SEO 101, Part 2: Know your Audience

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This is the second of a 5-part series

The first step in writing great content for the web is learning about your audience. You aren’t writing web content simply because you enjoy writing and you (hopefully) aren’t writing just to make the search engines happy. You should have a specific purpose in mind for the content, and a specific type of reader to write for.

Make the investment in time to formalize a target audience persona, and spend some time researching how that persona thinks about the content you want them to read. Once you apply that knowledge to your content, you’ll:

  • Increase your readers’ satisfaction with your content
  • Increase the chances they’ll share it with their networks
  • Increase the chance that Google and the other search engines will rank your content well

1. Know who your audience is 

To begin: Know who you’re writing for. If you’re new to writing for the web or are trying to reach a new audience, it’s worth going through a formal process to define your reader personas. If you already have a strong understanding of your target audience, you do just a brief, informal persona review in your head before beginning work on content for your new web page or your latest blog post. Is your persona:

  • In a specific industry?
  • In a specific department?
  • In a specific size of company?
  • At a particular level of responsibility?
  • In a specific geographic location?
  • Etc.

2. Know what they want

After you’ve identified who you are writing for, figure out why they might search for your content. This will help you refine your thinking, write something that connects with your target audience, and select the appropriate words with resonance for your audience. The content that you create to meet the needs of your persona is also likely to rank better in the search engines. Nice benefit!

People search for a variety of reasons. Common reasons in the B2B realm include searching to…

  • Understand a product category
  • Learn about a product or solution
  • Solve a specific problem

You can think of your persona as someplace along a continuum that approximates the buyer’s journey:

  • Awareness > Interest > Consideration > Purchase > Post-Purchase > Re-Purchase

The same content will not work for all stages. Is your persona:

  • Looking for a general category of information? (Awareness)
  • Looking for a solution to a specific problem? (Interest)
  • Looking for an enterprise solution? (Awareness-Interest)
  • Identifying and comparing specific vendors? (Consideration-Purchase)
  • Looking for help with one of your products s/he already owns? (Post-Purchase)
  • Looking to replace or upgrade a product, and planning to remain loyal to you? (Re-Purchase)
  • …a college student writing a research paper? (Awareness)

3. Know what keywords to use

Once you know who you are writing for and why they’re looking for your content, you are almost ready to start writing. There is one important step you need to do before you get started though…you need to know the language of your audience.

This is more than knowing that your target audience speaks U.S. English, or British English, or Russian, or Japanese. It is about the actual words they use when talking about your products, the industry you are in, or whatever they are looking for.

Search engines are getting much better at trying to understand searcher intent, but they are still fairly limited. They look for the actual words searchers type in. If you discover what those words are and use them, you’ll lift your chances of appearing in search results. If you don’t use them, you site probably won’t appear.

For example, suppose you manufacture automotive accessories. You want to promote a new anti-slip mat for car trunks – to a U.K. audience. You should write about “boot liners”.

Search-result-Boot-liner
If you wrote about Boot Liners for a U.S. audience, you would get very different results.

search-result-boot-liner
 

4. Do the research to discover likely keywords

Google-Analytics-Organic-Traffic
Talk to real live people. If you have existing customers, listen to the language they use. How do they describe your products? How do they talk about the problems they are having? When they get excited about new features, what words do they use to talk about them? If you go to a conference or event, take an informal survey. Ask people, “if you were looking for (my product, a solution to this problem, etc.) what you search on?”

Drill down in social media. Especially if you’re just launching a product, read blog posts and do lots of research on a wide range of sites. See which Twitter search terms turn up your potential customers, for example.

See what’s already being used. Next, look in your current analytics solution and see what words visitors to your website are currently using to find you. In Google Analytics, this is under Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic.

Finally, you can use keyword research tools like the Google Keywords Tool to see how searchers in general are looking for information. You’ll get better information if you can access the tool through an Adwords account, but there is anonymous access as well to get basic information.

Google-AdWords-Keyword-tool
Once you access the tool, you can get an estimate of roughly how many searches are happening each month on a specific term. You can filter by location, languages, devices people are using to access the search engines, etc.

For example, if I am going to write an article about all of the great white papers we have on Act-On.com, I want to know how people are looking for the term. Are they using one word “whitepaper” or two words “white paper?” It turns out that searchers are more than twice as likely to look for “white paper” than “whitepaper,” so that’s the term I’ll use most.

The Google keyword tool will also give you suggestions of keywords related to what you searched on that you might be interested in. Based on the above search, I might want to create a “How to write a white paper” article if it meets the needs of my target audience.

In summary, in this stage you want to identify words your audience uses to look for content you are going to create. You can do this by:

  • Asking customers how they would find a specific product or category
  • Analyzing existing search engine referrals
  • Researching external keyword databases
  • Listing product names (and their generic equivalents)

You are now ready to start writing! In next week’s post I’ll cover best practices in content creation, tips on where to place your keywords for maximum effect, and some SEO tactics that have grown outdated – and potentially harmful, these days.

Last week’s post was about the importance of SEO, and how the search engine business model affects how you optimize for search:

Upcoming posts:

  • Part 3: More content for SEO – and why old chestnuts don’t work
  • Part 4: Optimize your site for SEO
  • Part 5: SEO tactics including navigation and canonical URLs

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