Understanding Intent Behind Content Consumption

Content Marketing Crystal BallYou know millions of people saw your content. But do you know the answer to the more important question: why did they take the time to read it or watch it?

  • It isn’t because it was widely shared on Twitter or LinkedIn.
  • Your SEO program didn’t make them read it.
  • A content promotion program didn’t make it suddenly appealing.
  • Triggered emails gave them a link but didn’t make them click or spend their time with it.

These are ways people find your content, and without them your content marketing would fail.

But these are not the reasons someone chose to spend their time with your content. They don’t tell anything about what someone was hoping to get from your content.

B2B Content Marketing and Understanding Visitor Intent

Particularly for B2B content marketers, understanding the intent behind someone spending time with your content is key to improving your content marketing. Intent is what has made search an effective channel for so many marketers. It is time to bring a similar mindset to your content marketing.

The challenge is that intent often isn’t readily apparent. Search provides a good model. Consider someone searching for “cloud computing.” Their intent could be:

  • Learn about cloud computing for a school paper
  • Find personal cloud computing solutions
  • Understand how businesses are using cloud computing
  • Identify potential cloud vendors
  • Get a list of what to look for in a hybrid cloud provider

It’s difficult to understand intent behind broad keywords, but consider someone searching for “hybrid cloud computing reviews.” The intent behind long-tail specific terms like this is far clearer!

It is very similar with content. Your broad category content, the content that often pulls in the largest audience, gives you very little information on its own about the individual’s intent. Your highly focused, long-tail content provides the most information about intent, yet it reaches only a small audience.

How to Uncover Intent

Here are two ways you can learn more about the intent of visitors, even when someone starts with your broadest content.

1. Link to more focused content
Your best potential prospects won’t read just one high-level piece of content, but you need to give them the opportunity to find the next piece of content through you, not by going back to Google, by linking to your own more granular content for more specific or detailed information throughout your content.

The best potential prospects are looking for information and the links they choose to follow, and those they skip, will give you significantly more information about their intent.

Related: B2B Content Is a Dead End

2. Ask what they are looking for
Whatever you do, don’t just add a question to a form in front of your content! Instead, give someone a real reason to share the information. If you create an online tool or experience, where the information is actually used to shape the output and increase the value they receive, you will get far better results.

How to Use Intent In Your Content Marketing

When you create a nurture stream or any other followup communication, it should build on the intent behind the previous content viewed by each individual.

Sure, this requires a buyer’s journey, but it requires more than that. Sometimes it requires followup communication designed specifically to uncover intent. An eBook about what manufacturing will look like in 2025 is stage zero content. It isn’t time for a buyer’s journey, first you need to determine if they are interested at all in the subtopic that is relevant to you!

As you understand more about each individual’s intent, future communication can be specific to the intent indicated by what they have read or watched. Yes, that communication may progress through a buyer’s journey, but more importantly it will build on what each individual is interested in. Just like you do when you talk to someone in person!

In Practice

As marketing automation matures, expect so see new capabilities that allow marketers to uncover intent information and make use of it more readily. Until then, considering intent is a useful way to understand why people may have been interested in your broad topical content and how to determine if they are even interested areas of the industry you serve.

Your Turn

Share your perspective with me on Twitter (@wittlake) or in the comments below!

Photo Credit: katerha via Flickr cc

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  • Think this is an excellent post. The vast majority of marketers definitely overlook Intent data when determining what content to make available either during the first pass or as part of their ongoing nurturing strategy.

    At my company, we’ve begun to consider intent data coming, in but also capture engagement data to determine which specific sections a prospective customer engaged with most deeply, to determine their intent and underlying interests. We then use this data to deliver a more tailored follow up via sharing of relevant content, or in some instances product specific information, should that lead show intent to learn more about our content insight offerings.

    • Thanks Steve, look forward to learning a bit more about it!

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  • Ardath Albee

    Steve makes a good point about engagement data – If the person spends 10 seconds vs. 2 minutes (or whatever a reasonable time is to gain value from the content, it’s a good indicator of whether the topic you presented hit on what they are interested in.

    Also, I’d argue that you’d better hope your email copy motivated/triggered the click to those it was sent to. SEO is great, but so should be email ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks Ardath. And I knew someone would call me out on my email statement in particular. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Yes, the email motivated them to click, but it was (ideally) because it was offering something valuable to them, right now, in their specific context. If we start considering a range of potential situations and how they hoped to use that content to improve their situation, rather than just focusing on the topic itself, we will be able to create more relevant future communications. This is information we sometimes draw from personas today, but increasingly we will be able to refine and apply it much closer to an individual level. Or at least I believe we should be able to as today’s tools improve.

      Thanks as always for the comment!

  • Eric, I love the tip on linking to more focused content. Question for you –

    I’ve always believed that trying to derive intent from quantitative data is a fool’s errand. You need qualitative answers to get to intent, and often that data will challenge your assumptions, even if you were informed by hard numbers.

    So, here’s the knot – you can be fooled by randomness with numbers, but asking you audience for answers won’t scale.

    Any thoughts on if you think that’s a valid barrier to finding intent? And if you agree how do you cut that knot?

    • Hi Hashim,

      If we can get people to answer questions, it is immensely valuable. However, even without it, we can still put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand the various reasons why they might be consuming our content. We can’t generally get down to a single definitive answer, but we can develop a far better understanding of them this way.

      The randomness in data (or the biases due to how it was collected or what was collected) is addressed in part by taking the time to understand the audience and ask critical questions. You can almost never take data at face value.

      One flag I’ll add on randomness in numbers: when data is blended, critical information is lost. Consider driving speeds: if you average the speed limit across all roads, you would get a value that is utterly meaningless. If you group by type of road or look at the various types of roads or journeys based on the average speed, you start to see something far more interesting. Unfortunately today, many marketers (and marketing systems) blend data into an average that masks much of what could potentially be learned from it.

  • Storewars

    Interesting topic to talk about: Wal-Mart Is Going After Dollar Stores. Read the whole story here: http://bit.ly/1gbVPW1

    For more of the latest news in retail, fmcg, marketing and business in general, check us out on twitter: http://www.twitter.com/StorewarsNews

  • Storewars News

    Nice read! Very informative. Did you know
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  • This is a great post. Usually we focus on understanding intent so that we can send the right white paper, or make a sales call at the right time, or show the right content on our sites. Very interesting to consider assessing intent after an action, and this can be accomplished through aggregated B2B intent data. Industry challenge is to aggregate and consolidate intent data in one large silo so that – in this particular use case – we can understand a casual reader, subject matter expert, research mode/buyer, etc. Next generation engagement.

  • Storewars News

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  • Storewars News

    Nice read! Very informative. Did you know that PowerBuy charging up?
    Full story here: http://linkd.in/1gNTyRG

  • Lilia MacCannell

    Thank you for great points on content marketing. As an owner of a small business I understand that producing enough content can be a challenge for marketers. I think that some part of work should be outsourced. You can make a smaller investment to building your marketing plan until your growth provides the cash flow needed to hire more permanent staffing. Also, you often need the expertise of more knowledgeable professionals providing strategic growth plans and your budget doesn’t not allow for that level of investment for the long term. I was working with Ignite http://ignitecloudware.com/ It seems to be reliable and professional company

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