a visual summary of this below.

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Start your SERP analysis by understanding the main defining phrases in your industry, niche, and persona for the main intent categories

The main phrases can be question-type keywords, but can also be indicative of the type of resource the user wants to view (e.g. white paper, case study, research). Additionally, the keywords can also be indicative of the length of the resource the user is looking for (e.g. “ultimate guide”, or “quick tutorial”). They can signal also the user’s previous knowledge on the particular topic, too (e.g. “beginner guide” or “advanced tutorial”).

It’s important to know what keywords you’re looking for each intent category in order for you to start building the pages on your website, optimized for search intent. Understand why the content in the top three positions ranks as it does:

  • What are your competitors unique characteristics that help them to match user intent? – Break down those three pages and the content characteristics into page components. For instance,
    • what is the title structure?
    • Are there any patterns that you can find from the research that you’ve done?
    • What are the on page element?
    • What is the length of the page?
    • Has there been any schema implemented on the page?
    • How many backlinks does it have,
    • how many internal links does it have? … And things like that.

This will give you a very clear idea of the different components that you will need to have in order for you to be competitive in this niche.

  • Then, tie the insights of this research with your goals and the user personas and build pages accordingly – You will need to know which elements of the homepage optimization will help you achieve what you strive to do and now you are ready to build your pages. Generally speaking (and this is a very big generalization), there are three types of pages:
    • resource pages, which are addressing informational intent aim to increase organic traffic and can sometime serve more than one intent. They can be optimised to support other goals (e.g. CRO initiatives)
    • company pages, which are addressing navigational intent, assist with employer branding. They help establish the credibility of the business and have an important place in the site’s structure, though not directly influential for search performance.
    • product pages, which are addressing transactional intent are likely the money-makers. They are highly-competitive, high-niche pages and are the place where conversions take place.

The resource pages will be things on the website like resources, blogs, guides, listicles, basically any in-depth content-rich resource. The transactional product pages, depending on the industry and the niche that you are operating in, might be product pages, solution pages. If it’s a service-based organization, then services, or a portfolio, if you’re an individual creator. The company pages are typically referred to as branded pages, or otherwise things like the introduction of the team, the introduction of the values, company culture, philosophy, and the homepage as well. These are pages that while not extremely valuable for attracting new users via organic search, is extremely valuable in terms of building brand, authoritativeness, and trust (EAT) on the website. They do have their place in the website architecture.

After understanding how the different resources and pages on the website relate to intent and the user personas, we can circle this back to the website’s KPIs. So, if you want to increase traffic and that is one of the main goals of the new website you’re building or the improvement of the existing website, you need to know that traffic-related metrics can be moved by content that appeals to a mass audience, or otherwise – the top of the funnel content in your niche. You might not expect a lot of conversions there, but any other website owner or someone that you might be doing consulting for, would also want their website to make money too. Hence, you would also need to build a website architecture that supports the transition from informational intent to transactional intent.

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Understand how the KPIs relate to the content on the website and the activities you will plan as part of your strategy

Search engines usually have a way of categorizing transactional searches from non-transactional searches and adjusting the results accordingly. What this means in practice is that the money-making product or service pages are not going to be ranking in search as high as you would expect. Thus, we can begin bridging the gaps between what users want to see on the website and what we want them to see from our business.

After understanding patterns, personas and building our pages accordingly, optimizing them based on the search engine results page performance, we will be able to implement architecture to bridge the gap between these two things.

Tactics and tools to streamline website architecture and enable better page discoverability for the different intent pages types


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Call to action can be put either in a Sidebar, they can be text-based, image-based, or as buttons in the content. If your website traffic allows for this, you can A/ B test and experiment with different types of CTAs and CTA messages, based on the user personas that you have.

CTAs enable you to link from the resource pages to high-intent, money-making pages, or a page that establishes thought leadership, such as a case study or a white paper.

A pro tip for advanced performance is to match the intent type of the page that the user is visiting where the CTA box appears to match that with the message on the box.

Jump-links and Table of Content

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Table of Contents & Jump-Links

This is something that enhances the bottom of the funnel and high intent visitors’ reading and it also enables crawlers to better understand the page type.

The table of contents also enables a breakdown of the page based on the very high niche and tailored searches.

Benefits-organised Mega Menus for BoFu Users

Mega menus are something that can be a great asset to the website. Again, their focus is to enhance the bottom of the funnel user navigation and highlight money-making pages. But in an ideal scenario, the way that Mega menus achieve this is through highlighting benefits, use cases, and unique selling points from a user persona perspective.

A good mega menu highlights the benefits for the users and organizes the website starting from the benefits for each specific persona type.

An important thing when implementing Mega menus that you need to be aware of is that Mega menus can be very tricky to implement on mobile and very tricky to replicate successfully when most of your users are mobile-based. So, they might not be the best tactic to implement if that is the case, and they can also hinder page equity of all the linked pages when they are improperly organized or if the mega menu is cluttered as if you are linking to the majority of the pages on the website from the menu, that means that you are not distributing value properly, you are not signaling which pages are more important than others.

For this reason, Mega menus are typically something that is more suitable for websites that are bigger in size, maybe 500K pages up to a couple of million. But they can also be a very good asset for smaller websites when organized based on benefits.

Enhanced, persona-driven Footer Navigation

Footer navigation can be a very good asset for conversion rate optimization, enhancement, and enriching intent.

It can be also a great asset for spotlighting different content on your website, especially if this is done dynamically to highlight, for instance, seasonality or new content that you are publishing, something that is fresh and new for your user that they are likely not going to discover on their own in another way.

Contextual, cluster-oriented, intent-driven Internal Linking

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Internal linking in text

Last but certainly not least is content internal linking.

Essentially the aim of internal linking is to enhance the intent, to provide an additional perspective for each user based on the topic that they are exploring or based on the page that they have landed on. The aim is to enable click-throughs to money-making pages and to also help crawlers identify the relationships and the context for each additional page on the website.

This helps to build topic clusters and an additional way that you can build topic clusters is through related content sections. If you want to learn more about building topic clusters using machine learning (LDA), check out my guide on internal linking.

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Utilize related content sections for quick-wins

Ideally, you would want the topic cluster to look like this.

You have informational Intent or low Intent pages that are used as the support network for higher Intent pages and you have a pillar page which ideally would be a high-intent page with a high conversion rate that encompasses everything that this topic is covering in a way that just captures perfectly the transactional or commercial intent of users.

Having this topic cluster structure is an ideal way to enhance the website architecture of your website. But it is also important to highlight in the example that I provided here that in content internal linking has to be done in a way that is organic, that is natural, and that actually supports and enhances the user experience. We would want to provide context about the other pages that we are suggesting that users visit in a way that is organic and in a way that matches their familiarity with the topic. So essentially we want to guide the user from one intent category, such as informational intent, to maybe a higher category like commercial intent or navigational intent, and then finally for them to reach the page that we want them to reach in order to convert, regardless of what the goal for conversion is.

Building topic clusters is great, especially when they’re very optimized and there is a lot of structure and context provided. But having links between the different topic clusters is equally important in order to understand how each of these clusters fits into the greater purpose of the website. While this looks pretty, it’s not ideal.


Internal linking is crucial as it enables intent enrichment.

You want to keep the visitors on your website, providing them the ability to learn more about the topic and provide the ability to learn more about your services or your business if they want to do that, essentially all without leaving your website. The website architecture and the elements discussed are the vessels for doing this – guiding the user from one search intent to another.

The aim of the website structure is to facilitate these intent shifts to the highest extent without burdening the user or to have to go through search again and without burdening search engines as well.

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Search Intent Enrichment examples

I would also like to talk a bit about what you should avoid, and for this, I would like to reference the brilliant work of Aleksandra Zarzycka, from Onely and her guide Site Architecture: How To Build A Website That Ranks And Converts:

On the last point, I want to circle around to what we talked about at the beginning of this post, or otherwise – embracing continuous improvement of your website architecture.

Understand that the user journey is a lot more complex than what I’ve talked about, and it’s rarely as straightforward as you’re going to see it in theory. With that said, this is where data comes in to help you make better decisions on what to change based on how users interact with your specific site and how they behave in the industry that you operate in. And you can use a variety of different data touchpoints to help you make those decisions:

  • Ensure the technical SEO hygiene of the site is good
  • Ensure content alignment with intent, personas, and goals
  • Prune underperforming content for topical authority
  • Analyse user behaviour and performance (also MCF).
  • Identify and address drop-off points relative to personasIdentify restructuring opportunities and pain points via user searches

Takeaway and recommended reading

Incorporating search intent in the process of planning and link structure is so important and beneficial to both users and SEO, and hopefully, I’ve demonstrated the WHYs and HOW-TOs of ensuring it is achieved in the website architecture planning process.

This can not only assist for a pleasant journey throughout the site (UX), personalized based on the visitors’ previous experience with a given topic, and their content expectations, but also signal to crawlers about the links, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness of the site.

Having this type of continuous improvement-approach type of thinking, when it comes to planning your website architecture can assist not only for your users to have a pleasant journey throughout the website, but also feeling that the content there and their experience is personalized. This helps them to manage their expectations every time they come across your website. But it also helps from a technical standpoint signal to search engine crawlers the relationships between the different content on your site, for instance, the links that you have, and also the authoritativeness and trustworthiness that your website has.

Before we go, I’m going to share a few resources that have been highly influential for me when I was building this talk and a few creators that I just want to highlight as part of this presentation:

I think these are great resources that you can quickly jump into to set you on the right path on building the best possible intent-driven website architecture.