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Researching User Intent: How to Learn What Users Really Want

by Sharon Hurley Hall

If you really want to get conversions, you need to be a mind reader.

I’m not even kidding.

Understanding what users want (known as user intent) has become a driving force in search engine optimization (SEO) and search marketing to help bring more people to your site.

Unless you nail it, there’s a whole bunch of traffic you will never see, with the obvious impact on conversions.

Researching User Intent: How to Find Out What Users Really Want For Better Conversions

Image: Pixabay

In contrast, help users to find what they want when they search, deliver on your promise with your web content, and you’ll get more people taking up your offer.

So how do you figure out what user intent is?

Let’s take a real example. Say you’re thinking of upgrading your smartphone. You’ve had your current phone for a while, so you need to find out what your options are and what’s changed since last you made a smartphone purchase.

At the start, you’ll be looking for general information about smartphones. After a while, you’ll probably narrow down your options and you’ll get more specific about the makes and models that are real contenders. You may go to a site you’ve already heard of to learn more about those phones. And finally, you will be ready to buy and will be looking for the best deals.

At each stage of the process, you will type different words and phrases into search engines, and those reveal what you want at different times. That’s user intent.

Search Engine Land says, “Every user has an intent.” They outline three types of user intent:

  • navigational
  • informational
  • transactional

Using the example above, when you were searching for general smartphone features and details on makes and models, you would use informational keywords. When you looked for a specific site, you would use navigational keywords and when you were looking for a deal, you would use transactional keywords.

All of these types of search tell you something about user intent that you can use to improve conversions. Let’s look at them in a bit more depth and see how you can use information you’re already collecting to find out more.

Unlocking Navigational User Intent for Better Conversions

Keeping tabs on navigational search terms can be a good way to figure out if your branding is working. If someone types related phrases into a search box then they have already heard of you and are coming to see what you have to offer.

To find navigational search terms, visit Google Analytics and navigate to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels in the dashboard. Then click on Organic Search and you will see the keyword phrases people have used. The ones relating to your brand or company are the navigational ones.

Navigational search google analytics

You can find similar information in Google Search Console. Click on the name of the website you want to check, and navigate to Search Traffic > Search Analytics to see the top search queries. You can also filter your queries to show only the navigational keywords.

Navigational search - google search console

The good news is that, with  navigational queries, if people are looking for you and find you, they will click. However, you do need to make sure they can find you and they see the right pages when they search. To check, try using some of the same search terms and see what the search results look like.
sharon hh   Google Search

If you get links to your site and social media profiles or an in-depth result showing plenty of site pages, then you are catering to navigational searchers. If those site links also include some of your key conversion magnets (like in the example below), that’s even better.

crazy egg Google Search

Finding Informational Phrases to Give Users What They Need

What about informational keywords? Jeremy Smith points out the conversion potential of informational search. He outlines a 3-step process:

The user’s intent is_

I create a page that provides_

I develop calls to action that meet the user’s desire for_

Even if the user isn’t looking to buy immediately, meeting their need for information can help them trust you and later make a decision.

Here are a couple of examples. On my site, the informational keywords shown in Google Analytics are:

informational keywords

Some time ago, I found these phrases, so I did two things:

  1. I changed the description for my writing services and rates page so it better matched the information people were searching for.
  2. I wrote an article on how to hire a professional blogger.

Follow the steps outlined in section 1 to find the informational keywords people are already using to find your site. Then see if your site is delivering by plugging in the same search terms and seeing what they find.

In the example, below, my content shows up, but if I want it to be in one of the top three positions, I still have work to do.

hire a professional blogger   Google Search

You can go one step further and use the Google Adwords Keyword Planner to find more informational keywords to weave into your content. Here, you want to look for broader terms related to your niche. Semantic search has become more important with the use of voice search on mobile devices, so look out for how-tos, questions and conversational-style search queries.

Here’s another tool you can try. It’s called KeywordTool.io. You’ll need to pay for a pro subscription to get search volume data, but even the free version provides valuable information.

Here are some of the informational phrases I found when I typed “learn a foreign language” into the KeywordTool.io search box:

KeywordTool.io example

If I had a language learning site, by creating content to answer those questions, I would match user intent and make my site more relevant and interesting.

Transactional Keywords and the Buy Button

Dig into your keyword data and you will find transactional phrases — the ones that mean that users are ready to buy. In the example from my site above, the phrase “hire a professional blogger” can be informational, but it can also be transactional.

When people are ready to make a purchase, the phrases they use change. Here are some examples using results from KeywordTool.io:

transactional keywords example

Note that the search phrases used are specific about makes, models and details (like “unlocked”) and include the words “price,” “purchase” and “buy.”

To figure out your conversion potential, see whether users are finding the right content when they use transactional keywords and whether they continue on to convert. The Users Flow report in Google Analytics can help with this.

When I looked at my “hire a professional blogger post,” I could see that of 36 people who landed there in the last month, most left after reading the post (suggesting they were just looking for information). However, some people went on to browse the site, with 3 people visiting the about page, the rates page and the contact page.

Users Flow   Google Analytics

This is a good way to see what happens to users after they arrive on your site and to identify areas where you might be losing conversions. Tweaking your pages to provide what users want will help.

Other Ways to Find User Intent

Of course, user intent is not just about keywords. Using the tools outlined in this article will help, but you also need a holistic picture of what users want. The best way to find out is to ask them.

This is where you can mix the data you gain from the search terms users use with information gained from:

  • customer surveys (exit surveys are very useful)
  • polls
  • social media
  • reviews

When customers give their opinion, check to see if this has any implications for how your site is set up or how it runs on different devices. Maybe there’s a small change you could make that will increase your conversion potential.

The bottom line: users are already telling you what they want — all you have to do is deliver.

Have you been using user intent research to boost conversions? What results did you get?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.

4 Comments

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Sharon Hurley Hall

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer, university lecturer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.

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  1. August 10, 2015 at 8:00 am

    Users love not to think to much. Navigating through the website should come to them naturally. If they don’t understand something – bet, they won’t like it 🙂

  2. Paige says:
    August 9, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Thanks for the tips! Understanding your audience can be so hard, but it’s always worthwhile. This is definitely helpful.

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