The Importance of Intent-Based Analytics

Sam Tomlinson

From the time we’re children, the importance of measuring relevantly and correctly is ingrained in us: exams are graded based on question weights and answer accuracy; sports team selections are made based on athletic ability and schematic fit; orchestra seats are decided by skill and technical proficiency. The list goes on and on, but you get the idea. Measuring the right thing at the right time is essential.

In fact, accurate and relevant measurement is so thoroughly ingrained in us that we become frustrated the instant it isn’t clear how a particular result/score was calculated (for a fun example, look at the Google search volume for “gymnastics scoring” during the Olympics) or when a scoring criterion isn’t relevant to the goal at hand.

Given all of that, it’s mind-boggling that as marketers and business owners, we maintain a single-minded focus on one bottom-line metric (sales or conversions) for all of our marketing/advertising/branding initiatives, without taking into consideration the fact that our metric isn’t applicable to the vast majority of visitors who are simply not ready to buy.

This is the equivalent of deciding your starting quarterback based on a geography grade – it makes no logical or rational sense. If a coach did it, he’d probably be fired. And yet marketers, business owners and executives alike are doing the business equivalent of this same thing every single day – only it’s not a depth chart slot being decided, it’s the fate of five, six or seven-figure marketing budgets.

I’m talking about our collective obsession with conversion rate optimization. Focusing all of a company’s marketing/advertising resources on what “works,” as defined by what tactics, content types, and channels are driving bottom-line conversions or sales.

It’s a misguided approach. It’s a short-sighted approach. And it’s the inevitable result of focusing on metrics that aren’t relevant to the intent of the visitor.

From a high-level perspective, between 70% and 85% of all website visitors are looking for information and are not ready to make a purchase or submit a lead form. If you are evaluating the “success” and “value” of those visits to your site by the final conversion rate, you are judging a QB on a geography grade. The metric being used to evaluate the visit by the company (sales/conversions) does not align with the metric being used by the visitor (quality of information).

Likewise, between 10%-20% of all site visits are from individuals who are actively considering making a purchase, but may not be ready to do so yet. They do have some commercial intent – potentially enough to download a spec sheet, sign up for a newsletter or watch a product demo video, but probably not a sufficient amount to make a purchase. Again, judging these sessions by the conversion rate is judging a QB on a geography grade.

In the end, only 5%-10% of your audience is actually ready, willing and able to make a purchase. These are the visits you want to judge based on the conversion rate.

So, if your company is using a CRO approach to marketing, you are evaluating a QB by a geography grade about 90% of the time. The result is a disjointed user experience and a massive undervaluation of your “top-of-the-funnel” channels, tactics and content.

To address this issue, and to deliver a truly exceptional customer and brand experience, we as marketers, business owners and analysts need to fundamentally re-think the way we evaluate marketing success at each stage of the buying process. That involves the creation of new intent-based metrics.

Depending on which research company you believe, anywhere from 70% to 85% of your target audience is either unaware of your company/product or in the process of searching for a solution to a problem that your company/product provides. They don’t have purchasing intent; they are seeking information on a challenge they probably don’t completely understand.

Common sense tells us that messaging to this audience should not be focused on selling them your solution — instead, it should be on helping them to fully understand the challenge at hand and how a solution like yours could help them to overcome it.

This intent-based approach applies not only to website content but to advertising and marketing channels as well. For most businesses, platforms such as display advertising, social media and the like should be focused on providing helpful information and engagement opportunities, not selling your product or service.

If your content geared for this group is driven by what content has the highest final conversion rate, you run the very real risk of alienating the audience by trying to close the deal before you’ve introduced yourself.

To state the obvious, this is not something you want to do to 80% of your audience. At this stage of the process, the intent of these individuals is to find information, not a sales pitch – so provide an experience that does exactly that.

Intent-Based Measurement For The Awareness Audience

From a measurement standpoint, if you’re evaluating the efficacy of your awareness ads and content through the lens of a sales or conversion rate, you’re doing the equivalent of selecting a QB using a history grade.

Instead, identify creative ways to evaluate the efficacy and value of your awareness ads:

  • Interaction Rate
  • Awareness Display Campaign CTR
  • Impressions Per Unique User,
  • % New Visitors
  • Branded or product-specific search lift
  • Average session duration for non-converting visitors
  • Engaged time on site, etc.

The focus of these metrics matches the focus of your content and the intent of your audience — starting a conversation, sharing information and providing value – not closing sales. If your content is succeeding through this lens, odds are it’s accomplishing the purpose for which it was created and helping to drive lead generation and, ultimately, sales.

The consideration cohort is significantly smaller than the “awareness” group at any given time, but it’s safe to assume that between 10% and 20% of your total target audience falls into this category.

At this stage of the process, your audience understands the challenge and is conducting due diligence on potential solutions. They have likely already engaged with your company several times – and their return signals that you did something right in the previous stage.

Content and messaging at this stage should pivot from a discussion of the challenge to a conversation centered on how the features and benefits of your solution can help the prospect to overcome their challenge and achieve their goal. Your content for this group could include interactive quizzes, product videos, how-to guides, white papers, product demos or case studies. This isn’t an exhaustive list — but it should provide an idea of what content types tend to work best.

Like the content and messaging, the metrics to focus on for prospects at this stage should make the pivot toward lead generation.

Intent-Based Measurement For The Consideration Audience

But first, make sure you are looking at the right sub-section of total traffic: I find it best to exclude first-time visitors and final converters, leaving the visitors who have returned to your site but have yet to make a purchase. You will omit some prospects who belong in this stage using this view (for example, if they delete cookies or aren’t logged in on a different computer), but this shouldn’t have a material impact on the overall result.

From this view, evaluate your content based on metrics such as:

  • video views to 50%, 75% and 100% completion
  • white paper/case study downloads
  • newsletter sign-up rate,
  • visitor loyalty (frequency + recency),
  • re-engagement rate (remarketing CTR/awareness CTR)
  • search advertising CTR,
  • page views and page depth per session,
  • e-mail engagement rate, etc.

Depending on your business and website, there may be other metrics you’d like to measure. The important thing to remember is that whatever metric you are using must be aligned with the intent of the user and the purpose of the content – so within those limits, feel free to experiment and try new things.

As a best practice, set up each of these items as a goal in analytics (just as you did above for “awareness” metrics) and add monetary values to them. From a practical standpoint, the dollar values assigned should be higher than the “awareness” stage metrics, but lower than the “purchasing” stage. Not only does this allow for apples-to-apples comparisons across your entire buyer journey, it also provides you with instant, dollars-and-cents ROI numbers that can be shared across your organization to justify your investment in this strategy.

Buyers are the people who have completed an engagement and are ready to purchase now. It’s the smallest group (comprising 5-10% of the total audience) – and the one that accounts for the overwhelming majority of your bottom-line revenue.

For the prospects at this stage of the process (and ONLY for those prospects), it’s OK to fanatically obsess over final conversion rate, profit, lead forms submitted, etc. The intent of the prospect (buy something), the intent of the messaging (get them to buy something), the content of the page (convince them to buy) and the metrics used to determine success (whether or not they made a purchase) are all in harmony.

What most marketers forget is that the job doesn’t end with a sale. In fact, it’s just beginning. You’ve put in the work to refine your content through the awareness, consideration and buying stages; you’ve provided relevant content and an enjoyable user experience for the customer. This is a time-consuming and expensive process.

Now, the job is to delight the customer. Thrill them. Care for them. Convince them to do business with you again. And again. And again. To take them from one-time customer to repeat buyer to brand advocate. No matter your industry, always remember that customer acquisition is more expensive than customer retention – so don’t ignore your customers! Continue to engage them even after the purchase is complete!

If you want to get started with intent-based analytics and stop judging quarterbacks by their history grades, then stop judging your advertising through the lens of final converters.

Think through the metrics that match your audience’s intent through each stage of the process. Configure them as goals and evaluate your channels, tactics and messaging based on those metrics. That’s the recipe for maximizing user happiness and (ultimately) bottom-line revenue in today’s digital world. That’s how to measure right. The process isn’t easy — and if you want a bit of advice on how to overcome your particular intent-based analytics challenges, we are always willing to provide a bit of free advice!