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Data-Driven Persona Development

Trying to sell ballet slippers to 20-30 year old men is a bad idea. That’s pretty easy for anyone to understand.

But when someone asks us who our target audience is, what do we say? Do we know the interests and demographics of the audience we’re trying to sell to?

Or are we trying to sell ballet slippers to frat boys?

Developing a persona is a tried-and-true practice for content and market research, but it’s surprisingly underutilized in the SEO agency world. Do you know what type of person you’re trying to capture with that massively competitive keyword? Is the traffic you’re getting from all that work going to convert, because your ideal consumer is using that language? Don’t know?

Let’s fix that.

Who Do You Think They Are?

Start off raw. No data, no analytics, no market research. You’re running on pure intuition here.

Take what you know about your industry, your niche, and your audience and write it down (type it, whatever). Do they like to read or do they prefer visuals? What do they need? What problem do you solve? What makes them happy?

Having trouble? Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Draft a character description of your ideal reader. I know you took a creative writing class at some point in your educational career. Draw on your character sketch skills and come up with a fictional person that you know would go crazy about your content or product.
  • What will it do for them? If you’re doing pure content marketing, write down everything you can think of that your ideal reader would want to consume, how will it make them happy, how will it teach them, WHAT WILL IT DO FOR THEM. If you’re in ecommerce, draft the ideal user of your product. What do they want, what need does your product fill, how will it make them happy, WHAT WILL IT DO FOR THEM?
  • Go with someone you know. Pick someone you know that most exemplifies the kind of person you want to reach. Maybe it’s an established reader that devours all of your content the day it’s published, maybe it’s a beta tester that just went nuts over your product, or perhaps it’s just a guy that you agree with on Twitter. Extract everything you can about them, and bake it into your persona.

If it’s not obvious, the underlying aim of your content should be answering the question “What will it do for them?”

Data-Driven Persona Development

Now that you have what you believe is your ideal user, let’s add some solid data.

How can we augment our personas as SEOs? How can our analytics help us identify who we’re talking to and if we’re reaching them?

Google Display Planner

This tool will become your best friend. If your site is large enough, you can extract demographic information right off the bat by searching for your domain.

If you’re a little bit smaller, there are still ways to get a good picture of your ideal audience. If you’re at least moderately familiar with your industry, you should be able to name a few of the most important keywords for your niche off the top of your head.

Run these keywords through a search and extract the top three results for each. The top sites are indicators of good audience-product alignment, so we can learn from them.

Put each of those sites into the Display Planner and browse the demographic information. Seeing any similarities? Does your persona match up with what you’re seeing?

Here are some more ideas to develop your persona:

  • Contact a reader and ask for feedback. User Twitter, email, or blog comments to communicate with your audience and find out what resonates with them. Do a full survey with a service like SurveyMonkey or just put up a Google Docs form asking readers what they think of your content.
  • Add a mini-survey to your blog and invite readers to tell you about themselves or give you feedback.
  • Look at the people who already love your products/content.

So now that we have this expertly crafted persona, what do we do with it?

The answer: Everything.

That underlying knowledge of who your audience is and what they want should be a critical factor in anything you do. Whether it’s creating content to satisfy their needs or adding a new feature to your product that solves one of their problems, the audience should be at the forefront of your mind.

So, audience (see what I did there?), what do you think? How do you identify and address your target audience?