Live from Pubcon: Developing Audience Personas for SEO

By Janet Driscoll Miller | Oct 16, 2012
More Articles by Janet


There were three GREAT and fully-packed presentations by Dana Lookadoo, Michael King and Melyssa St. Michael for this session. Really important information on personas and great stuff.

Dana Lookadoo

Dana Lookadoo from YoYoSEO kicked off the session with her “10 commandments for developing personas for SEO”. First and foremost, remember that personas are simply people. Audience personas fuel SEO and all other marketing efforts.

1. You shall get corporate buy-in.

There is often a misalignment of goals of buyers and employees. Do you really KNOW your buyers? How do you find out? Perform key stakeholder surveys within your company first. Understand their pain points and objections. Address concerns.

2. You shall have no other focus than your audience.

Now turn your efforts toward you audience. Some survey tools you can use to survey customers include:

  • Clicktools
  • 4Suite
  • SurveyMonkey
  • Instant.ly

But don’t just rely on surveys — pick up the phone! Identify wants, needs, and obstacles by audience type. Ask them about the ability to find information on the website, preferred media, their input to improve site, social media they use, and more.

3. You shall not make graven images out of your company messaging.

Stop talking about yourself! It’s not a self portrait! There’s a “we we calculator” that lets you know if your content is too focused on your own company (using “we”, “our”, etc.) and not enough on the customer.

4. Don’t use the name of a persona without understanding who they are.

Put a name and a face to the persona and include details like background and demographics. Get the team together and brainstorm on the persona information. Use a simple worksheet to organize the data. Whatever  you do, empathize with the audience.

5. Honor your audience’s needs above your desires.

Customers are first. How can you help them? Dana referenced this Whiteboard Friday video from Jonathon Coleman of REI as a good example of how they put Customers First.

6. Remember your customers psychographic makeup.

Different types of personas consume content differently. Some scan content. Some are methodical and detail oriented. Don’t use the same content and the same language in every form of communication. Do audience behavior research to learn more about the audience.

7. You shall not design without data.

Use the data you have via analytics and design accordingly.

8. You shall not design without knowing audience goals and conversion points.

Focus on these points to draw visitors to conversion. You can create a worksheet with who, what, where, why to layout the content properly.

9. You shall not design or write without keyword research based on audience behavior.

Different keywords show different stages of the buying cycle. As you do the research, look at the navigational keywords. Go beyond the Google AdWords keyword tool. Look at keywords from tools like:

  • Topsy
  • SEOmoz
  • Google Autocomplete
  • Social sentiment from Social Mention

10. You shall not publish without social proof.

Make sure you’re using testimonials and increase the validity with photos. People trust the actions/decisions of others.

The result of this effort are persona “buckets”. These buckets help you to know they keywords, types of content and where to publish it.

To see Dana’s whole presentation, go to: http://yseo.us/pubcon12.

Michael King

Next up was Michael King of iAcquire who focused on how to build SEO personas.

Why do we need personas for SEO? You don’t, if you don’t want to target properly. People search to fulfill a need, so make sure you create content that speaks to them.

Personas are not an exact science. They focus on empathy and understanding of the people who search for your product/website.

Buyer personas and audience personas are not necessarily the same thing. Just because people tweet or share your content, they may not buy your product. Think about those two sets differently. Ad hoc personas use “affinity diagramming”. It may not be realistic for your team to get together and hash it out. Instead, you can look at social data, but the problem there is that two different people may have two different perceptions of that data or the tool data can change from day to day.

Now Michael does data-drive personas. They use Nielsen Prizm, Experian Simmons paired with social inventories with LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social networks. Hitwise is also helpful for this effort for search keywords coupled with demographics. Michael warned that Google Surveys deducts your demographic data based on your search history while SurveyMonkey actually asks survey respondents instead.

So start with the best guess Prizm types. Then develop empathy for the consumer through understanding them through social listening. Then go through the site as if you are the user. Examine the psychographics. Michael also mentioned he typically only works with four personas because that’s manageable. Validate the attributes using social inventories (such as social platform). Build the personas from there.

Map your keywords to “need states” (like the buying cycle). Then create the keyword portfolio from there and what page you are targeting. Create an SEO copy brief.

Best practices for keyword-level demographics:

  • incentivize opt in
  • just track the persona
  • use the appid cross-property (across websites)
  • cookie and remarket

To see Michael’s full presentation, view it on SlideShare at: http://slidesha.re/pubcon-personas.

Melyssa St. Michael

Last up was Melyssa St. Michael from RockFish discussing persona development. Start with your audience and build your audience graph. Listen and understand their intent, interest, and social graphs. These pieces make up your consumer.

Define the “digital who”. Then define the “digital why”. Why will they engage with your brand? Then define the “digital how”. How will they get to you? What channels will they use?

Once you have this information, build the consumer journey. Architect reasons to believe. You can try to articulate that about your brand — how can you demonstrate that to your audience? Map this out. Then map those to the purchase cycle. Let that be your golden thread.

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