Lately, I’ve been focusing my posts on some pretty basic stuff, so I wanted to throw a bone out to you folks out there who are looking for some more advanced concepts. Today, I want to talk about user intent, and its implications for search engine marketing.
It’s undeniable that the advent of search engine technology has made information more accessible in ways we couldn’t even imagine only a few decades ago. However, it’s easy to forget just how far away we are from a complete search solution. For all of their merits, search engines are unable to look beyond the face-value meaning of an entered search term and probe the actual intent of the user. To do this effectively, we’d need some pretty impressive technology (think Google MentalPlex). Unfortunately, a solution like this seems pretty far off into the future.
Here’s an example. Let’s say that I type in the search term “best pitcher.” Now, I could be looking for the best crystal drink pitcher to buy for my friend’s wedding gift, or I could be looking for stats on the best pitcher in major league baseball. Using this vague term, search engines would only be able to come up with their best guess of what I actually meant, using esoteric search engine algorithms that us mere mortals are not worthy to understand. If I viewed my results and decided that the search engine did not return what I was looking for, I could always go back and add more search terms. Research indicates that about 50% of searches in the English-speaking world are made on only two or three keywords, though (source). As search engine marketers, we need to ensure that we capture as many users as possible on those vague terms, while filtering out searchers who don’t want what we’re offering. If I’m in the business of selling crystal pitchers online, I certainly don’t want to pay for traffic from baseball fans.
Granted, it’s unlikely that a Nolan Ryan aficionado is going to click on an ad for a crystal pitcher anytime soon. However, if they see your ad for crystal pitchers, that’s a valuable impression that could have gone to that wedding guest. So what are we to do about these vague keyphrases?
The easiest solution would be to build out your negative keyword set (these are called “excluded words” in Yahoo, but it’s the same concept). By adding terms that your “undesirable” users might also be using (like “baseball” for our example), you can get the search engines to not show your ads when a user types in the negative keyword along with their search term. Using negative keywords can be tricky, though, and you can run the risk of excluding too much traffic and making your ads invisible to potentially profitable users.
Another strategy involves the effective use of ad text. By being more specific in what you’re offering in your ad text, you can drive away the clicks that you might be attracting with ambiguous phrasing. Compare these two ads:
Looking for the best pitcher?
Find one here today.
Discount Drink Pitchers
Find the perfect crystal
pitcher. Free shipping.
This is a pretty simplistic example, but you can see where a user might get potentially confused due to the ambiguity of Ad #1. Always be careful when writing ad text, especially when using dynamic keyword insertion in the ad headlines (more on this next week).