Whether it’s due to the impact of GDPR or a consequence of the move towards a voice-activated Internet, the word on the lips of leading digital marketers right now is intent. 

What’s a user’s intent? How do you identify that intent? How do you match intent with your digital activity and show the user that your business can help?

We can, in part, thank Google for the movement, if not the wording. They’ve been prophesying the value of ‘moments’ for a few years now, and whilst the phrase may not have become as widely used as they may have liked, the principle has, and intent is a key part of it.

What is marketing for intent?

The premise of intent marketing is relatively simple. At its core, it involves the basics of any good form of marketing: understand the intent of a user’s actions and match that intent to be of use to them.

Sometimes this will be as simple as a purchase. The user shows that their intent is to buy something, so you present your business as an option and (most importantly) make the purchase process as quick and seamless as possible.

Other times it’s less clear. When users are at different stages in the purchase cycle, or there isn’t an end purchase as part of their journey, understanding and meeting intent can be much more difficult.

The challenge for digital marketers is to use the available data and technology to identify the intent at a given point, and provide content or an experience that matches it.

Search; the ultimate intent channel

Search engines are the ultimate intent machines. The way users typically structure their search queries offers marketers a wealth of information about the intent of their search and the type of results they’re hoping for.

It’s all about that trigger word:

  • ‘What’: I want information about this subject
  • ‘How’: I want instructions on how to do something
  • ‘When’: I want to know a date or time
  • ‘Compare’: I want options

But at other times it’s less clear. Somebody searching ‘car insurance’ could be intent on finding their existing provider, a new provider, a quote, industry information on premiums and many other things. 

Likewise, if a user searches ‘turkey’, are they looking for a holiday, a recipe, political information, economic information, a map, or just a picture of a strange looking bird?

Even something that could have perceived commercial intent such as ‘holiday spain’, could signal an intent to purchase, to locate public holiday information, or to find a list of potential places to visit on an already-purchased trip.

Search engines employ hundreds of people and have vast data centres to help them address this challenge. They aim to work out what the optimal Search Engine Results Page (SERP) for each query is and what type of results they can use to best meet it: Video. Featured Snippets. News. 

Us mere mortals don’t have this luxury, so how do we understand and match the intent of the user?

Three ways to understand search intent

There are three key contributors to understanding the intent of a search user:

Query prefixes - As mentioned above, a large part of intent can be deduced from the query string and its structure. What, when, why, how give clear indications of intent. And most don’t involve a purchase at this stage.

Environmental factors – Time of day, day of week, weather, location, device, news stories, all affect the intent of somebody’s search behaviour. With the right analytics and technology you can map historic data and identify which factors may affect the intent of a specific query.

Understand your conversion funnel – From past user journey data you can identify the queries that are playing roles at different points in a conversion funnel. Analyse this information to understand what’s driving conversion, engagement, repeat visits or, conversely, high bounce rates?

Applying these three tactics to your activity will help you further understand intent and aim to address it. But knowing if you’re successful or not is difficult, especially as the intent may not be based around a purchase, and therefore conversions and revenue are not an accurate measure.

So how do you measure success?

The intent measurement model

In order to answer this question at Fast Web Media we’ve devised a simple intent measurement model which, whilst still requiring an understanding of your funnel to implement, provides a framework for success when marketing for intent.

First, you need to map out the different stages or types of intent a user may be portraying that are relevant to your industry. Loosely these will fit within the stages of a conversion funnel, although they are not necessarily sequential.

An example might be:

intent framework for search

Once you’ve built out your intent indicators, the next step is to map target keywords against them, understanding the type of content you need to create and put success measures in place.

And finally, apply the measure of success to each stage. Earlier stages in the funnel need softer success measures such as dwell time, percentage of new visitors, and engagement. Further down the funnel hard measures of conversion and sales come into pla 

intent model for search

Applying this model to your search strategies provides you with a clear framework for measuring how well you’re meeting the intent of the user and providing them with a useful resource above and beyond a purchase.

In turn, it allows you to transform your search campaign into an true intent marketing activity and meet the user’s expectations every time.

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Rob Weatherhead

Published 12 July, 2018 by Rob Weatherhead

A 15 year veteran of the search and digital industry, Rob Weatherhead heads up Fast Web Media based out of Manchester. The agency focusses on future facing digital strategies in fast moving markets.

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