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Listening for user intent... after Hummingbird

 2:49 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

For years I've been nattering on and on about user intent. What the user really wants (and may be expecting) when they hit your website. User intent is never out of my head when I'm planning websites (or marketing) for my own sites or my clients, and I'm always looking for signals so I can better discover what my users really want from me.

Lately it's become even more important for me, because it appears that that the user intent of my desktop users can differ greatly from that of my mobile users.

User intent greatly affects your organics, your paid search, even your AdSense performance.

When I first started one of my first websites, I assumed that the people who were spending the most time on it were geeks like me; over the years I realized that my top evangelists were moms looking for cheap or free family friendly events to take the kids. D'oh; took years before I figured that out. Opportunity lost.

Now that the Hummingbird has landed on us, it looks like Google is placing still more emphasis on figuring out user intent themselves.

So what are some of the ways we can discover user intent? Here are some of the things that inform me:

I look at return visits, pages visited more than once, time on site, bounce rate (even though it's noisy); I also use heat map software and event tagging to show where people are actually clicking, and from which devices.

Social can tell you a lot about what your users are thinking, and how they use your site. Of course I look at the analytics on my sharing buttons, but I also maintain Facebook, Twitter and G+ accounts (none of the civilians are on G+ yet, of course) and I engage with users there - because that's where they are. You can watch them retweet or share your posts, they'll ask or answer questions, and sometimes have conversations amongst themselves that you can just "listen" in on.

Email / Contact
I always have contact forms on everything, I encourage contact and feedback at every opportunity, and I try to answer every inquiry (even the trolls). I get a lot of email asking questions, thanking me for something, even the hate mail (and oh do I get hate mail) tells me something.

Surveys / Polls
I've tried them and they don't seem to work for me - which is kind of an answer in itself. I see them all over though, so I'm assuming they must work for some people.

User intent is *important*. From it I derive my marketing and design plans for the future. From it, Google decides (more or less) whose sites are ranked where and for what. And now that we don't have keywords, it's even more important to figure out how to get the signals we need. What are some other ways we might have of finding out what the users really want?



 7:02 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Internal site search
I check what users have searched for using internal site search. I check the pages they landed and how long they stayed on them, did they repeat the search and so on.


 7:57 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Internal site search

The most overlooked tool over the years. General concepts, specific items and -- when it was important -- the exact, unadulterated keywords used. Great for topic discovery.


 8:16 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Great for topic discovery
and the discovery of the general standard of spelling :(

 9:19 pm on Oct 9, 2013 (gmt 0)

Site search - yah I forgot to mention that. We use it help us name products, too.


 1:34 am on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

I like the tried and true method of making sure my page is more useful or informative than what is available in the Google top 10. I find that putting in the extra effort to accomplish that means I am usually part of that top 10 within short order.

Build for quality, the rest will follow(it really will). You can increase your build time by cutting back on how much time you spend on stats tracking. I think the best approach is to build for #1 and then go back to look at stats only if you missed the top 10 after a month or so, on a page by page basis. You will figure out how to improve THAT page and learn from it to improve other pages moving forward.


 2:19 am on Oct 10, 2013 (gmt 0)

But listening for user intent is a lot more involved than just looking at stats. In order to gauge it, I need to know WHO is visiting my site, WHERE they hang out on the internet and WHY they are coming in. For that I need more than analytics and stats.

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