Early in the shopping journey, consumers tend to use search terms like “how” and “best.” As they narrow down their choices, they often use terms like “compare” and “advantage.” When their searches include words like “apply” and “buy” they are ready to purchase.

Kelli Kemery, researcher, Bing Ads

Kelli Kemery, researcher, Bing Ads

Imagine a scenario where you can use search text to help identify a consumer’s mindset and use this knowledge to meet the consumer where they are in their decision journey. Visualize the complicated and fluid decision journey and know that with this prediction you can offer consumers exactly what they need.

To understand the consumer intent by looking at the psychological motivations behind search query language and help advertisers tailor their messages to meet their consumers in their journey, Microsoft partnered with Performics and Northwestern University, the creators of the Intent Scoring Algorithm. Their Intent Scoring Algorithm is designed to identify key consumer mindsets associated with a searcher’s phase in the journey by coding every search keyword in an advertiser’s account and using this to identify the consumer’s place in the journey.

Recent studies that show 74% of consumers frustrated with site content that is not relevant to them.

Search is personal

Today as search continues to become increasingly pervasive, it is also becoming increasingly personal. In 2012, Pew research conducted a study to understand people’s views on privacy. At that time, only 28% of the people said they would be OK with targeted ads or search engines keeping track of their searches to deliver better results. Five years later, a similar study was conducted to see how the perspectives have changed. The result—78% of people now say they are OK with personalized ads or search results. That is verified by comparing with other recent studies that show 74% of consumers frustrated with site content that is not relevant to them.

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Bing Network research shows that 56% of consumers will purchase a brand again if that brand provides them a personalized experience. And that number grows among younger consumers: About 66% of 25-34-year-olds will repurchase if they are provided with a personalized experience. As the technology changes the manner consumers think about their purchases, it also changes their expectations of their experiences. Almost 65% of consumers report that they seek out brands that bring them joy and 51% are more engaged with brands that they have an emotional connection with.

Search is predictive

At the center of these predictive services are personal digital assistants like Cortana. Today, these digital assistants leverage the data they collect and aggregate through search, mail, maps, calendars and more. They try to predict what consumers want based on their behavioral patterns. They can tell you when to leave for an appointment given traffic conditions or remind you that you made a commitment to a colleague—without you setting a reminder. They might even suggest to you gift ideas for an upcoming anniversary.

This predictive nature of search confirms that search is a behavioral insights machine that uncovers hidden consumer intent. Consumers are constantly signaling their intentions, and only those who know how to listen can pick up on those cues. Brands that uncover consumer intentions and motivations behind digital interactions can unlock the code of relevancy and personalization.

Uncovering intent through language

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The Intent Scoring Algorithm by Performics and Northwestern University uncovered that consumers’ mindsets shift as they approach or move away from goals like buying. Early in the journey, the consumers have an abstract, more exploratory mindset. As consumers move closer to a goal, their thinking becomes more concrete. They look for price or location of purchase.  The algorithm found that advertisers could use language—the text in search itself—to reveal and match the consumer mindset and intent, meeting the consumers where they are instead of where we want them to be.

When the consumer mindset is matched to the advertising text, consumers are more likely to click on the ad to explore the content. Consumers who used search terms like “how” and “best”—which are abstract—are more likely to click on an ad written using abstract language, than they are to click on an ad with concrete language. In addition to conducting abstract searches, consumers were more likely to click on educational content offered by third-party sites than brand or retail content.

Once shoppers have more clarity on what they are looking for, their search terms get slightly more concrete, like “best” or “top”, but they are still exploring.  When they use cues like “compare”, “pros”, “cons”, advantage”, they actually start comparing and evaluating themselves between different options and brands. This is the moment when they want to see specific benefits, reviews, and ratings.

Finally, when they are closest to action their thinking becomes more concrete. They turn to issues like price or location for purchase and use terms like “apply” and “buy”. This is when, they need ease and efficiency the most.

Search at every stage of the journey

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Today, search ads are still very focused on consumers that are ready to transact. Advertisers focus money and attention on the end of the journey, just before a consumer is ready to purchase. However, consumers turn to search at every point in their journey. And It takes both – search engine and the advertisers—working together to create a strong search experience for consumers.

Bing is the search engine owned and operated by Microsoft Corp.