Paul L. Wilson

How To Build A Search Persona With No Data

When doing SEO you should consider it a long game. Unlike paid marketing, you’re usually not going to see immediate results and anyone telling you differently is selling you something you probably shouldn’t buy.

That’s why it can be frustrating when you first launch your website to plan out your SEO efforts. You have very little data to make educated guesses and if you guess wrong you won’t know for weeks or, in most cases, months.

I’m going to assume if you’re reading this article that you are unable to gather important data from customers, website analytics, or your sales department in order to build out a SEO strategy. Probably because you don’t have customers, detailed web analytics, or even a sales staff. 

The lack of data often pushes beginning marketers or entrepreneurs to wing it on their SEO and to not even consider developing out their target search audience or creating search personas. 

Luckily, we live in an age where data can be found everywhere and building a strong SEO strategy on data can still happen, even if you’re just starting out. 

I’ve already discussed in another article what you need to do to build out your target search audience. Once you know who your main search audience is your next step is to determine your primary search persona. 

What Is A Search Persona

A search persona is a sketch of a type of search engine user, or your “ideal searcher.” While this persona has some hard demographic data (age, location, gender, etc.), it is mostly a subjective summary of the searcher’s likes, dislikes, problems, and desired solutions.

Here is an example of a search persona.

The only limit to how many search personas you have is your marketing bandwidth. A website like Walmart.com could have hundreds of search personas. However, if you’re just getting started I suggest only having one, which I will share why in a moment. 

Why Have Search Personas

Well-defined search personas can guide your SEO efforts from planning to execution. They answer: 

  • What kind of problems to address in your keyword research and content marketing
  • How to write your meta title and description to gain their attention
  • Optimizing the right pages that will convert them when they visit
  • How to prioritize your backlinks and partnering with other websites that compliment your personas

For example, when looking for a car these three personas have different needs even though they may use the same search query:

If you were to do your SEO the same for all three of these personas you’d most likely frustrate each of them by not providing for their needs. Having detailed search personas will make SEO easier and help you attract targeted traffic. 

Where To Get Started 

As alluded to previously, I recommend starting with one search persona. 

Your one persona should be the type of searcher that will help your website the most. This may be in the form of sales, website usage, or newsletter sign-ups. The focus should be whatever is the primary purpose of your website, which was question #2 when you created your targeted search audience. 

This persona will get you to where you want to go the fastest. Yes, you can have multiple search personas that can benefit from your website’s primary focus, but for now select one. 

Remember, you currently have very little data to work with. You want to first validate your approach and get more data before going all in. So, selecting your main search persona will be key here. 

Getting Solid Data 

If you don’t have your own data here are the tools I suggest using:

For this article, I’m going to show you how to use all these tools together minus the last one — Google Ads. Mainly because you can use the other four tools for free when getting started. However, in my opinion, Google Ads is the superior option because it gives you solid data on real searches.

In fact, Google recently released a new feature called Combined Audiences that specifically helps you with creating personas. According to Google, “Combined audiences is an effective targeting option that allows you to combine various audience attributes, such as detailed demographics and affinities, to create “personas” that represent segments of your target audiences.”

You can’t get better than that! I recommend checking out this article from Search Engine Land if you want to learn more. 

Start With Your Primary Focus

From your Target Search Audience you determined what your website’s main theme (or focus) was. This isn’t so much a keyword as it is the industry your website is in. 

I’m going to use Egg Head Homes as the example website in building out the search persona here. Their main theme is Smart Homes Installation and that is the term I put into SparkToro.

As you can see, SparkToro provides a great list of what this audience reads, watches, listens-to, and follows. A fantastic start to understanding your search persona. 

If you click on SparkToro’s Audience Insights, you begin to get a look into their vernacular, location, and digital hangouts.

You’ll use this information in your search personas to understand what your search persona likes but Facebook Audience Insights can help provide a more clear picture of exactly who your search persona actually is. 

Geographic Data is Essential

When I first wrote this article, I went all the way to the end of writing this tutorial without taking into consideration that Egg Head Homes is not a national brand. Instead, they’re only targeting Utah.

This dramatically changed my data with Facebook Audience Insights. So, be sure that your first step is defining the geographic area you’re looking at. 

We could drill down further with the location by adding a city instead of a just Utah. Judging by Egg Head Homes’ phone number, I’m assuming they only supports Salt Lake and/or Utah County.

When I look at the Location tab, I see this data covers both areas. Yet, if I knew that they only served one of these areas I would add the city to the Location section.

What’s The Primary Interest of the Search User

After adding in the geographical area, next is putting the theme (remember, this is the industry) into the interests. When I do, Facebook changes my theme from Smart Homes to Home Automation. 

Interestingly enough, “home,” “automation,” and “home automation” are in the top 5 results of the users’ profile bios for SparkToro.

Once I’ve added home automation in Interests, you can already see that Facebook Audience Insights has yielded some interesting insights: the Utah Home Automation audience is older than 25 and prominently women.

Find Strongly Related Facebook Pages 

Once you have this data, you need to find related pages that have a strong relationship with your existing audience. To do this, first go to “Page Likes.”

Then sort the pages by affinity. 

Research All Related Pages for Demographic Data 

Next, add at least three to five pages to your interest section.This will help you expand the audience and gather demographic data. Don’t worry if Facebook doesn’t allow you to add all your pages. I was only able to add 2 pages. This wasn’t enough to dig into the audience, so I removed the Utah tag in location and added in some of the national pages.

I’d only recommend this if Facebook isn’t adding the pages it recommends (which is actually annoying).


While looking at these interests won’t give you a specific persona, it will help paint a general picture. In the above case, it’s clear that my primary persona is female with 54% of the audience and between 25-44 years old. 

A look at “Relationship Status,” “Education Level,” and “Job Title” shows that many are:

Married

Have a college education

And work in the IT space.

None of this is surprising, particularly the job title. It makes sense that those who are more technically savvy are going to be drawn to the latest and greatest home technology.

Technology your Search Persona Prominently Uses

We’re not quite done with Facebook. The last area we’re going to look at is the Activity tab. Here we’re going to see the device usage of this demographic. Not surprising they are mainly mobile only and strong iPhone users.

Based on this I can see that my primary search persona is: 

  • A Utah female, in her late twenties to mid thirties
  • Works in the IT space and has a college education
  • And can’t live without her iPhone 🙂

This is really good data but we go can deeper, much deeper!

Using True Search Data that is Valuable

If you’re going to do SEO you’ll need to become familiar with Google Keyword Planner. This tool is really for Google Ads (aka Pay Per Click aka PPC). Even still, it is extremely helpful for SEO. Not only is it great to use for keyword research but it is helpful to see what keywords are considered valuable to advertisers in Google.

To start off, let’s look at what keywords Google has for Egg Head Homes, by going to “Discover new keywords”:

And then looking at “Start with a website” and entering in the domain:

Next we want to filter the keywords ideas that Google is giving by the highest bid Google advertisers are paying for. Keep in mind, these are not necessarily keywords that Egg Head Homes is ranking in Google, just keyword suggestions from Google’s spiders.

Now don’t fret if your website doesn’t have that many or any keyword ideas. We still can get some valuable keyword insights by going back and selecting again “Discover new keywords” (just click the large X in the left hand corner to return to this page).

From here, you’ll enter the broadest keyword that fits your website. For Egg Head Homes we learned from SparkToro and Facebook that it was “Home Automation.” I’d qualify it further by adding on “Installation” and then click on Get Results.

Once again, you’re going to see a page similar to what you saw when we searched the Egg Head Homes domain. However, this time the data you get back is around the main keyword and not the domain.

Finding the Right Questions to Answer

The final step we’re going to look at is what questions are your search personas asking Google. A great tool for this is Answer the Public. This tool pulls from Google all the questions people ask around any specific keyword.

It is from a British company, which I only mention because the default is the United Kingdom. With the free version only allowing you 2 searches a day you want to make certain you enter the right country you’re doing SEO in.

As you can see from the above image, I used the top-tier keyword we used in Google Keyword Planner. However, when I searched it, I found it to be too narrow, with only 6 questions. So, I used up my 2nd free search for the day and tried just home automation.

I figured people who were interested in an installation would also be interested in researching home automations. Luckily, I was right and found 349 great questions.

The tool does some fun visualization with the keywords. Personally, I don’t find it helpful.

You can select the Data button (found in the top left hand corner) to turn it off, but really what I care about is the raw data you can download into an excel file.

With these questions captured, I start to gain a great understanding into the mind of my search personas. Couple that with all the other data found and we’re ready to pull it together into a solid data-driven search persona.

Your Data Driven Search Persona

A few notes before you start designing your persona:

  • Keep it fictional, but be realistic. While this is a fictional character, he or she is based on the facts you gathered above.
  • You don’t have to (and won’t) have all the answers and that’s okay. Complete what you can by using the data you collected, and then use your best “estimation” to fill in the holes. As you launch your SEO you will begin to gain data that will help you see if these assumptions were correct.   
  • The first draft is not the final draft. This is a living document that you will continuously update over time as you learn more about your ideal customer.  
  • Put yourself in his or her shoes. Remember, you want to define the persona from his or her perspective – not yours.   

12 steps to put Your Search Persona Together: 

Step 1: Name

This is probably the easiest step because you don’t have to rely on much data. You will use the main gender you found in your Facebook research but the name is entirely up to you. As humans we love to name things, and creating a name helps brings to life your search persona. To keep the focus on your SEO, avoid using a name of someone you know – this includes friends, co-workers, or family members.  

Being that 54% of Egg Head Homes’ demographic were women, the name I selected for the primary search persona is:

LORI THOMAS  

Step 2: Photo

With a name, you can now add a photo. A photo puts a face to the name, and makes it easier to visualize the search persona when creating your SEO assets. Don’t use photos that have copyrights. Go to websites like pexels.com, unsplash.com, and pixabay.com to find high quality images that are free from any legalities. 

Please meet our ideal search customer Lori Thomas!

Step 3: Personal Background

The background is the basic information you gathered from SparkToro and Facebook concerning your ideal search visitor. This includes age, gender, marital status, geographic location, education, and career information.

Here is where you want to begin filling in the data with a story. Here’s a little bit about Lori:

  • 31 years old
  • Married with 2 kids
  • Lives in Lehi, Utah
  • Received her degree in Information Technology and now manages an IT team for a large software company in Lehi

Again, it’s okay to fill in the gaps and make guesses. It helps make the persona more real.

Step 4: Finances

Documenting the financial background of a search persona, like income, spending habits, and the personas preferred method of payment is a strong influence on the type of keywords and landing pages you might use in your SEO efforts. Using the Job Title data from Facebook Audience Insights, you can do a quick search query to see what the average salary is for that job.

When I did a search for “IT Manager Salary in Utah” one of the first results was from Zip Recruiter that gave me exactly what I was looking for.

With that information, I created a story around her finances. Showing that if she was married, most likely her spouse would be working too. My story for this section:

  • Combined household income of $150,000
  • Makes most of the purchasing decisions, and does most of the buying
  • Purchases often from Amazon and has an Amazon Prime membership
  • Usually buys the latest and greatest gadgets

Step 5: A Day in the Life on the Web

A day in the life is meant to be a snapshot of how a search persona spends their day surfing the Internet. By identifying how he or she uses the Internet on a daily basis, we gain a better idea of how their daily life may be impacted by the digital places they visit, and possibly provide insights into new opportunities to connect with this persona.

Both SparkToro and Facebook give glimpses into social media and web consumption. With a little creativity you should be able to put together a snapshot day of their Internet usage. Don’t try to capture every minute of the day. Like the other sections, a few bullet points are fine.

Here’s Lori’s day on the web:

  • Occasionally uses Facebook but enjoys her daily dose of Instagram
  • Heavily uses Slack to collaborate with her team at work
  • Frequently uses WhatsApp for distant family and friends
  • Favorite podcasts is “Future of Everything” and often uses YouTube to learn about anything techie

Step 6: Search Behavior

As this is a search persona, you want to have a high level of what queries someone will use to search. You just so happen to have this data with what you did in Google Keyword Planner. Yes, these are keywords, but don’t fall into the trap of doing keyword research just yet. Use the data you found to help you get a glimpse of what your search persona is using in the search engines.

Remember, Egg Head Homes initially started with Smart Homes as its primary focus but both SparkToro and Facebook data showed that Home Automation was actually the main keyword this persona used. You’ll return to your search persona with more detailed keywords after you do keyword research.

Let’s look at Lori’s search behavior:

  • Uses Google for all her searching but relies on her co-workers for tech recommendations
  • List of search queries: home automation system, nest smart home, automation devices, best home automation security systems, smart home installation services near by, smart home services

Step 8: Favorite Websites

We looked at Lori’s social and search but we also need to take into consideration her favorite websites. Knowing these websites help us broaden our understanding on what truly influences our search personas on the web. Both SparkToro and Facebook provided us with this info. 

  • Futurism.com
  • Homie.com
  • Cepro.com
  • Nowthisnews.com

Step 9: Technology

When looking at search behavior, technology is key. Information on our search personas comfort level with technology, how they use technology and the information they are accessing with that technology will help to determine your SEO approach.  

All this information was found under the Activity tab in Facebook Audience Insights. For Lori, we can see that her iPhone is her life line to Internet world but professionally she probably is also very active on her PC.

  • Largely accesses the internet from her smartphone when at home but uses her laptop at work
  • Uses her company’s professional video chat license to stay connected with her global team
  • Owns multiple Amazon Echos

Step 10: Hopes & Fears

Marketing personas in general, try to step into the brain of their ideal customer. Understanding questions, pain points, concerns, and fears will help you provide the right solution for your search personas. 

The questions you gathered with Answer the Public can help here. One tip, take these questions and categorize them as: positive, negative, or neutral?

A positive question can show something the persona finds hopeful. For example, “is home automation the future.” On the other hand, a negative question, like “is home automation worth it?”, shows a possible fear of cost.

The above two questions were question #1 and question #2 on my excel list that I downloaded from Answer the Public. So, it’s a great resource into tapping into your search personas emotional state of mind.

Here are Lori’s Hopes and Fears:

  • Worried about her family and their safety
  • Concerned she needs to learn more about home automation before she buys anything serious
  • Is hopeful that with the rise of new technologies home automation is going to be more affordable
  • Excited about technology in general and where it is going

Step 11: Quote

A short quote can exemplify what the search persona is all about, and capture the persona’s attitude towards why they are using search. Think of the quote as a “check for understanding” – once every other section has been developed, compare your quote to see if it aligns with what you have documented. If it does, you are on the right track. If not, identify what feels “off” and work towards adjusting it.

Lori’s quote: “My family’s safety is most important to me”

Step 12: Website Logo

Now to to wrap it all up with your website logo at the top of your search persona. Your logo ties your search persona to you and is a constant reminder that your website is there to be useful to your ideal customer. If you forget that, realize that all this detailed work really was for nothing!

Bringing it All Together 

Welcome to the finish line! Here’s what Egg Head Homes’ search persona looks like:

Whew! For not having any real time data on your ideal customer there sure is a lot of tools to help you fill in that gap! Now, you need to put this into action. This is only your first step in trying to understand your ideal customer. It’s a long journey but if you do it right it is well worth it!

 

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