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.
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.
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.
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%:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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!
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.
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.