Leveraging audience insights in display and social marketing is second nature. But these insights also can and should be a part of your search marketing strategy. This post details the advantages of elevating personas with audience segments.

Too often, marketing strategies sport a set-it-and-forget-it mindset based on personas, which are assumptions—extrapolated from user research—about who a company’s customers are. A research firm typically delivers personas, which are then adopted by company stakeholders as a shorthand for customer types. Historically, marketers build a search strategy around personas alone.

While personas provide a starting place for companies to understand their customers, the chief hazard in building strategy around static insights (formulated once every five years, say) is that actual audiences are not static but dynamic.

This post provides a dynamic approach to understanding and marketing to actual customers in real-time.

What is an audience segment?

An audience segment is a list of people grouped by common characteristics, including shared specific interests, intents, and demographics. A marketer can select from a broad range of categories for targeting purposes within an audience. For example, an audience you might want to sell to is “parents,” and a category within “parents” is “parents of 1-5-year-olds.” Marketers can apply audiences to keywords to help filter and improve marketing campaigns’ bidding and targeting.

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How can audience segments improve search marketing campaigns?

While personas are handy to have, customers search the internet like humans, not unchanging personas. Companies can use audience segments to elevate and verify personas since audience segments deliver real-time insights about who is currently interacting with the company and how to craft campaigns to reach increasingly appropriate customers dynamically.

The difference in using audience insights in coordination with personas is the ability to observe customer behavior and then change content or experiences based on real-time data, not just upon an extrapolated data set.

Further, audience insights can improve search marketing campaigns along two different paths:

  1. The path of how a firm can change its message to reach a customer
  2. The path of how a customer’s experience will change once they’ve engaged the firm

While applying audience insights to SEO and SEM has marketing implications and on-site optimization implications, we’ll focus on the first one here. Immediately, once you have audience insights, you can begin to optimize your marketing strategy. For your SEO or your search campaigns, you can critically look at the data, start applying that information to your campaigns, and find media more smartly.

Why invest time and money in an audience strategy for search marketing?

After all, if people are searching for our products or services, aren’t they automatically raising their hand to interact with us? And if low-cost-per-lead/cost-per-conversion customers are coming to us anyway, what is this call for extra work! But audience strategy is straightforward—it’s merely the process of layering on to our SEO and SEM strategies what we know about the audience we intend to watch or engage.

Audience insights can, in real-time, let you know the best way to spend your marketing budget. Let’s use the example of tax preparation. Someone raises their hand and says, “I want to file my taxes,” so they Google, “file taxes.” But a tax prep company doesn’t want to show an ad to EVERYONE who wants to file their taxes (because budgets are limited, after all). The tax prep company wants to show an ad to the most potentially profitable prospect—not a recent college grad, for example, but a married business owner with complex tax needs.

So, marketers can layer on audiences to sort the hand-raisers into the customers that a company wants to reach. Marketers can spend less budget on traffic that’s not qualified or irrelevant and dynamically allocate spend to prospects with the highest profit potential, thereby increasing ROI.

Executing an audience strategy 
You can execute audience strategies for different, interrelated intentions and goals for:  

1. Your media: If you intend to learn more about your audience, use an audience layer on top of your keywords. This approach is FREE.  It requires no risk or bid adjustments and doesn’t change anything you’re doing. It will show you how many of the people who are clicking on your ads fall into the audience list, and you’ll get insights into how your audience is likely to perform.

Alternatively, you can layer on bid adjustments onto your audience. This choice allows for dynamic change—based on the audience observations and the real time performance—and gives you, the marketer, control over how much you spend on prospective leads based on their estimated worth to your business.

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2. Your SEO And SEM content: Once you’ve learned from the audiences you discovered in your media, you can create tailored SEO and SEM content that speaks to your customers as a whole person rather than just an anonymous user on your site. When you apply audiences to your SEO content strategy, you can create varied content and see how it plays with your audience.

3. Your PPC landing pages: You can apply the learnings from your SEO strategy and the content you created to your paid media landing pages. Then, you can test and differentiate the traffic coming to the page and the effectiveness of how you’re speaking to page visitors. Ultimately, your PPC landing pages can either inform SEO content, or you can optimize them based on observing the performance of your content with a given audience. Landing pages enable  you to test quickly, as you can use your budget to control the amount of traffic you are driving to them.

Testing with an audience strategy

Marketers often get testing with an audience layer wrong. If you were to ask an optimization expert if most of our testing with audiences was an actual test, they’d giggle.

What we call “testing with audiences” can move through a spectrum of intent/involvement. 

  • Want to do on-site testing? → set up a strict test with rules, guardrails, and traffic split
  • Want to learn more about your audiences? → layer on a few audiences and monitor the performance
  • Want to make dynamic changes in real time → simply launch into a strategy and iterate from there.  

When testing with audiences, one thing to consider is the  the role that AI can have in these campaigns and their success. Google’s built-in AI and Smart Bidding  work as a multi-armed bandit and will lean your campaigns toward better-performing groupings without your explicit say-so. Because of this, it’s difficult to control whether your groups get divided equitably, which is important to keep in mind if you intend to test based on randomly selected people.

The barrier to entry for applying audience insihts to SEO and SEM is extremely low. Start learning more about your audiences by implementing one or more of the strategies listed above today.

Need help to apply audience insights to SEO and SEM? We can help build the best data-driven strategy for you. Reach out here.

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