The first step in crafting content that ranks is determining the intent behind a particular search term.

If you aren't familiar with the concept of "intent," check out this giant list of resources to help you understand keyword intent.

So, let's say I search "basketball."

Is my intent to watch basketball, play basketball, learn the rules to basketball, or buy a basketball? The intent could be a mix of these things or it could be mostly focused on one or a few.

We've written about how understanding intent can reduce PPC costs by 50% or more

Well, it's also how you get ranked.

So we put together this little checklist to help you determine keyword intent. This method requires you to run an AdWords campaign, but I promise, this is the best keyword research you can get your hands on.

I'll walk you through the checklist with the example keyword: Web Design.

For reference, here's the condensed version of the checklist:

  1. Brainstorm intent
  2. Create MVP landing pages to match intent
  3. Create PPC ads targeting each intent you've identified
  4. Build out your MVP landing pages based on CTR winners in AdWords

1. Brainstorm intent

The first step is to identify all the possible intents behind your keyword. Depending on how broad the query is, it could be a long list.

For our example term, "web design," we would have an enormous list, for the sake of this post (and my sanity) I'm going to keep it trimmed down:

  • Find a web design company…
    • that works with enterprise-level companies
    • that works with mid-size companies
    • that works with small companies
    • that's won awards
    • that understands SEO
    • that also provides photography / videography
  • Learn web design…
    • online
    • at a nearby college
    • at a distant college
    • with a free course
    • as fast as possible
    • that's standards-compliant
  • Find a web design job…
    • at a big agency
    • at a small agency
    • in-house
    • at a company that uses Codeigniter

2. Create an MVP landing page

MVP stands for "minimum viable product." This is a landing page that matches what you think is the "meat" of the intent, but does so in the easiest way possible.

For example, if you think most people searching "web design" are looking for a list of web design companies, your landing page should be that list.

The "minimum viable product" part is important. Don't spend more time than you need to run this test. For this "web design" example, maybe I think the most useful page might include samples from the company's portfolios or contact information for each company. Those are nice-to-haves, and will certainly make your page perform better in the long run, but right now we're just trying to determine intent, so just do enough to get a strong quality score on AdWords – that's really all we need right now.

If, on the other hand, you think there are quite a few people searching across a range of intents, you have 2 options:

1. You can try to create an MVP landing page that provides information for all major intents.

The benefit to this is you'll likely have a higher landing page quality score and better engagement on the page, resulting in lower click costs on AdWords.

2. You create an MVP landing page to match what you think is the biggest intent.

This is much easier, but it could cause you to have such bad landing page relevance that your clicks costs become unmanageably high.

3. Create PPC ads targeting each intent

Now is where the testing begins. You need to create good PPC ads targeting each of the possible intents you've identified above. How granular you get with this is up to you. In the example above, I'd probably start with ads targeting the 3 parent intents: find a web design company, learn web design, and find a web design job.

It's very important these ads be fairly well-targeted toward each possible intent. This is where skill, and pretty strong understanding of PPC, and a good bit of experience come into play.

If your "learn web design" ad is really terrible and your "find a web design job" ad is awesome, you went get accurate intel from this.

4. Build out MVP landing pages based on CTR winners

If there's a clear CTR winner:

If there is a clear CTR winner, you can be reasonably assured that's where the meat of your intent lies. Now it's time to build out your MVP landing page to better serve this intent.

If there's no single clear CTR winner:

If there's no clear winner, it suggests the intent varies. You might find that a handful of the intents you've identified get a much better CTR than some of the others. Or you might find that CTRs are pretty evenly distributed. Either way, you'll need to keep in mind the major intents when building out your MVP landing page.