SEO Content Strategy: The Importance of Personas

There are many components of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), from keyword selection to technical optimization to the way you approach content as a whole. While it was once sufficient to simply stuff a bunch of keywords onto a page and show up well-ranked for those terms, those days are long gone.

Quality and Relevance Are Even More Important than Ever

The Panda / Farmer update introduced quality as a key metric, and it is measured through a rather complicated algorithm. This algorithm reviews the word count, the style, the grammatical correctness, and the type of website it is. Then, it factors in how it ranks sites that it deems “similar”, and assigns a ranking factor there as well. There are no “tricks” to get around this one. Just write good content with correct spelling and grammar, in natural language that a real reader would understand.

Relevance also influences this algorithm, albeit indirectly. Panda incorporates metrics that indicate how readers respond to the content (bounce rate, time on page/site, pageviews / visit, etc. – all readily available via Google Analytics or any leading commercial analytics package). This is a GREAT development for those of us who practice white hat SEO exclusively. Write for your audience, keep them engaged, include keywords that your readers will relate to, and the rankings will come over time.

How to Manage Relevance

The first requirement is clearly to understand  your space. Keep up with the latest trends, jargon, technologies, events, thought leaders, and social “buzz” to start. If you have been in the same industry for several years, you likely already have this covered.

The second, and most commonly overlooked, requirement is to develop good user personas. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, here is my definition of the term as it relates to web content:

A persona is a fictional character that describes your target audience or a segment of your target audience, whichever is most practical for making rational splits in content, tone, and approach.

So basically, a persona is “Joe Customer” or “Jane Prospect”. It is outlined in prose format, often reading like a brief biography of the fictional person. Many companies go so far as to give the persona a name, age, job title, and even a photo. The idea is to get buy-in across your leadership team as to exactly who you are writing for. To know them, their story, what motivates them, what their hobbies are, whatever it is about them that you think you should message to.

Check out some sample personas on the following websites for reference:

Some marketing and IT  types (personas are also useful for Software Interface Design and Usability) are skeptical about this idea. They claim to already know their audience. Some call this a silly exercise. And really, it may not be necessary to document each individual persona…in one situation: where you already know the persona intimately, and you ( and ONLY you) will be involved in generating content for that audience. If you write content for a business with more than five employees, there is a place for user personas.

How to Apply Personas to Content

The first step to moving the needle with personas is to get buy in from the most important decision makers in your organization. We’ve seen far too many persona efforts scrapped mid-way because leadership was not included early enough. It is crucial that those decision makers start to really envision the fictional character to whom you will be messaging. Once you are all on the same page, you will get a lot less pushback later once you turn persona into messaging and finished content.

Next, review your customer lifecycle in more detail. Do you already have content for all the key pre-sales stages in the life cycle? Specifically, you should have:

  1. Thought leadership materials that educate (not pitch) the customer on important trending topics in your space? Complete with calls-to-action that drive them to your website for potential conversion
  2. More in-depth content about the technology, technique, service, or product type you sell, and even deeper content about your own products or services
  3. Very focused differentiation and validation materials, such as why you are best, case studies, third party reports, and testimonials
  4. A very clear path to purchasing once they are ready to do so

Now you are ready to take action. Look at each persona and start listing the types of materials they might like to see at each of these points in the life cycle. Look for where there are overlaps and differences, because overlaps are opportunities to write content once, and use it for multiple audiences. Then prioritize based on two factors:

  1. Relative importance to your business or cause for each persona
  2. Areas where you can provide relevant content to multiple personas with the same information or very similar content

Once you complete this exercise, you should have a reasonable start on the content plan to improve your analytics and relevance in tandem.

Summary

User personas are a key component of any content strategy that places relevance at the top of the priority list. With Google Panda now measuring relevance, you really have no choice but to pay attention to this topic. Take time now to be sure you know who your target audience is personally, and enjoy the SEO and increased traffic it will offer to you under the new ranking algorithm.

Have you ever been involved in user persona creation? What worked and didn’t work? Do you have any samples that would help our readers better understand this?

Please share your experiences, successes, failures, and samples in the comments section below!