The Search for Meaning: Moving from Search Intent to Buying Intent

Not all intent data is equal.

If you’re like most marketers, you’re doing your due diligence and investigating the search habits of your audience. What are they searching for? What keywords are they using? What content is connecting with them. 

In fact, search intent, the intended purpose of an online search, is one of the fastest-growing segments of digital marketing. But here’s the thing: Almost all the information you get from search intent is about as useful as a screen door on a submarine when it comes to understanding buyer behavior. When you’re looking to understand that realm, you should shift your focus to buying intent. It’s a subtle, but important, difference. Here’s why. 

A search does not a sale make.

People search for all sorts of things. What about that car you’ve been ogling over for months? You search dealer websites, maybe customize some options and even ask for pricing information. You know you’re not buying that car anytime soon but it’s fun to think about it. Or, what about when you find a dream house online, go back five, maybe six times, and ask for more info on the listing. You won’t be moving for at least 9 months, but you search anyway.

The same thing happens in the B2B world. Maybe you start looking for a CRM today, knowing full-well you’ve got to first hire three more people and create an integrated marketing campaign before you buy. You’re in the early stages of the search now, but you’re going to need to figure out what's compatible with your email platform or what's recommended for your size company. 

Focusing on the search intent of these early tire-kickers and dreamers leads to lots of misplaced time and effort. You need to study the key behaviors that indicate buying intent. So when you see your audience do X, followed by Y, and then Z, you know they’re serious about buying. 

A search is one individual’s event. A purchase is not.

Let’s say you look at your search data and see someone searched for your product. Sounds great, right? But that one person is likely not going to make the purchasing decision solo. You don’t know what position that person holds. Where he or she is in the buying cycle. Most B2B sales decisions are made by committee, and if you can't see the intent of everyone in the process, you're only seeing one dimension of a Rubix cube. In short, with just search data, you don’t know much. 

The person who does the original search is often not the decision-maker. So unless you've seen the CEO, CFO, CMO, CSOMETHINGELSEO (and know which one’s decision matters most) the product engineer and the IT manager on your site, your lead doesn't mean much. 

In shifting to studying buying intent in the complex B2B sales cycle, you need to see the behavior of multiple decision-makers over a long period of time. You need to distinguish between their individual and unique behaviors to understand the buying intent of the entire team, as well as the company as a whole. 

All of that is a ton of data, often in different places and formats. Which makes it a nightmare for a marketing team—even a very good one—to make sense of. This is where relying on AI systems can bolster your team and increase your chances of success. 

Interested in how you can learn more about AI can help your company master buying intent? We’re here to help