One of the hot topics within the world of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is Searcher Intent but what exactly is it?

In this episode of Not Another Marketing Podcast we talk to SEO consultant Mark Preston about understanding and identifying searcher intent.

If you’re having trouble getting your content to convert into business then you may be having trouble with intent. We talk at the different types of intent and how to target it.

Websites and services mentioned during the podcast include:

Mark Preston SEO

Transcript (edited for clarity)

Jon Tromans: I’m joined today by Mark Preston, who’s an SEO consultant in the UK, who’s also the author of The Business Side of SEO which is available on Amazon and also Mark’s website which is markprestonseo.com. Hiya, Mark thanks for joining me.

Mark Preston: Hi, it’s good to be here.

Jon: Good now we’re going to be talking intent, searcher intent, which sounds a little bit marketing, a little bit strange. What is it? What are we talking about?

Mark: Intent is basically, just to determine someone to do something. I think in the digital industry gets a bit mixed up, but it’s realistically understanding your customers and that’s what intent is.

Jon: Sure. Why should we bother too much about it because, at the end of the day, if we create a web page and we tell everybody stuff about our product, and we tell them how much it is, or where they can buy it, or we give them a lead generation form, why should we bother with things like intent?

Mark: Because it’s so important to understand your customer from an emotional level. If you connect with that person on an emotional level then, that page will be guaranteed to convert. It’s really getting inside what they really want. I think intent has been blown out of proportion, and it’s just this thing people say, “Oh, we need to– the page has to be good for intent,” but no one actually understands what that means. It’s not just about making sure the right words are on there. It’s about really connecting emotionally and that’s why intent is so important.

Jon: I think you used a good word there, emotion, and it’s something I talk a lot about when I provide talks and training sessions and that is emotion. Digital marketing in its very nature is digital and it lacks emotion in a way. We really do need to be able to express emotion in the content we’re creating, don’t we?

Mark: Yes, definitely. Thing is intent is not something new. It’s always been there, it’s just this new word the industry’s picked up on but intent has always been there. I’ve been in the industry since 2001. I was looking at intent back then, because the more you can connect with the person reading the page, the higher the conversion rates are. You really– it’s just- I can’t believe it’s just being talked about now and it’s just logical things.

Jon: Sure. I think when we do things human to human in real-world scenarios– if you take a car salesman, for example, he would subconsciously know the intent when somebody walks into a showroom. You can just smell whether they’re ready to buy it now, or they’re ready to get information, or what and where they are in that funnel, I suppose.

Mark: Yes, thing is online is no different than offline. It’s exactly the same thing and that’s what many people forget is just because it’s online doesn’t mean it’s a totally different scenario. They still want the same thing, they still have the same problems and it’s just that you need to discuss that with them, as though you’re talking to them and they’re the only person you’re talking to.

Jon: There’s obviously different types of intent. What you do think are the main types?

Mark: You’ve got the scenarios between somebody that’s researching something, and somebody that wants to buy something. If you want to buy something and say you searched for a certain product, you’ve already done all your research. The intent is I know what I want and I’m just looking for somebody to buy it from. Now, that’s a totally different scenario than somebody that’s in the mindset of, “I’ve heard about this thing. What is it?” so then the intent has to go through the information part and the trust aspects and why is this the right solution for you. It’s realistically the different types. There’s hundreds of different types but it just depends on the exact scenario they’re in and what stage in the buying cycle they’re in, as well.

Jon: I suppose there’s also working into intent the scenario where you don’t know what products or service you need to solve your problem. You’ve got this problem, but you don’t actually know what it is you need to fix it.

Mark: Yes, if you understand what the problem is, then it’s your job to provide the solution.

Jon: Can different products and services, do you think, have different types of intent?

Mark: Yes, the intent is different for every single scenario because you put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Any time I do anything it’s– If I wanted this, or I was looking for this, what would I need to know? It’s not a checklist scenario thing you go through. You have to think about every single scenario, every single page on your website. Totally different.

Jon: Sure, because a lot of the stuff that you read online will give you three different types of intent and push that piece of intent across everything, but it doesn’t quite work like that. For example, if you want to buy toilet roll you don’t really need to research it. You just need to buy the stuff.

Mark: Yes. It’s like everyone’s in uproar about the no results on Google. If you type in to Google, “What is the time in New Zealand,” if it shows me the answer, I don’t care if there’s 10 other websites on there, I’m never going to click them, because I’ve already found out the answer to my query. I’ve no need to go any further, but people don’t see this, they just see things as keywords, and they’re looking at things differently. Well, if you sit back and think it solves the answer and that’s where people need to stop thinking about things regarding intent.

Jon: How do we find out what this intent is? If we’ve got a product, or we’ve got a service, and we’ve got to write about this on our website and create content on social media or wherever? How do we go about finding out what this intent is?

Mark: To find out different levels of intent, you simply talk to all your existing customers. Pick up the phone, treat them as an individual, get to know what’s important to them and question the whys, why they need the service or product. What is it about it? What are the benefits? Get to understand the customers inside out. Then the more customers you speak to, the better the intent will be because you will understand what everyone wants.

Jon: Is it a good idea to speak to people at the coalface as well? I always think it’s a good idea. For example, if you’re running a marketing agency and you’re working on behalf of other clients in there, it’s probably no good talking to the CEO about this stuff. You’ve got to really get in there to the client’s client and talk to the salespeople, the people on the phones, the people meeting the customers every day.

Mark: Yes, definitely. The one thing that if you’ve got the intent right, you don’t need to sell. Now, if you’ve got the intent right and the page is explained properly and everything, you don’t actually need to do any selling but you 100% need to talk to everybody in that sales funnel to understand what the pitfalls are.

Jon: How do we actually go about targeting this intent with content? Is creating things like knowledge bases a good idea?

Mark: If that’s what’s required and the customer needs that knowledge in order to make that purchase, yes.

Jon: I read a really good stat last week that said 92% of all search queries on Google get less than 10 hits a month, 10 clicks a month. That says that we’re typing in long complicated phrases that get very little traffic, and that puts off people, doesn’t it? That they write a lovely piece of content that answers a question but it might only get three or four hits a month, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing is it?

Mark: No. The fact is, it’s not about search volume. Nothing is about search volume. That’s the problem. People go after search phrases and questions that receive high volumes. It’s this low volume traffic that’s going to convert more into pound notes and work with the client to, we got a piece of content on, it’s had about 20 visitors a month that content, but it’s generated thousands of pounds because it was necessary.

Jon: Yes. I totally agree. Its more about exposure in the search results than having lots and lots of hits and lots of numbers.

Mark: Yes, definitely. You have to map out each part of the sales funnel content relating to it.

Jon: Is there just the two types of intent really? Is that what we’re looking at? Just creating pages which answer questions and supply knowledge and then try and feed those people through to maybe the transactional side of it, where they’re going to buy something.

Mark: Well, it’s the standard scenario know-like-trust-buy. Do people know the brand? Is it a recognized brand where they can write something and get 100 visitors per day or is it a brand no one knows of? Obviously, there’s that know bit and the intent for that is different depending on if people already know the brand or not. People have to like the brand. Are you out there? Are people saying good things about you and all these different scenarios and that’s how I split the intent up into the different sections of the sales funnel.

Jon: Does Google really bother about this? Is Google consciously bothering about this or is it more just matching results with what people want?

Mark: No, it used to be. It used to be just keywords but they’re now going more focused into the user and giving them what they want. I’ve done lots of studies and done lots of research on the buying cycle and I’m achieving lots of fantastic results with companies just because that sales funnel is great. User experience is a massive metric and the better you can get that user experience and intent, the less groundwork you have to do in effect.

Jon: Sure. For example, if somebody’s coming in sort of like, “I’ve got a problem. I don’t really know what product or service I need to solve this problem.” But they land on a page which explains a little bit how to solve this problem. Are we then trying to capture information straight away, are we trying to get leads straight away? Are we trying to feed people onto the stage of intent as such?

Mark: Again, it depends on that page. If you search for “How do I change my car battery?” and you land on a page telling you how to change the car battery then that’s the end of your journey because you’ve found out what you need. Do you see what I mean?

Jon: Absolutely.

Mark: This is why intent’s so different. It’s not the fact you have to think about, “Is that the end of the journey or is it the beginning or halfway through?”

Jon: It’s looking at each product and service separately. It’s not trying to apply the same thing across the board.

Mark: Exactly. The trouble with, I think, content, it’s been blown out of proportion and it’s, “Oh, we need to write lots and lots of content and we just target all these keywords and phrases because they get searched,” but it’s never going to drive business. The main thing I always say to everybody, “Do everything as though it’s your business and think about it from a business development perspective.” Does this piece of content have the ability to generate new business?

Jon: Does it stop at the web? Content on the web. Should we build this intent and these ideas of intent into say, Google AdWords, social media and that?

Mark: Intent is everywhere. If you’re a business, intent is everywhere. Offline, online, AdWords. It’s all the same because you still have to connect with that person emotionally. What’s important to them? If it’s important to find the cheapest, then the intent is to make sure you are the cheapest with AdWords. Social media, it’s about talking to them on an emotional level, connecting with them. Intent is everywhere. It’s life. Life is intent.

Jon: A good process, I suppose, would be once you’ve decided what the person wants and how they want it and you’ve looked at the emotional side of things– If we write a piece of content on our website that explains how to solve a problem, it’s okay to advertise that content on Google AdWords and social media because one thing I see is that the transactional pages tend to be the only pages which are promoted on AdWords and social media. You’re not getting that in social media. You’re not getting that top of the funnel stuff an awful lot on advertising.

Mark: Exactly. It does depending on the advertising budget, because obviously, the higher up the funnel, the more works needs to be generated and the more expense needs to be spent on converting that person. It does depend on the budgets a lot and that’s why people don’t do it. What they do, they target the people that already know what they want.

Jon: It’s a good idea to do it, to try and do both. Like you say, if you’ve got the budget, is to try and get new people at the top of the funnel as such.

Mark: Obviously, yes, because you always have to feed the funnel in order to drive people through because– the funnel doesn’t stop at the sale. The funnel goes beyond that and you want to turn your customers into your unpaid sales force then.

Jon: Explain a bit more. It goes off the topic of intent in a way, I suppose. I suppose we’re trying to find, well, is old-fashioned word of mouth, I suppose.

Mark: Not really because if the intent has been perfect and that customer, there’s been no pitfalls and you’ve given them exactly what they need and it’s been their decision to buy that service or product, not yours then they’re more likely to spread the word about your brand which increases the brand awareness and the intent of the brand is positive.

Jon: If there was one thing that you would say to a marketing executive, somebody who edits and runs a website and markets a website, if there was one little bit of advice around this that you would give, what would it be?

Mark: Start at the end and work backwards. By that I mean, you plan out your sales funnel, start with the impact you want to generate from every piece of content in every page and work backwards and write the page on how you’re going to generate that impact because the problem is people start at the beginning of the sales funnel, do the research, think, well, this keyword gets so many searches, I’ll write a piece of content on that. Then they have to wait until it goes live to generate the impact. Biggest piece of advice is start at the end and work backwards just like you would write in a business plan.

Jon: Got you. You’re building your sales pages and you’re working back from that and then you’re asking yourself the questions, what do people want to know from me to get to this sales page?

Mark: Exactly.

Jon: Thanks for your time Mark. Really appreciate it. Lots of really good advice there I think because when I head out myself around the country, this is one of the things that I think a lot of people do struggle with in a way because they’re still looking at keyword matching and it’s not really keyword matching anymore. We’re try to get a bit more emotion into digital marketing I suppose.

Mark: That’s it. It’s all about the emotion. You connect with, they’re not users, it’s not data, it’s people. If marketers get into that mindset that these are real people, not just numbers and data and users and it makes all the difference and you have to understand that person not the user.

Jon: It’s one thing I do mention during training sessions. I love this. You could spend three or four hours just staring at a spreadsheet of data or you could spend three or four hours talking to people who want to buy these products and you get far more information talking to people, don’t you?

Mark: Exactly. The thing is, people usually work online, they’re scared of picking up the phone, I find, but unless you physically talk to these people, you’re not going to really understand them.

Jon: Mark, it’s been a pleasure to chat with you. Thanks for your time. Tell everybody where they can find you.

Mark: Yes. My website markprestonseo.com. I’m up and down the country providing SEO training on a daily basis.

Jon: Lovely. Thanks for your time Mark. I appreciate it.

Mark: Thank you.