How User Intent Rules Your Life

Understand your user's intent, and you'll know how to target your marketing. You'll know what message to deliver and what words to use. And you'll know how to design your pages accordingly.

How User Intent Rules Your Life

So many factors go into a successful website. Few are as critical as user intent. Misreading your user's intent will lead to errors in:

    ·the design of your web pages

    ·the main message you deliver

    ·the language and tone you use

    ·the keywords you target for SEO

    ·pretty much all other marketing you do

Everybody lands on your page with a specific intent. It starts with their search. Depending on who you listen to, there are three or four types of intent. Unless you listen to me; then there are five.

Types of user intent

Instant Search, an eCommerce predictive search solution, mentions three types of user intent. They suggest that the user generally is seeking content, service, or product in very 3 different ways.

Navigational intent -
This is when users ‘know what they want’, and are looking specifically for it. For example, they might search Google for a specific carpet cleaning company. Or they might search your website for a specific product they saw on their last visit.

Informational intent - This is when people want to learn about something. For example, they might search YouTube for how to boost a lawn tractor battery (yes, that was me). Or they might search your website for how to use something you are selling. Or they might want to know what shots they need before traveling to a certain country.

Transactional intent - This is when they want to buy something. For example, they might search for a mouse pad on which Charlie Brown and Snoopy are watching the Tardis float past a la Van Gogh (too late, by the way – I should have bought it while I could). Or they might search your website for a specific sized bearing or pump or brush.

Yoast mentions four types
of user intent, the same as Instant Search mentions, plus one more.

Commercial investigation. This is researching products for a future purchase. That purchase might be online, or it might be in store. For instance, one might want to be well-versed about a vehicle or a few vehicles before braving the car showroom. Frankly, this is low-pressure transactional. In other words, these visitors are looking to buy, so you need to be prepared to sell. But they are not ready to buy just yet, so don't turn up the sales pressure.

To these four, let me add one more that it seems all the experts seem to have overlooked.

Entertainment. This is when you just want to be entertained. For example, you might search for lyrics to a Hamilton song or transcripts of a Doctor Who episode (I've done both many times). Or you might search YouTube for specific songs, artists or performances. Entertainment might just be the biggest user intent of all.

How user intent rules your life

Each of these intents influences several aspects of your marketing strategy. For instance, it will affect page design. When your users want to buy (transactional), make it easy for them to buy. Place "buy" links high on the page. Make the shopping cart highly visible. Make buying information, such as shipping and payment methods easy to find. Your page has to be like a sales person and checkout counter all in one.

On the other hand, if the user's intent is informational or entertainment, shoving all this buying hype in their faces will scare them off. Seriously, when I seek information or want to be entertained, I don't want some pushy in-your-face sales person following me around a store.

Let's take that last point one step further. Remarketing is almost like that – a pushy sales person following you around the Internet. I once wanted some information about kayaks. For two weeks after that, Google ads for kayaks followed me around the Internet. If my informational intent had been registered, I would not have been stalked by those transactional ads. I find remarketing creepy when I am not in the market for the item.

Beyond page design and remarketing, keyword selection is also hugely based on user intent. Consider these three searches:

  • head lice
  • how to kill head lice
  • how to recognize head lice

The first search gives us no idea of intent. But it's the tough short tail term; it's included in all the long tail searches (such as the two that follow it above), so you're covered anyway.

The second search is informational...or is it? On the one hand, it's a how-to search. On the other hand, we can assume that people searching for "how to kill head lice" are looking for a solution. If you are selling that solution, they might be ready to buy. It's a tricky search. You need to provide information, but you need to be ready to sell.

The third one is purely informational. We know that the searcher is not ready to buy, as they do not know if they have a problem. So you need to give them the information. But also make sure they know they can come back to your website to buy if they decide they need your product.

Obviously, the language and tone you use must reflect user intent. Informational intent requires objective language. To be credible, you want to cite authoritative studies. You want to be accurate and sound like an expert. For transactional intent, you want to focus on sounding trustworthy and helpful in delivering their solution.

In one of my blog posts, I list three ways to write for the Web:

  • sales copy
  • task-oriented content
  • storytelling

Sales copy is transactional, including for commercial investigation. Task-oriented, such as how-to, is informational. Storytelling can also be used for informational intent, or it can be paired with sales copy. It can also be used for entertainment.

Needless to say, the intent of the user dictates greatly the message you need to deliver. Your message will be very different if people want to know about a writer's life or if they want to buy her books. It will be still different if they want to find a particular passage from one of the books.

The basis for all communication

Everything you do online is about communications. All communication is about the listener or the reader. It's never about you or your product. It's not for nothing that "data scientist" is one of the fastest-growing marketing careers in the world. If you can't get inside a user's head, you can't communicate. Understand your user's intent, and you'll know how to target your marketing. You'll know what message to deliver and what words to use. And you'll know how to design your pages accordingly.

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

David Leonhardt David Leonhardt runs The Happy Guy Marketing, providing writing services to businesses and individuals, including books, blogs, speeches, and other materials.  THGM also does online promotion, spreading the word about your business, your reputation, and your website.  Read more about David at  Visit the website at
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