We’re living both the best and the worst of times for marketers.
There have never been more data and tools to explore and use as we have today.
Take a step back. Look at our current context. Notice how rich it is with opportunities to find what people really need and want from companies!
Now more than ever, marketers have a chance to trade in their assumptions for data-driven insights about what people truly want.
Caveats? There are some.
The challenge for marketers is to tread lightly when balancing personalization with users’ privacy. Getting the best of both worlds means:
Customizing user experience without being Face… creepy andCapturing, storing, and managing data in a way that’s secure and GDPR-compliant (yes, I said it).
Which brings us to User Search Intent, one of the hottest topics in marketing, e-commerce, and media.
If your field is highly competitive (whose isn’t?)…
If your marketing budget is not unlimited (whose is?)…
If you want to break through the noise in a way that delights your customers…
Then it’s time you consider experimenting with User Search Intent.
Understanding why your users or customers search for certain types of information unlocks a world of growth opportunities.
Knowing their context helps focus your strategy, get a better ROI on your marketing budget, and deliver more relevant experiences.
In practice, you can improve a range of marketing metrics by leveraging User Search Intent:
- CAC (Customer Acquisition Cost)
- CTR (Click-Through Rates)
- Customer Retention
- Time on Page
- Bounce Rate
- Conversion Rate and more.
What’s more, you get to be a helpful marketer who builds digital experiences people actually enjoy which is not necessarily the norm nowadays.
There are various ways to approach this optimization tactic:
If you’re new to this, the theory may sound appealing but you’re probably more interested to know how other marketers use it IRL.
We talked to 10 marketers from both sides of the fence — agency and client — to discover how they integrate User Search Intent into their workflows. From opportunities to pitfalls, we have you covered!
User Search Intent helps you predict user behavior and meet real-life expectations
“Search intent is key to understanding what your users are looking for.
Once you know that, you can anticipate search queries and tailor your written content to it to maximise likelihood to land on the first results page.
Also, outside of SEO it’s key, especially as far as creating good headlines for articles is concerned. When an article title exactly hits home with your readers because you’ve done your search intent homework before and have delivered a title that’s perfectly aligned with a question mark in your prospect’s mind, you’ll get a loyal audience.”
“Search intent is a massive indicator to our audience’s mindset when approaching content, and informs a significant portion of a well-planned content strategy.
Most discussion on search intent currently is focused on conjecture or hypotheses depending on interaction with content types, but a more accurate picture of actual search intent can be more accurately garnered from survey data.
A dedicated resource to this would be able to answer many questions about content; i.e. what pieces are most valuable to customers in our space, and enable us to more accurately engage and education our audience.
Being able to provide an audience with exactly what they’re looking is every marketer’s dream as it will inevitably lead to a higher SERP position, more sessions as the content will be highly relevant, and therefore, a higher conversion rate.”
Use it both to create targeted content and to optimize old content
“If I go back to the core values of HubSpot, matching user search intent is really aligned with our core value of delighting customers and readers. That means we’re super keen on making sure we’re there, where users search for solutions to their problems, with the right content.
So we’re thinking about user search intent in almost everything we do, whether we’re planning to publish new articles on the blog (and win Google’s
User Search Intent comes before content briefs
“User intent is crucial for us when we create content for our company blog,
Sendible Insights, as well as downloadable resources for lead generation and nurturing. For the last few years, our primary focus has been to provide value to marketers and help them be more productive.
And this would be difficult to do without understanding their pain points or intent. Before we start doing keyword research or writing briefs, we focus on:
the core pain points of our buyer personas
which stage of the journey they are more likely to be in (awareness, consideration, decision), and
what they aim to find when they look for a said phrase or question.
While we use a keyword tool, we don’t use any specific tools to predict what the user intent is at the moment.
However, we can get a good grasp of what the intent behind the search could be as we intimately know our buyer personas and speak to our customers and prospects regularly.
My advice here is to truly understand your buyer persona’s, their pain points, and how that relates to the solutions the business provides. For us, these are digital marketing agency owners and marketers.
As for inbound marketing, we measure how well our content performs not only in terms of traffic or leads generated; we also look at how visitors engage with our content and what their next steps are to understand intent better. ”
“It’s crucial that you develop your content strategy with search performance in mind. We use search data to ensure the content pieces we’re recommending make sense for the end user at each stage, while thinking about how they’re going to find that content. We’re continuously developing the way we approach keyword research, story ideation, and development.”
Monitoring how User Search Intent evolves to uncover growth opportunities
“We use search intent for creating and optimizing marketing assets throughout the entire customer journey.
Whether it’s TOFU, MOFU or BOFU, we pay close attention to the users’ context. User intent helps guide our decisions in terms of formats and messaging.
For example, in terms of informational intent, we plan and roll our a certain structure for the articles on the
CyberGhost Privacy Hub. When it comes to our PPC campaigns, search intent plays a big part in how we frame the product benefits to fit specific use cases.
It’s also important to track and adjust to how intent changes for keywords over time. For example, 2–3 years ago, SERPs for “VPN” were mostly informational because VPNs were regarded as tools that mostly techies used.
This has changed over the last few years, with more SEPRs becoming more specific as mass adoption for VPNs grows worldwide. Now results for “VPN” include lists of top-rated products, for instance.
Search intent changes as the industry matures and as products progress through different adoption cycles. Marketers can certainly benefit from keeping a close eye on this.“
Leverage User Intent to market to those truly interested in your products
“As a marketer it is my goal to create the best user experience for our customers.
This means ensuring we are marketing to those that would be interested in our products.
Machine learning and A.I. are massively beneficial in this regard. They allow us to present people with the best products for them.
In years past, advertisements were sent out to huge portions of the population hoping to attract or draw interest to a certain product.
These days, if I have a client selling dog food I am able to market directly to dog owners or people who have showed and interest in dog food. It doesn’t only make my job easier, it also adds value to the consumer.”
Search Intent helps you develop that benefit-first approach your customers care about
“We look at user intent like this… the user is like a hostage. When they land on your website or see a piece of content, their first thought is “how can you help me?”
They don’t care about your credentials, accolades, education, etc. That comes later. So we focus that content 100% on where that user is psychologically when they learn about you.
This can further be analyzed by taking a look at the bounce rate, statements made in reviews about aesthetics or feelings associated with a brand, and the wording of specific searches to determine the relevance of specific content to each user.”
Deliver the right information in the most appealing format for your customers
“Organic traffic is a staple of educational content marketing. Hence, while building a content strategy for clients, I always take search intent into account.
finding the keywords that will fetch relevant traffic to the client,
the current authority of the client’s website,
understanding the kind of content that people like to read for the keyword. And if we can pull off an original angle, or a denser version than the currently ranking articles for the phrase.”
While most marketers acknowledge the value of Search Intent, only some of them actually use it.
We set out to understand what’s holding them back from putting more time, energy, and even budgets behind this growth tactic. Here’s what we discovered.
Search Intent is a nice-to-have for small and mid-sized companies
“I’m focusing more on helping small and mid-sized companies get started with content marketing. Search intent is far down the line.”
“In general, each user is unique. Each encounter is special to that user. Our agency specializes in consumer seduction or neuromarketing.
Much like dating, this involves breaking down specific users actions into one-on-one encounters with a business. We’re looking at the nuances of your customer’s perceptions and building a platform that funnels users seamlessly into your pipeline.
You only get one shot to make a first impression, so developing a recipe for each client takes a lot of trial and error. It essentially involves merging a brand’s organic appeal with a consumer’s subconscious desires (desires that business can fulfil). Once we figure out this recipe, it’s scalable and repeatable.
Speeding up that learning curve would require small businesses to invest more in marketing R&D which is something they generally cannot afford to do if they haven’t scaled the business already.”
In SaaS, prioritization depends on short term vs. long term focus and scalability
“There’s never enough time to do everything on our to-do list, is there?
At this stage, we are focusing much more on empowering our customers and supporting them in every way we can when they use our platform and beyond.
When doing product /content marketing for a SaaS product, user intent works differently — we look at the points where users/people experience friction and seek for ways to remove that friction through marketing messaging, support articles or development. ”
“A marketer’s life is an ongoing effort to prioritize what has the most impact while balancing short-term results with long-term plans.
For us, at this point, it’s difficult to place a bigger focus on user search intent because of two factors:
The lack of integration with existing tools to improve workflows for PPC campaigns, for example. Not being able to automate optimizations that use insights from search intent predictions is something we’re looking to tackle in the near future.
The need to analyze SERPs to get a richer context for user search intent insights based on queries. Serving user intent is highly dependent on how Google delivers SERPs that cater to that intent and, from my perspective, the two cannot be separated if we’re looking to achieve great results.”
Marketing tactics are in fierce competition for resources
“The manual process of gauging the intent works fine right now. Also, serving the intent behind the phrase does not guarantee you results in search (in many niches).
As search engines become smarter, we might reach a point where dedicating more resources becomes essential. However, right now, most companies struggle to even keep up with content creation.”
“The only thing that I would say keeps us from focusing more on this project is knowing that it isn’t foolproof, but the technology only seems to be getting better so I don’t see the tactic going away.”
If you’re running a small company, chances are that User Search Intent may not be part of your immediate plans. However, if you have a mature marketing program and an established team and workflows, experimenting with AI-based tools might have a big impact.
Using AI to identify User Intent and predict user behavior is one of the most exciting developments in marketing because it brings automation to a complex process, saving time and enabling scalability.
“For non-Google tools it’s hard to imagine how they could do it because what do you train them on? In this case, how can anyone compete with established players, mainly Google?”
Our first-hand experience indicates that you can achieve significant improvements even if you don’t have Google-level data volumes or Amazon-like optimization flows.
Today’s AI-enhanced solutions may not be perfect, but the technology is making progress fast and we can see that in real business scenarios.
Let’s see what marketers expect from AI-enhanced tools that enable them to classify and predict User Intent. Each of their perspectives can help you get a more nuanced view of how your own marketing program works.
Context is king for identifying User Search Intent
“A good tool that’s able to accurately uncover user search intent is going to have a big impact on marketing; It’s going to save content marketers and SEOs a lot of time. I’m sure some of the SEO tools are already thinking about ways to solve this.
Right now, this discovery of intent is quite a “manual” process. Even when using SEO tools, you still have to go and check every SERP and assess the intent. I’m really keen to see what these tools will look like and how they will solve for some of the complexities related to understanding intent.
Take a keyword like “Manchester United” for example — the intent behind this search is totally different when a user is searching for the team name during a game or on a random day of the week. Google already understands such patterns and is able to serve the user with the right content, at the right time. When Manchester United is playing, the user will see the live score, while on a different day, they will see just the description of the football club.
In other cases, users might type in the same phrase looking for solutions to different problems.
Take “how to write a successful blog” for example. In this case, does the user want to write a blog post? Or are they referring to a blog website? How you answer that question will determine what kind of content you will create to meet that intent. Right now that decision is made after a lot of “manual” research and it will be interesting to see how AI-based tools will help with the process.”
AI brings more visibility into trends and patterns
“I think the biggest changes AI based tools will make regarding search intent will be more accurate user patterning/trends data.
We will likely see an escalation of the customer journey starting from initial search, through the websites they interact with, as well as the types of content they interact with before converting to a sale.
This will provide a great deal of insight into how audiences interact with search, competitors, and our own content.”
“Many of our processes are semi-automated, and I think there’s huge potential for building out AI-based point solutions and enterprise tools to analysts like myself and other teams understand the bigger picture behind search patterns. It’s all about anticipating what your audience wants before they go searching for it.”
A tough job for AI: automating while maintaining authenticity
“There’s no doubt AI has huge potential to aid with data analysis and forecasting trends like user search intent. I’d even go as far as say it can help with research and some forms of content creation.
However, even if we are equipped with the best marketing automation software and forecasting by AI, there’s still no replacement for speaking to prospects and customers.
There’s an increasing thirst for authenticity and realness in digital marketing, and the world as a whole. I wonder whether the AI technology will be able to predict user intent with laser focus if we are all a little bit more honest and random online.
For example, if someone searches for tips to survive a 6-hour flight doesn’t mean they want to buy any medication or compression socks. People are curious and the Internet is for spreading knowledge.
I’m quite excited to see how this will evolve over the next few years and how we can work together with AI!”
Another aspect to consider is human creativity and uncommon scenarios, which AI still has trouble understanding and anticipating.
“I think AI is the single most important technological advance to date. However, this predictive technology cannot supplant organic human to human understanding.
It only takes gathered information and makes future predictions, for example, an algorithm can provide related searches when someone is looking for a home inspector. They can even provide roof repair resources/searches, and inspection related articles, content, etc.
But what happens when someone is searching for something out of the box?
Maybe they want to create something new or accomplish something that isn’t already on the market. How can a service provider deliver exactly what that customer wants? How do we get that provider in front of that customer to initiate a conversation?
These are things that body language and tonality might help us understand in-person but AI hasn’t yet allowed us, marketers, to accomplish.”
Large-scale adoption of AI-enhanced tools depends on their accuracy
“One of the biggest benefits I see in using AI tools for determining search intent is the ability to find low-competition opportunities.
Being able to spot these pockets of growth is a big competitive advantage that can make the difference between being a follower and becoming an industry leader. It’s also a way to spot trends and work to make the most of them.
I believe large-scale adoption by marketers and companies depends on the level of accuracy AI tools can deliver. Minimizing risk is important for a CMO that manages budgets and is always looking to improve ROI, so it will likely play a big role in their decision.”
Each company is different and experimentation is at the core of marketing, tech, and business evolution, so you can see what works for your context.
“AI tools will make a huge difference. They help streamline and automate the often manual process of understanding search intent.
However, I feel there’s added benefit combining both AI tools and a manual approach to understanding what a user wants to see.”
Creating better user experiences remains a strong brand differentiator
“We can already see the changes that have come because of AI when it comes to user search intent.
We see it through Google’s search results, YouTube recommendations, and Facebook suggestions to name a few. It makes it easier for us to find what interests us as well as improving the marketing that we receive.
As the technology improves, the information we interact with will become more and more targeted to us, which I think is a great thing. It means less time searching and more time interacting and learning.”
Marketing pros whose results shape industry standards excel at testing new tech, new approaches, and new ideas. The featured guests in this article are living proof. Their relentless curiosity and focus on the users’ needs are the main performance drivers in their work.
We’re constantly ironing out the kinks and training the AI models to perform better, but it takes two to tango. That’s why we’re putting our work in your hands, so you can tell us how to improve it and make your job easier, more rewarding, and less time-consuming.
A strong partnership between humans and AI enables us to act more intelligently than any single person or group of individuals has ever done before. We see computers doing what is easiest for computers to do (automation) and people focusing on the big picture, on strategic aspects of the job, such a complex decision-making.
We’d love to hear from you!