Understanding Your Customers’ Language

Talk to any search marketer and he’ll tell you keyword research is the foundation of any campaign. And to a point, that’s correct. There is something so much more important than basic keyword analysis, however, than the words people put into a query box on a search engine: intent.

In fact, understanding intent is at the heart of all marketing. Because, in a way, all marketing is actually keyword-driven. I live eat and breath search. Yet when I’m asked (and I’m asked very frequently) what keyword-driven marketing is, my answer isn’t always related to search.

In a recent video interview, I was asked to explain the concept in more detail and started with a direct marketing analogy. When you receive a piece of mail, what prompts you to open the envelope? Keywords. And what is it that makes you pick up the phone or prompt any call to action? Keywords.

Keywords are intended to create a direct response. In much the same way, potential new customers on the Web are prompted to do the same thing. Each click on a link is prompted by keywords, and each click is a micro conversion leading to the intended macro conversion.

It’s not just about going to a search engine and using a keyword analysis tool, either. Knowing which words were searched on how many times gives little clue to intent. All marketers are familiar with psychographics. And keyword-driven marketing is very much about getting inside the end user’s head.

User intent is all about interests, attitudes, and opinions. To that you can add values, beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors. There are many more variables, but suffice to say in search it’s about each consumer’s mental dictionary and vocabulary.

By collecting granular keyword intelligence from every part of the marketing mix, you can create a framework to build on. You can use that intelligence to create powerful marketing messages. Just knowing what keywords people searched on tells us nothing about actual intent and whether those keywords converted.

For the second edition of my search marketing book some eight years ago, I was fortunate enough to interview professor Andrei Broder. Currently chief scientist of Yahoo’s advertising technology group, Broder is well-known for a paper he wrote way back explaining the taxonomy of Web search. Personally, I find this to be as relevant now, if not more so, as it was back then.

The paper explains how search engines can gather data on user intent. And it breaks information retrieval on the Web into three categories: navigational, informational, and transactional.

  • Navigational is when the intent is to get to a particular Web site.

  • Informational is when the intent is to acquire some knowledge assumed to be present on one or more Web sites.
  • Transactional is when the user intends to get involved in some sort of Web-mediated activity.

These are pretty broad brush strokes, and there’s no certitude that intent can be inferred from every query. There can always be an alternative intent to every query. But it absolutely provides the bedrock for building your keyword intelligence database.

And by applying the knowledge of what has worked in other media and in the past, alongside the keyword matrix, marketers can make smarter campaign decisions.

As marketers we all face similar challenges: How do we best reach our customers? How do we ensure that all aspects of our marketing mix are optimized? By adopting the keyword-driven marketing approach we can create compelling, consistent messaging that resonates with our customers.

Understanding the language of consumers helps to create a two-way dialogue based on this simple concept: keyword = customer.

Does your company or client offer one of the best online marketing products or services? Nominate it now for one of the 2009 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards!

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