You own or run a website, and you know it’s important to make your site SEO-friendly. You want to do it right because of the vast pay-offs SEO can have for you in the long run. So, what’s the first step? If I were a betting man, I’d guess you’d say the first step is keyword research.
If you had asked me 10 years ago when SEO was my main marketing channel in driving a significant amount of revenue for my company, I would have said the same thing. In fact, in 2013, I created an SEO course, and my very first module was keyword research.
As much as keyword research is an essential aspect of SEO, it is not the first step. The first step is actually creating a Search Strategy, and defining your target search audience is the first thing you need to do for that strategy.
You’ve probably heard of a target market, which “…refers to a group of potential customers to whom a company wants to sell its products and services.” (source)
Your target market is for your overall company and includes all the different types of customers you’re going after. Usually, you’ll have your target market defined in a business plan an investor or bank asked you to write.
A target search audience is a segment of those customers that will use search to find your website and purchase what you sell. I promise that you don’t want this to be buried in some business plan.
Knowing your target search audience will help you avoid spending time driving visitors who don’t want to buy your stuff. In fact, it was this problem, driving the wrong people to my website, that made me realize that keyword research wasn’t the first step in doing SEO.
How do you figure out your target search audience? Here are 8 questions I ask myself when establishing a target search audience for any website I’m working on:
QUESTION 1: What is the primary focus of your website?
What you want when asking this question is a broad theme your website focuses on. It’s just a few words and can be used to classify your website.
It’s okay to have multiple topics under your primary focus if they tie together. The site Interactive Health covers nutrition, fitness, and healthy eating. All of these can follow under health.
For some websites, this may be tricky. Mainly because they’re still trying to figure out what they want to be when they grow up. With the search engines, it’s crucial your website has a clear direction of what it is trying to accomplish.
If you’re finding that you have multiple focuses that are not closely related, you need to do one of three things:
(1) Select just one primary focus and cut out the others
(2) Select one focus and move your other focuses to subdomains (focus1.yourdomain.com, focus2.yourdomain.com, etc.)
(3) Select your primary focus and figure out how to tie the other focuses to it
When doing this exercise with my wife and her blog, Happily Exhausted, she decided on option 3. She had two primary focuses — motherhood and homeschooling. Though you can find both topics in the other topic, they don’t logically fit together. Her solution was to just focus on homeschooling and work to weave motherhood more into homeschooling.
QUESTION 2: What’s your website’s core offering to your visitors?
Once you have your website’s focus, you need to ask what core offering it provides. An easy way to determine your core offering is to ask three questions:
- What’s the #1 thing your visitors are using your website for?
- What do you think they love most about your website?
- What’s the main reason a visitor would return to your website?
If you’re finding overlap on these questions, it’s probably fair to say that this is your core offering. Here’s me answering these questions for my favorite blogger James Clear:
What’s the #1 thing your visitors are using your website for?
To read motivating and data-driven content on becoming a better person through conscience habits.
What do you think they love most about your website?
The unique content provided on the topic of becoming a better person through conscience habits.
What’s the main reason a visitor would return to your website?
To read new content that provides a different perspective about becoming a better person through conscience habits.
As you can quickly see, content about becoming a better person through conscience habits is seen in the answers to each of these questions. What’s powerful about these questions is that they might force you to reconsider what’s the core offering on your website.
If you’re an ecommerce site, you might think your core offering is your products. However, this is not easy to do unless you’re a big brand. Instead, your core offering is what makes your website valuable to your customers (or potential customers).
Using James Clear again as an example, he has a popular book that he wants people to buy. I might never have heard of his book or even considered buying it (which I have) if he hadn’t first given so much value in his consistent blogging efforts. In doing so, he positioned himself as a mentor (and not a salesperson) on this topic, which made buying his book a much easier decision.
QUESTION 3: How does your website make you money?
As pointed out in the previous question, your core offering and how you make money may not be the same. Yet, it is possible they could be.
For example, online course sites like Udemy, Skillshare, and Pluralsight, can easily show their core offering and what makes them money is their courses. Their value to a visitor and what makes them money is the same.
For this question, it’s important to list out exactly all the different revenue sources. This doesn’t mean a long list of products but rather their categories and any other methods on your website of making money.
A great ecommerce example is Love Your Mellon. This site focuses on improving the lives of children battling cancer by providing them with a special hat. Each time a hat is sold, the company donates 50% of its profits to fight against childhood cancer.
I did a quick look on their website, and they categorize their products this way: beanies, cuffed beanies, pom beanies, cap, accessories, apparel, and monthly melon club.
I like this example because of their monthly melon club, a subscription model that people pay monthly to get exclusive gear. The customers who would buy into this subscription could be different from those who buy their other products (which is important to know).
QUESTION 4: Who are your competitors on the Internet?
Keeping a pulse on what my direct and indirect competitors are continually doing in the search engines is vital. It has allowed me to see what other companies are doing and who is aggressively moving up in the search results.
What’s also helpful in doing competitor research is finding places where my competition is asleep. It’s not uncommon to find a keyword or geographical area where the competition isn’t focusing on SEO.
I did SEO for a multinational company. When I did my research, I found that the other global competitors and many local competitors ignored SEO in many parts of the U.S. but were very active in Europe. This was because the offices in Europe had prioritized SEO; whereas the offices in the U.S. had put their focus on direct sales and conferences, which was common for the entire industry.
You should be able to name two or three direct competitors off the top of your head. If not, do a simple search on what you think your customers would search to find you. You want to list the companies you feel could steal customers from you and look at what they are doing on their website to keep customers.
QUESTION 5: What makes your website unique?
As important as it is to know your competition, it is 10 times more important to be unique in a way that makes you competitive.
So, the easy questions are:
- How are you different from your competitors?
- What’s enticing customers to remain with you?
If there’s nothing unique to set you apart from your competition, then it’ll just come down to price for your potential customers. Being known as the cheapest website might help get people to visit and buy, but it’s a hard strategy to win at.
If you’re familiar with affiliate marketing (if not, watch this quick 2-minute video), then you know most affiliate websites just give recommendations on products they want you to buy. It’s hard to build credibility with a company when you know their recommendation is motivated by making money off of you.
However, suppose you want a perfect example of how to be unique in the very saturated (and competitive) market like Amazon affiliate products. In that case, you need to check out Camel, Camel, Camel.
This website, surprisingly, has nothing to do with camels. Instead, it’s an easy-to-use Amazon price tracker. Submit a URL for an Amazon product, and it tells you how the price has changed throughout the years.
What’s brilliant is that the links they share with you are affiliate links. In fact, if you look at the very bottom of their website you’ll see a disclaimer showing that they are Amazon affiliates. I would LOVE to know how much revenue they generate simply by offering a unique tracker for people that helps them see the best time to buy an Amazon product.
QUESTION 6: Who would benefit most from what your website has to offer?
Now that you have a better understanding of your website you want to think about those who use your website. You’re particularly looking at the type of people who would gain the most by visiting your site.
Are they male, female, child, adult? Does where they live matter? Here are some basic demographics you want to consider when thinking about the beneficiaries of your website:
- Marital status
- Income level
- Education level
- Social media websites they use
- Favorite websites
Blue Fish Pediatrics is a children’s medical office in Houston. The people who would best benefit from their website are parents in the Houston area.
No matter how amazing they are as pediatricians the likelihood of a parent from Oahu visiting them is low. Likewise, a single person in Houston, who is not a caretaker of a child, is also very unlikely to visit their office. So, having a good idea of who will benefit from your website is critical.
Yet, don’t just fill out the above demographics and call it good. Take all the information and write out a few sentences describing these people. Blue Fish Pediatrics might have something like the following:
“Those who best benefit from our website are mothers in the Houston area, looking for care and better health information for their children on websites like webmd.com and healthline.com. They are married in their late 20s to early 30s with some college education. They are a single income home, with the husband making between $60,000 to $80,000 and having employment that provides health insurance.”
There is no doubt that Blue Fish has customers that fall outside of this definition but this is probably one of their more engaging customers, who has a high likelihood to be searching for health solutions for their children.
QUESTION 7: What are the pain points and needs of those who visit your website?
I am sure those who use your website have many pain points. For this question, you’re specifically looking at the needs your website fulfills for these people.
If you’re just starting your website then this is something you’ll probably guess on. However, if you have customers, don’t be shy in asking them how your website helps them.
A few years ago, I taught a crowdfunding class. To pass the course the students had to launch a Kickstarter project. One of the groups in the class created the Glox – a toeless sock.
Being in Hawaii, the students wanted to create something to compliment the sandals they always wore. To brighten your day, I strongly encourage you to check out their Kickstarter campaign and to watch their video. You’ll be glad you did!
The students thought that the major buyers of their socks would be family and friends from the islands, whose needs would be to stand out and be different in their feet fashion. They were quite shocked when they received multiple large orders from the mainland, in places that were too cold to frequently adorn toeless shoe wear.
They called one of the customers to see why they were purchasing so many of their toeless socks and were shocked to learn that it was a retirement home. This customer was buying these socks for their diabetes patients. What my students didn’t know was that many of these retirement homes were already cutting off the tips of socks and creating compression socks, a common need for diabetics.
It is very likely your customers will surprise you when you ask about how you solve their pain points.
QUESTION 8: How do visitors to your website use the search engines?
This may seem like an easy question but it’s not. People use search engines differently and understanding how they use them will directly impact how you put together your target search audience.
Considering how often someone uses search engines for their needs is important. My dad never types a website URL into the browser. Instead, he’ll go to Google and put in the website name and then click on the results for that name. A practice that is actually quite common.
You may also have someone who is more likely to use search only after they’ve exhausted other avenues. You probably have a friend (or are even that friend) who uses Facebook for their search needs. They’ll first ask their network of friends before they do actually search on their own.
Knowing how a visitor to your website uses the search engines definitely helps you to define how much energy you should put towards your Search Engine Marketing efforts.
Yet it’s not all about how they use the search engines but also why they use them. Looking at people’s intent when they search can significantly change what you might offer on your website.
Consider these 3 search intents: Research, Shopping, and Entertainment. A user could type into the search engine “Star Wars” and depending on their intent would want the results to be about:
- The history of President’s Reagan’s Strategic Defense nicknamed Star Wars (RESEARCH)
- Star War face masks to wear during the COVID-19 pandemic (SHOPPING)
- To watch one of the 9 Star Wars films that has been created (ENTERTAINMENT)
As you can see, these are 3 very drastically different intents and the search engines will try to understand exactly the results to serve each of these queries. You should as well, as you consider exactly who is in your target search audience.
Putting It All Together
Now that you’ve answered all these questions, you want to compile it together. You’re going to describe a target search audience that adequately shows who would be a primary buyer to your website.
Don’t make the mistake and say that you want everyone to come to your website. This may be the case down the road, but even Facebook, Amazon, Pinterest, and Etsy all started by targeting a specific niche market.
Also, don’t make your focus too small. You want to be sure you can drive enough visitors to grow your website. Even if you are in a very small market, look at who you can include in your search audience that may overlap from another market.
To conclude, here are a few fictional target search audience profiles that I created for you to see:
- GolfPoser.com: “Our target search audience are males between ages 35 and 50 who live in suburban areas, enjoy golfing and want to look stylish. They spend two to three hours online and use search only to find popular brands they trust.”
- J-14.com: “Our target search audience are teenage girls living in the inner city who tend to idolize pop stars and buy items that boost their status among their peers. They are heavy social media users but use search to find out the latest news on their fashion ideals.”
- FoodStorageDepot.com: “Our target search audience are females between the ages of 30 to 45 who live in rural areas, are family centered and long term planners. They have their own blog and use search to find new approaches to being prepared for a traumatic emergency.