user intent in marketing

Understanding and meeting user intent impacts conversion rates, AOV, and all marketing channels.  But the lines get crossed regularly because queries and trackable actions may look similar, even though the person is at a very different stage in their lifecycle with your business.  And this includes ecommerce stores, brick and mortar, publishers, and service providers.

I’ve been teaching user intent for 15+ years now at marketing conferences from Affiliate Summit and Pubcon in the USA, to Big Digital Adelaide and the Business Builders group in Australia, and niche shows like ShiftCon, but never wrote a full post on it.  So I figured it’s about time.

Below you’ll learn how user intent changes the acquisition, monetization, and conversion strategy with examples for ecommerce stores, publishers, and service providers (lead gen.)  I’m using professional photography and home decor as examples.  But the information and examples are adjustable so you can apply it to your situation.

This post was actually five sections, but after two sections it was 2,000+ words long and that is too much. I’ll likely do a follow up post, or save the content for presentations, so if you like this post make sure to subscribe to my newsletter.  I send once or twice a month at most normally.  Sometimes I forget to send for a quarter, so you’re not going to get spammed.

TL:DR without examples and explanations by channel:

User intent impacts the following marketing channels by helping:

  • Remarketing take someone back once they go from research to shopping mode and to the correct type of page
  • Affiliates know when to promote which programs, products and services
  • SEO determine product pages, lead gen, articles and blog posts
  • PPC have the ability to shift landing pages based on modifiers
  • Email marketers to customize the funnel and share relevant content, deals, or hard pitches based on the lifecycle
  • Branding position the product, service, or content based on the journey stage of the user/customers
  • Media serve relevant ads based on the active stage, and use programmatic delivery based on touch point to modify as the audience progresses
  • Content, copy, and design know when to use which format and display methods
  • Etc….

Photography

This example is about people looking to become a professional photographer. There are two very similar phrases with very different user intent.

  • How to start a photography business (which has 2,400 people searching Google each month)
  • How to become a professional photographer (which has 2,900 people searching Google each month)

Both search queries have someone looking to become a professional photographer, but these people have very different needs.  The one searching for starting a business may have already been taking on clients and have some revenue coming in, while the other person is more likely to be starting out.  When you’re creating content (blog posts, ebooks, videos, etc…) to attract them, catering to their stage in their customer lifecycle is key.

The phrase “how to start a photography business” should contain fact based information about insurance, contracts, renting a studio, the gear that is needed from the start vs. the future, looking up trademarks, creating a business plan, and forming an entity.  Forming an LLC and getting your trademark, EIN, etc… is a perfect match for my client Incfile’s affiliate program. The person here has likely made the decision to take the plunge and become a full time photographer vs. testing the waters like the other search query.  You could say they’re ready to “take a shot,” sorry, had to include the pun.  These are the questions they need answers to and what your guide should include within your content.

“How to become a photographer” is someone looking to develop a skill as they enter a professional trade, and then potentially start a photography business once they’ve tested the water. They may not be considering a business yet as they are not as far along in their journey. This person is looking for information on what the work hours would look like, the day-to-day tasks, the equipment that is needed, potential salary and consumer demand, how to find clients, etc…

By answering these questions and providing examples of how to do it, you’ll be able to get a subscriber and market the other topic to them later in.  Not to mention make money with another client of mine (SmugMug, click here to join their program) as the person at this stage may be at the right stage for secure photo storage, a portfolio, and the ability to sell prints.  The person in the phrase above is already taking the leap, this person is getting good enough at taking photos and now needs a professional level system, and that’s where brands like SmugMug come in.

Both of these phrases are similar in nature and have a similar amount of people searching each month.  But the people searching are at very different stages in their professional lifecycle and have different needs.  By helping them at their current stage you can gain their trust, earn their business, and make money by providing a topically relevant experience.

Home Décor and Repair

Content writers, marketers, and SEOs who believe minimum word counts are important, tend to stuff topics into a post.  This leads to a worse user experience in many cases, especially when the content lacks proper formatting.  Without a table of contents and headers, long form pages are hard to navigate.  And this is why you’ll see pages that mix intent together can have a lower conversion and higher bounce rate.

If the intent of the user is for a specific answer, more is not always better.  This is where the use of internal links and creating separate guides makes more sense.  Yes, sometimes a full and inclusive detailed guide is right, but marketers have gotten carried away and it became the norm.  It can also explain certain situations where PPC converts but the SEO rankings do not.  You brought the person to the wrong type of page based on their intent because you didn’t create the correct experience.  The keyword and phrase is the same, the user intent is there, the page experience is different.

Conversions for this example equal newsletter subscriptions, sales or leads, and pageviews.  The strategy here is to split the topics so the user gets what they need, and you give them the option to find a related topic they want to learn more about when more information is needed.  It is an uphill battle as mythical metrics like minimum word counts still reign supreme, but the results speak for themselves across all channels when you implement content based on user intent correctly.

Let’s look at examples of these where the themes are similar, but should probably be split out.

  • Track lighting that dims
  • Track lighting for kitchens
  • Track lighting for apartments

Each of these could go into the same article or product and collection page, but the user is looking for different information based on each modifier.  The person looking for “dims” wants a product, and an ecommerce page is probably best when there is no informative question attached to it.  On the product or collection page, feature an icon that shows it is dimmable and mention this feature within the text.  But just because you mention it here doesn’t mean you cannot have a guide as well and interlink them.

The person on this page may also want to know if they need an electrician to come out and change the switches, etc… because their previous light fixture did not have the ability to dim.  And also if there is a guide to DIY, if they’re feeling a bit motivated and want to see if they can save some money.  This is where having written and video guides come in handy.

Outside from hiring an electrician, it could be smart to include information about smart dimmers vs. manual dimmer switches, how to know if your home is set up for dimmer lights, and other related informational topics that don’t belong on a product or collection page.  Then on the product and collection pages, share your guides where the user can find these solutions.  And vice versa.  If the user lands on the guide vs. the shopping page, they have a clear path back to purchase with the trust built because you educated them without a hard sales pitch.  However, this can lead to topic stuffing.

Adding kitchens and apartments into a guide about dimming is where content marketers go overboard.  Those are visual aspects that can be handled separately, especially when it comes to PDPs (product display pages).  There is a fine line between adding too much copy and answering the question using alternative content formats.

In the product image gallery you can show the size and feature images of the specific track lighting in both small and larger spaces, as well as in kitchens.  This way you don’t have to stuff FAQs, add paragraphs of text that looks spammy, push calls to action below the fold, and create duplicate/similar content.  And don’t forget to check with your customer support team to see if people ask specifically about dimming with kitchens vs. installation and effect.

If customers aren’t asking about it, don’t stuff kitchens in just to meet a word count or try for a longtail phrase that you don’t have conversion data on.  The topic may not be relevant to your user base, even if it is for your competitors.  And you can test this with PPC ads and PPC landing pages to get verification before you do it on the live site.

Pro-tip: Customer support has the specifics about customer intent when it comes to dimming track lights.  The data they own will help you modify your content to answer consumer questions and build category specific FAQs. This will make customers rely on them less and help increase your conversion rates if implemented correctly.  This information can also be shared across channels to give affiliates and ambassadors content topics to create videos and articles about, PPC new keywords to go after, and your SEO and content team blog posts, guides, and ebooks to write.

Dimming isn’t the only thing to worry about when it comes to staying on topic.  If your pages on dimming talk about kitchens and romantic dinners, chances are you’re keywording stuffing product and collection pages for SEO.  The main purpose of kitchen lighting is to provide both ambient and task lighting, accent and dimming isn’t as important.

Ambient is needed for lighting the kitchen up so people can see and enjoy the space, examples including displaying food for parties and having ample light for family game nights.  Task lighting is also important since people cut food with sharp knives, handle hot materials while cooking, and have to focus on specific details and measurements.  And you can add fun twists like “for share worthy social media photos” if your demographics skew towards social celebrity status.  This is what to focus on rather than dimmers for a romantic meal which are appealing, but the need is few and far between.

There are people wondering if track lighting works for a kitchen, which styles to go with, and décor inspiration.  Yes, this can be good on a product collection page, but it is likely better in a listicle post with visual and text based examples.  The listicle post can break the kitchen out by type like country vs. contemporary, show multiple examples of when to use track lighting and when to use another type or combination, and provide a full solution with the pros and cons.

Because you’re the retailer or a publisher, you can use the intent of the user and guide the person to the product page for a conversion after you’ve sold them on why it makes sense for their specific needs.  i.e. You’re meeting the user intent with the listicle and an internal link to bring the person to purchase the solution.  It is also important to give them a visual so the person can picture the track lighting in their kitchen. Just remember to include the right talking points in the right format on the correct page.

Informative queries go to blog content and eBooks while conversion queries go to collection and product pages.  When done correctly and with proper schema (product vs. article/blog posting), the two work hand in hand vs. competing with each other.  And you don’t need to worry about adding a million FAQs to hit on every touch point.  Your life becomes easier and the UX becomes a lot better.

Bonus tip: By not turning your sales pages or blog posts into giant long form copy, you can increase your pageviews by helping your user find the right page via internal links.  This grows your revenue on a CPM basis and you show the user there are more resources available.  This gives them a reason to come back to you for more advice when they’re ready for their next project or to purchase.

The same applies for the size of the space like an apartment vs. a large home with an open floor plan.  Writing about lighting large spaces isn’t always relevant for apartments.  And apartments take multiple forms.  There are lofts, studios, one and two bedroom, kitchens with no divider to the living room, and rentable living spaces with lots of walls and outcoves that are hard to light.  But most important, outside of size, there isn’t much difference in an apartment from a house.  That is where FAQs get tricky.

Do not repurpose the same question if it applies to both houses and apartments, include it on the main track lighting page instead.  This includes facing open spaces, getting natural light through the windows, filling hard to reach areas because of angles, limited space, etc… Yes, those occur within apartments, but also within single family homes.  When you write to meet content minimums you end up creating very similar content that can cannibalize each other.

Apartments have to deal with landlords and legalities when updating the unit vs. having to comply with an HOA and construction work like a homeowner in a condo building does.  Apartments may require certain local government mandates like dishwashers and disposals to be in the home, vs. houses that don’t have to be up to modern standards because there is no landlord.  Focus on the specifics to apartments and not general advice when it comes to any home and track lighting (i.e. increasing home value, I’m making this up).  And this applies to hair care, diet and nutrition, running a business, or even which movie in a series to watch first.  Many characters from a series carry over from movie to movie.  For your specific movie content, focus on the unique aspects within the specific movie that changed from others, and how the learnings of the character for this movie influence the previous version and progression.

Creating copy just to create copy is bad for the end user.  It impacts the user experience of the content because you’re not answering their questions quickly.  Even if your SEO team is happy, your company pays the price because all channels can take a hit when you don’t meet the user’s needs.  And yes, in some situations you may see an increase in traffic, but did you also see an increase in repeat customer revenue?  Don’t rely on conversion rates for measurement.

An increase in less relevant traffic will reduce your conversion rate as the intent isn’t being matched.  You gain more sales for your company with the increase, but because there is more traffic that doesn’t have the intent to buy, the conversion rate drops.  The more important metric is repeat customers or content consumers coming back for more.  If the conversion rate on repeats drops because the solutions and answers are not being met during their next visit, you’re doing more damage than good.  And if the content is no longer relevant because you had success bringing in more traffic, you may loose your loyal readers which is devastating for publishers and content creators.

In addition, the new user experience will hurt remarketing conversions because it is now showing to a less relevant audience.  You may also gain social media subscribers that never engage because you are irrelevant to their future needs and current interests, and a lack of engagement decreases your reach organically on social media, etc…

The big thing I’m trying to say is to learn and meet the intent of the user, and provide a solution that meets their needs.  If you overdo it or don’t match it correctly you’ll hurt your bottom line.  And the same goes with not providing enough information or trust builders to create a conversion.

If the information is interesting and related, but not 100% on topic, use an internal link to another post, product, or guide that will help the user.  Don’t just add more content and features.  The separate guide can create an excellent experience while showing your knowledge and earning their trust.  And it displays “helpful content” which Google is using as a classifier in the algorithm.  It’s a big win for all channels.