User Intent is Key to Understanding User Journeys

User intent has been “a thing” in the realm of SEO for quite a while. For years, Google has made it clear that the aim of their AI is not only to understand search queries, but to understand the intent that lies behind those queries: not what a user types or says necessarily, but what they want. And the algorithms do, indeed, seem to be getting ever-better at achieving that understanding.

However, user intent is not limited to the realm of search. For the purposes of broader marketing communications, user intent can map quite meaningfully onto the venerable marketing model of AIDA (Awareness > Interest > Desire > Action) or even the simpler ACA model (Awareness > Consideration > Action). Either will help provide insight into where users are in their journey as a prospective customer or student. Have they only just learned of your brand or offering? Or they further along in that journey and seeking details? Are they showing interest in converting?

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Email in 2021: Prepare for What is to Come

2020 was something of a boom year for email, with people sheltering at home and spending more time online. It seems that many industries/verticals saw an increase in email open rates, and click or click-to-open rates, and higher education was among them . For example, according to benchmarks from Campaign Monitor, open rates for higher education increased from ~23% in 2019 to ~34% in 2020, with click-to-open rates showing a smaller increase.

For what it’s worth, I’m never sure what to make of such benchmarks for higher ed, we send so many different kinds of emails to so many different audiences. Do the above numbers reflect only external comms, or also internal comms? Do they include admissions and enrollment? Undergraduate and graduate? Alumni and advancement? Event invitations? Solicitations? Newsletters? My guess is that they may include all of the above, which really limits their utility.

But I digress.

For all the disruption brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, email engagement rates saw a boost in 2020, and I can confirm that our college saw increased rates of engagement in our admissions and advancement email communications.

So, let the good times roll? Probably not.

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Messy Middles and Customer Journeys

A recent Marketing Week article really caught my attention. The author proposes dealing with the “messy middle” of your marketing funnel by examining probabilities of various paths through your content. What struck me – and forgive me if this is self-congratulatory – is that I’ve actually been working toward a very similar concept, albeit specifically regarding website content.

As has been repeatedly lamented, the neat and tidy marketing funnel has been edged out by the customer journey. For website content this has been driven largely by the evolution of search and its increasing focus on satisfying particular user intent, but also by social media. Indeed, your efforts to design a step-by-step top-down funnel, from awareness to interest to engagement to consideration to conversion, goes largely out the window if people can enter the funnel at any step. And they do enter at any step, especially your website content. And they do want to create their own journey through your content.

For marketers, this means your job is to facilitate each customer’s journey, making it easy for them to find content that meets their needs, while simultaneously shepherding them toward conversion.

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