Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.
In an effort to get your website in front of as many eyeballs as possible, you turn to search engine optimization as your savior. Following the advice of the nearest SEO Guru, you enthusiastically approach your keyword research in order to find “the right” words to target. The ones with the most traffic and the least competition. With the precision and grace of a wrecking ball, you weave each of these phrases into your content and wait for the “blizzard” of traffic you were promised.
But that “blizzard” ends up being more of a dusting. And although your ranking and traffic seem to have increased slightly, the only measurement that really counts didn’t. Your phone still isn’t ringing.
What happened to that fairy tale ending you were promised?
Here’s What Really Happened…
Using the exact same keyword research tool as everyone else, you came up with the exact same list of highly competitive words as everyone else. Shocker. With the Internet nearing one billion websites, you would have a better chance of finding The Loch Ness Monster dancing the cha-cha with Sasquatch than you would finding a keyword phrase that gets loads of traffic without much competition.
Next, you took the keyword phrases that you found and wrote pages and pages of “SEO friendly content” which is just a fancy shmancy way of saying “sales text that is crammed full of keywords in an effort to make Google happy when all it really does is make you sound like English is your third language.”
With me so far? Good.
Now, within a reasonable amount of time you may find yourself ranking well for some of these keywords resulting in a slight increase in traffic. And yet an increase in your bounce rate as well. In other words, the new visitors that are now able to find you don’t seem to like you. They don’t want to hire you. They don’t want to buy from you. And they aren’t telling their friends about you.
What’s the Problem?
It all started with your keyword research. Your entire strategy was developed around Google instead of actual human beings. You researched words that Google found to be popular. You wrote text that you felt Google would find valuable. But you never asked yourself who you were targeting and what they actually needed.
Those new visitors were nothing more than unqualified tick marks on your analytics chart. They aren’t connecting with you because your content was never really meant for them. It’s as if they walked in on someone else’s conversation. And that’s going to continue to happen regardless of how well you rank unless you change your strategy.
The year of the search engine is over. It is now the year of the visitor. (Tweet This!)
Focus on them. Give them what they want. Teach them what they are here to learn. Answer their questions. Look them in the proverbial eye and speak directly to them.
In other words, give a shit about them. Focus all of your energy on solving their problems instead of solving your problems.
Pull the thorn out of their side and you will succeed on all levels. Including your search engine ranking.
This is What I Call People Research
People research is the act of discovering who your ideal clients are and how to attract them by learning how they search and what their expectations are once they land on your website.
This is what you do when you stop focusing on the quantity of your traffic and start focusing on the quality of your traffic.
It’s about getting to know them inside and out including:
- Knowing what language they speak
- Knowing what problems they need solved
- Knowing how to meet their expectations
- Knowing how to connect with them
- Knowing what words they are searching
It’s knowing this information that is going to give you a leg up on your competition. Not a list of keywords.
People Research in Three Simple Steps
While keyword research is about targeting words, people research is about targeting people. Actual human beings. The same ones that are likely to hire you if they are able to connect with you.
This can be done in three simple steps.
Let’s start by creating a list of our ideal clients. There could be several factors that might make someone an ideal client such as:
- They are very profitable
- They are easy to work with
- They need the type of work you like doing most
- They give a lot of referrals
- They are big players in their industry
- They share their experiences on social media
- They offer a lot of repeat business
Here are some ways to help you start to find some of these ideal clients:
Existing Clients: Have you already been in business for a little while? Search through your existing client base and write down the names of your best clients. Not just the ones who make you the most money, but the ones who are easy to work with. The ones who come back to purchase often. The ones who give you a lot of referrals. The ones who make you think, “if I only had more of these…”
Competitor’s Clients: Take a long hard look at the website of one of your more successful competitors and jot down the names of some of their clients. Chances are if they are posting them on their site, it is a client they are proud of. Meaning it is likely one of their ideal clients. We’re not out to steal from them but that doesn’t mean that we can’t learn from them!
Use Your Imagination: Grab a pen and paper and get away from the computer for a few minutes. Don’t worry, Facebook will still be there when you get back. Now, close your eyes and let your mind wander off thinking about your ideal workday. What is your favorite thing to do within the business? If you are a graphic designer, is it logo design? Website design? Catalogs? Think through the things you love to do and then start to paint a picture of the person who needs this service.
Once you have your basic list of ideal clients, it’s time to get to know them a little better. Answer these questions as best you can for each. If you are able to interview actual ideal clients for these answers, even better!
- What is their age range?
- What gender are they? Does it matter?
- What is their education level?
- Where are they located? (city, state and/or country)
- Do they have a specific occupation or position within a company? If so, what is it?
- What types of questions or challenges do they have?
- What is important to them? (e.g.. price, quality, timeframe, etc.)
- What do they struggle with most?
Do this for each type of client that you want to do business with. Not just that you can do business with.
Once you are able to answer these questions for each of your ideal clients, the next step is to tell their story. I know this sounds a little loopy, but do it anyway. Give them a name. Write their bio. Make them human. Because out there, they are.
Here’s an example taken from the book Search Engine Humanization:
Meet Pete Peterson. He’s a small business owner located in northern New Jersey. He has a small budget but respects and understands the value of a good website. Because of that he is not interested in a do-it-yourself or template solution, nor does he want to go with a large agency that is going to charge him five figures. He has a basic understanding of how things work but is looking for a vendor whom he can trust to grab the ball and run with it. He has too much on his plate already to have to hold someone else’s hand. He is an avid researcher, which makes him an educated client. He is a nice guy who appreciates small talk and not just all business. Once Pete finds the right vendor, he will be with him or her forever.
This bio tells us a lot about Pete. We have a good idea of his budget (he’s not looking for the cheapest solution, nor the most expensive). We know quality is important (he’s not interested in a template or a do-it-yourself solution). We know what he is looking for when he gets to your website (he’s an avid researcher, so he likely found his way to your website while looking for answers and would like to see more). We know he is looking for a relationship, not just a vendor (he appreciates small talk and will stay with the same company forever). And much more.
Knowing all this information about Pete will no doubt affect the language you use throughout the pages of your site. It will affect what you write about, the questions you answer and most importantly, the words you use…the same words Pete searches. It will help you attract more clients like Pete, from the minute they begin their search until they hire you. And because Pete is an ideal client, having more just like him is exactly what your business needs.
Keyword Research Versus People Research
Suppose you were doing your traditional keyword research when you stumbled upon the term Website Design Firm that appears to get a significant amount of traffic without being too competitive. You in turn write several pages of content relevant to that term with the thought of ranking well for it.
The problem is Pete. If you remember, he was on a pretty tight budget. Enough so that we specified that he was not looking for a big agency. Because of that, we can determine it’s fairly unlikely that he will search terms like Website Design Firm or Website Design Agency because the words “firm” and “agency” tend to cater to larger organizations.
He is much more likely to search Website Design Company or even get local and search New Jersey Website Design Company knowing a local shop is more in line with what he is looking for.
If your goal was to attract Pete as a new client, traditional keyword research would not have gotten it done. It required extensive people research and having a clear vision of your ideal clients to have attracted Pete and other visitors just like him. In other words, ideal clients.
At the end of the day, unless you are selling page impressions, it really doesn’t matter how much traffic you get if it’s the wrong traffic. Targeting people instead of words will help you get closer to your goal of meeting those that want to do business with you. But better than that, people that you want to do business with as well.
Are You Up For A Challenge?
Now it’s your turn. That’s right, it’s time for some homework. Come up with a bio for one of your ideal clients and add it to the comments below with a link to your website. Not only will it help you by building a legitimate link to your website (something we’ll talk about later) but more importantly, it will get you started with this exercise.
I promise to dig through every ideal client profile posted here give you my feedback and recommendations. Perhaps the others within the community will as well! That’s a hint people within the community!