When Google stopped reporting keyword data in Google Analytics (AKA not provided) for organic search traffic back in 2013 it had a substantial effect on business owners and digital marketers. How would we be able to properly optimize and target our websites to acquire the right search traffic if we didn’t know what search terms were referring visitors? Digital marketing by nature is a field that requires constant adaptation and reinvention. In the wake of ‘not provided’ many marketers adopted third party tools that promised to replace the lost keyword data. However, others began to re-examine the way in which keywords and more importantly website visitors were being targeted. Rather than targeting specific variations of keywords, what if we were targeting the interests of real life individuals and groups? With this approach, data would still play a role (such as measuring the most popular pages and posts, and tracking on-site traffic flows), but a more qualitative tool would have to take center stage – the persona.
Persona development is a time tested marketing device, but in the digital age it’s played a lesser role, largely owing to the fact that it’s not something that can be explicitly measured, like our friend the keyword. But, as focus on content and providing value has come to the fore in recent years, it is now as important as ever.
A persona is a way to profile and categorize the traits, interests and personality of a selected audience. In short it’s stereotyping (just for a good cause!). Simplifying the complexities of demographics down into base characteristics allows for content to be more easily given an overarching narrative. New content pieces can easily be checked against personas to see if they align with said narrative. With this approach, you’re not targeting a broad online audience, you’re targeting a specific type of individual. And it’s always easier to speak to an individual than a crowd.
How to Create a Persona
The most difficult part of creating personas is categorization. Unless you have a very narrow focus for your website and business, you’ll typically want to create more than one persona to represent your target audience. Often times, however, the traits and desires of these personas will overlap, which can obfuscate where divisions should be made to separate unique personas. The key is identifying the unique aspects of your website/business and understanding how they appeal to your audience and demographic. At Sayenko Design we take a five step approach to persona development when creating a marketing strategy for a client.
1. Research Your Target Audience
Understand what appeals to them and what they aspire to. If you’re working with clients this is something they should have a good grasp on. Ask them what leads people to seek out their services, what problems they are looking to have solved or what benefits they want to gain. This might seem rather straightforward and common sense, but having it all written out will help for the later stages of categorization. To help flesh out your research, you can also turn to industry surveys, studies, reports and articles. As an example, for a recent client that operated a medical residency program, we quoted a survey from the University of North Dakota that asked new residents what were the reasons that compelled them to practice family medicine (the number one reason was making connections with patients). It may require some sleuthing on Google, but if you are able to reference a credible source it makes your persona all the more powerful and convincing.
2. Identify Unique Aspects and Content
Now it’s time to qualify what makes your brand unique. This could either be a unique feature of how the company provides services or a unique way in which content is presented. For the residency client mentioned above one of the unique features of their program was an opportunity to work directly with underserved communities who may not typically be able to see a doctor. For a website that covers gaming (and is more content oriented than service oriented), a unique feature might be interviews with game developers or game reviews that are humorous.
3. Matching Audiences to Content
Find and chart all the connections between the unique aspects of your business and types of content on your website that you’ve just outlined in steps 1 and 2. What do you offer that your audience might connect with? You’ll be dividing and applying these connections to individual personas shortly, but for now just map them out.Continuing our medical residency example, incoming residents interested in connecting with patients are likely to be interested in content that profiles how the program connects with patients (patient profiles, how the program helped them, etc.)
4. Carving Out Personalities
Here comes the hard part… segmentation. You may find yourself going back and forth between what characteristics match what personas. Don’t stress on overlap here, often times characteristics and content appeal will be applicable to every persona. What you’re trying to establish is those one or two elements that are unique. That could be a specific interest (ex: statistics on baseball), form of content (ex:video highlights) or aspiration (ex: improving knowledge of baseball).I’ve briefly used baseball as an example for this step, but going back once again to the medical residency program, we determined two key persona types: those who were interested in connecting with underserved patients and communities (what we dubbed the ‘Social Champion’), and those who were seeking a challenging curriculum and educational environment (what we dubbed the ‘Academic Challenger’)
5. Fleshing Out the Persona
Time to wrap it all up and flesh out the persona. At this point the hard part is done, now it’s just a matter of personification. Write out a paragraph or two of what you’ve learned on who they are, how to speak to teach persona (do you use humor? do you use statistics? do you use persuasive language? etc.) and what types of content they are most interested in.For our medical residency example we identified that the Academic Challenger would be most interested in content on the curriculum offered, the facilities they would be working in and the instructors. The Social Champion would in turn be most most interested in content on how patients are served, the community being served and patient stories.
Apply The Personas to the Website
Now that you’ve crafted your personas, make sure that they are appealed to throughout the website. The webpages that these can be applied to will vary from business to business, but the process of applying personas to content should always take the following steps into consideration…
- Rank the importance of personas
This will allow you to determine the priority of content placement throughout the site that is geared towards each persona. For commercial enterprises, the dollar value of each persona to the overall business should weigh heavily in this ranking.
- Appeal to each persona from the homepage
As determined by the ranking of personas have a callout to each persona somewhere on the homepage. The most important persona might have content that appeals to them in the header, while a less important persona may be appealed to in the body of the homepage.