Search Marketing and Personas: Opening Your Customer's Heads

Ian Lurie

Note: This is the fourth article in a series on personas. The first, how to create personas, is here. The second applies them to your internet marketing strategy. The third shows how personas can improve e-mail campaigns.

Get Inside Your Searchers’ Heads: Why You Should Read This

Sylar's handiwork
OK, all you Heroes fans: I’m not talking about Sylar slicing the tops off of peoples’ heads here. Don’t read this post if that’s what you’re looking for. This is a respectable marketing blog, even if I’m of questionable character. We don’t truck in such silliness. But aren’t you glad Peter Petrelli’s back!?

You do need to read this post if you’ve ever:

  • Crafted what you thought was a brilliant pay-per-click campaign, and gotten no sales;
  • Worked for months to get that top 5 position for “baby buggy bumpers”, only to realize it was the wrong keyword;
  • Gotten a top 5 position for a great keyphrase, but received a fraction of the expected traffic;
  • Wanted to slap your SEO consultant because they insist you should use “stroller pillows” instead of “baby buggy bumpers”.

Personas are a powerful search marketing tool. In the Conversation Marketing model, they help you know the room, dress appropriately, sound smart and observe and adjust, all at once. You can use them as a common-sense model for audience behavior, and test your assumptions about keywords, different search engines and landing pages. Here’s how:

Check Your Keywords: Use Common Sense

Sometimes a keyword shows promise because it gets lots of searches. But it may make no sense at all in the context of a particular persona.

Check your keywords and phrases. Do they make sense for that persona? Keywords that don’t fit may still be relevant – you’re probably missing another persona that bears consideration.

For example, if the persona ‘Bob’ is a 23 year old surfer, he probably won’t search for ‘nifty ways to decorate a board’. He might search for ‘rad board graffiti’ (my apologies to 23 year old surfers if I got that wrong). But there may be another persona you haven’t thought of that uses the ‘nifty’ phrase, instead. You just found a whole new market!

Think About the Search Engines: Focus Your Effort

Which search engines do these personas most likely use? Different people prefer different engines. I won’t make any sweeping generalizations here – you can find this kind of demographic data on a site like Quantcast, or you can purchase it from Hitwise or Nielsen.

Armed with this knowledge, you can focus your paid search marketing (pay per click) efforts. You can also tailor your organic search engine optimization campaign to specific search engines.

Let’s use ‘Bob’ as an example again. He’s a 23-year-old surfer. Bob’s probably not a Live Search or Yahoo user. He’s more likely going to use Google (I’m making this up – do the research, people!). So, focus your paid search efforts on Google Adwords. And make sure that your site doesn’t do anything that might offend Google’s anti-spam team.

Consider Schedules: When Will They Search?

Most paid search programs provide some form of dayparting – you can limit ad delivery at one time of day, and accelerate it at another. Make sure you deliver ads when your focal personas will be online. Make sure you do not deliver ads when your exclusionary personas are on the prowl.

‘Bob’, our surfer, is a great potential customer – a focal persona. He hits the internet in the afternoon. So. show your ads 100% of the time between, say, 2 PM and 7 PM. ‘Frank’, on the other hand, is your worst possible customer – he’s an exclusionary persona. He browses the web at 2 AM. Turn off your ads in the wee hours, so there’s no chance of accidentally hooking him.

Tailor Description Tags: Maximize Clickthrough

Search engines use the description META tag to format the snippets they show in their organic search results:

Tailor Description Tags

The black text is pulled directly from this site’s description tag.

Google’s crew writes about it here. While the description tags don’t affect ranking all that much, they will affect clickthrough rates: A good description will lead to more clicks on your organic search result.

If you already rank well for a few phrases, check and see which personas will use each phrase. Then see which pages are listed in the search results. Edit the description tags on those pages to best appeal to the relevant personas.

Say you have another persona: ‘Sally’. She’s a 45-year-old lawyer – a partner in a law firm. She’ll appreciate a well-written description tag with a reasonably formal tone. You think she’ll search using keywords distinct from Bob’s. You do a quick search on Google, and see that 2 pages on your site rank in the top 20 for that phrase. Tailor those description tags Sally, so she’s more likely to click.

Think About Conversions: Pull it All Together

What’s your site’s goal? Will your personas, after finding you on a search engine under a particular keyword, and landing on a particular page, be more or less likely to convert?

This is one last gut-check. Make sure it’s all coming together the way your personas – not you – will want it to.

Observe and Adjust

Watch how visitors behave when they come to your site from a search engine. Do they match what you expect? Probably not exactly. Adjust your description tags, landing pages, keywords and overall strategy accordingly.

No technique’s 100% perfect. But apply these rules, and you can use personas to continuously improve your search marketing results. And you don’t even need superpowers.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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