Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the “natural” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results. In general, the higher a webpage is ranked on the search engine results page (SERP), and more frequently a site appears, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image, local, video, academic, news and industry-specific vertical search engines.
As an Internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines, and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website will most likely entail editing content, HTML and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Optimizing also involves incorporating elements from the overall digital marketing strategy to take advantage of social awareness, develop inbound linking strategy, and/or to create topic relevance and authority.
In order to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy, one needs to do a lot of homework, and it isn’t all just keyword research. It’s also extremely important to take time to know and understand a site’s target audience.
TARGET AUDIENCE ANALYSIS
Many times SEO consultants or agencies will jump right into Google Analytics or Google Adwords and start throwing together list of keywords without taking the time to either reconfirm or develop a target audience profile. I personally think this is a flawed approach. Understanding a site’s audience is probably one of the most important things that can be done to develop a targeted and successful SEO strategy.
Knowing the audience means not only being able to predict their search patterns, but capitalizing on all of the ways they can be reached through digital marketing. And many of those mediums will need to be optimized for effectiveness as well (i.e., social media, affiliate marketing, online advertising).
Personas Bring Clients into Focus
It all starts with brainstorming. Nothing can be more helpful in determining a target audience profile than taking the time to develop a client or consumer persona. A persona allows you to embody the characterizations of your consumer in an identifiable way. Basically, you create an identity that you can easily envision and personalize. Think about age, gender, geographical location, education level and household income. Don’t forget their likes, dislikes and hobbies, what they read, watch on TV or listen to on the radio. Throw out every idea you might have about your ideal client and then reshape those into an identifiable persona. Give this persona a name and select a photo to represent them. Don’t use a picture of Brad Pitt. He will always be Brad Pitt in your mind and never actually represent your true consumer (unless Brad Pitt is a customer of yours). Use a plain photo of someone who truly embodies your persona.
You might need to create a couple personas; a man and woman, middle-aged and senior, child and parent. Create as many as you need to represent your presumed client base.
Usability.gov has some good tips on how to create effective personas.
Research, Research, Research
Once you have a a good guess who you audience is, and what they like, you can start your research. I normally start on the U.S. Census Bureau and CRMTrends websites. There are plenty of others available too. Search around and you’ll be able to find a lot of information about consumers. What you gather from those sites allows you to create a baseline that can be used to measure all the other data you will pull together. Just be thorough a detailed as it is really important to have a comparable foundation.
From there you can start more targeted research. I like Forrester’s Social Technographics tool. It’s a quick and easy way to see how tech savvy you audience might be and where you’ll be able to reach them. You might need to do several searches if your audience includes men and women or spans wide age ranges. But this tool will give you an idea if you will or will not be wasting a bunch of time on Twitter or by building out user-generated content tools on your site.
Keep researching, there is a tremendous amount of information on the web about browser and technology usage demographics. That will be useful too. Write down everything you find. Try to answer questions like: Which browser do women use most frequently? Where do men do most of their web search, at home or work? Are seniors more likely to use a particular browser or Internet Service Provider? Is your target audience more likely to be on mobile devices when searching the web?
If you are doing e-commerce, you can find all sorts of data about your audience’s shopping habits. For example, if you have a sporting goods site, there is a tremendous amount of information available about consumers from the National Sporting Goods Association. You’ll be able to find breakdowns of spending patterns by gender, education-level, age, and household income as well as regional spending trends, shopping frequency, and anticipated buys for the upcoming year. Other sites like the Fox Sports Network has detailed data pertaining to people who watch sports on TV. This information, while tailored to present advertisers a snapshot of who they could be reaching with TV commercials, will be invaluable in your study.
Personas + Research = Focused Approach
Once you’ve completed your research, you should know a ton of things about your target audience. Compare what you’ve found with the persona(s) you created. Does everything fit? Is the targeted audience you imagined in the outset still your actual audience? Or do you need to adjust your personas based on what you’ve learned? If you need to adjust, this is the time to do it. It’s not uncommon to be off a little. Maybe you thought your ideal target was a middle-aged woman and you learned it’s actually a married mom in her late 30’s. If you don’t need to adjust give yourself an extra pat on the back for truly knowing your potential client or consumer so well from the beginning.
Most importantly, all of the information and data you have pooled will help you to understand how you can reach your target. At this point there should have a really good feel for things like browsing patterns, surfing time of day, effective messaging for pay-per-click (PPC) and organic placements, likelihood for PPC clicks and keywords that will serve as enticing bait. You’ll also be in a position where you can tailor your site and its content more effectively, determine what tools your audience might find helpful and enticing, and know the best way to engage them through user interface. After all, SEO doesn’t end at the SERP. It’s part of the larger digital strategy and needs to be seen comprehensively to be wholly successful.
I hope this helped. Let me know if you have ideas or have considered other aspects when establishing a target audience profile for SEO.