Micro PersonasAs the lines between traditional Organic Optimization, User Experience, Data Analysis and Content Strategy continue to blur, it has become paramount that we learn to understand our audience. As easy as this sounds to do, its even easier to ignore!

Commerce/Retail sites have long since understood their audience. It is reasonable to say that they’ve had an unfair advantage from all those years of foot traffic before this internet thingy came along, but… They did take the time to understand who they were doing business with. From their example, there are few things that we could consider when engaging a new client.

Who is the Audience?

You know that step in the process we call the ‘discovery phase’? This is the ideal place to allocate time to ask questions relative to what your client knows about their current audience (i.e. customer base). If you plan to be effective, its critical to understand the answers to questions like:

  • Are there multiple audiences?
  • What are audiences major characteristics?
  • Are they young? Old? Executives? Wealthy or Modest?
  • How does their search start? Is it direct type? Is it query based?
  • Are the most common queries all brand? Or are the queries long and unusual? Both?
  • Are there any defined types of questions or task they are trying to satisfy when they engage the site?
  • What type of technology are the site’s visitors using? (IE6 on dial-up with JavaScript disabled?)
  • How fast has mobile usage increased over the last 6 -12 months?
  • Is it a long onsite process for a visitor or a quick and simple one?
  • Is there CRM data (or the like) that you can review?
  • etc… etc… etc (you’re getting the idea)

The answers to these questions can help you extract valuable information about the audience you will ultimately be tasked with attracting, facilitating, and converting. It can be somewhat eye opening how much these insights will inform your keyword, anchor text/linking, and message architecture strategies. From these insights, you will have the bear minimum data required to start developing ‘micro-personas’ or simple scenario based personifications of your client’s audience members.

Micro-personas take the focus away from those dreaded and usually unreasonable “I gotta rank #1 for keyword goes here” conversations and orients it around strategic content coordination. With micro-personas, you will have names, personalities, and specific tasks that must be satisfied by the site in order for it to be labeled as effective (and valuable) by its users. By personifying the ‘stupid user’, anyone involved with the site’s management will be able to more immediately identify with them. These are people, just like they are, trying to accomplish many of the same things. Additionally, micro-personas can give you the traction you need to align business goals, SEO goals, and user goals across business division and through the sales funnel. If they are able to identify with, and are talking about, Jason, the mid 40′s tech executive that lives at airports and demands mobile access, or Megan, the late 20′s mommy blogger, the requirement of designing practical content to meet Jason and Megan’s needs can get some serious executive support and resource horsepower. Quickly.

Developing Micro-Personas

Note: This is not true persona development with heavy weight demographic and ethnographic research behind it, hence why we refer to them as micro-personas. It is a relatively simple effort, utilizing simple and usually existing data, intended to aid you in better understanding who you are expected to reach with your strategic content efforts.

In order to develop a micro-personsa, it requires the aggregation of data from survey questions like those referenced above, as well as reviewing some of the site’s data from collection mechanisms like a Google Analytics, Raven Tools, Omniture, Coremetrics, CRM etc.

Use these data sets to get a quick sense of the most common destination pages, most common success events, and most common departure pages. Then, review referring source and technical user profile data. Grab as much geographic data as you can from these technical profiles. If you have CRM access, you can get at gender, probable profession, and age ratios. This type of review will help expose the basic experience(s) the majority of visitors are having with the site. It will also help give you the opportunity to consider what environmental or lifestyle forces are working with/against them when engaging with the site. Once this data is aggregated, you can analyze it and then overlay it against the declared business objectives.

This analysis drill will inform you as to whither or not the site’s user are actually behaving in accordance with the declared marketing/business objectives. Mirco-personas can play a valuable role in helping you extract the facts from the established (and usually cloudy) KPIs an organization is utilizing to define online success. It is very common for these to be way off. When you are able to expose, via data, where these paths are not aligned, you have the opportunity to make a major positive impact on a project.

More than anything, its critical that you don’t go on assumptions. You know what your grandma has to say about that… Any assumption, without supporting data, is nothing more than you showing off your creative story telling abilities. Occasionally, you will have to use assumptions to fill in small gaps in the data. Common sense should dictate which are safe to make. Use your best judgment and be sure to clearly declare which portions of the micro-persona are assumptive. You’ll do a much better job of managing your credibility if you call this out early in the process.

While we like and often utilize micro-personas, we also appreciate that not every organization cares about or is prepared to deal with personas. Regardless of if you put a name, face and scenario details to the the data, we have found that using these tactics during the discovery phase provide valuable insights about the client’s business that we would not have gotten otherwise. These insights allow for more effective conversations, as we are able to ask better questions and speak more of the business domain’s vocabulary. After all, speaking to a client in their language, and not ours, does nothing but add more value to the services being provided.