In 2013, much to the chagrin of many a marketer, Google removed access to search terms people use to get to a site within tools like WebTrends or Google Analytics. When Google moved to secure search, most marketers had to try and make do with tools like Google Webmaster Tools, which only carried 90 days’ worth of data.

That rendered one source of user intent somewhat less useful.

Phrases from search engines certainly aren’t the only game in town when trying to find out what people are trying to do on your site, but they are a great source of intent, along with a few other things.

If you’re looking to up your user intent game, there are some developments in this area worth noting.

3 Great Sources of User Intent

You generally can’t tell what people want from your site from just URLs people visit. To try and understand the most common things people are looking for from your site, you generally need 3 things:

  • Search queries from Google that lead people to your site
  • Searches conducted on your site
  • Survey responses

1. Google Search Console – Queries from Search Engines

What people type into search engines can reveal a lot about what they want. If you look at the terms that tend to drive a lot of traffic to your site, try out those searches yourself and check out the top results, you’ll get a general sense of what people are looking for.
This is where marketers got their data crippled in 2013. However, Google recently made a new version of Google Search Console (GSC) available, and the latest version of the tool solves a lot of problems:

  • You can now enable the latest version of GSC and get 16 months of search data. The old version only let you view the past 3 months
  • The interface has been revamped to make it easier to sort data, so if you want to just view search terms and analyze intent data for a certain country, you can do that now

There’s really no reason not to take the new GSC version out for a spin, home in on what users are actually looking for, then take actions to ensure you have the right kind of content to address visitor needs.

2. Google Analytics (or any other traffic monitoring tool) – On-Site Search

If you use Google Analytics (GA) to monitor site traffic, it really has two core weaknesses on a vanilla installation:

  • PDFs and other files that are not pages are not tracked
  • On-site search is not tracked by default

You can track PDFs using events if you have a tag management system, and you can turn on internal site search monitoring with a few tweaks to your GA configuration.
Internal site search is a rich source of visitor intent data – it’s them telling you what they’re searching for on your site, in their own words.
You can follow our step-by-step guide to tracking on site search with Google Analytics if you currently don’t have that enabled. It only takes minutes with a basic setup, and you’ll be able to see more about what your users are actually looking for.

3. Qualaroo (or any other survey tool) – Survey Responses

Internal and external search terms are great, but they are even better when supported by survey data. If traffic analysis tools like Google Analytics generally answer the “what” and the “when,” survey tools generally answer the “why.”
But they’ll only do that if you ask the right questions. Here are a couple that almost all surveys need:

  • What did you come to the web site for?
  • Did you find it?

Surveys will generally have more questions than that, especially if you’re trying to benchmark against other sites, but those are the ones you really need to uncover visitor intent.

Putting It All Together

Visibility into user intent data tends to wax and wane. You should always try and gain visibility into as much of this as possible. A combination of things should make things easier for you:

  • Google Search Console, the default tool used by a lot of marketers, just got a lot more powerful
  • Survey tools, once the province of Fortune 500 companies with marketing money to spare, have now become very affordable if you’re okay with the no-frills tools

That leaves no more excuses for marketers. If you want to break down why users come to your site, it just became a lot more convenient to hunt for that information.