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Why Ignoring User Intent is Costing You Money in AdWords

You can’t read your customer’s mind, but you can tell a lot from what they’re searching for. Image source.

If you want to create PPC campaigns that convert, you need to understand how prospects think and what they’re searching for.

Bidding on the right keywords will result in more clicks, but it also sets the stage for other important elements of your campaign: a persuasive ad and a high-converting landing page.

If you don’t pay attention to user intent – their stage in the buying cycle and what they’re searching for – you could wind up with catchall ad and landing page experiences that speak to no one.

Here are three ways ignoring user intent could be costing you PPC campaign dollars – and what to do instead.

1. You’re not thinking of keywords in relation to user intent

When creating a campaign, we tend to focus on generic keywords first and then get more specific as we learn more about our prospects. The problem with this is that generic keywords rarely show a prospects’s intent.

And without understanding user intent, you can’t structure an ad or landing page experience that will speak to a potential customer’s needs.

When Andrew Witherow of Razorlight Media was optimizing the PPC account of one of his clients, he did some research into what exactly someone was searching for when they typed “wedding San Diego” into Google. He found that the majority of people searching for that term were looking for a list of wedding venues in that area.

Understanding the intent of prospects searching for that keyword equipped Andrew with the information he needed to create a new ad:

A new PPC ad that reflected user intent (right) received 300% more clicks than the original (left). Image source.

This new ad led to a 300% increase in click-through rate – and it cut the costs of his client’s PPC campaign by 54%.

Finding keywords that address user intent

How can you begin to find keywords that address user intent?

A great way to start is to use the keyword planner in Adwords. After typing in the generic search term for your product, you will get the keywords with the highest search volume.

Looking at the additional words a user adds to your product’s main keyword will allow you to begin the process of sorting terms based on intent.

For example, if you were selling foot massagers, you could safely assume that:

  • People who are searching for “buy foot massagers” are likely looking to make a purchase soon.
  • People searching for “foot massager reviews” might not yet quite be ready to buy.
  • People searching for something generic like“cheap foot massagers” could still be in the researching phase.

Organizing your keywords

Though there are lots of different ways that you can organize your keywords, I like to split mine into three distinct groups:

1. Kicking the tires

This is the first search a user does when they are researching a product. At this point, your potential customer may only be aware of their pain, not the solution. These keywords usually are:

  • Generic Keywords (ie: foot massagers)
  • [Keyword] tips, [Keyword] help, [Keyword] advice
  • Best [Keyword]
  • Cheap [Keyword]

2. Shopping around

These folks know what they want, and want to narrow down their options or find out how to get the best quality for the least amount of money. At this point, they are looking for reviews and comparison shopping. Keyworld examples:

  • [Your Company] vs. [Your Competitor]
  • [Keyword] Reviews

3. Buy mode

These people have a one-track mind and are ready to buy. They are looking for something very specific and want to get it with ease and convenience.

  • Buy [Keyword]
  • Purchase [Keyword]
  • [Keyword] signup
  • Contact [Keyword]

Pro tip:
Want to steal potential customers from your competitor?

Try “[Keyword] coupon.”

Generally, people search for this term when they’re ready to buy. Offer your lead a discount that’s automatically added to their cart/signup (and make the checkout process simple), so they go through you and not the competition.

Prioritizing your keyword groups

Starting with the “Buying mode” keywords will help you get the most out of your marketing dollars because it allows you to focus on your highest converting customers (those who want to buy your product) first.

Driving traffic to “Kicking the tires” and “Shopping around” keywords requires more of an understanding of how your customers think, what is important to them and how they search for products.

To understand these segments, you should start with a feedback tool to gather information about your customers before you drive too much money toward the corresponding keywords.

2. You’re not maintaining the scent of user intent between keyword, ad and landing page

One of the biggest, most obvious mistakes I’ve seen in PPC campaigns is the failure to maintain “scent” from a keyword to a PPC ad to a landing page.

If you’ve worked hard at pinpointing the correct keyword to match your prospect’s stage in the buying cycle, you want to be sure to maintain a consistent experience in the ad and after the click.

If you’re scratching your head thinking you may be guilty of this, you’re not alone! Many brands out there suffer from the same issue:

The Hit and Miss:

For example, La-Z-Boy’s ad entices with the phrase, “Introducing the Stylish New Urban Attitudes Collection…”

… but clicking through takes you to a homepage with no mention of the collection:


The Excitement Killer:

Similarly, if you were looking for a marketing automation platform, you may be tempted to click through this RedPoint ad to “Get started and request a demo today…”


… but after clicking, there’s no mention of the demo.



Well, luckily, you can provide a more delightful experience for your prospects.

Once you’ve sorted your keywords based on user intent, you know what prospects looking for. Now all you have to do is give them what they want – that’s not so hard, right?


How to create an ad and landing page that match user intent

Here’s what your landing page might look like for each of your keyword groups:

“Kicking the tires” keywords:

  • Provide users with information on the different categories of your product (ie: Shiatsu vs. Heated foot massagers) to help users narrow down their options.

“Shopping around” keywords:

  • Show different products with a summary of user reviews (ratings and testimonials).
  • Show a feature comparison list between two competitors to help a user decide which features are most important to him/her.

“Buying mode” keywords:

  • Make it easy for someone to see the benefits of your offering and to buy immediately.

Pro tip:
Take a step back and look at your ads from your users’ point of view. Search for your most popular keywords and follow the experience from keyword to ad to landing page. Is there anything missing from the experience?

Ask people in your organization, industry or even friends to follow the same exercise and give you their feedback. Do this exercise often. It will not only give you a place to start for optimization tests but also get you used to looking at things from a users perspective.

3. Your calls to action don’t match user intent

There are three ways that your call to action may be draining your wallet:

  1. You’ve forgotten to add a CTA to your PPC ad.
  2. The call to action on your ad doesn’t match the call to action on your landing page.
  3. The call to action on your ad and landing page don’t match the action you want people to take.

Your call to action is the objective you want your users to complete, and it should guide them through the process. It gives your landing page focus while giving you a way to measure its success. With PPC, the key is to maintain the message match between your call to action in your ad and your landing page.

A poor example of CTA message match

Adam wants to buy project management software. He is really busy and likes to try before he buys rather than read about a product, so he’s looking to test something out.

He finds an ad that instantly makes him excited:


…and goes straight to this page:


He starts to look for the free demo and doesn’t find it. The primary CTA on the page reads “View Product Tour,” which is not why he clicked on the ad.

The experience failed because the main CTA driving Adam to the page wasn’t evident above the fold. The landing page failed to continue the conversation that the ad had started with its call to action.

A better example of CTA message match

Since Shopify’s main objective is to sign people up to their free trial, this PPC ad addresses this stage of the buying process:


Much of the ad copy addresses the ease of signing up for a free trial, aimed at prospects who like to try before they buy. The ad’s CTA, “Start Your Free Trial Now!” would entice that sort of user to click and wind up on their landing page:


The landing page uses much of the same language as the ad, reinforcing the “quick and easy” setup of a free trial. This is topped off with a CTA that matches the tone of the PPC ad: “Try it now for free.”

This is a good example of maintaining the scent of user intent because the language is consistent before and after the click.

Before advanced testing, start with the obvious

While there are tons of different tips and tactics that you can use to increase your conversion rates and lower the cost of PPC campaigns, starting by addressing user intent can be really effective for three reasons:

  • It helps you find the customers that are looking to buy right now.
  • It helps you give potential customers exactly what they’re looking for.
  • It helps you keep your landing pages simple, consistent and measurable.

Sound pretty good? Then you can use all that extra money you save on more ads!

Are you guilty of any of these mistakes? Let me know in the comments!

— Tiffany daSilva

Listen to Tiffany on the Call to Action podcast:


About Tiffany daSilva
Tiffany daSilva is the head of conversion rate optimization at Shopify, a platform that allows anyone to sell online, at a retail location and everywhere in between. She loves cinnamon toast crunch, her dog Zooey and chatting about growth hacking on Twitter @Bellastone.
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  1. Alexander Rus

    Hihi, kind of hard to comment on a guide this thorough. Thanks for this awesome guide!

    In my opinion (it helps me a lot) the best way to do anything in marketing is creating personas. It is hard to understand the user intent and his point of view just by seeing keywords.

    Ideally you group the keywords the way you recommended and then create personas around them. If you tell / write down a story it is way easier to walk in the potential customers shoes and get all the marketing steps just right. Simply because in that moment you are the customer.

    Greetings from Innsbruck,


    • Tiffany DaSilva

      Thanks Alex!
      I agree – personas are an excellent starting point for keyword research. One of my favorite books on the subject “waiting for your cat to bark” runs through four personas that I find myself using a lot.
      You can read a bit about them here: http://www.getelastic.com/how-to-psychologically-segment-customers-by-persona-baiting/
      Have you found a good resource for personas or do you make them up based on your particular customers?

      • Alexander Rus

        Haha, read Waiting for your cat to bark too. Really liked it.

        In most cases we create the personas using real world customers. Either because we know them already or through interviews. Helps becoming an niche insider and understanding what the customer really wants. Takes a little time but pays of big time when I think about all that crappy marketing that happens without it (I am very guilty of that).

        Not a big fan of not knowing my customers and using “canned” personas. But surely better than just going with the flow :D

        • Tiffany daSilva

          I think after you’ve used your customer personas for awhile you’ll need to see things in a bit of a different light. Using canned personas like that usually help me to take a step back at a more general outlook. Another great way of doing it is to find a couple of people you know (the more different from eachother the better) and ask for their opinions. While you won’t test everything they say, you’ll be able to see how different people use the page, what they look at, and what seems to be confusing them. (Fivesecondtest.com is good for this too)

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