User Intent

What is the intent of users on the web? I’ve been engrossed by this idea for a few weeks. It’s obviously not a simple question with one answer, as it has many; the value of the question is when used to answer specific cases. Let’s break down the concept into a few quick areas.

Primary Intent:

  •   Looking for something to do (Entertainment)
  •   Looking to buy something (Purchase)
  •   Looking for information (Research)
  •   Creating, Sharing, and in-taking information from others(Socialization)

Those four primary intents, and their combinations, define why users are on the web. Each provides an adequate monetization strategy, though that strategy isn’t always straightforward. Let’s look at a few examples of how I classify things.



  •   Big Online Stores: Amazon, Newegg, Zappos
  •   Services(categories): Hosting, Web Design, Niche stores



That is just a quick run down, and I could easily move some of those freely between more than one category, e.g. Reddit could also be placed in Research/Socialization, Zynga in Socialization, and Google Search in Purchase.

Purchase intent is likely the easiest to monetize. There are two primary goals that need to be met, capture that interest and then maximize profit in an optimal fashion. Amazon wins by capturing interest with selection and pricing, then maximizes by setting bars such as Free Super Saver Shipping. Newegg, Zappos, and other smaller niche stores capture by catering to a specific buyer.

Entertainment and Research both have positives and negatives as far as monetization goes. They can both come with a purchase intent, though it isn’t necessarily a given. Both have similar monetization strategies, direct and ad-driven, yet each has inherently different ways of handling them.

Entertainment services are often closer to a direct monetization. The reason for direct monetization is partially due to higher costs, either via licensing, bandwidth and storage, or to protect from cannibalization of physical services. The ad-driven approach works okay at larger scale, but with it comes issues of possible mismatch among intent, interest, and the ad. If the user isn’t interested or has no intent in what the ad is providing, that ad is wasted, this is in general.

Research services however are more commonly using an ad-driven approach and it fits. The reason it fits, particularly in the case of search, is because the user may be looking for a solution and have a secondary intent willing to purchase that solution. If you don’t have the solution, but you and someone offering a solution can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement. There are also services that offer primarily direct monetization, like academic journals.

Socialization is the hardest intent to monetize, because it has the least correlation to a intent to purchase. Ads aren’t going to work as well as when the intent was on research or entertainment because the ads are often highly irrelevant to the reason the user is there. Promoting word of mouth will likely be more efficient than ads. And since the services often require users to get and retain other users the up-front direct monetization strategy is limited.

TL;DR: When a user decides to use a service they are doing so with specific intent in mind. There are four primary categories that web-services fit into: seeking entertainment, seeking to purchase something, looking for some information, or interacting with others actively or passively. Of the four, the intent to purchase stands out above the rest as far as monetization goes; entertainment and research have similar models but different usage for them; socialization sticks out due to it’s weaker capacity for monetization using the current models shared by the other areas.