How to Understand User Intent
The goal of SEO and marketing is to drive traffic to your MSP website for you to introduce them to your services and convince them to take a chance with you. However, while SEO can drive traffic to your site, it can’t make visitors stay if your website is out of touch with user intent.
What is User Intent?
It’s not an exaggeration to say that to Google, user intent is the primary driving force for search engine rankings. Over the decades, Google has been shifting from focusing solely on keywords, which can be manipulated, providing the searcher with poor user experience, and instead focusing on results that garner positive user experience.
In other words; provide a great experience for your ideal audience, and you’ll be more likely to draw in more traffic.
Understanding user intent is critical to ensuring when visitors reach your site; they stay because the longer you can keep a visitor on your website, the higher your chance is for them to convert. While user intent is continually expanding, here are four basic examples.
Four Basic Categories Of User Intent:
Informational queries – These are queries covering a broad topic, for example, cybersecurity or remote workforce. For 'generic' terms like these, there may be thousands of relevant results. These results can include blogs, whitepapers, videos, and any content that provides the searcher more information about a topic. One thing to consider is while informational queries rarely have commercial intent, proving yourself an expert in the subject can inspire the searcher to take a chance on you or at least stay on your site long enough to convert.
On top of that, most users don’t search for what you think they are searching for. More often than not, all those big high-value keywords that you long to rank number one for are not going to pull in the traffic you want. Instead, more and more traffic comes from longer-tail keywords. Users are asking Google questions to understand a topic before they even begin to search for someone who will sell them something.
Navigational queries – These are queries seeking a single website or web page of a known entity. Navigational searches are brand-based searches. For example, if someone is searching for YouTube, Google will provide YouTube as the search result, because it was clear that was what the user was searching for. For businesses, this often doesn’t result in a click to the website anymore, because Google tries to provide relevant information right on the search result page, such as your phone number and address.
Transactional queries – Queries that reflect the user's intent to perform an action, like purchasing a firewall or downloading a whitepaper. Examples of transactional searches would include, "Get a computer quote" or "best business firewall."
Local queries - Localized queries provide the searcher with information about businesses near their location. These searchers often include the term "near me." Note, depending on the type of business or service searched for, Google doesn't require the user to add "near me." For example, if the searcher were searching for a 'pizza parlor,' Google would assume the user intended to find one nearby. This is different with some searches, like “managed IT”, which Google may consider an informational query without the suffix "near me." This has been one of the biggest game-changers in SEO over the last several years.
User Intent Mismatch
While SEO and content marketing can drive traffic to your MSP site, there's a question of what happens when they get there. While the goal of successful SEO is to drive traffic to your site, successful SEO drives qualified traffic. Yet, despite the level of traffic your site receives, unless you consider what your visitor is searching for, there is a possibility that your website will be off-message. An off-message landing page or homepage will cause a potential lead to leave your site.
Concern for intent mismatch is valid because, while usually not intentional, intent mismatch is reminiscent of using irrelevant keywords, a black hat SEO tactic. With irrelevant keywords, the searcher clicks on a link based on their query, but when they visit the page, they find different content than what they expected and leave. If this happens enough times, using irrelevant keywords can result in a high bounce rate, which will eventually cause Google to reduce page ranking.
Intent mismatch can have the same effect, causing visitors to your site to leave if the content you're providing doesn't match their expectations. An example of this could be if you had a link about cybersecurity, but when clicked on, it takes the searcher to a service page about spam. While yes, managing spam is undoubtedly part of cybersecurity; the user was searching for the term cybersecurity, not spam.
When it comes to user intent, first impressions are critical, and you only have a few seconds to gain their interest, or they will leave. Your window of opportunity is wasted if the first impression they have is of something they aren't looking for.
Discovering User Intent Mismatch
The best way to discover user intent mismatch is by placing yourself in the persona of a potential client visiting your website searching for information and analyzing your analytics.
- By looking at your analytics, you can see which pages are receiving the most traffic.
- Next, visit those top-performing pages in your persona as a potential customer looking for information.
- Do you feel that the initial experience of the webpage met your expectations? Did you find the answer to your questions?
- If not, compare your experience to that of your page’s performance using (Google) analytics. Is there a high bounce rate? It could be because you’re not providing a valuable user experience.
Steps to Address User Intent
The most effective step to satisfy user intent is to understand what question a searcher is interested in answering and that the content which appears in the search results meets that intent. So if a query is for informational intent, then your content needs to provide information and not, for example, try and sell them something.
In this example, if I am searching for cybersecurity, your content should provide tips and techniques to protect my business and not take me to a page that only prompts me to buy your virus protection services. I wasn’t looking for that. I wanted to learn about cybersecurity, not buy something (at least not yet) so I will leave. The goal of driving traffic to your site is to keep them there long enough to increase conversion opportunities. However, if I leave due to failed expectations, then so has your opportunity.
You Need Calls to Action
While responding to informational intent is not the right time for a hard sell, there are still opportunities to develop leads. The best way to do that is by using calls-to-action. Calls to action are useful because they guide your visitor to complete a specific task or action designed to generate leads, such as giving you their email or following you on social media.
Calls to action can allow you a second or even third opportunity to provide a visitor with more information and, in the process, obtain the leads you desire. By adding opportunities for your visitors to request more information, such as subscribing to your blog or downloading a whitepaper or case study, you increase your opportunities to collect their contact information. Once you have their information, you can then send targeted marketing based on what they are already interested in. Since they are no longer ‘cold,’ you have an easier time converting them.
Understanding User Intent
Understanding user intent doesn’t have to be the exercise in guesswork it would seem to be, because your searchers are already telling what they want, are interested in, and how you can help them. All you have to do is pay attention to your data and give them the information that they want, and they will return to your site for more.