Intent Marketing: The Life-Changing Magic of Giving People What They Want

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You know that feeling when you think you’ve come up with something new and brilliant and then you google it and find out it’s been said a hundred times before? That was me last week with the phrase “intent marketing.” Turns out I didn’t make it up, not even at all, but that’s OK. Call it convergent evolution.

what is intent marketing

Regardless of who came up with the phrase, “intent marketing” is a thing now, and it’s a thing for a reason! In this article I’ll explain what intent marketing is and why I think it’s so vitally important right now.

What Is Intent Marketing?

Intent marketing is any kind of marketing that aims to meet an end user or prospect’s intent – that is, what they really want or need in that moment.

Intent marketing is especially powerful in search marketing, whether paid or organic, because content is so often targeted at keywords, which (as long as they’re not super broad) reveal tons of intent.

Well-defined audiences also reveal some intent, but the timing may be off – for example, new mothers are often in need of diapers, strollers, etc., but not all of them and not all of the time. People googling the phrase “diaper delivery,” on the other hand, are definitely in the market. That’s what we mean when we talk about intent.

keyword intent marketing

As marketers, however, we shouldn’t just care about intent to buy. Responding to audience intent in the right way, wherever they are in the “buyer journey,” is what makes people love your brand.

Now let’s walk through three reasons that intent marketing is more important now than ever.

In a winner-takes-all world, content marketers need to focus on “deep intent”

In his 10 predictions for digital marketing in 2016, Rand Fishkin predicted the death of normal distributions and the rise of a winner-take-all model.

intent marketing for content

According to Rand, content is becoming “so ubiquitous and so hard to monetize that only the big winners will be able to keep up the game.”

I see evidence of this "big winner" model all the time when analyzing WordStream’s rankings and corresponding CTR’s. When we take the top spot or, even better, the featured snippet (position 0), CTR can be huge. Like, over 50%:

why intent marketing

When the average position moves down just a little, the CTR drops precipitously.

"Win" the page for enough related, relevant queries and it starts to have compounding positive effects; as you gain in trust inside your niche, it gets easier for you to rank for new keywords within that semantic niche, and conversely, it gets harder for new players to compete. The winners keep winning and the losers keep losing.

This is why, if you want to get results from content marketing, it’s crucial to be the best response to the intent of the query on the first page. If you don’t meet the intent of the query, users are going to pogo right back to the SERP, and remember, all signs point to Google taking engagement metrics like that into account as a ranking signal! But even if they weren’t going in that direction, we’d see similar results. Sites that get intent marketing right are also going to get more links, shares, etc. Think about it, if you find a tool or a product or a service that you love, you want to tell your friends and colleagues about it, since they’re often in the same rough “intent zone” as you. Clicks, links, referrals, repeat visits and so on are all forms of “votes” that Google is likely to count when picking the SERP’s winner.

It's also crucial to keep at it and to be that best response over and over again for lots and lots of related queries. This is how you can start to be the Wikipedia of your vertical.

But not all intent is created equal! Deep vs. shallow intent

Tom Anthony recently wrote a post called “Revisiting ‘Navigational,’ ‘Informational,’ & ‘Transactional’ Searches in a Post-PageRank World,” which includes this useful schematic:

search query intent marketing

For a while now Google has been in the game of answering the types of questions in the red box (lower right corner) – easy questions with static answers – right on the SERP. Don’t waste your time targeting these dumb easy questions with thin or shallow intent. There’s no reason for the searcher to click through!

The upper right corner (yellow-orange) box is where you want to focus your organic content marketing efforts – informational queries with deep intent, i.e. complex questions that take time and effort to answer correctly. Great content or what we might call internally “unicorn content” is content that provides the absolute best response to the deep intent of the query.

The link between intent and conversions

Of course, it's not just about rankings or even traffic. When I look back at all the blog content we created in 2015, I can see that different factors determine which posts earned the most traffic over time and which posts drove the most conversions. Some factors that drive high traffic include:

  • Keyword volume: If we rank for an evergreen keyword with a ton of volume, that obviously translates into a ton of page views.
  • Promotion: How hard did we push it through other channels aside from organic (such as email or social)?
  • Clickability: A great headline, a great share image, truly insightful analysis ... this stuff makes a big difference too and without it we wouldn't be ranking in the first place.

However, when it comes to which blog posts drove the most direct conversions, that's all about:

  • Intent
  • Intent
  • Intent

When you're able to do all of the above for a keyword that also has clear intent tied to something you offer, that's content marketing gold. 

The takeaways for content marketers:

  • Look for deep-intent keywords when doing keyword research for content strategy.
  • Think hard about the intent of a keyword before you create the content that’s targeting it.
  • Consider a tiered content structure that works for both content-scanners and deep readers (and search engine spiders!).
  • If you realize later you got the intent wrong, go back and edit the content. The web is alive.

intent marketing guide

Google is updating its algorithm to better fulfill searchers’ intent

New year, new algo! Google has confirmed a recent core algorithm update, and surprisingly, some of the biggest losers were high-authority magazine domains like the Atlantic and the New Yorker. However, it’s not so surprising when you look at where they lost rankings – on older content that was ranking for third-party brand searches:

intent marketing algorithm update

In this image from Searchmetrics (sorry so grainy), you can see that the Atlantic had pages ranking for keywords like “netflix” and “pizza hut.” Guess what! It’s highly unlikely that people searching for “pizza hut” want to read an old think piece about it; they probably just want to find the nearest store or the number to order a pizza. By booting these results out of the rankings, Google is recognizing that intent is more important than domain authority.

Noah Lemas at Distilled also noted that this update focuses on addressing user intent. This is why third-party lead generation sites were another loser in the update – they create an annoying middleman between the searcher and the thing they’re ultimately trying to find, such as car insurance. As Noah puts it, these sites “serve as a secondary search market, if you will, luring users via SERPs and then moving them further away from the solution to their problem rather than closer.”

Takeaways for SEOs:

  • If you’re getting lots of search traffic for low-intent keywords, don’t depend on it. Odds are that eventually Google will figure out how to clean those results up.  
  • Tricking searchers into clicking a page where they won’t find the answer they’re looking for is not a sustainable long-term business strategy.

Ads work like gangbusters when the intent is there

In past research, we’ve found that paid ads earn about two-thirds of the clicks on the SERP for high-intent commercial queries. In particular, for e-commerce keywords, Shopping ads (or PLA’s) suck up all the clicks from high-intent searchers because they’re just so dang compelling.

commercial intent marketing

The idea that people don’t want to click on search ads just isn’t true. Why should the user care if YOU have to pay a few cents when she clicks on your ad? She doesn’t care at all, she just wants to find the best coffeemaker. Get out of the mindset that people hate ads and they’re doomed to fail. Ads that hit people on an emotional level perform bonkers-well. And two of the top ten most viewed YouTube videos of 2015 were ads!

emotional intent marketing

Takeaways for advertisers who want to get in on intent marketing:

  • As mentioned above, intent marketing works best when you have strong evidence of the user’s intent, such as via their keyword search. That’s what’s so great about PPC – you can bid more on higher-intent keywords that are more likely to convert.
  • In his post on the effectiveness of Facebook advertising yesterday, Dan wrote that “paid search helps prospective customers find your business, while paid social helps your business find prospective customers.” This is why the dual-channel approach works so well: With social ads you can target audiences that are statistically likely to have the intent you want at some point or another; that way they’re already familiar with your brand when they do end up in the high-intent bucket.

Intent Marketing: Not as Hard as it Sounds

If you’ve read this far and you’re thinking, “Well this all sounds like rather a lot of effort,” you’re looking at it wrong.

how to do intent marketing

In my view intent marketing is a great prioritization heuristic, which is a fancy way of saying it helps you figure out where to spend your time and budget. You may need to spend more time analyzing intent and strategizing how to meet it, but you can spend less time trying to target and rank for keywords with low or irrelevant-to-you intent, and less money advertising to low-intent audiences. Less is more. Unicorn power.

 

Comments

Nikolay Stoyanov
Jan 26, 2016

Interesting article. I guess this will increase number of niches in future. As if there wasn't enough diversification, people will try to find out some new methods to promote their goods and make them interesting. But, as you said, it is hard to be original nowadays no matter how hard you try.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 26, 2016

It's very hard to be original in content marketing -- when marketers hit upon something that works they tend to beat it to death as a group.

David Worrall
Jan 26, 2016

Hey guys, we're already thinking further ahead than intent marketing. Digital waits for no man and we're now looking at pre-intent trigger points where the buyer doesn't not even know they are yet in need of something. This is going to become big with the IoT but we're already developing campaigns using pre-intent.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 27, 2016

That's kind of where we're going with targeted social advertising -- raising awareness among audiences that are likely to have the right intent at some point.

Nikolay Stoyanov
Jan 27, 2016

Elisa, this is absolutely true. I strongly believe that you have to carry this copywriting skill inside you, to be born with it if you wish, in order to be able to beat the odds every time you hit the "publish" button.

Sadly, this is true for less than 1% of the writers nowadays. Everyone is after quantity and they tend to forget that it's actually all about quality.

Anyway, keep up the great work, Elisa. Btw, may I ask if you're interested in SEO?

Best,
Nick

Aryeh Sternberg
Jan 27, 2016

Excellent article. Intent is a difficult concept to define partly because most of the marketing conversations around the topic stem from B23B marketing and focus wholly on Purchase Intent, and partly because there are so many data signals we can look at through clickstream and website analytics alone. Add in all of the environmental data, new data from the likes of wearables and improved geolocation, and coming inputs from AUgmented and Virtual Reality and we have a maelstrom of data to sift through for relevant Intent. Thank goodness for Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing!

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 28, 2016

Thanks Aryeh! As content marketers we have to think about intent the whole way down the line, not just when it comes to purchasing intent at the end of the funnel. Meeting user intent at the top of the funnel is super important too.

Nick
Jan 28, 2016

I'm an SEO currently working on diaper delivery, died laughing when you chose that as your target phrase.

Elisa Gabbert
Jan 28, 2016

HA!

Eddie
Feb 01, 2016

Great article but .... using coloured boxes is problematic to colour blind users (like me). I'm still looking for the yellow box! Another colleague thought the yellow box was orange!

Cheers,
Eddie

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 01, 2016

Yellow-orange I guess! I changed the sentence to say "upper right" and "lower right" versus just red and yellow.

Shaoo
Feb 03, 2016

I think this article will definitely update my strategies over Internet Marketing. Nice Article. Keep it up.....

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