The Power of Intent in Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing and the Power of Intent

At the first NLP conference I attended some years back the speaker described humans as:

“Goal Making Machines”

From the time we get up in morning until we go to bed at night we are constantly setting ourselves goals, both consciously and sub consciously. For example, the simple process of getting to work involves a series of goals, getting out of bed at a specific time, taking my many tablets for stomach & migraine problems, eating breakfast, feeding our pug etc. These are examples of sub conscious goals, in that I don’t even think about them, my brain is wired to meet these goals, they are habits.

Running a marathon in the new year would involve a series of conscious goals I make (until they hopefully become habits), I will get up at 8am for a jog, I will take that evening spin class on a Tuesday, I will stop eating all those lovely chocolate rice cakes. If a marketer in (the fitness sector) knew of my intention to run a marathon and the series of goals I had set myself, they would be able to market to me pretty effectively. Gym leaflets through the door, advertising boards of the latest nike runners on my way to work, cold calling about the latest offer on that summer boot camp. I would still not be very responsive as we are becoming less susceptible to this kind of outbound marketing.

This is the beauty of inbound marketing, we can use things like keyword research, persona mapping, analytics, a/b testing to figure out the intent of our prospects at each point of our marketing funnel (what goal are they trying to fulfil). We can adapt our inbound marketing strategy to ensure we are fulfilling that intent across the purchase journey

The Power of Who


There is no doubt your prospects wear a number of different hats at various stages of their purchase journey.

I Love Stuff I hate stuff Whats all this Stuff About

When thinking about your personas, you are not just trying to figure out who they are, you are trying to figure out what is their intent across your purchase cycle. This way you can start to build your inbound marketing strategy to fulfil this.

Need  more information about Persona Modelling?

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Free Template: The Marketer’s Guide to Creating Buyer Personas

For example, let’s say I am developing an inbound marketing strategy for a website called (domain was still available when I last checked :)) who sell the latest sneakers & hightops. I might develop a number of personas to represent my potential buyers (the below is not a full persona, just a small part of it for illustration purposes).

Skater Henry

I would then look to map out his intent across each stage of my funnel:

Intent across a Purchase Funnel

There is never going to be an entirely accurate picture of the purchase journey. The only accurate funnel you will have in the case above is the check out process as it’s set in stone (converting customers). You will have prospects who start their journey at lots of different points, some might start right at the end (usually searching for brand terms) and some might start right at the start (who may find you through social media, your own blog, informational keywords), but jump around the different stages (more of this under The Content Marketing Part).

By mapping out this process we start to attain some knowledge about the intent of our persona across the purchase journey, what goals are they trying to fulfil. In the attention stage, their goal could simply be to pass some time during their lunch break by looking at cool stuff. This is a sub conscious goal. They are not actively thinking about it. This is why social media ads struggle in terms of conversion, they are trying to fulfil an intent (I must buy [insert product]) that most people don’t have when they are on those platforms. Further down the funnel they have conscious goals with the intent of purchasing a particular brand of sneakers. This is why Google’s PPC platform has been so successful, you are advertising to someone who has the intent to purchase a product you stock.

The Inbound Marketing Mix


Inbound Marketing allows you to be part of that purchase journey, even when the intent of your prospect isn’t to purchase any of your products. It’s extremely powerful in those early stages of Attention and Attraction where their intent could be to solve a particular issue, kill some time looking at cool stuff or to watch interesting videos

How the Inbound Marketing mix works across the funnel really depends on your business model. At each stage there is probably a lot of overlap between tactics such as SEO, Content Marketing, Social & Landing Page Optimisation.

Online Marketing Funnel

I wanted to just touch upon SEO & Content.

The SEO Part

This isn’t a post about the role of an SEO, if you want to read an excellent article on that, I recommend this one – What The Heck is SEO? A Rebuttal, so I am not listing out all responsibilities an SEO has across the funnel. We are discussing how an SEO can work to fulfil a users intent across the funnel, which usually means (for me), keyword research & content mapping.

A very simplistic version of this may look like:

SEO Content Map


As mentioned, this is a simplistic version. The blog could have multiple topics including sneakers themselves. There will also be keywords like “cool sneakers” that you could argue belong to Attention or Attraction. Trying to establish the intent behind keywords isn’t easy until you actually have some analytical data to back it up (that’s why PPC is often described as a great testing tool for organic).

For any keywords where the intent isn’t obvious, you can simple look at the SERP’s themselves to establish what Google feels is the intent behind a particular keyword.

Intent is also important in determining who will link to your site. Most keyword research is focused on the persona you’re trying to attract to your site. (those people who will buy your products) These aren’t necessarily the same people who will link to it. For a little more about this, I am going to bring in link building super star James Agate founder of  SkyrocketSEO to discuss how he might build a profile of link targets for each campaign .

James Agate

James Agate twitter

Let’s get the cliché out of the way “build it and they will may come link”, in the cold harsh real world, additional thought needs to go into understanding where the potential links are going to come from.

In the same way that optimising a page doesn’t have to mean ramming paragraphs with keywords, you can encourage links to solid content by balancing these the needs and wants of buyers and linkers. In most markets, these aren’t the same people.

The aim is to hit that sweet-spot where it is content that customers love and find useful BUT that also has some kind of mechanism and validity when it comes to earning links which with a little help can become passive.

A glossary or genuinely good knowledgebase are two great examples of this. If you let the sales team write these things then your knowledgebase will likely be filled up with little more than entries like “Why are our prices sooo much cheaper than the competition?” With a little tweaking this piece could become a valid comparison that taps into the search traffic for “brand vs brand” and makes a good piece to link to for any bloggers in the market who are looking for a piece to reference in their latest post. More often than not it boils down to making content less commercial and salesy and looking at ways to offer value to the person with the power and inclination to link to you.

I covered this and finding other underserved queries in your market in a post I did last year.

In terms of designing content from scratch we’ll ensure that the people with the power to link are included right at the concept stage. We typically visually map out the prospective markets we could beg for links outreach to as well as the markets that intersect the topic we are covering and so may have an interest or need for our piece.

In practical terms this will mean you have an opportunity map that spans a number of potential areas to secure links from – this is good news.

It doesn’t mean you need to necessarily proactively go after links for every single page you are creating because in reality (particularly with large-scale content projects) this isn’t practical or cost-effective BUT if you’ve identified who might need and want to link to what you are writing about then you can better brief a writer and your editor can ensure this group of people are catered for. This might include things like “reading level”, language used, format, level of savvy (could they embed a quote with some code copy and paste?) etc.

As Kieran said earlier in this post, a quick bit of Googling and some time spent researching what is out there at the moment can pay huge dividends when it comes to understanding intent (including what Google believes user intent to be) and how well served you think that user currently is.

To give you a real-life example, we work with a client that operates in the financial industry. A competitor of theirs (in link terms more than sales) dominates the SERPs at the moment for all kinds of informational queries with their glossary & knowledgebase so they earn all of the links although we’re slowly starting to turn the tables for the following reasons…

They failed to understand that the audience of the bloggers are typically complete newbies, in the past they got the links because the people with the power to link had no good alternative and were either too lazy or didn’t feel inclined to produce it themselves. The glossary entries do match the intent of the user but it was more “That’ll do” than “This is exactly the explanation I needed”.

We swoop in and produce content that is not only useful to our client’s customers (remember; the linkers are often trying to serve the same type of people ultimately as you are so that sweet spot I talked about earlier really isn’t all that uncommon) but is also highly-linkable because it provides a more targeted explanation of the concept meaning the bloggers are happier to reference it.

That wouldn’t have been possible if we had just replicated what appeared to be a successful strategy by the incumbent, competing site. We spotted a gap in the market (specific type of content), we fulfilled it and we’re slowly starting to see the payoff (links and a greater influencer mindshare). Basic business principles once again ring true.

The Content Marketing Part

The content marketing part overlaps with the SEO keyword research, in that you can build simple content maps to keywords provided by the SEO, which I gave an example of in this post. But not all content needs to have a keyword tied to it. Will Reynolds sums it up pretty well in this twitter conversation.

Content should be tied to an audience who have an interest in it (it’s fulfilling their intent). This is particularly true at the Attention stage where it’s not always easy to find keywords to map against. For example (to carry on with the sneaker theme), two great examples of building attention with content are:

Nike Fuel:
– Intent to get Fit 

Nike Fuel

Karmaloop TV
– Intent: Listen to the latest urban music (that you can tie back to fashion)

Karmaloop TV

Mapping your content to interest stages is important for both B2C and B2B companies, as you don’t want to be developing overly promotional content if your prospects intent is to just listen to music or watch videos from their favourite artists.

How you measure the success of your content marketing at each stage will also differ. Content in the attention stage is used to build up your audience. Maybe you are measuring email sign ups, downloads of a particular piece of content, how many visitors from your blog click onto the core site, Twitter followers, Facebook friends and so on.

Producing remarkable content through each stage helps you get in front of those people who are not actively looking for you. There is a great piece about the purchase journey and intent in this slideshare from Velocity Partners (starts at Slide 30). Although this is for B2C companies, the theory can be applied to most purchase journeys.

For a little more on this, I am going to hand you over to Doug Kessler, the wizard of Content and Co-Founder of Velocity Partners, to describe the importance of establishing intent when mapping out your content marketing efforts.

Doug Kessler

Doug Kessler prof pic

“A lot of marketers think their job is done when they map content to specific personas and buying stages. While doing this is essential (and still rare), you need to take it to the next step by asking two questions:

1. “What does this persona need to know at this buying stage?”
What questions are they asking at this point? What issues are shaping the way they think about their options?

2. “What do I need to tell them at this stage?”
What information will make them want to go to the next stage? What will make them more likely to choose your products when they’re ready?

Kieran notes the way search terms can signal intent. In the same way, the content you produce can go a long way to helping you establish intent at each stage.

If you’ve produced content around specific issues, the simple fact that someone has chosen that content tells you the things they’re thinking about.  But if you haven’t done that, you’re depriving yourself of an important signal source.”


Understanding the intent and goals of your target audience through your purchase journey will definitely help when planning out your entire Inbound Marketing strategy, Content, SEO, Social, Landing Pages etc, it won’t always be accurate, but it certainly helps to keep it in mind.

If you are interested in diving deeper into things like intent and general neuromarketing – I just picked up this book Brainfluence, which is written by Roger Dooley.

About Kieran Flanagan

Online Marketer who implements both inbound and paid strategies to help companies grow internationally. Lover of content marketing, SEO, analytics, CRO and strategy. A highly motivated marketing geek high on data crack.