Understanding the search intent behind a keyword is more important than the volume, and optimizing helps rank for target keywords and generate positive ROI.
Did you know that understanding the intent behind a keyword is more important than uncovering those with the highest amount of volume? It all comes down to what the user is searching for. One user may be looking for the answer to a question, while another is raring and ready to buy.
Understanding the difference with intent will make or break your SEM, SEO and content efforts. Here, I’ll share the types of search intent and how to structure your marketing campaigns around them.
What is Search Intent?
Search intent is the reasoning behind a user’s search query. It helps you answer the question “why is this person searching for this specific keyword?” and can help drive your keyword research, SEO and SEM campaigns.
Analyzing keywords by search intent enables you to create higher performing SEM and PPC campaigns by providing the creative, content and landing pages that help searchers get to where they want to go.
For example, are they looking for an answer to a question or looking to buy something? Each answer will lead to a different customer experience. It’s your job to help your audience get there.
In SEM marketing, there are four categories of keyword intent. Let’s break each down and uncover how your campaigns must be structured to accommodate them.
1. Informational Keywords
The majority of searches on the internet are made by people asking questions or looking for information. We call these searches “informational.” These include everything from finding directions to figuring out how to set up the perfect wedding. For the most part, these searches are not commercial. This means that people aren’t looking to buy anything (yet).
So, why should you bother targeting informational keywords? Let’s say a segment of your customers have common desires, interests and challenges. It’s likely that other people are also looking for answers to the same questions those customers have.
Provide this segment with the information they’re looking for by creating high-quality content that covers these topics in great depth. Then, while you’ve got their attention, offer them something in exchange for their details. This is what we call “top-of-funnel” lead generation.
For example, when I search for “how to plan a wedding,” I get the following results:
The top results offer how-to guides, checklists and lists of tips for planning the big day. The top result from Hitched is full of practical advice, as well as further resources to learn more:
While the example above comes from the organic SERP listings, this also provides a great opportunity for your Google Ads campaigns. For example, the following ads for the “how to plan a wedding” keyword are aiming to get people to buy something (despite its informational intent):
This provides you with an opportunity to undercut the attention and offer content that answers the searcher’s question. You can even do this in the form of an eBook to ensure you’re generating conversions, and thus a positive ROI on the back-end through email nurturing campaigns.
2. Navigational Keywords
Navigational keywords are usually run by searchers looking for a specific website. For example, someone searching for “Acquisio” is likely looking for the Acquisio website (whether they’re a customer or just researching).
From an organic perspective, the only thing you can do is to rank for your own brand term, as this is what people are looking for. For example, if we were to rank for the term “Google Ads,” it’s highly unlikely we’d generate any traffic. Why? Because people are searching for the Google Ads website or login page. Not for a service or platform like ours.
PPC campaigns present a slightly different challenge (and opportunity). For example, when I search for “Acquisio,” I see that two competitors are targeting our brand name for their SEM campaigns:
There’s nothing you can do to avoid this, as competitor campaigns are now common among marketers. However, because of the navigational search intent of the user, it’s likely that the brand they’re searching for will get the majority of the clicks since it’s most relevant to their query. To ensure that the searcher doesn’t get distracted by competitor offers, it’s best practice to bid on your own branded keywords.
The opportunity to run your own competitor campaigns is one not to be missed. This strategy works in any industry. For example, when I search for eCommerce brand “BeardBrand,” I get the following results:
I wouldn’t recommend using your competitor’s name in your ad like The Beard Shed appears to have done here – luckily they are just a retailer selling the Beardbrand range of products.
Including your competitor’s name unnecessarily could lead to legal action and is generally an unethical move. But that doesn’t mean you can’t steal the attention away from them in other ways! Test your own competitor campaigns and measure results.
3. Commercial Investigation
Before people are ready to buy, they’re usually in “research mode.” This is especially true for big ticket items, or services that require a large long-term investment. For example, Google discovered that in a typical car-buying cycle, a person interested in purchasing a car engaged with “over 900 digital touchpoint in a 3 month period.” Although buying cycle time varies, it’s important to be a part of the searcher’s journey.
Commercial investigation keywords include:
Questions e.g. “what’s the best fridge freezer?”
Comparisons e.g. “adidas vs nike”
Other options e.g. “facebook alternative”
These keywords require middle- or bottom-of-funnel content, like comparison sheets, whitepapers and specs that provide your prospects as much information about your products or services as possible.
For example, here are the results I get for “best washing machines:”
Clicking on the top result, I’m presented with an in-depth analysis of the top washing machines on the market at the moment:
Unlike informational keywords, you don’t get a huge amount of control over this content. Indeed, the best comparison websites and content are created by impartial, third party sources.
Instead, take a PR-driven and influencer marketing approach. Start by looking at the authors of these existing pieces of content. Reach out, build relationships and offer influencers free products and samples. When influencers and thought leaders are aware of (and love) what you offer, they’re more likely to write about it.
4. Transactional Keywords
The fourth and final form of search intent is the holy grail for SEOs and SEM marketers. Transactional keywords are typically made by those looking to buy something. These keywords include things like:
New Nike deals
Buy iPhone XS
Best Thai restaurant New York
Usually, people are looking to buy something – whether online or in-person (in the case of the restaurant). However, a keyword doesn’t have to lead to a monetary exchange in order to be transactional. Signing up for a free trial or creating an account are all examples of transactional keywords.
Google Ads and SEM campaigns are most effective when targeting transactional keywords. These keywords have a high commercial intent, and are therefore more likely to lead to a positive ROI.
They’re also highly competitive. Just look at the top results for the term “buy sneakers online:”
This means that your entire SEM strategy must be optimized for a high quality score and conversion rate. In other words, you must compel your customers to buy.
Optimizing For High Commercial Intent
Optimizing for intent starts with the content you drive this targeted traffic to. You’re essentially allowing users to take the intended action they searched for. When it comes to highly commercial keywords (i.e. transactional intent), you must make it explicitly clear on what action the user must take.
Whether you’re driving traffic to a landing page (“marketing automation software”) or a product page (“nike sneakers”), you must include the following elements:
Benefit-driven copy: The headline and copy must align with the user’s intent. If they’re looking to buy something, use your copy to illustrate why they should buy from you.
Reduce risk: As well as clear benefits, you must also ease any concerns that the user may have. You can build social proof using testimonials, awards and client logos.
Clean design: Don’t create unnecessary clutter. Make sure that the user can take the required action without having to jump through hoops to take the action they need to take.
Clear call-to-action: What is the single action you want the user to take? Make this clear by using contrasting colors, allowing your CTA to shine.
eCommerce product listings: If you’re driving traffic to a list of products, get out of the user’s way and allow them to browse freely. Again, having a clean design will help create a smooth, more delightful customer experience. Allow your product pages to do the heavy lifting with benefit-driven copy, CTAs and social proof boosters.
Let’s look at a couple of examples, first from the world of eCommerce. Here’s an ad we see for the keyword “buy nike shoes:”
The copy focuses on the target keyword, an offer to entice them to click (10% discount) and persona-driven benefits (“refresh your look”). This is the landing page it takes us to:
As you can see, the design is clean and allows the user to browse and find the shoes they want. It also includes a system to filter by style, color and much more. The product pages themselves also fit the optimization criteria we covered above:
There’s a clear call-to-action with strong visuals above the fold, followed by benefit- and story-driven content below. It also includes details on shipping and returns. This addresses any immediate concerns the user may have when it matters most: right before they’re about to buy.
Now let’s look at an example from the SaaS world. Here’s an ad we see for the keyword “email marketing software:”
Again, the ad itself uses benefit driven copy and focuses on their core value proposition. It also offers a simple offer “Try It For Free.” Now let’s look at the landing page:
This landing page uses a blend of clear design, simple headlines copy and two social proof points: a testimonial and how many customers they have. The call-to-action also continues the message started in the ad. This creates a seamless customer journey from SERPs to the landing page.
Check Your Intent
Search intent has a huge impact on how Google ranks content, delivering it to the users who need it most. By optimizing your content and SEM campaigns for intent, you’re more likely to rank for target keywords and generate a positive ROI from your PPC campaigns.
Of course, there are other secondary benefits to optimizing for search intent:
You’re more likely to get visitors to visit other pages on your website
Relevant content means you’ll see a reduction in bounce rate
Google knows to group relevant queries together, meaning you’ll expand your reach
Audit your content, on-page SEO and SEM campaigns. Look at the data from Google Analytics and the search console in order to uncover low hanging fruit for better results. Create content and campaigns that match with the user’s intent and you’ll start to see better results.
Feature Image: Unsplash / Anthony Martino
All screenshots taken by author, August 2018.
Image 1, 3-6, 8-9, 12: via Google SERPs
Image 2: via Hitched
Image 7: via The Telegraph
Image 10-11: via Farfetch
Image 13: via Campaign Monitor
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