Understanding user intent - the hidden superpower we all have

It’s just human nature that we all have the skills to imagine and visualise, we do it a lot, we might say to a friend - ‘I can imagine how you are feeling’ or we’ve all heard the phrase ‘put yourself in someone else’s shoes’. It is fair to say that I am sure some of us are better at this than others, but as marketers, this is a skill we can and should be honing. This, as a skill, is your ticket to a better strategy, better management of expectations and better results… and how mad to think you have this skill already!

So let’s unpack what I mean and how to use it. To put a frame on this concept, I’m going to focus from a search perspective, as that’s our superpower at Reflect Digital.

What is online search intent?

Firstly, what is user intent when considering how someone searches online? By understanding user intent we want to understand specifically what it is they are really looking for and trying to do. I’m going to use some gardening examples throughout, as we’ve done a lot of work with a couple of clients in this space and found some really interesting findings and I’m going to take you through the customer journey.

Customer research journey

A typical journey for buying a plant looks like this:


Inspiration - this is at the top of the funnel and this is where the person (I’m going to try and move us away from calling them users, as these are humans just like you and me, trying to find something) is looking for inspiration on what to buy for their needs. In this instance, context is often really important, as for a novice gardener there are a plethora of plants out there, but knowing what is right for your particular garden is hard to know. This results in phrases such as:

“Plants for shade”
“Plants for a shady garden”
“Plants for a small garden”
“How to look after ?”
“How to care for ?”
“Plants for clay soil”

We could just keep going and interestingly you will see an overlap in some of the keywords for post-purchase as well which shows how understanding user intent can get tricky.

We tend to see at this stage high search volume phrases, it’s not always the case, but will often be the situation.

Clarification - Once the person is inspired they may now have a plant or a couple of plants in mind, so they start doing some more specific research in the clarification phase. 

in
in

Here they are wanting to reaffirm what their more generic research has taught them to be sure they are selecting the right plant. 

Purchase - This is then when it starts to get interesting and a bit different for plants when compared to other e-commerce journeys. When the person searches for just the plant name typically there will be lots of research sites with a few options to buy, but mainly just content. So quite quickly the person realises that once they are ready to make a purchase their search needs to be more specific around their intent to buy to get sites selling the plants for them to compare prices etc. For example, we start to see:

“Buy
for sale”

This is something quite unique to the plant purchase journey but an extremely important finding, as without spotting this trend there is a massive gap in being able to convert researchers into purchasers.

Now there is a CRO (conversion rate optimisation) play here in that if you have captured the user’s interest and answered all their questions - if you have the right website journey and call-to-actions you may be able to convert them without them going back to search. But we also know shoppers are quite savvy, so often they want to be sure they are getting the right price, so will search again. 

Levels of intent may differ per industry

In the plant world, the level of intent for the buying phase is extremely high thanks to the many websites that have plant information but do not sell plants. 

For those reading this article that aren’t fortunate enough to be in the wonderful plant world with strong intent signals - you will need to analyse your customer journeys to spot any clear purchase intent phrases. If you do not find any, then you may find your clarification terms are also your purchase terms putting a strong emphasis back on your website and CRO to ensure you are giving the user everything they need to answer their questions and to buy. 

Retention - We all know how important retention is, based on the fact that the cost to acquire a new customer versus the cost to retain a customer is much more favourable for the retained customer. I mentioned earlier in the article that there is a blur sometimes between the inspiration searches and the retention searches, as some of the key things some people will want to know before purchasing will be the same as questions others are asking once they own the product, or in this instance, plant.

For example:

“How to plant
“How to care for

By answering these types of questions, we are building a relationship with the user, we are becoming their confidant, their friend - we’re helping them. Whether that be pre or post-purchase, this is really important to influencing purchase decisions. In the ideal world, when we have done this enough times, and also spilled into their social feeds and email marketing etc. we may be lucky enough to become their first port of call for research.

All throughout the user intent mapping - the key thing is to understand what the person could be looking for and to ensure we are landing them on a page that can deliver that. When it isn’t clear between a number of different intents, then we need to ensure the structure of the page makes it easy for the user to see all the content on offer by an internal page navigation, or tabs or jump points etc. so that we don’t lose them before they can find the content that is of interest to them. 

Applying this to your own search marketing 

Bringing this all back to the start - all you need to do is to put yourself in your audience’s shoes. If you have many different audience types, then you need to do this for all of them and to walk the journey as they would, or better still, find some people that fit your audience profiles and get them to run some test journeys for you. 

I promised you at the start of this article that getting this right was the key to a better strategy, better management of expectations and better results - and it is. 

Your better strategy comes from truly understanding what your user is looking for and therefore being able to present them with the right content and call to actions. You can also align this across your different marketing channels ensuring they are all supporting each other as opposed to fighting for their own conversions and glory. 

Your better management of expectations comes from understanding for different search phrases what we actually expect a user to do. And therefore instead of all SEO or paid search being expected to drive traffic and sales, we can actually signpost our colleagues better to understand for ‘x group of keywords’ we’re actually expecting to see great scroll depth, newsletter sign-ups, social follows, downloads etc. 

And finally, the better results - this comes back to the fact that you understand your audience better and you are giving them what they want, when they want it and building a relationship with them. This ultimately means internally you can get all channels to play to the same human-centric strategy focused on what your audience wants. The magic is, when you help your audience and listen to their needs - you get the results!

Happy intent mapping - if you want to know more, feel free to reach out as this is the type of strategy work we LOVE!

meet-becky

MEET THE AUTHOR.

BECKY SIMMS

Reflect Digital was once nothing but a dream in Becky’s head. Becky is Reflect Digital’s CEO, having started Reflect Digital in 2011 she has grown the business to the strong agency team it is today.

Becky is a strategist at heart, and she shares her experience and knowledge with the Reflect Digital team and the business we work with. Full of creative ideas but with an eye always on ROI, Becky has a natural talent for spotting campaign opportunities and ensuring value is delivered.

More about Becky
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