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Using search intent to capture attendees for your next event

4 min read
Aug 29, 2023

Whether your association is planning a conference, an expo, a training, or an educational event, one thing is certain: you want new people to attend.

If you want your event to grow, then you’ll need a steady flow of new attendees. But how do you connect with these unknown people? Who would love your event and association, if only they knew about it?

You’re probably marketing your event on several channels already, but there’s one you shouldn’t overlook: search ads.

You’ve probably had the experience of searching for something, only to have relevant display ads follow you across the internet. When you target your ads to an audience based on what they’ve searched for, it increases the chances they’ll click, sometimes long after their initial search. 

The basics

So you want to run search ads to attract new attendees to your event. 

You'll need:

  • An advertising platform (Google Ads, Microsoft Ads).
  • Budget.
  • An understanding of your audience’s search intent.
  • Relevant keyword phrases.
  • Display ad content (image or video, copy, links).
  • Landing pages for your ads to lead to.

A platform like Feathr can simply and amplify your search engine marketing efforts, helping you get the most bang for your advertising buck and maximize your time. 

Good marketing with search ads

Search engines may seem technical and detached, but like any marketing channel, they’re a tool for connection. 

As with any marketing endeavor, identifying your audience is a prerequisite. Who are you hoping to attract to this event? Where do they live? What career phase are they in? Do you want to expand to new age groups or other demographics? 

Once you’ve determined who your audience is, you’ll be able to understand their context and intent, which is crucial for creating effective ads.

Then you can use the ads to cultivate the relationship and activate their participation. After you’ve run your first search targeting campaign, you’ll have data to learn from to make your next one even more successful.

Marketing is about connecting with a community. In the case of search targeting, it’s about reaching out to your future community members and finding the people who would benefit from being a part of your event. 

Their intent is key

When you’re marketing through a channel like posters on a bulletin board, you don’t know anything about the intent of your audience. Your poster appears among all kinds of information, and is presented to anyone who wanders by. They may have an incredibly deep interest in your event, or none at all.

The internet works a little differently. Your target audience is searching with a purpose. This is called their search intent. 

You might not think about it, but you have search intent all the time. Whether you’re searching “5-ingredient recipes” or “what time does the city pool open?” you’re looking for something specific. So is your audience. 

Search is kind of like a conversation, aided by technology. The user enters a question, or query, like, “professional development events healthcare professionals.” That query has keywords that trigger search results and ads. The user then chooses the result or clicks on the ad that most closely answers their intent. 

Their intent = your keywords

Search intent is important for several reasons. One, you want to reach the people who are most interested in your event. There’s no point in serving your ad to a bunch of people who aren’t in your target audience.

Two, Google wants to provide searchers with the results that satisfy their intent, and prioritizes relevant results. If you want to improve your SEO in general, matching the search intent of your target audience will help. 

Figuring out your audience’s intent allows you to choose smarter keywords to trigger your ads. For instance, most people don’t want to attend a conference for the sake of attending a conference.

Choosing “conference Chicago Illinois” as a keyword phrase isn’t likely to attract attendees to a conference of association of veterinary medical professionals.

The people who are looking for what you’re offering are more apt to be searching terms like “veterinary medicine continuing education” or “professional development veterinarian,” or “vet tech CE Phoenix.” 

There are many tools and techniques for determining search intent and keywords, and it can get rather sophisticated. The following tips are in no way comprehensive, but can definitely get you started. 

  1. This may seem really obvious, but put yourself in the mindset of your ideal audience. What are they likely to search for? Type it into a search engine, and see what kind of results you get. Be sure to look at the “People Also Ask” results, which may have some good options as well. 
  2. Use a tool like Google Keyword Planner to identify keywords.
  3. Start typing a relevant keyword phrase into Google and see what the autosuggest offers to find more keywords.
  4. Take a look at your website analytics to see what kind of keywords got people to your site for past events.

Beyond search

Digital advertising is  a great channel for attracting new event attendees, but it works best in concert with your other channels as part of an omnichannel marketing strategy.

What happens after someone clicks on your ad and registers for your event? Hopefully, you continue to engage them through email, mobile, and social media. 

Omnichannel is often describes as having one conversation across all of your channels. It helps you reinforce your message, build excitement for the event, and deepen your connection with your audience. 

Sticking with our veterinary conference example, here’s what an omnichannel campaign with search ads could look like.

Keywords for search ads:

  • Continuing ed veterinarian Chicago
  • Chicago vet conference 2023
  • Illinois vet tech CEU credit

Display ads:

  • One ad featuring continuing ed credits for vets.
  • One ad featuring continuing ed credits for vet techs.
  • One ad featuring conference in general.

Landing pages:

  • One page featuring continuing ed credits for vets.
  • One page featuring continuing ed credits for vet techs.
  • One page  featuring conference in general.


  • Automatic welcome email for each segment.
  • Reminder email as conference approaches.
  • Announcement of keynote speakers.
  • Session highlights.
  • Day-of details like badges and parking.
  • Wrap up of each day’s highlights during the event.
  • Follow up survey after the event.
  • Promote association membership after the event.


  • Posts promoting continuing education for vets and techs.
  • Announcement of keynote speakers.
  • Session highlights.
  • Speaker features.

New channels, new audience

Digital advertising helps you get in front of new audiences who are likely to be interested in your event. When you target people based on their search intent, you can save advertising dollars, get a greater return on your investment, and welcome new members to your community. 


About the author:

Megan Donahue is a communications consultant, writer, and nonprofit nerd. She's the host of Love & Robots and fascinated by the intersection of nonprofits and technology.

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