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In Search [Episode 25]: Mastering the Consumer's Search Journey with Intent Analysis





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The In Search SEO Podcast Community Question of the Week!




SEO Community Question 25



What are some solid ways you can determine how Google looks at content from the lens of user intent? 
 



Summary of Episode 25: The In Search SEO Podcast 



In Search SEO Banner 25



In this episode we talk to Jeannie Hill, the founder of Hill Web Creations all about intent & how it shapes the consumer's search journey:

  • The role of intent in the consumer's path towards conversion
  • Addressing consumer bias as part of the intent equation
  • The advantage of targeting intent gaps

Plus, we discuss the possibility of Google heavily monetizing Google My Business.



Rumors Point to Google Monetizing 'Google My Business' [1:10 - 9:20]



There are some strong rumors flying around the ether that Google is looking to monetize Google My Business!

Mordy first got wind of this via a really nice write-up from former In Search guest Andrew Optimisey.

In a nutshell, Google sent a survey around that pointed towards business listing monetization. How so?

Well, Google would stop the survey in its tracks if you indicated you were not in charge of advertising spend.… Peculiar.

Next, the survey presented info on some potential features followed by the question, "How much would you pay for these features?” Very subtle.

What features you ask? How about paying to make sure no competitive advertisements appear inside your business listing.

How about this one: "Get an extra button on your business profile titled ‘Book’. Google shows customers your availability (synced with your calendar system if you have one). Customers can either confirm a booking or request a timeslot.”

Boom Shakalaka! Who told you Google is going to try to charge businesses who use the Reserve with Google program right here on this very podcast! And as we mentioned on that previous podcast this can become problematic for small businesses as once one business opts in other businesses will feel the need to opt in as well.

But Mordy’s favorite has to be the notion of verified reviews. Joy Hawkins and Mike Blumenthal have been banging on the drum that there’s a problem with spam within Google reviews forever at this point!

Mordy really hopes Google does not charge for verifying reviews. After all, every review should be verified. In Mordy’s opinion if Google is allowing reviews it needs to make sure they are copasetic.

Mordy also pointed out another sticky point. While he knows Google would never do this, you can easily conceive of a conflict of interest here. Imagine a business being bombarded by all sorts of whacky reviews. Wouldn’t that business owner be more likely to pay for verified reviews? Wouldn’t it then be in Google’s best interest to ensure some whacky reviews make it through?!

Again, Google would never be malicious like that, but as a tech giant, as a leader in the tech industry, as a company with so much personal data in their pocket, you have to be squeaky clean. You can’t allow that optic, this possible scenario. This would be a big mistake. Could you imagine what the Google conspiracy theorists would do with this?!

Let’s walk through how we got here because this is NOT NEW. Mordy wrote an article back in October of 2017 pointing out just this possibility. Google has long souped up its SERP features for monetization. The best examples are the Flight Box and Local Panel for hotels. In the latter, your panel is filled to the brim with ads from the booking sites. The hotel themselves pay to play. As a hotel, you pay to appear with the other booking sites in the ad section.

Google has long sought an alternative to ads… but why?

Because an ad is an ad. An ad has the stigma of not being trusted. An ad brings the possibility of it being "harmful.” Hence Google launched the Chrome ad blocker… hence the interstitial penalty, etc. Google knows that as users wake up and become more digitally aware it has to be more on top of its advertising game by making sure placement is relevant and no foul play is at hand. All of this makes garnering revenue through ads a bit harder…

Really? Yes! Did you hear that in Q1 of 2019 clicks are up 39%? Did you also know that they were up 66% at the end of Q4 in 2019? That’s a nice slowdown. Tack on a reduction in the price per click dropping 19% and you have a significant ad revenue reduction.

What a coincidence that just a few days before Google’s Q1 ad numbers came out… the search engine sent out a survey hinting at GMB monetization.



How "Intent” Is Influencing the Customer’s Purchasing Journey: A Conversation with Jeannie Hill [9:20 -  42:46]



Mordy: Welcome to another In Search SEO Podcast interview. Here with us today is the founder of Hill Web Creations, an SEO and digital marketing agency out of Minneapolis Minnesota - she is one of the only people taking advantage of the Q&A feature in the Local Panel as well she should...she is Jeannie Hill! Welcome!

Jeannie: Thank you! Glad to be here.

M: You have this great article entitled "How Search Intent Shapes Consumer Journey Mapping.” Could you give us the general gist of what you mean by mapping out a consumer’s journey and how "intent” is shaping that process?

J: Mapping the consumer journey is for us SEOs to align with the user and to understand three aspects: their intent, their needs, and their exact pain point. Once we can lay that out, where they are in each of those steps, then we can map a better response.

M: So is that dependent on the consumer base or is there a general process? How do you map out a consumer’s journey?

J: Yes, it very much depends on the consumer or the entity. What’s important is to get the users to the product pages first. A lot of times people are looking through the information before making a purchase, especially a major or complex purchase. So that is deciphering or figuring out what information a user needs to make the purchase and then getting the information out there for them so they can begin getting the information out there so they can find you.

M: So you’re basically trying to get into the consumer’s head.

J: Yeah. I mean, beforehand you will just say, "Hey! This is me and this is what I do.” And now I have to sweep that away 100%.

M: RIght. Because it’s funny how in marketing we always talk about getting into the consumer’s head and figuring out what they want and need. And in terms of search it’s just coming around with the idea of search intent and the search journey. There was this kind of disconnect between the marketing world and the search marketing world.

J: Yeah, it’s very true. We have thought at times that Google’s organic search owes us something if we have this wonderful page but in fact it’s Google that’s serving the searcher and connecting them to content.

M: And with that, how important do you think it is to create multiple messages via multiple forms of content each with its own unique language with the aim of targeting multiple users who may be coming from multiple "intent perspectives?”

J: You’re right. We have to meet them on multiple channels and multiple formats with different messages that meet the stages they’re at as they go from first looking at an option, to getting more information on it, to researching this brand versus another, to the details they need to make the final purchase.

M: Right, and that journey is so important. So how do you effectively do that, especially if you’re not a big brand with a big content budget?

J: Actually, that’s probably my favorite because it makes them so thrilled when they win a ‘People Also Ask’ box or a Featured Snippet over a big brand. I love this aspect of marketing because it lets us do that.

First, before creating that content I look into what Google’s history is on that SERP. Is Google regarding that query/phrase largely needing to meet buying content or learning content? And it’s really beyond us to really understand the algorithm as it has gotten so smart and its ability to research a lot of information in a fraction of a second and do a match is just crazy. I think the first is to do a basic understanding of the SERP and then tweak it to what you think will really work.

The second is to be the BEST answer to a SPECIFIC question. There are so many pages with general content and to really win on a specific search intent you need to go really in-depth with the best answer. So what I’ll do is study all the answers out there or find questions that no one is answering. And then I’ll go after a Featured Snippet on it. There are some really great Featured Snippet tools that help you figure out if there’s a Featured Snippet on a certain search query.

And the last one is to break the category down into chunks. So if I take a unique chunk of something that I think was covered but I believe I have a different perspective or something that wasn’t covered in depth then I will create that content that has that unique approach to a small chunk.

M: Are you referring to content pillars?

J: Yes, so that’s where the long-tail search phrase can meet a specific intent as it can be really targeted. And then often on that page, I used to more just rely on H1, H2, and H3s, even going sometimes to H5. They give the data that gets cataloged and gets connected through the Knowledge Graph and to understand what’s in the article so that it can match that intent. And by going that deep a small business can win over a large company.

M: And that’s what so great about content pillars. You have the opportunity to find deep content along any number of points along their search journey as opposed to doing one topic then going to another… That’s so 2015.

J: Right, and once you have that content pillar established your content can then hit all the buyer personas in different stages of the journey. That depth makes you be seen in the search engine’s eyes as a content expert.

M: I have this whole soapbox point that the future of SEO tools will be the tools that can show what intent looks like. But until that comes along you will need to actually go on to the SERP to see what it looks like. My favorite one is [buy car insurance]. When you typed it in 2010, you would see Geico, The General, Nationwide, etc. - all sites where you can buy a policy. Nowadays when you search there’s a 60/40 split. 60% are ‘buy a policy’ sites and 40% are ‘facts to know’ sites. What to consider, what goes into an insurance policy, how to go about choosing, etc. And about two months ago, Nationwide wrote a piece on how to choose an insurance policy even though they are a company that sells car insurance. Yet they won the Featured Snippet for [buy car insurance] even though it was an informational page.

So it’s definitely worth checking out what’s on the SERP to see what Google prefers even if there’s an 80/20 split the informational content can be in the Featured Snippet.

J: Yes, it really advances that the intent landscape of search is advancing. It’s hard when you’re serving a business and you have metrics you have to prove not to be driven to that sales content. And what you just said is such a case for going back and improving existing pages and getting more information onto them. You don’t always have to create a new page and thereby create a competing URL to your pillar page.

M: Speaking of intent, it really is more than "intention” or "purpose” but it speaks to more latent notions, a-priori notions. For example, consumers may have any number of biases when looking at a product. These biases are part of the "intent landscape.”

Do you remember the old "music clubs” where for $1 they sent you 20 CDs and you get a monthly CD that you have to pay for? I always felt they were a scam. I’m sure a lot of people did. If these companies were around now, part of its intent profile and how users relate to that product is that there is a certain notion that they are spam. Any company with an online reputation, the way we relate to them includes all those latent problems of the company/product/keyword. How much goes into discussing human biases vs fully targeting intent per se and what are some ways marketers can deal with those latent undermining intents that consumers might have?

J: Some of the things I might do is reach out to an influencer, ask them for a quote, and put it on the page. And I most deeply appreciate anyone for doing that and I, of course, give them due credit and source them in my article. Seeing a name that people recognize does give them assurance. Testimonials on that page offer assurance as well as giving details on how to cancel. Just be transparent and honest.

M: Let me jump to another topic. You mention in your article the idea of "letting the purchaser lead.” How does this relate to Google’s deeper intent advancements and abilities and how do you actually let the purchaser lead?

J: I think it comes from the school of hard knocks. Where can I try to get in touch with somebody? With all of my clients I try to sit down and meet them in person even if it involves traveling just to understand their words, perspective, and approach. So whether it means a phone call, meeting in person, doing surveys, calling from a form, user comments that are left on a post. Those are all gold for me as they let me get out of my head and into theirs.

The other one is I try using their language. Yoast has a tool called "keyword stemming.” I feel comfortable with how I speak but seeing the versions or similar words users employ and when I’m talking to them then I should use the same language they are using.

I try to answer at their level so I might ask, "Have you had any other experience with this? Do you have successes you want to tell me about? What are you most concerned about?” So my answer can come in at their level or their pain point.

The other thing I do is analyze search performance for non-geo-sensitive queries or pick a page that will be for local intent then I’m looking for local queries. So I kind of segment how I build my page depending on what need that page is going to meet.

M: For any given topic there may be an "intent gap.” You touch on this when you discuss "content gaps.” So for example, if I search for buy life insurance I will get sites where I could purchase a policy and sites where I can learn about what I should be looking for from a life insurance policy. Now, let’s just say there is far less content out there on what to consider when buying a policy than there is on actually buying a policy.

Should a smaller brand, trying to compete with multinational brands who dominate the SERP try to fill that intent gap instead of trying to compete directly? This, of course, considers that the "intent gap” is not treated by Google as the essential intent. Most of the sites ranking in this example offer the opportunity to buy life insurance, only a few represent informational content.

J: I totally agree with you. I think that’s a great way to do it. Those big keyword terms that the major companies have been winning on for years I feel like they insist on that’s what they need. But if you don’t have the resources to compete on that level it can be really frustrating to go down that road without saying something and having them discouraged. So I think it really helps to get your mind into how this connects so that the more informed I am on the structured entity that the search engine’s use to pull up an information page than the better I can be there.

If I’m considering it as a server system comprising of memory that it’s going to resource that I know on top of that historical memory bank there are other processors that are pulling in the history of that particular searcher and the geolocation where that search is coming from and a number of other signals that all roll into what they’re going to pull up. So either in investing in and understanding that or hiring someone who can I think you can find those gaps.

There are tools that I don’t know what I’d do without like content gap tools. But I think when you can expand your scope where you can go with the page and you can consider alternate variations of how you would say the same thing you can find a search query craze that has a chance for good impressions, to get some clicks, that already hasn’t been nailed down by someone stronger than you.

But I always start with, "Where’s your ROI?” There’s just no good reason to go after something that’s really not tightly themed to a business’s goals and where they have revenue on it because it’s going to take some work and resources. You can waste time ranking #1 for a bunch of keywords but it’s not bringing in revenue then your business will go under.

M: Right, ranking isn’t the end goal. It’s traffic and conversions.

Before our interview, you showed me this Google patent on how Google shows content within the Knowledge Panel. It has different classes of entities, it knows a TV show versus a movie, let’s say. What do you think, in terms of entities, and considering the patent you sent me, where do you think things are heading in terms of intent and entity search on the SERP?

J: For those listening, the patent is called "structured entity information page.” It was filed on March 14th, 2019.

I think they’re definitely using it to catalog a very robust repository of answers to serve up so that can be a part of what’s on their server system that they can leverage. I think what I’m walking with at first blush is if we can understand the type of search. If it’s going to be a buyer search or an informational search. It led me to javatips.net where they put out the information on where you can go in and using Javascript you can find the entity class Google is currently using on a search phrase. How cool is that?

M: Yeah, that is pretty cool.

One thing I took away from the patent is how much of what they show for entities, in this the Knowledge Panel, is contingent upon not only user history but various incarnations of user history. For example, in the patent, they were showing a Knowledge Panel of Caddyshack and they wrote that after such-and-such event, this actor saw a lot more searches so they put them in the People Also Search for in the Knowledge Panel. And it goes about showing how user search history/behavior is being used to go about showing content in the Knowledge Panel. For example, they see how many times people search for x in a week, or they’ll base it upon a longer period of time. It’s not just that they’re using your search history to show catered content in the Knowledge Panel, but there are so many variations that it was really surprising to me.

J: Yeah, it really is fascinating. It’s just a clear indication that it’s the user driving this. I think one of the things we can do on our pages to align our content with user intent is being more factual. And the Knowledge Panel is continuing to get more and more facts and it’s aligning with Google Local Packs and they’re all of a sudden popping with so much information. I was just looking at best hotels near the mall of america and it was just as deep as any website and that’s just what the Local Pack put together for one hotel!

So for our pages, we want to make sure every detail we can put in there is available. Things from size, to prices, to colors, to options, to fabrics, to how this will wash, the life cycle… You know, just really get the facts in there.

And I have been loving using Fact Check schema. Implementing structured data wherever I can find it. It takes me up to an hour to find all the information to all of the components that I need to verify a fact claim but it really validates a page.

Optimize It or Disavow It

M: Since we’re talking about user intent… let me present you with an absurd choice… Assuming you can only do one… would you spend your time uncovering and catering to user intent or working on building your link profile?

J: That’s a no-brainer. I would go with user intent. It’s really changed. The search engines still rely on backlinks as it’s an affirming vote for a page so it’s never really going to go away, but because of black hat SEO, link stuffing, and spamming another site with bad backlinks… just give the users a good answer I don’t think they want to be as dependent on that. We will see more of the algorithm really favoring pages with visceral, unique, quality content that answers the user’s intent.

M: Well, thank you, Jeannie, for coming on the podcast!

J: Thank you for the opportunity! Loved connecting with you.



SEO NEWS [44:51 - 47:38]



Google Q1 Revenue Below Expectations: Google’s Q1 numbers for 2019 are not what we’re used to seeing from the search giant. CPC costs are down 19% as click growth has slowed significantly.

Bing Ads’ New Name: Bing Ads has been rebranded to Microsoft Advertising. This is apparently to better reflect the AI foundation of the platform. Or, per Mordy, to offer Microsoft another chance to throw its name around and get rid of any association of Bing not being as good as Google because it’s not Bing vs Google anymore but rather Microsoft vs Google. But that’s just Mordy’s cynical opinion.

How Many Legs Does a Horse Have?: Apparently, when you Google’d how many legs does a horse have you got a Featured Snippet that said six and everyone went nuts. It happens, no system is perfect. These sort of wild answers are not where Mordy sees the issue being with Featured Snippets, it’s an aberration.

Google Ads Report Problems: PSA… Google Ads data from Apr 30 - May 1 could be problematic. A bug has caused the performance data to be inaccurate. Check your Google Ads accounts for updates.

Google Search Console Data Loss: Speaking of data, the Search Console has a data gap. Due to the deindexing bug, there is a gap in the Search Console data. To the exclusion of the Performance Report, the data from Apr 9 - 25 has fled the scene.

New Reports for Search Console: On the flip side, Google has added three new reports to the Search Console! They are the Unparsable Structured Data report, the Sitelinks Search Box Enhancement report, and the Logo Enhancement report.



Fun SEO Send-Off [47:38 - 48:38]




If Google had a mid-life crisis… what would it do? 


According to Mordy, if Google had a mid-life crisis it would close up shop, move out to the desert somewhere in Arizona, go off the grid and open a second-hand clothes shop because what else do you do when are you ARE the grid? Buy a Corvette? Please!

Thank you for joining us! Tune in next Tuesday for a new episode of The In Search SEO Podcast.




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