3 Tips for Understanding and Acting on User Intent

Understanding how people search for things and their intent puts us in a far better position to deliver programs and content to ensure the highest, most relevant levels of traffic to your sites. The old adage “content is king” while still ringing true can be added upon with the notion that “context is king.” Basically your keywords, ads, landing page, and content all need to contextually flow together based on users’ needs and their intent.

Let’s say that you have conducted your keyword research and have identified your top search terms for each page for your site. You then optimize those pages for your targeted keywords. Later, you start to notice an increase in ranking for those terms, which seems like a positive success metric. However, your analytics show that your traffic has not increased even though you have a higher keyword ranking. Ever been stuck in this situation? One reason for this can be attributed to a lack of understanding of user intent and then mapping your keywords and landing page content accordingly.

Understanding the Buying Cycle

Knowing about the buy cycle is an important component to understanding user intent. In this typical cycle, most people will use broad terms like “camera” or “digital camera” as they test the waters to see the landscape of results. From there they will educate themselves as they read more content and study products and features. Then they will refine their search as they zero in on the specific item they want. You can see below the progression from “informational” to “transactional” as the search terms go from broad to specific.


What we can then learn from searchers that use broad terms is that they are at the beginning of their buy cycle and are just looking for information. Your job is to serve up content that will satisfy their need for information and then nudge them toward content that is more transactional that will lead to a conversion. Those who are using more specific terms are in more of a transactional mode and are likely ready to make a purchase. Therefore you can determine intent and motive from a user by the keywords they use. It is a matter of context.

Too often we try to sell people too soon when they are not ready. Just the other day I walked into a camera store with the intent to just gather information on some accessories for a future purchase. Unfortunately, I had a pushy salesperson who responded to my inquires by grabbing items he thought I needed as if I was going to buy them right then: “Oh, so let’s get you one of these and one of those.” Well, I did what most people would do in that situation. I turned around and walked out. This principle is exactly the same online. Learn to find out what stage of the buy cycle your visitors are in and then provide them the appropriate content. Once they get what they came for they will then be ready to move up the cycle toward a transaction.

Now there is a third type of searcher that we call “navigational.” These are people who are on a mission and are simply using a search engine to quickly find some quick piece of information like checking IMDB.com for Sean Connery movies, or checking for flight information on an upcoming trip. These people are seeking very specific information with no intent to ever purchase or convert in any way.

Matching Keyword Phrases to User Intent Personas

The next step is to match the right keyword to the right user intent. To help with this you should take some time to classify the types of keyword phrases into user types or personas. Some of these might include:

  • Ready to buy
  • Browsing
  • Seeking best price
  • Seeking customer service

Once you determine these user personas, you can then map keyword types to them. Next you should direct each persona to the appropriate landing page. The landing pages will need to contain content that is appropriate for each persona.

Let’s look at an example on how you can set this up in your reports. I always use Excel as a tool for managing my keywords. I typically look at the following:

  • Business relevance
  • Specificity (how broad or specific)
  • Competition
  • Popularity

So if I were to operate a restaurant in Munich, Germany, then I might have a small set of keywords that are centered on travel as you can see in the chart below. Notice that in addition to my usual scores, I have added a column called “intent.” You can then sort your list of keywords by intent to help you decide the appropriate action for those sets of keywords. It also helps with your keyword modeling process as you group your keywords into relevant segments.


Understanding User Intent From Your Analytics

Another great way to learn user intent is to look at your analytics and identify all of the keywords that are driving traffic to your site. Except those that are “not provided” by Google’s new privacy policy. Try to identify the intent of those who typed in those keywords. One way to do this is to sort by bounce rate. Those keywords that have a lower bounce rate will indicate users were engaged and found what they were looking for.


On the other hand, keywords with a high bounce rate will indicate a disconnect with user intent and the content they are looking for. Additionally, you can also check your “average revenue by keyword report” to identify your top converting keywords to get a similar metric. If your keywords are converting, that is an obvious sign they are resonating well with your visitors.

As you study the numbers, you can determine if you need to displace these keywords with those that match user intent or you need to provide more contextual and relevant content on those landing pages. For user intent, you should identify those keywords that are “informational” or “transactional” and make sure the associated landing pages provide the appropriate content your visitors are seeking. You don’t want to take someone who is ready to buy to a basic informational page, for instance. Neither do you want to take someone who is at the beginning of their buy cycle to a detailed specific transactional page either.

As you employ these tips, you can start to learn more about your visitors. With this knowledge, you can target the right keywords and serve up the appropriate content that will lead to more engaged visitors that are more likely to convert.

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