How I Built 4 Personas For My SEO Site

Author: Gab Goldenberg

4Q Visitor SurveysBy observing patterns in visitor intent and demographics, conversion optimization and redesigns can be planned more intelligently. The patterns you identify can be used to create personas. Through my use of 4Q visitor surveys, I’ve learned the top reasons people visit SEO ROI Services and developed corresponding personas.

What’s a persona?

A persona is an imaginary user who is representative of a user group. The main thrust of their representativeness is in terms of their objective in visiting the site and/or using any given page, as well as their demographics and tech savviness.

Creating personas will help me to:

  • plan my site’s redesign with users in mind,
  • scope it better and avoid scope creep,
  • create a better information architecture,
  • tweak small things in the interim, until the big redesign.
  • And when I do user-testing, I can aim to get more accurately representative testers.

Some people talk about having more empathy for visitors by creating personas. Empathy helps you serve users’ needs by tailoring your site to their behaviour. If you can do that well, accurately, thoroughly and on a consistent basis, you’re going to be very successful.

Read on to find out why people visit my seo site, find out about the personas I’ve built around those purposes, and the action items that I’ve derived from creating these personas. I’ll summarize the persona-building and action-item development process at the end of this post, and give links to more reading on the topic.

The 5 big reasons people visit SEO ROI Services are as follows. The links lead to a section on each persona, lower down on this page.

  1. To read my blog. (Thanks guys, I’m flattered :D!)
  2. To do “research.”
  3. To seek “technical support.”
  4. To “buy.”
  5. To “Other, please specify.” (Personally, I’ve always wanted to “other, please specify”…)

There’s some overlap between categories – e.g. blog readers and researchers – but that’s OK. That doesn’t affect the principles of creating personas, except perhaps to the prominence you accord one of your visitors’ purpose.

Blog Readers

As a traffic source, you guys often type in my domain name or use other “loyalty” navigation (bookmarks, feedreaders). Another primary source is other blogs that link here and some social media traffic, such as Sphinn, Twitter or Facebook.

Amongst those visiting to read my blog, user satisfaction is generally very high. I get comments like

Genuine, personal SEO advice from Gab, who seems to know his stuff… this has been invaluable to me,” or “A very creative legal approach to an important internet marketing issue.”

From further discussions I’ve had with you, you’re often looking for advanced ideas for both the sake of entertainment and gaining a competitive edge. A number of you like that the content gets you thinking. This is education as intellectual recreation.

Based on the readers I know personally, those of you reading my blog tend to be young, roughly 20 – 45 years old, with perhaps skew towards the early-mid career web professional or independent webmaster.

In plain English, that means lots of SEOs and internet marketers ages 27 – 35. Plus some bloggers, web designers and developers thrown in for good measure.

In that respect, you’re fairly representative of the industry, I’d say. Therefore, I can also make an educated guess that demographically, most of you are guys and not girls.

Additionally, based on age, you’re most likely to be at the stage of your life where you’re looking to get married within the next 3-4 years, or else recently married. If you have kids, they’re probably in the babies – infants range, and thus you likely are overworked, underslept, but very well supplied with affection. Of course, if you’re a search vet, your kids might be a bit older.

As to technographic savvy, you guys are above average. You’re fairly comfortable with your browser, which is probably customized with a few extensions, as well as a blog, social media profiles and involvement, perhaps an RSS reader, almost certainly a cell phone and/or multi-purpose mobile doodad like an iPhone. You’re on broadband internet or faster, shop and buy online, and perhaps have some tech-oriented hobbies like video-gaming or digital photography.

Last minute addition: Per this data from SEOmoz, most people reading SEOmoz’s blog are owners/webmasters for small-midsize sites. Guys like Willy Franzen, who runs a site on entry level jobs. The next most popular answer was seo consultant/agency worker, followed by inhouse SEM. See also SEOmoz’s Industry Survey Results.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming, which doesn’t need to change that much, luckily…

To this point, most of these things have been educated guesses. Let’s see how accurate they’ve been. I’m searching Flickr now, for a creative-commons licensed picture of a “tech geek.”

Meet James Wilcox, whose picture showed up in said search. He’s a male in a relationship, who looks about 30 years old.

James the Geek

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License by clompers

He has several pictures of his Motorola Razr2 cell phone and video game screenshots in his Flickr profile. Flickr is a social media network whose purpose is to allow people to share their photography

Motorola Razr2 Buttons World of Warcraft

He has a website under construction, and an interest in Flock, the “social browser” powered by Mozilla.

Flock Browser

Pretty accurate first attempt at creating a persona, wouldn’t you say? It’s obvious that searching for “tech geek” helped find someone with the right technographics, but there are still numerous other points I was on the mark with. Also, I repeated the experience with a few more relevant keywords, and came up with similar profiles. I’m pretty proud of what I came up with, anyways. (Interesting note: I was actually going to call the persona Jim, before finding James… scary close!)

Action Items for James:

  • As a savvy user, I can have him do the online version of card sorting by tagging my posts. This will create better content organization – the way users would see it – either in the immediate future or once I redesign. In design-speak, this creates superior information architecture.
  • Incentivize him to return / leave comments / be a brand evangelist by providing sneak preview access to tools before public release.
  • Write content oriented towards his worldview. How To Deal With Slacking Teammates. Get The Boss’ Buy-in For Social Media. “Why Great SEO Works Like Marriage {Subhead: The client/husband should always get the last two words: ‘yes dear!’}”
  • Survey blog readers to find out what topics they find most interesting. (While we’re at it, I’m listening, guys – let me hear it :D! )

Researchers

You guys are more likely to be referred by Google. I know that because you

  1. Have said so in 4Q,
  2. Make comments that directly or indirectly indicate you’re new here, like ‘nice website’, or ‘first time visitor’, when I know that the majority of my Google traffic is new here
  3. Make comments reflecting queries I know I rank for.

Also, you tend to be slightly less satisfied than other users. For better or worse, I get a fair amount of traffic on keywords that are either irrelevant to my content or else poorly articulating the user’s needs.

For example, this post on disguising your text link ads as adsense gets a bunch of people looking for things like “disguising links” or variations on that. One person wrote:

“I wanted to know how to disguise my domain with text but just didn’t understand what i was supposed to do It was n’t [sic] made simple enough”

Uh, I don’t know how to disguise your domain either. Do you want to cloak it? Do you want to redirect it? Do you want to hide the destination of your links? Something else?

For those of you running forums, these visitors are your easy wins to convert searchers into members. Hide the answer behind a registration form. Anyways, the result is that this large segment of my visitors more often leaves unsatisfied, relative to my average.

Shouldn’t I create relevant content for those pages, even if it’s not related to my main theme? Maybe – I’ve made changes this weekend to that effect on my top 5 bouncy pages (tip from Maki). And for those where I just can’t create that content for legal reasons, how can I unrank for the keywords whose traffic I’m not interested in?

For now, I’ve edited the titles and meta-descriptions to better qualify the visitors who clickthrough. Some keywords have included ‘advertising presentation’ ‘serps’ (a foreign pension acronym, apparently) and ‘how to disguise links’). I’ll probably add some content where it’s relevant, though I can find better uses of my time for now.

Who are you?

Like the blog readers, I’d say you’re young, generally. Let’s say that you are 18 – 26. Perhaps even younger than the average, as my visitor feedback and search queries indicate a certain number of people who are plausibly looking for information to use in college.

For example, I’ve had the following feedback: “I’m writing a term paper for my statistics class on the role of Facebook as a marketing tool. Was hoping for some charts etc.”

Others are likely entry-level employees preparing presentations for their bosses. “My purpose is still a bit vague but I would like the most up to date information on social media user stats.”

Another item which came up fairly frequently was that you guys are internet marketers with either some knowledge of the blogosphere – as indicated by comments that you’d return later – or of SEO in particular, as seen by a reference to Dan Thies, of SEO Research Labs.

Finally, because “research” is such a vague term, it’s not all that helpful at indicating to me how I could better satisfy you guys. I wish 4Q would let me define specific objectives so I can see what exactly people have in mind when they say that. But your comments are indicative, as quoted above.

Danny Dover
Meet Danny Dover and Rebecca Kelley, guys! I’ve actually met and hung out with them both in person, and they’re pretty cool, bright folks. In his mid-20s, Danny’s an SEOmoz employee “currently attending the University of Washington” who says, “I like to spend a lot of my time simply studying the internet.”

Rebecca graduated from the University of Washington in Arts, with a Spanish minor. She writes, “I compete in triathlons and marathons. I like to think of myself as a mediocre yet stubborn athlete.”

Both Rebecca and Danny have got a bit of a fun/playful side to them. Rebecca’s recent post on getting a massage had me laughing out loud, hard. It’s not the first time, either. And Danny writes in the ‘Fun Facts’ part of his bio:

Lisa Barone and Rebecca Kelley - SES NY 2007 “Every year I try to do one good act of revenge. My favorite ones have been tin foiling all of my friend’s possessions and filling a different friend’s room with packing peanuts. I spent a year secretly collecting packing peanuts before filling the room. My friends don’t play pranks on me anymore. ”
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike LicenseLisa “I wannabe in the foreground” Barone and Rebecca Kelley by Tamar Weinberg

Action Items for Danny and Rebecca:

  • Write better titles and descriptions, then refine them periodically, when I notice above-average bounce rates.
  • Make use of the Table of Contents plugin, as I keep telling myself I’ll do.
  • Create comprehensive, Wikipedia style posts so that I can not only satisfy loyal readers, but the “vague intent” searchers. This relates to better category SEO.
  • Feature charts, statistics and broad-appeal images when writing/editing for this group.
  • Target these visitors to turn them into subscribers, since many are internet marketers.
  • Try and please this segment with humorous, wise- @#!*% content.

Tech Support Seekers

Similar to researchers, my intuition tells me you guys visit from Google.

However, there’s one big difference with researchers, and that is that you tend to know less than people who are “researching,” based on the depth of feedback I’m getting and some of the behaviour I’m seeing. For example, one person used it as a contact form.

Some other comments have included:

“26.03.2009 too early for any answer”
“22.03.2009 i don’t know, too early to say”

This tells me that the technographics – that’s fancy talk for tech savvy – of this user group is less. Kind of obvious in hindsight, but I initially thought these were my savviest users looking for help on advanced, thorny issues. Those guys probably fall more into the researchers category.

From personal experience with clients, I’d argue that this group is most likely to be composed of the mid-career business owner or marketing expert, who’s now learning about the web. You know a lot about business and are comfortable promoting offline, but you’re not entirely up to speed on social media, web technologies (and buzzwords!) like Ajax, and creating search-friendly websites.

You’re 40 years old with a wife and 3 kids, a dog, a nice house in suburbia that’s mostly paid off and are probably a college graduate. Meet Ewell Smith, Louisiana Seafood Promotion & Marketing Board Executive Director!

Ice machine dedication, St. Bernard, La., 08.23.06 033
Attribution License by lsgcp

“Smith got involved in marketing and promotions about a year after earning an MBA degree from the University of New Orleans. He also has a psychology degree from Louisiana State University.

He says he came to the realization that marketing was his strength when he worked for New Orleans Publishing Group. He became involved with a company that promoted concerts and special events.

He later signed on as marketing manager for Southern Forest Products Association, the trade organization for southern pine timber. While there, Smith conceptualized the first branding of a wood species, coining the slogan “Southern Pine By Design,” for which he earned national accolades.” (Source: All Business)

Action Items for Ewell Smith and other Tech Support Seekers:

  • Use plain English, rather than SEO jargon. Review previous posts for jargon and minimize its use (without compromising search traffic from savvier researchers who know the jargon).
  • Add an SEO jargon glossary and expand the FAQ section, orienting it towards business questions.
  • Link the jargon to the glossary.
  • Expand the SEO FAQ.
  • Tie things back towards their experience
  • Promote my one-hour consultation service more prominently, while keeping a balance to offer tech support for quickie questions.

Buyers and “Others”

But for buyers, I’ve still sold SEO services to a number of folks, and there tends to be a certain ‘profile’ that emerges when I think about it.

Demographically speaking, buyers tend to be in the marketing director or business owner type of segment described above, under tech support seekers. They also often rely on the advice of [often younger] assistants, which makes catering to the blog reader and researcher segment equally important. I’ve seen that a few times already, in my interactions with clients.

Their household income is low 6 figures, speaking generally, and they’re generally college-educated and have serious business skills from a decade or two or work experience.

These aren’t the guys you can fool with promises of “guaranteed rankings,” but they are a bit anxious about not knowing all the technical side of stuff. (Note: It’s not like I’d recommend making that promise anyways, since it’s a blatant lie … you can’t guarantee that a girl will go out with your friend, so how can you guarantee Google will like any given site?)

I call this persona “Sam,” after the friendly hotel owner in his late 40s or early 50s who was my first ongoing-services client. He relied on his marketing director, Dino Santelli, for help with web design (Dino also handles a movie extras agency of his own) issues and was fairly anxious about getting SEO done right.

My first meeting with them I showed them rankings I’d achieved on my own sites as well as an SEOmoz PageStrength report (as the tool was then known) and after some hesitation, we started working together.

I wrote the above from personal experience. And as it turns out, this profile was pretty spot on, as per this research on who “internet executives” tend to be.

Action Items for Sam:

  • Educating these people builds trust, so aim to get in-person meetings by offering to create an on-the-spot a free “5 action item” to-do list they can take away from the meeting. Limit this to eligible people – those that fit this persona.
  • Come in to said meetings with background research done, and also leave them with bonus material that will both educate them and build trust. See SEOmoz’s Trifecta reports, for example.
  • Prepare analogies for common SEO questions that can be easily referred to and understood in verbal communication. K.I.S.S.
  • Aim to meet people in this group when networking at shows like SMX.

Unfortunately, 4Q visitor surveys hasn’t collected much feedback from you. All I know is that you’re visiting. Thus neither that nor my web analytics are especially useful for building personas as with the other groups.

That’s where it ends for you “other purpose” visitors, except for the time I found out you were looking for a contact form and I had none! Fixed :D!

How To Build Your Own Personas

1. Focus on BIG audience segments! You need to prioritize the biggest groups in your audience first, to make the most effective use of your time.

Sounds obvious, but it’s easy to get bogged down into an eternal sea of insignificant changes because this or that person had a unique view/purpose when visiting.

In 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, Stephen Covey Jr. gives the analogy of a bucket that you fill with small rocks, then little rocks. The sea of pebbles fill the bucket and block out the few big rocks. But if you put the big rocks in first, the pebbles can fit around the pebbles. That’s true of optimizing your site, too – focusing on individual users won’t get you anywhere fast.

For example, my Toys.com post attracted someone looking for Toys R Us locations and contact info in South Africa! Obviously, I’m not going to bother updating the page for that person (sorry!).

So what size should your user groups be? How many personas should you make? It depends on your resources for acting on the information, firstly, and the diversity of your audience, secondly. The more resources you have available to take action, and the more diverse your audience (esp. as seen by traffic sources), the more personas you can use.

For a relatively small site like mine, a handful of personas is just fine, because I couldn’t handle optimizing for more. On a Fortune 500 ecommerce site, you’re likely to have more diversity in your audience visitors and more resources to deal with different customer types (hence “for him” and “for her” type navigation and ‘women’s clothes’ search queries).

2. Discover visitors’ intent.

(i) Use 4Q Visitor Surveys to have them verbalize to you what their visit’s purpose is. It’s free! If you’re a bigshot company, I’d speak to iPerceptions about getting a custom solution with better reporting and that deals with the problems I’ve identified in my 4Q service review.

(ii) Check your web analytics for your top volume search phrases, since these also indicate intent.

(iii) Finally, look at your bounce rates to get implicit communication of where your website isn’t matching visitors’ intent. I give the hattip to Maki of DoshDosh for tipping me off as to how he finds pages to improve on his site.

He looks at his top entry pages, defined as those pages getting the most traffic from outside his site. Then he selects the 10 with the highest bounce rates amongst those pages and works to improve them.

3. Compare intent with demographics and technographics.

This is personal! :) Essentially, you want to get an idea who this person is, as that can inform what content you show them, how you phrase the content, and your site’s functionality. This means knowing your site’s demographics and technographics.

Demographics means personal traits, usually the kind you can stereotype someone by. (Not that you should stereotype people, but it’s possible to make some practical assumptions relative to your audience’s traits. For example, a site about getting out of debt can assume that promoting sports cars won’t hit home with its audience.)

Demographic data includes:

  1. Age
  2. Gender (See: What women want in websites, hattip this post at seomoz)
  3. Education
  4. Location
  5. Income
  6. Career-level
  7. Marital status
  8. Interests & Hobbies
  9. Race
  10. Religion
  11. Politics

Obviously, some of these are more relevant than others, depending on what site you run. Race is irrelevant to building my reputation in SEO, as are religion and politics. But if you’re running a political blog, obviously those three matter a lot. Conversely, a politics blog doesn’t have that much use for knowing someone’s income, unless they’re making an advertising rate card.

To figure out demographics, I encourage you to use Quantcast demographics on a site you’re curious about, or another site with similar content but more traffic. You can correlate it to Microsoft’s demographics tool. Very handy sites, both of them! See these social media demographics, for instance.

phpGnWqJl

Technographics means tech savviness. How knowledgeable is your target audience relative to computers? How experienced are they? Steve Krug’s famous usability book, Don’t Make Me Think, will have different applications depending on your audience. Sites oriented to graphic designers or women can afford to be more subtle with their calls-to-action. FOR MEN, MAKE THAT CALL TO ACTION OBVIOUS. “CLICK HERE FOR OUR PENIS ENHANCER PILL.”

(Fun aside: Referral data tells me that people from the competitive [read: spammy (porn, pills, poker)] parts of the web use and recommend my internal link building plugin. If the spammers use it for SEO, I think that’s a pretty strong testimonial that it works. Not to mention it’s patterned off Wikipedia…)

4. Name the personas, and refer to them as you create your site! Steve Krug suggests that this helps you empathize better, as do Tim Ash and the Eisenbergs, all of which names are tops in the conversion optimization industry.

What are your site’s personas? Can I add other action items to the personas I’ve created for my site above? Do you have any other comments, questions or constructive criticism? I’d love to hear anything you can share, and will add dofollow links here for quality comments – you can choose the anchor text :D.

For more on personas, try the following:

  1. http://www.uie.com/articles/mulder_interview/
  2. http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/adhoc_personas_em.html – “Thus, a major virtue of Personas is the establishment of empathy and understanding of the individuals who use the product. It is important that each Persona seems real, allowing the designer to ask, “how would Mary respond to this?” or Peter, or Bashinka? “
  3. http://deyalexander.com/resources/uxd/personas.html
  4. http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/kmc_personas

If you liked this post featuring my ideas on personas, you’ll want to come back in the future for more of the same. To save yourself browsing time later, why not add my rss feed to your reader now?

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Comments

  1. I like what you called persona. But in my sense, people need adwido like website to make their website geographically localized and search able with key words, they need video content and other forms of internet ads inclusive SEO, that's the heart of online marketing.

    Comment by Michelle - July 9, 2009 @ 5:13am
  2. This is good detail on user personas. One of the major things seo's miss out on is optimizing for the customer and not just the search engines

    Comment by Atlanta GA Marketing Firm - January 17, 2010 @ 12:06am

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