Essentially understanding consumer intent means having a good idea of the needs and wants of your target audience as it relates to your products.
You can not be all things to all people (not even Google manages that ) so for best business results you need to get away from mass (homogenous) marketing:
* target the specific market segment(s) that most need/want/desire your product(s)/service(s) or those of your advertisers/affiliated merchants.
Note: this is normally the behaviour when starting out.
* target your product(s)/service(s) or those of your advertisers/affiliated merchants to your specific traffic.
Note: this is normally the behaviour when adding/extending to existing business.
In both instances you need to appropriately identify target audience(s), segmenting as practicable by behavioural, demographical, geographical, and psycho-graphical similarities and differences.
Successful marketers go to great lengths to research and understand the mindset, attitudes, needs and behavior of their target audience. They are great marketers because they speak directly to these needs and desires with compelling messages and calls-to-action.
Of course how one manages potentially diverse marketing can be a difficult mapping process. Much more difficult than one generic page on a subject/product. But... the average web conversion rate, i.e. generic 'mass market' conversion rate is ~2% whereas 'custom' targeted conversion rates are typically multiples of that. More work, more thoughtful work required but with a greater reward as well.
...that he was not as excited about search terms that were highly popular. What he cared about was the more narrowly defined search phrases that fit nicely into his target content. He knows that he can rank well for his rare terms and that his pages both rank for and have the best conversions.
Popularity does not necessarily mean relevant. Relevance, in a business sense, is conversion.
* do you track conversions against query terms?
* do you track click paths against conversions and query terms?
* do you segment your niche query terms by user intent?
* do you encourage backlinking that will promote appropriate terms by appropriate referers?
* do you create content based on leveraging terms indicating user intent?
* do you create content traffic filters to maximise conversion?
* do you have a market segmentation traffic management plan?
* do you have a strategic offers/call to action/sales framework based on your market audience segmentation?
Or do you write copy, toss in a stock image, and wait for Google to deliver?
One method is akin to sitting on a stream bank, fishing rod in hand, happily dreaming while a worm baited hook dangles below a drifting bobber. The other is more like a modern trawler, going directly where the desired fish species are congregating, running out long lines with multiple appropriately baited hooks below specific attention grabbing flashers...
Now... which method is most likely to bring home the most fish? requires the most skill, knowledge, and investment?
Note: there is a third method of web fishing that is akin to tossing in a stick of dynamite and then scooping up the stunned inhabitants... but the noise involved - and waste - bothers me.
Note: nice synopsis of Market Segmentation basics.