It’s astounding how far the content marketing discipline has come just in the past few years. Content marketers have honed their craft to become valuable assets to the sales and development teams.
Of course, there’s still room for improvement.
In particular, the next challenge for the content marketing world is intent-based content. Some marketers are already on board and creating customer intent pieces, while others are still uncertain how to take advantage of this option.
If you’re ready to take your content to the next level, keep reading to learn how focusing on customer intent can grow your sales and make your creation process easier.
What Is Intent-Based Content Creation?
Intent-based marketing is a step up from targeting customers based on demographics. Instead of limiting your audience factors like gender, age, location, income and position, marketers base their content and marketing goals on which customers are likely to buy.
Peter Roesler, president of Web Marketing Pros, shares insights from Google proving that brands need intent-based content instead of just focusing on demographics. A few highlights from the research include:
- Marketers trying to reach audiences based solely on demographics risk missing 70 percent of mobile shoppers.
- More than half of smartphone users have purchased from a different company than they originally planned because it had the information they needed on their websites.
Demographic-based campaigns can miss certain gender differences, too, Roesler notes. Almost half of all people searching for sporting goods or home improvement information online are women. Brands that focus purely on demographics are limiting their sales opportunities.
Of course, intent-based marketing isn’t going to completely replace demographic targeting. Phil Davis, CBO at TowerData, says that strategic marketers will build a demographic and intent-based hybrid model when creating content.
For example, you can use traffic and analytics to determine what your customers want when they reach your website and then use demographic-based information to determine where your customers are in their purchase journey. The two elements work together to give users what they need, increasing the chances of a positive result.
For most marketers, embracing intent-based content marketing simply requires advancing their current content process beyond demographic targeting.
Why Is Intent-Based Content Marketing Important?
Some marketers might grow frustrated with the extra work involved in intent-based marketing and question whether it’s worth the effort. However, we feel this work is going to be content marketing table stakes in a few years.
Google and Other Search Engines Already Use It
Since 2015, search engines have been prioritizing intent-based content in their results and modifying their algorithms to give users exactly what they want.
SEO analyst Ryan Clutter explains how Rankbrain, Google’s AI update, changed search optimization by focusing on intent. The goal of this algorithm update is to understand complex queries and figure out what customers want. If machines can figure out what your customers want, you can, too.
“While search engines in the past were pretty clunky, modern-day search engines are powered by behavioral learning algorithms and LSI keywords to increase the quality and relevancy of search results,” Christopher Giarratana, marketing campaign manager at TravelClick, writes at SEJ.
He explains that simple phrases like “Thai restaurant near me” or “best nail salon” actually stem from questions people ask. In the first instance, users are stating that they are hungry and want some coconut curry within a few miles of them. Search engines understand this, and it’s up to marketers to catch up and create content that both customers and Google look for.
Content Moves Customers Into the Sales Funnel
Even if SEO is a low priority for your brand, you should care about customer behavior. Today’s buyers are well-informed before they even interact with your company — and if they can’t find the information they need on your website, they’ll go elsewhere.
“Today, most prospective customers are already 50% of the way through the purchase decision before they make direct contact with the vendor,” Steve de Mamiel, author of The Mongrel Method, writes. “At the point of contact, they already have well-formed views as to what they want. That direct vendor contact is no longer required for information gathering as a lot of that work has already been done both online and offline.”
This is where your content and web presence comes in. Providing information about your brand and process moves customers down the sales funnel before they even contact you as a potential lead.
Intent-Based Content Makes Customers Convert
Content marketing has moved from driving traffic and links into a world that helps the sales department generate leads and conversions. Leading industry experts are noticing an impact in this change and seeing results. For example, Elisa Gabbert, senior SEO and content marketing manager at WordStream, reviewed the content they created over the course of a year to see which pieces drove traffic and conversions.
When it came to traffic, pieces with strategic keywords and extensive promotions all drove visitors to their pages. However, pages created with intent in mind drove the most conversions.
Creating content with a focus on customer intent helps customers on their journey, and they will reward you by converting at a higher rate.
Intent-Based Content Marketing Adds a Human Element to SEO
It’s so easy to forget that actual human beings engage with your content and to remember that your customers have their own thoughts and ideas. When you step away from the technical SEO side and approach your customers with human intent, you can create content that shines.
“Agreed, SEO helps, with targeted keywords, meta data, well-built landing page and perfect call-to-action,” Pratik Mohapatra, social media and content strategist, writes. “But content helps even more, because it exposes the human side of the brand, encouraging visitors to engage, subscribe and eventually, turn into customers.”
Intent-based content creation isn’t an activity for your editorial team. It needs to be part of the marketing process and day-to-day work of your writers, SEO specialists, managers and sales team.
How to Build Customer Intent Into Your Creation Process
The good news is that you might already be creating intent-based content without realizing it. Your team might just need to take the extra steps to create a concrete process to drive results.
Develop Specific Target Audiences and Goals
You can’t please everyone all the time.
“Remember that you’re not writing for every customer with every post,” Rachel Speiser, content specialist at 9 Clouds, says. “Each individual piece of content should have a specific audience in mind in order to rank well.”
Successful brands answer questions regarding the target audience, location in the sales funnel, overall goals, and actionable next steps before they even start creating content. By the time the piece is actually written and published, its entire focus is on that one target at that one point in time.
Research Your Customer Journey and Buying Process
Knowing your customers and their goals is the first step. The next step is understanding their journey. What goes through their minds before they buy? What do they need that you have a solution for?
Jim Yu, CEO of the SEO and content performance platform BrightEdge, explains that searches typically fall into three different categories:
- Navigational: The user is looking directly for a specific brand.
- Informational: The user wants to learn something about a product or service.
- Transactional: The user wants to purchase something or is ready to enter the buying process.
Providing transactional information for an informational query is unlikely to produce results. Similarly, failing to take advantage of a customer’s intent to buy can cause your rankings and sales to drop because of the wrong content.
“If you’re not sure what users intend to do with the information provided based on their keywords, type the query into Google and evaluate what comes up,” Julia McCoy, author of Practical Content Strategy & Marketing, writes at Content Marketing Institute. “Keep in mind that some queries have multiple layers of user intent, and you may need to tailor your content accordingly.”
If your existing content isn’t producing the results you want, you likely need to change your keyword targeting or strategy.
Ask Why, Not What
If intent-based marketing is confusing to you, take a step back and focus on the buyer. Johanna Rivard at PureB2B, where she is responsible for lead generation and data products, sums up intent-based marketing with one clear mantra: “Ask why, not what.”
“Traditionally, marketers are used to analyzing from the outside-in,” she writes. “By first answering the question of why, businesses are presented with a much more accurate depiction of what motivates their buyers.”
Instead of figuring out what customers need and how you can sell it to them, ask why they need certain items and then work backward to find out how they use them and what specifically will solve their problems.
Build Ideas Around Pre-Intent Moments
Once you understand what your customers want and need to understand, you can start to develop ideas and create intent-based content.
Kara Kamenec, ecommerce editorial consultant, encourages marketers to focus on pre-intent moments. Think about the moments that spark an “I want to buy” statement and produce content around those realizations. For example, if someone wants to buy scuba classes, they might be preparing for an upcoming vacation or want to get out onto the water more during the summer months.
By creating content relating to the moments leading up to registering for scuba certification, brands can move customers closer to wanting to buy and having the intent of contacting their business.
Analyze Customer Intent Over Time
The customers you target today are likely to change over the next few years. By updating and reviewing your demographics, you can keep your content strategy fresh and relevant.
Andy Zimmerman, CMO at Evergage, provides real life situations to explain user behavior and intent. Someone who dieted in the past might have gone to the gym a few times until they gave up. However, a recent engagement and new goal to fit into a wedding dress can motivate the same person to change their behavior and commit to a personal trainer.
Just because your customers behaved a certain way at one point doesn’t mean they will always follow a set of rules. Focusing on intent can prepare you for these behavioral changes.
Develop an Intent-Based Outreach Strategy
Focusing on customer intent means understanding where your audiences go for information and making yourself visible there. Growth marketing consultant Ron Sela says your outreach and publishing plan should be focused on where your customers turn for answers, not necessarily where you think your name looks the most glamorous.
“Creating high-quality, buyer’s intent driven and SEO optimized content is good, but it’s not enough,” he writes. “You also need to choose the right publisher for you to reach your ideal audience.”
Simon Ensor, managing director of the London-based digital marketing company Yellowball, also emphasizes creating an intent-based outreach strategy. He uses curated lists and directories as examples of places customers go to buy. If brands aren’t visible there, then customers won’t choose them.
Intent-based marketing means putting your customer first, and making decisions based on their needs and behavior, which drives better relationships and sales in the long run.
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