The human side to SEO: the power of personas

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Why do companies invest in SEO? Is it to generate more traffic? Leads? Brand identity? All of these are good reasons to invest in search, but I believe the reason so many invest comes down to something much more important.

SEO, at its core, is about creating connections. Connections are what fuel growth. Businesses invest in SEO for the opportunity to create a connection with their target audience — without these connections, there can be no traffic, leads, brand exposure or sales.

But how can we use SEO to create these connections? Furthermore, how can we use it to create the right connections?

Before you can reach an audience, you have to define it. Persona profiling is something that has been used for decades in the marketing industry, and mapping out who your audience is will give you a deeper insight into how to most effectively reach them.

We’ve all heard and read about the importance of “user-focused SEO strategies,” but how many of us are really putting them into practice? In order to deliver real results that make a lasting connection, we must learn to define our audience and create a strategy based on them.

What’s a persona, and why should I care?

According to HubSpot, a persona is “a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers.” In short, it’s a sketch of the person(s) you are trying to target.

Now, when I ask a client who their product is for and the answer I get back is “everyone,” I know we have some work to do. Here’s a little piece of advice: Your product isn’t for everyone, but it is for someone. So find out who that someone is and share it with them.

Take this site, for example. It’s not for everyone. My mom doesn’t even come here to read my articles. Why? Because she doesn’t care about SEO. But there are a ton of search professionals who come here every day to get the latest news, tips and more. The search professional is a persona that represents this site’s target audience.

The better we can understand who we are trying to reach, the better we can plan, strategize and more effectively execute our work as SEOs.

How do I get started?

While persona research has come a long way over the years, in my opinion, it still has a long way to go. Market research and data are great, but these aren’t always the most reliable source of information.

To truly understand your audience, you have to break down every aspect of their lives and try to find common connections. These commonalities will help give us clues not just into what they do, but why they do it.

Now, I know some of you may be thinking, “I thought this was about SEO, not psychology,” but stick with me. Taking the time to do this work will help you create a more contextualized strategy that returns a much greater ROI for your clients.

Following are three core areas I recommend you research when developing your personas for SEO:

Demographics

Most of the demographic information is going to be found via marketing research and data. But here’s the thing: You need to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date. Read more than just one report, and make sure you check the date of the research findings. Things change fast, and it would be a shame to base your entire strategy on outdated information.

When defining persona demographics, you want to be sure that you have a good understanding of the following:

  • How would they describe themselves? Mom, Dad, Student, Athlete, Entrepreneur?
  • Where do they live? Rural, Suburban, Urban?
  • What’s their age range? Baby Boomers, GenX-ers, Millennials?
  • What industry are they in? Engineering, Healthcare, Finance, Media?
  • What is their level of employment? Management, Upper-Level Executive, Sales Associate, Consultant?

How does this help your SEO? 

A site that is directed toward the needs of stay-at-home moms will need a much different approach from one directed at Millennial entrepreneurs or C-Level executives in the banking industry. Understanding these basics about your audience will help you create better content, title tags, meta information and more.

Social dynamics

Humans are social creatures; just look at the massive impact and expansion of social media in the past decade as proof. We are also afraid of being seen as the “outsider” in our social groups, so the people and groups we associate with have a lot of influence on how we think and act.

When exploring the social dynamic of your persona, here are a few good questions to ask:

  • Who are the peers, subordinates, superiors, and outsiders with whom they frequently interact?
  • What are some brands that influence them?
  • What groups/organizations are they a part of?
  • What types of media are they attracted to? (Social, TV, internet, magazines)
  • What do they do for fun?

How does this help your SEO? 

Again, these social dynamics can help us contextualize our approach. Where this really comes in handy is in link building. Finding where your personas “hang out” can lead to creating new linking opportunities you may have never uncovered in your original prospecting. Related niches are a great way to cross-promote and build a network with other businesses looking to target a similar audience to yours.

For more on this, check out my last post, “The art of link building: Why creating a connection is the key to success.

Empathy mapping

“Okay, I get demographic and social dynamics, but empathy? Come on, man. You’re taking this too far!”

Am I? If our goal is to create meaningful online connections that deliver real business results, the only way we can influence someone to move is by connecting and sharing our message in a way that resonates with their worldview. A great tool to do this is called the Empathy Map by Xplane.

The goal of empathy mapping is to quickly capture the perspective of your audience. The Empathy Map addresses the following key points:

  • What do they SEE? What’s happening around them?
  • What do they SAY? To colleagues, friends, their boss?
  • What do they DO? What’s their attitude and behavior?
  • What do they FEEL? What are common emotions they experience?
  • What do they HEAR? What do their friends, boss, family and others say?
  • What do they THINK? What really counts? What are they worried about? What do they want to achieve?

How does this help your SEO? 

Having a better understanding of how your audience views and interacts with the world will help you create messaging that resonates with them on a personal level.

We all know the importance of content when it comes to SEO. But it’s not about how much content, it’s about the right content. By truly connecting with your audience through content that speaks to their deepest needs, you’ll increase engagement, shares and more — all of which, in return, impacts traffic, leads, brand identity and so on.

Start creating your persona profiles

I hope this post helped explain and encourage you to think deeper about the person behind your SEO strategy.

By defining your audience, getting to know who they are and understanding what moves them, you will be able to create a strategy that more effectively draws them into a connection. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we are all after?

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