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Why User Intent Is the Most Important Predictor of Content Marketing Success

Mitch Causey // October 12, 2017

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"Are you kidding me?!”

Those were my exact words when I first noticed 50% of our website’s traffic was coming from a single blog post, to the tune of tens of thousands of views per month. "How is this happening?” I asked, wondering—most importantly—whether this had an impact on deeper funnel business results.

The answer? Not at all.

In this post, I’ll walk you through two pieces of content with two very different results. Comparing the two highlights how understanding user intent is far more important for achieving business goals than great design, great copy, the number of fields on a form, or anything else you’ve learned about conversion rate optimization.

Content #1: The Random Blog Post

Early on in Lessonly’s content marketing, we decided to cast a fairly wide net with regard to the topics we covered. One reason for that was to test where our messaging would resonate the best, and the other was to clearly communicate to Google that we’re a key resource for everything related to our product, not just the most obvious topics.

More specifically, we would write about anything related to employee development. One blog post that came out of that strategy is titled “Sample Self Evaluation for Performance Review Phrases.” Catchy, right?

Well, believe it or not, this post rakes in about 50% of our site’s total traffic.

When I first noticed that, I figured, “Wow, I bet this is crushing lead gen!” I was wrong. In its lifetime of hundreds of thousands of visits, it has driven 12 times as much traffic as Content #2 below, but has produced one-fifth the number of leads. And, in the post-lead sales process, we’ve seen almost no deals convert into customers.

This was counterintuitive to me at first. But, as we continued to see poor business performance from the high volume of tracking, we did some research and uncovered something interesting. Using HotJar, we can see people click on the various example phrases and because there are hotspots at the front and at the end, we assume that people are actually highlighting the phrases to copy and paste them into their performance review.

What we now understand is that while this blog post is about performance reviews for employees, we primarily see the front-line employees using this, trying to solve a very specific, non-commercial, non-Lessonly-related need. They’re trying to find a well-written answer to a form they’re supposed to be filling out, rather than write it themselves.

To be even more clear, we’ve uncovered that while this search term receives a lot of volume, it’s not our target buyer and/or decision maker, and the searcher’s intent has nothing to do with helping a team improve—which is what our software is built for.

But, with all that being said, we still keep it up because any exposure is good exposure and if every front-line employee in America gets exposed to our brand, that’s a good thing.

Content #2: The Intent-based Guide

On the other side of the intent continuum is our "training plan template." I love this thing. I wrote the first version a few years ago and it’s been paying dividends ever since. We continually improve it over time and even have an exciting experiential version coming out soon!

I love it for two reasons: I genuinely believe that if you use it, it will help you improve the way you think and plan with regard to training your team, and it’s also perfectly aligned with creating revenue for our business.

Across the thousands of individuals interacting with our training plan, we’ve seen that they’re typically managers and executives. They’ve had training in the back of their minds as one of the most important activities to accomplish and finally want to take meaningful action. When training moves to the top of their priority list, they know they need a plan, but would like to save time in the process. They look for a plan that already exists so that they can copy and edit it.

Because people searching for keywords like "training plan template" are typically our target buyer, they’re searching for it in a time of need, and because we solve that need, they often end up becoming customers. We’ve helped them solve a need in a substantial way in how they plan training, and they’re now willing to trust us to help implement their plan.

Oh, and if it wasn’t clear enough in the prior section, this piece has sourced five times as many leads with one-twelfth the traffic! And we’ve seen many customers close from being sourced or influenced by it.

"So, how do I apply this?"

Change the way you think. Before you type a single word or lay out a single pixel, do your homework to understand why someone would consume the content you’re creating.

The place I always start is Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Think about it—Google is the most expansive behavioral psychology experiment that has ever existed, and they have the door to their data wide open.

Start there and research what people are searching for that’s related to the product or service you offer. Do your best to put yourself in the shoes of the person typing something in their search bar to understand why they would be typing it. Literally ask yourself:

  • “Why would someone type this in?”
  • “What problem are they trying to solve?”
  • “Are they looking for a solution to an ongoing problem, a quick informative response, or something else?”

It’s different for every industry and niche, so make sure you do your homework for your specific product or service. Pick the topics that seem to reveal the right intent and also have a decent amount of search volume. Then, publish content and test your theories in the wild.

Mitch Causey headshot

Mitch Causey is the Director of Demand Generation at Lessonly, the leader in modern team learning software. Over the course of his career, he has advised multinational companies on their demand gen, SEO, and content efforts. When he’s not playing disc golf or scuba diving with sharks, he enjoys boating with his wife, Elyse.