Who’s looking for you? (SEM 101)

Quick note from the author: The closing teaser from my last post said the next post would cover building a toolbox. I’ve decided to take another tack on this and make references to tools as we go along in the series to keep the unfolding story as interesting, active, and relevant as possible. Sorry for the misdirection! – Rick


Before you can begin to effectively optimize and market your website for your audience, you need to know who that audience is.

Who are your website’s customers today? From which group can you effectively draw the most response, whether that be an online sale, a visit to your brick-and-mortar business, a subscription to your newsletter, or whatever it is you’re offering? That really depends upon who you are. Think about it for a moment.

Who are you looking for?

I can hear some folks now. “I want everyone to know about my site/business/service/fill-in-the-blank.” Sure. And I want to find a million dollars in my piggy bank. Every day. But is that realistic? (It certainly isn’t for me!) But you will likely find great success if you define your primary audience as the one with the highest potential for conversions (where the website visitor “converts” to a customer by buying/subscribing/downloading something, which fulfills the goal of your website). Spending your limited search engine marketing (SEM) budget on ill-defined or poorly selected audiences will only waste your money, limiting your return on investment. Consider who is the best potential target for your type of business, but also be sure to consider the caveats of your particular business.

For example, if you are a restaurant owner, your most effective advertising will most likely be to your local residents. Unless you just hired a new, Michelin-rated chef and are located in Napa, CA, New York City, on the Las Vegas strip, or other such major culinary tourist destination spot, the highest percentage of your nightly customer base are not likely to be out-of-towners. Your best bets are with locals.

How about the B&B owner? I’d guess that very few of your customers drive a few blocks away from their own home to stay overnight at your B&B, even if they are die-hard B&B patrons when they travel. As such, casting a wider net is needed to capture this likely audience, such as regional and, as success grows, eventually national, in scope, but not necessarily with folks across the globe. It might be true, though, that locals might like to refer their visiting in-laws there, so locals could be a secondary audience. Then again, if your B&B is exceptionally attractive and can accommodate private events such as wedding parties, off-site business meetings, and the like, then the local audience comes back into the picture as a potential primary audience.

How about an online retailer? Since you likely offer shipping, then limiting the scope to local or even regional folks is not necessary (unless the product has primarily a local/regional appeal, such as local sports team paraphernalia). This audience would likely be nationwide.

And for a highly specialized service designed around an unusual resource, such as organizing and leading Alaskan wilderness salmon fishing trip adventures, then you might find there is a niche, but global audience for your site.

You’ve no doubt noticed that the caveats to this abound, but this is all good. Now you’re thinking about the specific audience for your site based on what it is you offer.

Confirm your suspicions

You certainly know your business better than anyone else, but double-check your assumptions. To discover who’s actually visiting your site today, turn to the power of web analytics. Web analytics tools collect, analyze, and report on the data received from the Internet about your web site.

With web analytics tools, you can learn a great deal of information about who is accessing your site. You can typically learn how visitors come to your site (be it from search engines referrals, inbound links from other sites, or users directly typing your URL in their browser), where they are physically located (broken out by country, region, state, and even city), how many pages they view when they get there, how many of your visitors converted, and much more. You can get reports on all sorts of data collected about the way visitors use your site and its visibility on the Web.

Web analytics is done in two ways. Some tools are considered to be off-site analytics, and they analyze your site’s potential and measure its current visibility on the Web. Most analytics tools, however, are called on-site, and they measure the actual traffic through your site. Some of these tools use your web server’s access logs for the visitor data, but other on-site tools require some type of tracking mechanism be added to each page of your website so that the analytics engine can collect visitor data.

Web analytics tools are available through a variety of sources. Some web analytics tool providers charge fees, while other tools can be used free of charge. Find one you like and set up an account for your site. Note that analytics tools using the tracking mechanism of data collection need time to gather their data; they won’t offer much meaningful reporting initially. But that’s all the reason more to set it up ASAP! Once you have visitor data to analyze, you can confirm whether your assessments about your primary audience are borne out. We’ll talk more about exploring the utility of web analytics in later posts.

Help them find you

Evaluating your business knowledge and using web analytics tools is the process of identifying who is truly your best-bet, primary audience. And once done, you’ll be better equipped to make your site more discoverable to those folks. If you manage an Italian restaurant, do you really think your goal is to get the top rank for the search phrase “Italian restaurants”? It’s not realistic (unless you run a huge, nationally known restaurant franchise!). It’s also not really desirable. Who wants to spend the time addressing e-mails from out-of-towners asking pointless questions when they will likely never spend a dime at your tables? But ranking high for a more targeted search, such as “Italian restaurants Redmond WA,” might be a very good goal to pursue for your local patrons. After all, those local patrons are the ones who, by percentage, do the most to cover your monthly bills and payroll with their spending.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen websites for small, local companies who seem to assume everyone seeing their site already knows who they are, where they are located, and how to contact them. These sites are typically for brick-and-mortar businesses that have all but hidden where they are physically located, yet for all intents and purposes, their intended audience is strictly local. It’s as if they used the text from their local print advertising for their website (in fact, they probably did). How is that going to help them increase business through web search? How will the search engines even know to rank them with high relevance when a searcher looks for their business in their locality? They won’t, and that’s a lost conversion opportunity.

Alternatively, online retailers who focus on local information are also missing the point. If the primary audience wants to buy from you, they will most likely want the item shipped. Emphasis on your office location is likely of little relevance to the vast majority of them. Focus on what your audience needs to know, not on what you want to tell them. But to do that, you need to first know who they are.

What we’ve been dancing around and leading up to here is the concept of developing keywords. But to make those keywords work, you have to know who will be using them. Who’s looking for you? Help them find you!

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to post them in our SEM forum. Until next time…

— Rick DeJarnette, Live Search Webmaster Center

Share on twitter Share on facebook Share on linkedin Share on linkedin