As businesses increase their content marketing budgets to gain their share of an ever-growing Internet audience, content full of half-baked suggestions, cloaked in the promise of delivering increased traffic, has become ubiquitous.
The titles vary, but essentially it boils down to: How to get more and more people to read your content without really spending time to understand them or doing much research.
I see a lot of work that is disconnected from what the audience really wants. Companies use short-cuts to guess what it is that their customers want from them, which just doesn’t work.
What does work is content that moves its audience emotionally. You cannot move people if you don’t know what interests and inspires them. This is mostly achieved through research, asking questions and listening. It pays to show interest in what makes your potential customers tick.
After all, we are talking about your target audience here. They should fascinate you to no end!
Whether you are just starting out or have been in business for a while and are looking to up your game, the following suggestions should help you gain a better understanding of your Web audience.
Create detailed buyer personas
Research is where it begins, and will continue to benefit you along the way. The first step towards understanding an audience is to create detailed personas out of the research you have gathered.
If your aim is to launch a yoga studio, for example, in order to find your Web audience you need to first be clear about:
- Who is most likely to take up yoga? Anyone can, but certain age groups are more likely to do it. We are looking at adults under the age of retirement.
- The range of physical benefits that the exercises in your studio will provide. Why do people want to take up yoga, and why specifically your studio? What would drive them? Weight loss, fat loss, stress management, improved flexibility, rehabilitation from an injury, novelty workouts, etc.
- Research shows more women than men are interested in yoga. Does your own experience corroborate that? Who have you received more queries from?
- What income levels would your potential clients belong to? Who would be willing to spend the kind of amount you are charging for your yoga classes?
- Where would these people be located? It is a physical job visiting a yoga studio. Geographical location will be important.
Ask questions that affect their daily lives
This is the second step, which further refines your buyer personas. Moving beyond the external factors, you need to look at the motivations, desires, and challenges of someone who would want to take up yoga at the rate you are charging, in your area.
For example, if 35-year-old Susan, a semi-fit divorced mother of two who lives and works in your neighborhood is the kind of person you ought to be targeting, you need to understand why would she specifically want to take up yoga as a form of workout?
What about yoga would appeal to her, beyond the obvious benefit of weight loss? How would it help her lead an overall balanced life? How would she be able to find the time out of her busy days for a yoga class?
If your product or service is niche, such questions become even more important. People need to have a strong inclination towards or an emotional connect with what you offer to prefer it over anything else in the market.
Carry out in-depth keyword research
Shouldn’t keyword research follow your understanding of a Web audience, instead of the other way round?
Yes and no.
You’d be surprised at the kind of information a good keyword tool provides for you right at the beginning.
It’s an interesting and instructive challenge.
We begin with a broad assumption of our market and target audience. Data gleaned from keyword tools can quickly put some of it to rest. Which is why I suggest you incorporate this early on in your strategy to research your Web audience.
With a competent keyword tool you will:
- Find out the main keywords your business can rank for. These shouldn’t be so popular that they return page results in the millions. You ideally want keywords that don’t have too much competition and yet generate enough search volume.
- Find out the keywords your competitors rank for. What is bringing in the traffic for them? What kind of content is getting consumed the most?
- Find out alternate keywords. These would be the keywords that are only tangentially related to your services but can still bring in some relevant traffic.
Keywords and the content they lead to tell you the story of your audience.
Here are just a few useful tools that offer free trials:
Listen in on your audience across the Web
As important as analytics-based data and research, if not more, is the human input.
This includes following the blogs and social media pages that are already hitting the mark with your target audience. While reading the content itself will help, what you should pay particular attention to are the comments.
Enthusiastic followers love sharing their thoughts, experiences and beliefs in detail on blogs with big community following. If you are a good listening, you will learn all the important stuff:
- What gets them excited?
- What gets under their skin?
- What are the challenges they are facing in life currently?
- What did they like about the content they are commenting on?
- What did they dislike about it?
When people open up, which they do quite a lot on the Internet, they give you detailed insights.
Reading comments on blogs and elsewhere is time-consuming, but think of it as research. It would help you gain a better understanding of your audience and direct your efforts towards targeted content creation, the kind that speaks to them because you have been listening.
Engage your audience/customers by asking questions
As you go around the Internet following your audience, don’t forget that simple approaches still work.
If you have a considerable number of followers on social or your blog, engage with them on a personal basis.
You will learn so much about your audience by simply asking them! Even if only a handful of them respond, you’d still have the insights that can help you create better content, fulfill the needs of your audience, and in the process gain a competitive advantage.
You create for your audience
Don’t be so involved in marketing your content that you forget to learn about those who are ultimately going to consume it.
Understanding your Web audience requires you to:
- Create detailed personas
- Understand their emotional needs
- Listen to them as they share their thoughts
Web audiences are dynamic. As you grow and your content changes, so will your audience. Some will move on as new ones will find you. Complacency or apathy towards a target audience has no place in digital marketing. You must be clear about your audience at all stages of company growth.