DMF 2011 | Understanding User Intent

By Kaitlyn Smeland Dhanaliwala | Feb 3, 2011
More Articles by Kaitlyn

The complete title of this session is Understanding User Intent: Using Segmentation to Serve Up the Optimal Website Experience. Our presenters this afternoon are Becki Dilworth of Bridgeline Digital and Chris Hachey of PODS Enterprises.

Becki starts off by acknowledging the fact that it’s easy for traditional marketers to suffer from digital overload.  There are so many digital channels and metrics out there that it can be paralyzing at first.

But the basic approach to creating an optimal website experience for your users includes addressing three factors:

  1. Audience segments
  2. User intent
  3. User behavior

Audience segments – Who is your audience?  Which segments do you want to reach?  What actions do you want different segments to take?  How can they be differentiated from each other?

User intent – What do users want to do?  Keep in mind that there is always an underlying intent lurking below the primary intent that users might explicitly express to you.  For example, a user wants running shoes.  That’s the primary intent.  But why?  Maybe she is training for a marathon?  Why?  Maybe she just had a baby and wants to motivate herself to get back into an active lifestyle.  Those are the real underlying intents, and they are important  as well.

User behavior - Not only do you need to know how different audience segments differ in terms of intent, but also user behavior. How do different segments behave differently?  Once you know that, you can start to tailor a strategy around each segment.

The main case study illustrating this approach to creating an optimal website experience was PODS, a moving and storage solution.  Here’s how the team applied their approach to the PODS website redesign.


User intentWithin the moving space, the team brainstormed all the possible reasons why someone would be moving or storing their belongings: divorce, relocation for a job change, downsizing, re-building as a flood, etc.  They then researched how prevalent each intent actually was.

User behavior - The team analyzed search patterns to identify opportunities.  For example, a lot of people search for tips around moving, relocation, storage, etc.  So one idea was to reach users by being a source of advice on everything related to moving.

Audience segments- To formulate segments, the team made extensive use of Google search traffic numbers to determine which areas of user intent and behavior had the most potential.


Once the team had defined the major audience segments based on intent and behavior, they implemented different features throughout the site to reach those segments with targeted experiences.  For example:

  • On the homepage, four big buttons prompt users to self-select what kind of information they need.  Then depending on the user’s segment, the PODS team delivers targeted content, highlighting specific benefits that are most important for that segment.
  • A system of Q&As allows a user to skip forward to a single piece of information if she wants to skip parts of the education process that was formulated for her segment.

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