At the end of the day, your business success depends on your ability to connect with your audience. So taking the time to get to know and understand who your readers are is an essential component of developing a strong content strategy!
In this post, you’ll learn:
- Why it’s important to target the right audience for your business goals
- What an audience persona is and how to start creating personas
- The two types of data you should use when you’re developing audience personas
- How to build audience personas with Google Analytics
- How to build audience personas with surveys and polls
- How to pull all your research together into a cohesive audience persona (with a free audience persona template!)
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Targeting the right audience for your business goals
When you think about your audience, it’s important to deeply understand who they are, their motivations, their likes, and dislikes. You want to go beyond blanket terms like “Millennials” and hone in on the details that make your readers unique, like age, gender, education level, household income, profession, location, lifestyle, and personality.
Identify your primary audience — and then keep refining it
By understanding your primary audience, you can focus on developing content that’s tailored to their problems and needs. Your primary audience will ideally be more engaged with your content, come back more often, spend more time on your site, and in turn make you more money.
And your audience targeting isn’t one and done — you may need to expand your targeting parameters to grow new audiences. Evaluate your audience at least once a year to make sure your time and effort is going to your most valuable content.
Growing your loyal fan base vs. attracting new audiences
Depending on the goals and niche of your site, you may have a mix of readers. Some sites thrive by building out a fan base and turning casual readers into loyal followers. Other sites thrive by attracting new passersby each day. And many sites succeed with a mix of the two.
Based on your content approach, your site’s audience mix might be:
- Brand driven: my audience is my fans
- By-the-calendar: mix between fans and new audience
- Keyword-driven: looking for mostly new audience
- Trending topics: looking for mostly new audience
- Breaking news: looking for mostly new audience
Create audience personas to better understand the mind of your readers
Creating personas for your audience helps you ask the right questions to better understand and visualize your readers as you create content. You can make your work as appealing as possible when you’re able to get into your audience’s psyche, their internal motivations, interests, and characteristics.
What is an audience persona?
An audience persona is a way to create simple-to-understand models of your ideal readers and site visitors that you can refer back to as you develop content that helps them live their best lives.
Using tools like Google Analytics, start by looking at the current audience that’s attracted to your content.
You’ll look for patterns to figure out who your core audience is. For example, you might discover that 80% of your audience visitors are 35-44 year old women, who are family focused, budget-conscious, have limited time and need quick, 30-minute recipes, and love doing it all while looking good and keeping up with their skin care.
Where to start when developing your personas
As with most aspects of your business, you always want to start with the bigger picture business goal you want to achieve.
- Do you want to bring more new visitors to your website?
- Do you want to create more loyal fans?
- Do you want to drive more people to sign up for your email newsletter?
- Do you want to sell more books or products?
- Do you want to drive more revenue through affiliate marketing?
Then, you can figure out who you need to reach to help you get there. For example, if you want to drive more loyal fans, look at the audience persona of your current loyal fans to understand who they are and how to attract more of them to your site.
Building audience personas of your site visitors using data
Make sure you’re using data to build out your audience profiles, instead of assumptions. There are lots of ways to go about gathering this data so let’s first look at the difference between quantitative and qualitative data and how to use each to build out audience personas.
Quantitative data: the numbers and facts
Quantitative data is numbers-focused, statistical, structured, rigid, measurable, concise, and close-ended. You can use this type of data to ask and answer the question “how much” or “how many”.
Some examples of quantitative data you may have about your readers:
- 78% of my site visitors are between the ages of 18-34
- The average visitor spends 2 minutes and 43 seconds on a post
- Readers visit 3 articles during an average session
- My email newsletter has a 45% average open rate
You can gather quantitative data from:
- Metrics and analytics reports
But the downfall of relying solely on quantitative data is that it’s only focused on numbers and can’t tell you WHY something is happening or what’s driving the behavior. Quantitative data can also be misleading as certain biases can skew the way results are interpreted, and the data collection process might have a limited methodology or not be representative of your entire audience.
Qualitative data: the underlying motivations
Qualitative data is descriptive, focused on properties, attributes, and labels, not measured, unstructured, open-ended. You use this type of data to ask and answer the question “why”.
Some examples of qualitative data you may have about your readers:
- Likes to cook
- Enjoys entertaining
- Reading fanatic
- Music listener
You can gather qualitative data from:
- Reading comments, articles, reader emails
- Listening to audio and video sources
- Questioning your readers, interviewing focus groups
- Observing your readers, taking notes
The downfall of relying solely on qualitative data is that it’s time-consuming, it can be hard to verify your results, and there’s no guarantee it’s statistically representative of the entirety of your audience.
Using quantitative data: build out your audience persona using Google Analytics
If you expand the Audience menu in your Google Analytics account, you’ll see a wide range of reports to explore.
Let’s walk through some of the most valuable Google Analytics reports for creating your audience personas:
- Understanding your audience’s age and gender
- Drilling down into your audience’s interests
- Uncovering what your readers like to buy (and what that tells you about them)
- Finding your audience’s location
- How your audience is accessing your content
- Where your audience is discovering your content
- The times your audience prefers to access your content
- Your audience’s favorite types of content
Note: To access many of these insights in Google Analytics, you’ll need to enable “Advertising Reporting Features” in your account. If you’ve never activated these features before, Google Analytics won’t backfill any demographics data — you’ll only have this data moving forward, so you can revisit these steps once you have at least a month’s worth of demographic data.
1. Age and gender
Age and gender are very basic, foundational looks at your audience that are worth re-exploring from time to time to see if and how the demographics of your site evolve.
Here’s how to generate a breakdown report for these metrics:
In your Google Analytics dashboard, go to Reports > Audience > Demographics > Gender.
For the purposes of creating your audience persona, set the time range to the last full month or even the past year.
In this example, we’ll look at January through May 2021. We can see that the audience’s gender breakdown for that timeframe is 69% female, 31% male.
We can then go another level to see the ages in these groups by selecting a “Secondary dimension” from the drop-down. Start typing “Age” and then select the “Age” option when it appears.
Now, we can see the breakdown of gender by age group to see which cohorts are checking out this site the most.
By clicking on the word “females” in the results, you can see your female audience broken out by age group. In this example below, we discover that 28% of the site’s female visitors are 25-34, 17% are 35-44, 16% are 35-44, and so on.
The first audience persona we might want to build out is the most prominent group in this audience.
For persona #1 we know our target audience is:
- Age 25-34
2. Interests & affinities
Let’s go a bit deeper by looking at the types of interests our 25–34-year-old female visitor has.
Using the same report, we can click on “25–34” in the results. The primary dimension for this view is “Other Category”, showing helpful insight into what this young female audience likes.
Here we can see our audience is interested in baked goods and desserts, celebrity news, and starting a new job in a new place.
Next, we’ll change the primary dimension to “Affinity Category” to build out this audience persona further.
By combining the two reports, we can add a bit more information to our base audience profile.
Persona #1’s insights:
- They like cooking and recipes (especially quick recipes)
- Specifically, they like to bake and make desserts
- They love a good deal
- They enjoy reading celebrity and entertainment news
- They’re in a state of transition right now, relocating and starting at new jobs
- And they like to look good while doing everything!
3. Purchase intention & in-market segments
It’s also helpful to understand what your audience is buying and what they are currently in the market for. If you’re trying to drive product sales and affiliate revenue, this can help you figure out what to promote to your audience!
We’ll continue looking at Persona #1 in the same report as before. But we’ll update the primary dimension from the drop-down at the top of the table — start typing “In-Market Segment” and select it from the drop-down options.
For now, we’re still looking at our 25–34-year-old female audience for the purpose of fleshing out this audience persona. But you can also look at this data independently by going to the report in the sidebar — you’ll just be looking at your entire audience vs. a specific segment.
This table lets us see what Persona #1 is looking to purchase.
Persona #1 is in the market for:
- Clothing and accessories
- Home decor items
- A new home and job
- Beauty and personal care items
Knowing where your audience is coming from can also help put you in the right frame of mind when trying to think like them.
From the same report we’ve been looking at, we can now swap out the “In-Market Segment” primary dimension for different location drill-downs.
You can type in “Country” to get a sense of how much of your traffic is coming from the same country as you and how much is international.
We can see the majority of our Persona #1 traffic is coming from the US. To get deeper, you can add a secondary dimension and look at region as well.
Since we know the majority of Persona #1 readers are from the United States, we can filter to only look at the regions in the US by doing a search (look for the magnifying glass icon at the top right of the table) for ”United States”.
Here are the results filtered for just US regions:
Country or region/state level for content is usually a good stopping point for the majority of publishers. You don’t really have to continue to drill down further unless you notice really specific regional behavior distinctions in the data, or if your site has hyper-local content. But generally speaking, it’s better to create a larger, more representative persona.
So now we can add a bit more information to our Persona #1 profile:
- While our female readers aged 25–34 hail from many areas around the US and world, we’ll say that Persona #1 is located in the California area.
5. Devices (technology, mobile)
Next, take a look at how your audience is accessing your content.
Starting at Reports > Audience > Age in Google Analytics, we’ll select the 25–34-year-old range to keep looking at Persona #1. Add “Device Category” as a secondary dimension. To just look at female readers in this age range, we’ll use the search bar at the top of the table and type in “female”.
We can see that almost 70% of Persona #1 is reading this site on a mobile device, so let’s look specifically at the mobile devices they’re using by changing the secondary dimension to “Mobile Device Info”.
In this breakdown, even though iPhones look like the largest group, they aren’t broken down by version like the Samsung Galaxies are, so we discover that Persona #1 is actually primarily visiting the site from their Samsung Galaxy devices.
Let’s change our secondary dimension to “Browser” to see what platform they’re viewing the site on.
We discover that the vast majority of Persona #1 readers are viewing the content in a Chrome browser.
So now we know Persona #1’s tech preferences:
- Viewing the site on their Samsung Galaxy mobile device via the Chrome browser
6. Platform preference
Now let’s look at how this group of readers are getting to the site — what platforms do they like to use?
Using the same report as before, change the secondary dimension to “Source”.
From here we can see the majority of Persona #1 readers are coming from search, followed by direct, and then Instagram.
If we want to look at just social media referral traffic, we can change the secondary dimension to “Social Network”.
You may see a big chunk of traffic called “(not set)”, which you can ignore. Moving down to the next row, we gather that readers of this site primarily spend time on Instagram and Pinterest as well as some time on Facebook.
Now, we conclude that Persona #1:
- Mainly seeks out information on Google
- Uses Instagram and Pinterest as their two favorite social media platforms
7. Timing (day of the week, time of day)
When does your target persona spend time on your site? This can tell you when to promote content to this audience!
Using the same report as before, change the secondary dimension to “Day of Week Name”.
We see that Monday is the top day for this reader group, followed by the weekend.
You can also take a look at the time of day they prefer by selecting “Hour” as the secondary dimension.
The hours follow military time conventions (midnight = 00, 1 am = 1), so we can see that these readers primarily like to hang out on the site early in the day.
So we can deduce that Persona #1 readers:
- Like to seek out recipes early in the week or over the weekend
- Are early birds, spending the most time on the site during the morning hours of 8–11am
8. Favorite content
Another useful angle to look at is what content you already have that this persona enjoys.
To do this, use the same report as before, changing the primary dimension at the top of the table to “Gender”.
Then, we can change the secondary dimension to “Landing Page” to see what females age 25–34 like most on the site.
After scanning through Persona #1’s favorite pages, we’ve discovered this reader really seems to like:
- Easy recipes
- Gluten-free recipes
- Dessert recipes that are lighter
- Brunch recipes
- Bread recipes
Pulling it all together:
Based on our Google Analytics research, here’s what we know about Persona #1:
- They’re female, age 25–34
- They like cooking and recipes (especially quick recipes and baking desserts), love a good deal, enjoy reading celebrity and entertainment news, are in a state of transition right now, relocating and starting at new jobs, and like to look good while juggling it all
- They’re in the market for clothing and accessories, home decor items, a new home and job, and beauty and personal care items
- They live on the west coast (California)
- They’re always on their phone — and if you want to get really technical, they’re Samsung Galaxy and Chrome fans
- They’re often getting to the site through Google, but they also love a good visual call-to-action on Instagram and Pinterest
- They’re early birds, spending the most time on the site in the morning and looking for recipes at the beginning of the week (Sat–Mon)
- And the content that MOST appeals to them are gluten-free, easy recipes, lighter dessert recipes, bread, and brunch recipes
Save audience segments in Google
You can save audience segments in your Google Analytics dashboard so you can return to the segment at a later date and track them over time.
And you can create different segments for different personas, use broad audience categories or more specific categories and track each of them over time to see what’s working for which groups.
Check out this Google article to walk through setting up custom audience segments.
Using qualitative data: building out your audience personas with surveys and polls
Talking to your readers directly (qualitative data) can help you fill in the blanks and flesh out your persona a bit more.
Poll your audience
Social media surveys make it easy to ask your audience questions.
We already know that Persona #1 enjoys Instagram, so we could put together a few Instagram Stories with survey questions about their interests, hobbies, favorite foods, or the types of content they want to see more of from you and build this into our profile.
Site surveys — You can use free tools like Survey Monkey or Google Forms to host a survey on your website, asking your readers about themselves, their preferences, the kind of content they like to read, how they like to consume your content, etc.
Focus group discussions — You might also invite your readers to join a focus group. Host a small group virtual video conference or live event that gives you the opportunity to have a real discussion with your audience to help you better understand who they are and how you can best serve them.
Putting it all together to bringing your data to life with audience personas
Data by itself is meaningless without digestion and analysis. Your goal is to transform all these data points into actionable insights you can use to inform your content strategy.
You can create little charts of your different audience groups with their demographic information, preferences, and other useful tidbits and create a name for them.
And in fact, we have a simple template that helps you do just that!
These visualizations can really bring the data to life and help you clearly envision who you’re trying to reach with each piece of content you create. If you have employees or contractors creating content, these personas can also make sure everyone aligns on the target audience.
Ready to see what we’ve learned about Persona #1?
We’ll think of this audience through the lens of one specific, imaginary reader, who we’ll call “Kat”.
Persona #1: Kat, the on-the-go foodie
Kat is 28 years old and on-the-go on the west coast. She’s getting her life started — she’s got a new job and a new place. She wants to keep up with her fellow L.A. friends, looking fabulous and staying on top of beauty and skincare trends. That said, she’s still early in her career and living in a pricey city so she’s hunting for deals.
One way to keep on budget is by cooking at home. Kat is a foodie at heart. She enjoys cooking but doesn’t always have the time, so she’s seeking out quick meal options. She loves putting together a meal that feels fancy but takes little time or money to actually make. And since she’s so busy, she likes to plan her day by figuring out what she’s making in the morning, doing a quick Google search, or checking out Instagram and Pinterest for some inspiration. Dinner, desserts, and brunch are her favorite meals to cook.
Now that you’ve created your first segment, what’s next?
First, save the segment in your Google Analytics dashboard and name it after your persona. Monitor this segment over time and identify content they like to add to your content strategy.
Make a few more personas by looking at the second, third, and fourth most popular groupings. You can also experiment by looking at some broader personas along with some that are much more focused and niche to get a more thorough understanding of all your audiences.
You might use different factors as starting points, like digging into Google Analytics acquisition behavior (how did this reader find your site?) or looking at new visitors compared to repeat visitors to see what they have in common.
Don’t forget to regularly assess your audience personas to make sure you’re keeping up with your evolving readership. Schedule a yearly review on your to-do calendar each year so you don’t forget!
Your Content Optimization roadmap
Module 1: Building a content plan and content strategy
- Develop a content strategy that drives results
- Identify and understand your target audience with personas [You are here!]
Module 2: SEO best practices
- Find the perfect search keywords for your target audience
- Create a content brief for great SEO
- Craft compelling content for search with SEO copywriting
Module 3: Measuring your success