Why understanding customers’ real intentions is key to PPC success

understanding customers intentions for PPCI think that we can all agree that the main reason search engine advertising can be so effective is its ability to satisfy customer intent i.e. that people can find what they are looking for through using the search engine. I always use this single mantra when building keyword lists for our clients. It not only helps us generate strong and targeted keyword lists but also satisfies customers’ intentions fully giving us a strong start to a new campaign.

In a face to face commercial interaction there is the advantage that the customer can explain to the shop keeper exactly what they want whereas with paid search marketing we do not have that luxury; we need to use data, business knowledge and common sense to get as close as we can to understanding the customers needs.

This post is designed to take PPC marketers through the process of building a keyword list at the beginning of a new campaign, when there is no pre-existing data from which to start with so we need to look elsewhere.

This is the beginning of the process, before we jump onto tools such as the Google Keyword Tool.

Let’s understand this using a practical example. Imagine we are building a keyword list for “Hotels in Barcelona” for an online hotel booking business. Now, there are potentially hundreds of different keywords that can be built from the core term “Hotels in Barcelona” or “Barcelona hotels”.

For example:

  • 3 star hotels in Barcelona
  • Cheap hotel in Barcelona
  • Complaints about hotels in Barcelona
  • Robberies at hotels in Barcelona

These terms obviously all carry very different intent. Some have commercial intent and some not. For our hotel business we only want to focus on terms with commercial intent and to use negative keywords to exclude the terms that do not have any commercial intent. There are always some borderline ambiguous terms and we usually reserve these for testing once the account is running and has some history.

For any particular search query you need to take into consideration your target market & customer base in order to understand it’s relevance to your business.  For PPC marketing to be successful we really need to get to the bottom of why the user searched the term that they did; what was their intention?

For example, the actual intention of the search term ‘Nike shoes’ is unclear, it is not only to buy Nike shoes, it’s more than that. It can be to buy Nike shoes for playing football OR to buy Nike shoes for basketball OR to buy Nike shoes under £50 or to see “Nike shoe designs” or to “recycle Nike shoes”. The better you understand customers’ intentions the better you are able to satisfy them.

For our example of Barcelona hotels there are a number of things that you can do to prepare a strong keyword list that is closely linked to your customers intentions:

    • You can work closely with clients to brainstorm the intention behind peoples searches for your products – work backwards form the product. e.g. What keywords relate to/match your most popular hotels?
    • You can also use Google Webmaster tools to see the actual search terms that relate to the website that are bringing traffic to the website through natural search.
    • We can interview key individuals in the business to understand what hotels are typically the most popular and why.
    • We can use the database to build profiles of customers for certain types of hotels.

When we did this we found that when somebody wants a hotel in Barcelona the actual intention is usually to find a hotel in Barcelona with a good price OR at a specific time OR at a specific location OR with specific facilities.

To build a strong keyword list we then wrote down all these customer intentions and went through them one by one to find closely related keywords. I found the following keywords for each intention:


cheap Barcelona hotels, budget Barcelona hotels, discount Barcelona hotels, Barcelona hotel deals, Barcelona hotel offers


Barcelona hotels in June, Barcelona hotels for specific football match, last minute Barcelona hotels


Barcelona hotels near beach, Barcelona city centre hotels, Barcelona airport hotels


Barcelona hotels with parking, Barcelona hotels with Wi-Fi, Barcelona hotels with pool, Barcelona hotels with gym


Luxury Barcelona hotels, boutique Barcelona hotels, 5 star Barcelona hotels

Hotel Types

bed and breakfast in Barcelona, hostels in Barcelona, apartments in Barcelona

Customer types

Barcelona family hotels, Barcelona business hotels, Barcelona hotels for singles


Barcelona hotels for honeymoon, Barcelona hotels for stag

Using these root keywords I can generate a deep list of targeted keywords using the Google keyword tool, which are all based around the perceived users’ intentions. This list is much more targeted and specific. It shows the actual intentions of users. This process helps us to build tight and targeted ad groups, which in turn help us to write targeted ad copies, and finally to design targeted landing pages.

Once the account is up and running we can then see the actual search volumes around these terms to better understand where the high levels of demand lie.

Because this strategy means that the PPC account is built around the principle of satisfying customers intentions from their search query to the ad copy to the landing page we see a clear impact on all KPIs of our PPC campaigns.

So what do you think about this strategy? Do you use your customers’ actual intentions in your keyword research?

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