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4.3 Audience Personas: An Overview

How to identify audience personas in Google Analytics

In addition to identifying broad audience segments, it’s a useful exercise to formulate what the marketing industry calls user personas. A persona is a step beyond a description of your notional target customer or segment; it’s a more rounded fictional character who encapsulates and represents some distinct part of your audience. The advantage of developing personas is twofold: first, thinking through the characteristics of your personas helps you identify important aspects of your actual or target audience more clearly. And second, holding a user persona in mind as if it were a real person helps you personalize your site, apps and communications, making it all more targeted and more engaging.

So, what does a persona cover? A fully fleshed out buyer persona includes everything from demographic information to hobbies, and from career history to family size, all written as if the persona were a real person. It should provide insights into your customers and what’s relevant to them, including what they’re looking for, how they go about finding it and what factors might influence them to make or break the purchase.

What to consider when defining personas in Analytics?

  1. How do they use social media?
  2. How much time do they spend online?
  3. Where do they work? What are the biggest challenges they face at work?
  4. Which blogs, news sources or media do they consume on a regular basis?
  5. What are their communication preferences?
  6. How do they find their information?
  7. What is their previous customer experience and what do they want to change about it?
  8. What gets them out of bed and what keeps them up at night?

How to create audience personas

How do you develop user personas? Many businesses begin with traditional market research methods, including questionnaires, and look for patterns in the characteristics of their actual customers. Talking to your customer-facing staff can be invaluable. There are some very helpful, well-established templates available online which you can use to organize your data and your thinking.

You can also draw data from your CRM, consumer research and social channels. You might decide to conduct focus groups or interviews to gain further insight, in which case you should approach both existing and potential customers.


Within Analytics, you can create four broad personas simply by combining “site average pages per session” with “site average session duration” or time on site. This should give you enough data to create four segments[1]:

  • Methodical Mary: visits the site for a long time and looks at more pages than average. These users are taking their time to decide.
  • One-hit Juan: visits few pages but looks for a long time. Might be enjoying your video content, or knows exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Lost Lucy: hits a lot of pages in a short time but doesn’t spend any significant amount of time on any. May be looking for something but not finding it.
  • Bouncy Bob: visits fewer pages than average and stays for a shorter time. Possibly just a casual browser.

Once you have these segments, you can examine each one’s purchase rates, page flows and devices used. For a more detailed picture, you can begin by looking at the keywords that brought users to your site:



Examine Keywords

1. Start looking

Under Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium, set the Primary Dimension to Keyword. This will show keyword searches. The vast majority will be “not provided”, but the results you’ll get might be enough to get started.

2. Organize keywords

Now look at the keywords and group them into categories or themes. Use this to identify people searching for these themes. Make a list of personas such as “Serious runners interested in buying sneakers locally for under $100,” or “Beginners thinking about getting into mountain climbing.”

3. Refine by referrals

Under Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals, click the Secondary Dimension drop-down and select Landing Page. The patterns and preferences you find will help you create a sharpened buyer persona for each social network on which your brand has a presence.

4. Fill out the detail with social media

On Twitter, for example, look at “your followers also follow”. On Facebook, you can use Graph Search to learn more about the interests of your fans by running queries such as “pages liked by fans of [your business page]”. Examine the smaller social media sites your audience frequents to narrow down their interests.

How to use audience personas

How do you use customer personas? Once you’ve created a persona, you can adjust everything from the words you use on the phone to the content that’s served up on your website to ensure that prospective buyers receive the sales pitches that will be most persuasive to their personal situations. In traditional face-to-face or telephone marketing, you might ask a clarifying question (or series of questions) on initial contact to help you identify which persona is the closest fit, such as these:

  • What do you see as your biggest business challenges?
  • What one thing are you hoping to get out of a solution like ours?
  • How do you see our solution helping solve your problems?
  • Are you more concerned about [defining persona characteristic] or [characteristic of another buyer persona]?
  • If I could help you with one thing, what would you like that to be?

Of course, the individual you’re dealing with might not perfectly match a predefined persona, or the answer you get might not be one you’ve anticipated. But an approach like this can be specifically helpful on your website. If you’re capturing leads on the site, include a clarifying question along these lines in your opt-in form, and you’ll have not just prospects’ names and contact information, but also an insight into how to appeal to them. In advertising or email campaigns, create separate ads or mailings using different language that will appeal to different personas, and include different response codes; that way, you’ll have a good idea of the likeliest relevant persona as soon as you receive each enquiry.

If you can deploy a responsive tool such as Hubspot, your site can serve up dynamic content based on the buyer persona you’ve assigned to your prospects: when your website detects their IP addresses during their visits, everything from alternative call-to-action buttons to entire blocks of content can be called up to appeal specifically to their interests.

You can also use Hubspot – or an alternative marketing automation program such as Marketo or Pardot – to tailor email campaigns to each prospect’s persona and stage in the sales process, or even do the same thing manually.

How to analyze your competitors’ audiences

There are tools available for more detailed analysis. A useful start is a free resource called Quantcast. Type a URL into Quantcast and you’ll get a whole range of demographic information about the site. To find out how visitors are responding to your competitor sites’ content, visit Quicksprout. Type in a URL, and Quicksprout will produce a list of the most shared pieces of content on that site. This will give you a good indication of what that audience is interested in, and therefore suggest what general content you might benefit from adding on your site or blog.

We’ve mentioned Google’s Industry Benchmarking reports in Analytics (Audience > Benchmarking), which enables you to compare your own sites with aggregated information from others in comparable industries. You can filter by location or devices used. But what if you want to compare against specific competitors? You can visit their sites and investigate them manually to assess what they’re doing or failing to do, and see for yourself whether there are any broken links or shortcomings in their site design and navigation; and you can also try a keyword search, using the terms you regard as critical, and find out how they rank compared to your site. All this, however, doesn’t give you the kind of detailed metrics to compare with what Analytics gives you for your own site.

There are many more. For example:

  • Smart Insights: offers a huge roundup of tools for online competitor benchmarking.
  • KISSmetrics: provides a blog post rounding up 25 online tools for finding information about competitors.
  • InfoTrust: its blog lists six free tools for analyzing competitor site traffic.


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