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Learning Your Consumer Intent Through SERP Data – Tyson Stockton // Searchmetrics

Episode Overview: SERPs contain information that are a critical aspect in understanding consumer intent. The changes and updates made to SERPs ultimately provide useful insights into the optimizations designed to improve the user experience. Join host Ben as he concludes Market Insights Week with Searchmetrics’ VP of Client Services Tyson Stockton as they discuss the data sources and the playbook you need to better understand consumer intent using SERP data.

Summary

  • The data sets that best reveal consumer intent are URL rankings, including keywords, and examining SERP elements and the SERP integrations Google’s putting into the body of keywords.
  • Looking at just one keyword or a small set of keywords gives the impression there’s a lot of volatility. Expanding the volume of your set will normalize micro-fluctuations for sensitive terms.
  • The biggest takeaway from Market Insights Week is that search data can be utilized by business strategists and executives to provide clear insight into the size of your business.
  • Search in market insights provides visibility into trends, identifies relevant players and can reveal what customers are thinking and what factors into their decision making.

GUESTS & RESOURCES

Ben:                 Welcome back to the last episode of Market Insights Week on the Voices of Search podcast. I’m your host Benjamin Shapiro and this week we’ve been publishing episodes every day talking about how you can use search data to impact your business outside of SEO. Joining us again for Market Insights Week is Tyson Stockton, who is the vice president of client services at Searchmetrics. Tyson, manages Searchmetrics as SEO content and client success organizations and outside of shepherding their largest and most strategic clients to SEO success. He and I have been talking about everything from how to use search data, to find market insights, understanding demand, using search volume, finding historical trends by using your keyword data. And yesterday we talked about how you can outperform your competitors with the use of ranking data. Today we’re going to land the plane on market insights data by talking about how you can better understand consumer intent through SERP data.

Ben:                 All right, here’s the last episode of Market Insights Week with Tyson Stockton Searchmetrics’ vice president of client services. Tyson, happy Friday, and welcome to the last episode of Market Insights Week.

Tyson:            Save the best for last. One of my favorite topics in the bunch.

Ben:                 You know, I think we did. This is where the rubber meets the road. It is about understanding the people who are going to buy your products or services. Talk to me about how you, before we get into the data sources and the playbook for understanding consumer intent, how you think about consumer intent and why search data can tell you about it.

Tyson:             Yeah, and I think this is one of the most interesting areas for me personally, just because we’ve seen a lot of volatility in how Google interprets intent in the websites that are winning in those spaces. So I think from the most broad lens, when I think of consumer intent, or understanding how and why consumers are searching things. The first thing that I want to look at are the elements that we touched on in some previous episodes as well, is on how Google’s interpreting it from like a navigational, informational or transactional intent. And what that’s going to do is that’s going to give you insights into where they’re at in the buying process. And it’s also going to give you more insights of where you should be competing. And I think one of the things that a lot of us in SEO, we learn is not website traffic to the site should be valued the same.

Tyson:                Some of it is going to be very high funnel. You can get a lot of eyeballs on it, but that’s really not going to have as much of an impact on your business’ bottom line. So understanding what the objective that you’re trying to serve for your website, if you’re trying to sell a tangible product, or an ecommerce site, you’re going to be a little more interested in those transactional queries, where there’s a chance to have a higher conversion rate than something that’s much more broad and more general that someone’s not sure where they want to start, or what they want to dig into. And there’s value in that we can get into a conversation around like content strategy and the buyer funnel and all those elements. But, as far as if I’m comparing two specific categories and I see, okay, these two categories have roughly the same search volume, the historical trends have been about on the same pace. So I feel confident that both of them are good opportunities to drive traffic to the site.

Tyson:                  But I see that one has maybe a 75% transactional queries and the other one’s going to have maybe a 25 or 50% transactional. Well, if my objective in my bottom line is to drive revenue and traffic to the site, but mainly selling products, I’m going to skew towards that transactional category because I know that on that body of keywords, or that topic as a whole, I’m going to have a stronger conversion rate. People are going to be one step closer to making a transaction and helping my business.

Ben:                     What are the data sets that you think about that best give a sense of consumer intent?

Tyson:                 So I’d say like two main bodies, one is classifying keywords into intent, and that’s something that we do within the Searchmetrics platform and within our market insights. How we’re doing that is we’re looking at the ranking URLs for those keywords, classifying those URLs, and that gives us a window into how Google’s seeing and interpreting those topics. So the first one is intent by basically analyzing the SERP and ranking URLs. The second element of intent, which again is a little bit of a proxy because it’s how Google is interpreting. It is what SERP elements, and what SERP integrations Google’s putting into that body of keywords, because that’s going to give you also another clue of the type of information that consumers are finding valuable, but also what you need to do to compete in that individual, or that specific category within the SERPs.

Ben:                    So, Google is changing their SERP around on a regular basis. We see updates seemingly every month and a lot of it has been changing the user experience using more structured data, taking more content and putting it on the page. How do you think that impacts how we understand search data?

Tyson:               That’s a great question. It’s probably one of the more challenging ones is, it’s a moving mark and we’ve seen that Google has way more integrations from past years. So, it’s not something necessarily that you can look at the historical lens because too much has changed. But when you start to look at it from a broader set of keywords, it starts to normalize a little bit more, and you’re still going to have significant evolution and change from maybe a year over year, even quarter over quarter perspective. But, if you’re looking at it and you’re refreshing this from more of like a quarterly cadence, you’re going to have a wide enough net. That’s going to be a pretty representative sample that even if there’s micro fluctuations within that category, you have your finger on the pulse of what’s going on there, but it is a good kind of acknowledgement that this is not a static waterline, and you do have to revisit this.

Tyson:                And if I was to pinpoint and say, what my recommendation is of frequency, I’d probably lean more to like a quarterly basis. I think that fits in both with a lot of business planning and process side, but it also tends to fit in with how Google’s evolving and changing. And they are making changes on sometimes a weekly, monthly basis. But when you scale that across thousands and thousands of keywords, it’s going to start to normalize a little bit more and you can start looking at it at a quarterly basis.

Ben:                   And it seems like the play here is to reverse engineer what Google is thinking about a given keyword. And it seems like when you’re going through your keyword set, understanding the content that they’re putting on the page, whether it’s FAQs, maps, quotes, products, search videos, like that gives you the sense of what signals Google has tested. There’s also some scenarios where it’s just a hodgepodge, Google throws everything at the page. I’ll use the coronavirus page that has videos, and left navs, and right navs, and there’s a lot of different stuff on that page. How do you understand whether Google is testing, or has figured out what elements to put on a page and what signals does that give you?

Tyson:              Yeah, and I think the biggest recommendation I’d have there is that’s the value of having a broader lens. And if you are looking at one keyword or a small set of keywords, you’re only going to get the immediate piece and that’s where you’re going to see the most volatility. Your best ally in a sense is volume and the larger you set out the volume, the more that you can normalize those micro fluctuations and those changes on the very time sensitive terms like COVID, or something like that. And I thought we’d get through this week without having too much of COVID reference. So I guess we’re back to that topic, but again, like I would really push of having the broader lens to understand these pieces versus like a very granular keyword level.

Ben:                  So I understand that how Google puts content on the server can change and that can help you understand what the user intent is. User intent changes as well. When you’re starting to think about the shifts in user intent, not necessarily how Google is representing them on the page, but when users change their mind, what signals are you looking for to understand if they are changing their user intent?

Tyson:              Yeah. And I think to that point, as far as understanding the user intent, it’s going back again to those two main bodies of data points, as far as who’s ranking where. Like the types of URLs can give you a great understanding of it. Just simply something like an add to cart button is going to be a great sign, or presence of PLA ads. Like those are going to be like really clear signals, but then also these SERP integrations, which definitely more volatile, but again, like it’s a numbers game, the broader scope you have the better lens. But I think one interesting aspect of this category, or body of KPIs, versus some of the previous topics in the week is this is definitely getting to more tactical level. This is something that’s as mentioned, it’s not going to add as much value looking back two years, five years into the past, because a lot of these integrations didn’t exist for how Google was able to understand intent based on a lot of the recent core algorithm updates, or going back further, the whole rank frame push.

Tyson:              It’s not the same world in that sense. So I think the earlier conversations in this week were more going up in the organization and it’s how you can get search data outside of the day to day practitioners and more into how search can be a guiding market research element for the business as a whole. But this section in particular, I’d say is the most hands on, the most tactical, the area that you’re able to use for different, whether it’s the content strategy, or differentiating page templates, or getting more to the grassroots level. And I think that’s really, for me, like one of the powerful and really interesting things about leveraging search data for larger business applications is you can use these parts to both go up an organization, or as well as use them to go down. And that’s where I think from any sort of SEO leader in an organization, these can be a gold mine to both manage expectations, opportunities, but then also guide your tactical level decisions.

Ben:                  So, as we start to think about using search data broadly to impact your business, obviously this is something that search metrics and you’ve helped your customers and clients with. What is the most common scenario where you are finding yourself helping your customers by using search data outside of their SEO practices?

Tyson:              Yeah, I think, I guess one of the nuances in your question was the misunderstandings. I think the greatest misunderstanding by far is that search data can only be used for SEO, or PPC. And I think that is grossly invalid and we’ve touched on it earlier, but I think getting to the second half is how we use search data with it. It’s both managing up in the organization and showing that search data can actually be this goldmine of market research information, but then also how you can take that same information, take the facets like the consumer intent, the SERP integrations, who owns what of the market share of it. And that’s where you can really then leverage it down to being more tactical and more hands on.

Tyson:              So I think search data should and will be used more broadly in organizations into the future. I strongly believe that search data will become a more common marketing business, measuring stick for like opportunity, but it also uses that same data and leverages it in multiple ways. And don’t forget to bring it down to your tactical level and whether it’s validating, or even altering different tactics because of what you found out about a given category, or a part of your website is to make sure that you’re going both directions with this dataset as a whole.

Ben:                 I think my biggest takeaway from this week is on the business strategist and the executive mindset that search data can be used and it can provide you with visibility into the size of your business. It can provide you with visibility into the trends in your business and to who are the relevant players, and also specifically, what your customers are thinking and what factors into their decision making process. It is more than just, how do I rank and how do I make Google give me traffic? It is a source of data that can be an indication of what is happening broadly in your business and in your industry. So Tyson, this is something that you’re obviously helping Searchmetrics’ customers and clients with. Talk to me about some of the ways that brands can start to do a better job, or at least where can they get information about how to use search data, to better understand their industry and their business.

Tyson:              Yeah, I mean, selfishly I’d say reach out to us, give me a shout personally, or our organization. Because I mean, this is something that we definitely strongly believe in, not just in helping SEOs, but also just helping businesses as a whole is leveraging this data that’s available out there. So, I’d say give us a shout reaching out to me personally, as you probably can tell, I like geeking out on this topic. So, I’m open for any questions and ways to help our clients and other businesses out there.

Ben:                  All right. And that wraps up Market Insights Week and this episode of the Voices of Search podcast. Thanks for listening to my conversation with Tyson Stockton, Searchmetrics’ vice president of client services. We’d love to continue the conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Tyson, you can find a link to his LinkedIn profile in our show notes. You can contact him on Twitter, his handle is Tyson_Stockton, or you can visit his company’s website, which is searchmetrics.com. Just one more links in our show notes I’d like to tell you about, if you didn’t have a chance to take notes while you were listening to this podcast, head over to voicesofsearch.com. We’ve got summaries of all of our episodes, contact information for our guests. You can also send us your topic suggestions, or your SEO questions.

Ben:                   You can even apply to be a guest speaker on the Voices of Search podcast. Of course, you can always reach out on social media. Our handle is Voices of Search on Twitter, and my personal handle is Ben J Shap, B-E-N-J-S-H-A-P. And if you haven’t subscribed yet, and you want a daily stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, we’re going to publish episodes every day during the workweek. So, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app and we’ll be back in your feed soon. All right, that’s it for today. But until next time, remember the answers are always in the data.