Intent Based Local Keyword Targeting





Blog Date

June 5, 2024


UK, Manchester

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Table of Contents

Intent Based Local Keyword Targeting

Understanding Search Intent

Hold up, my friend. Let’s talk about this whole “keywords are just topics” nonsense, shall we? I’ve been pondering the idea of Paid Keywords and their role in marketing for a while now, and I’ve got some thoughts to share.

You see, the argument goes something like this: “Well, keywords are just topics anyway.” This typically comes up after discussions on close variants, broad match keywords, audience expansion in Google Ads, or the use of Performance Max (PMax). And I get it, there’s some truth to that statement. We can’t be so obsessive over specific phrases that we forget people can say different things to mean the same thing.

Take the example of someone searching for the “best treadmill desk” versus “most durable treadmill desk” or “a treadmill desk that won’t break on me.” Sure, they’re all interested in the same topic – finding a high-quality treadmill desk. But the intent behind each search is a little different. One person might be looking for the top-of-the-line option, while another just wants something that will last. ZATO Marketing, the SEO agency I work with, always reminds me that keywords aren’t just about topics – it’s also about intent.

Keywords and Intent

That’s where things get interesting, my friend. Keyword targeting isn’t just about topics; it’s also about the underlying intent behind the search. Someone might be interested in the same topic, but their actual intent could be vastly different. This is where close variants can really fall apart, and why I’ve argued for a return to making “exact match be exact.”

Now, hear me out. I know Google loves to tout the benefits of close variants, claiming their semantic matching algorithms can help us reach more helpful customers. But here’s the thing – if their goal is to provide the best possible targeting shortcuts, why don’t they apply that same logic to negative keywords? Wouldn’t they want to “help” us be more restrictive to our specific topic or intent? Clearly, there’s more at play here than just finding the best semantic connections.

Analyzing Keyword Intent

You see, words are topical, but we can also identify actual intent-based trends based on historical performance. Take the example of the exact match keywords [contractor license] and [licensed contractor] – they might look the same at a glance, but they have very different meanings. And Google doesn’t always get this right, as any of us with Search Terms Reports can attest.

In fact, there are times when misspellings and plurals show dramatically different purchase intent by users. Why? Heck, I don’t know. And I’m not sure we can ever know for sure. But that’s exactly the point – people don’t always make sense, but we can still set unique bidding targets and create unique ads for semantically similar phrases with different purchase intent.

Optimizing for Keyword Intent

You see, in those instances, the specific arrangement of words IS the audience. We have to stop pitting audiences against keywords as if they’re two separate entities. Sometimes, the keyword needs to be seen as the audience based on historical performance, and then we can go about optimizing. That’s old-school Paid Search, but that’s because it matches the beauty of marketing keywords.

Keywords aren’t just semantical phrases. We can’t assume we know what a keyword will be simply because it appears to be high intent. That’s why keywords still matter as unique targeting entities. They are far more complex than simple topics. They are living, breathing marketing targets that have topic, demographic, and intent-based activity within them. And sometimes, the very best way to manage them is to look at performance and then pull them out into separate entities and optimize the snot out of those individual terms.

Trusting the Machine… or Not?

Now, I know what you’re thinking – “But you have to trust the machine!!” We’ve been trying, my friend. But our search terms reports continue to get in the way of this trust. Just yesterday, I was in an account for a prospect, and I pointed out that Google was close variant matching a NON-brand ultra-generic term to their decidedly BRAND (not just a generic brand) exact match keyword.

Well, perhaps they perform at a similar level, so Google is just finding high-value customers typing in general terms? Nope, not in this account. The non-brand keywords were dramatically underperforming historically, while the Brand keywords were performing at a high ROAS level. There was enough data in the account, and yet, Machine Learning failed.

The Importance of Exact Match Keywords

Watch social media long enough, and you’ll see case after case of this. Here’s the problem – it’s not that Google always fails… it’s that it fails enough, in enough accounts, to really mess up the targets and budgets of a lot of accounts. In many cases like this, the business owner doesn’t even notice because they don’t really understand what’s going on. So, they could be in essence FAR overbidding for those “generic” terms that are close variants for the Exact Brand keywords, since those terms tend to be higher bid than generic NB keywords.

That’s why it’s an actual issue – with close variants in those cases, the advertiser ends up spending more than they would have otherwise while advertising THOSE SAME GENERIC terms elsewhere in the account at lower bids… and that’s why it’s difficult to trust Machine Learning. We’ve seen too much stuff like this.

So, I think it’s helpful to view keywords as having a topical element, as many have concluded. But with that in mind, there’s certainly a purchase intent that needs to be taken into account, even when topical behavior is shared across two search terms… and close variants can struggle with this. I think there will always be a place for exact match keywords if Google will allow for them. Them’s my $0.02.


In the end, keywords aren’t just topics – they’re specific words with intent. And as marketers, we need to understand that intent, analyze the historical performance, and then optimize our targeting and ad strategies accordingly. It’s a delicate balance, but one that can make all the difference in the world when it comes to driving results for our clients.

So, the next time someone tells you “keywords are just topics,” give them a friendly nod and then launch into a passionate explanation of why that’s an oversimplification. Trust me, they’ll appreciate your enthusiasm for the nuances of Paid Search. Or at least, they’ll be entertained by your PPC-fueled rants. Either way, it’s a win-win, my friend.

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