Using Personas to Drive Quality Traffic: An Interview With Grant Simmons, Homes.com

In the fourth of a series of interviews with speakers leading up to ClickZ Live New York, Grant Simmons from Homes.com gave SEW‘s sister publication ClickZ some all-important tips on how to think about using personas to drive quality traffic to our websites.

ClickZ (CZ): Tell us a bit about you role at Homes.com and what you’re tasked with achieving for the brand.

Grant Simmons (GS): We’re not a true digital-era brand, having roots in traditional publishing, which makes for some interesting challenges and opportunities.

The challenges we’re constantly working to overcome are mostly around our competitive positioning in the real estate vertical against mature, venture-backed Silicon Valley start-ups that allocate significant budgets for their branding, partnerships, and marketing.

My role is really about finding ways to whisper the Homes.com brand to success, rather than trying to out shout and out-spend our competitors.

The opportunities stem from (i) a brilliant and memorable domain name, so one of my goals is to give that name meaning, importance, and additional influence, and (ii) a solid foundation – in both resources and search visibility – on which to continue to build a competitive vertical strategy.

A lot of folks ask how we can compete against the much bigger brands…I’m fortunate to have a smart team, control most of B2C marketing – no silos between SEO, content, social, and paid search – and work with upper management peers who have a shared and achievable vision of success.

CZ: Your session at ClickZ Live in New York is on leveraging personas for search success. For the uninitiated, how are brands using personas in search to deliver better traffic to their sites?

GS: First off, I like the way the question is phrased…personas aren’t simply about driving more traffic to sites, though that can be one of the outcomes, it’s really more about “better” traffic to sites.

A lot of brands work on analyzing their current site traffic to develop personas, and although that can give valuable insights about who they already attract to their site, it may not give the insights into who they actually want coming to their site, and that’s more about key site goals.

Key goals are trackable outcomes to help define the value of a site visitor and might be based on conversion metrics, engagement metrics, and or site usage metrics. “Metrics That Matter.”

So personas come down to targeting and understanding the audience most likely to exceed your key goals, and that’s simply what a buyer persona is – an understanding of your brand’s ideal customer. It’s not just simple demographics, though.

UNDERSTANDING should perhaps be in capitals, because it’s more psychological than anything else, but can be broken down into a few facets:

Static elements:

Who they are? Demographics of age, marital status, location etc.

Search elements:

Where they look? Channels, platforms, device preferences etc.

What messaging and medium will resonate with them? This is the trickier bit and requires research, testing, and validation. Some of the media decisions may come down to platform. For example, Pinterest for female audience = visual media, but then testing what works best is key. For example, do DIY images or kitchen images get the audience to engage and act?

“Search” elements deal with both the intent of the person searching and the context of how they search, considering the queries they use, the device they use, where they search from, their preferred answer, and a host of other psychological influences such as brand, community, social, and prior experiences.

Here’s an example. Families with aging parents at some point have to make a decision. Will mom (or dad) move in with us, or will we need to find a nursing home? Providing resources, information, guidance, and expertise at the right time for these folks might be a key initiative.

By understanding who this group of folks are, though, where one can find them, and the kind of messaging that’s going to connect with them, brands can create tangible connections that may immediately and/or later drive some of the metrics that matter.

Ultimately, brands that leverage the correct personas to align their channel marketing, design, content strategy, and tactics – and execute well – are going to achieve both “more and more better” site visitors.

CZ: How do you suggest a marketer new to this approach think about personas from a digital perspective?

GS: One common mistake is to initially try and make personas as broad as possible to address as many consumers as possible. It’s also a contrary challenge to hyper-segment an audience pool and end up with too many potential targeting options.

The simplest way of taking a first pass is to segment by mobile usage and channel usage. This week I was giving a training to some new Homes.com employees and asked them three simple questions:

  1. Do they use Google or Bing to search?
  2. Do they search on their desktop/laptop or their mobile phones?
  3. Do they use an Android or iOS mobile phone?

Based on these new employees’ ages and answers, I can make some following assumptions: most 21-25 year olds use iOS mobile phones to search on Google.

It’s a good start, but depending on my product or service I would want to dive a lot deeper through asking additional questions, observing trends, researching through third-party information sites, and understanding “why” they may be searching.

Next is an understanding of “where” they might frequent online. Which websites attract this demographic, where is there proof they visit, and what kind of messaging or content would potentially inspire them to move into my buyer funnel.

Can you reach the right audience, with the right message at the right time and place to optimize your engagement with them to inspire them into your buying funnel?

CZ: What kind of engagement tactics work to keep target audiences interested and what kind of content helps usher them down the funnel?

GS: Each industry is going to be different, and each persona is going to have different tactics that drive engagement. And a lot of the choice also comes down to device and user context.

Tactics should be a part of your persona document, targeted to different parts of the user journey to help drive them closer to a conversion point.

These tactics should also be measured for value – micro-conversions – so they can be monitored and help inform strategy.

At the highest level, landing pages should do the following:

Paid Channels: Tease the user with enough credible content, authority signals, and reason to inspire the next click or conversion from the landing page itself.

Organic Channels: Answer the query and provide obvious “next steps” of internal linking to inspire exploration.

For different personas the credibility and authority signals might be different, for example: Millennials might be convinced by a celebrity, whereas an Empty Nester might need a doctor in a lab coat.

Page engagement tactics can also vary by persona with size, color, design, artwork, and messaging. As in every potential scenario, the primary justification tactics are to test to validate, and iterate to improve.

I’m also a big believe in edutainment. Or “learning by accident.” If you can provide content that informs, educates, AND entertains, you’re more liable to inspire interaction, engagement, and sharing via social.

While talking social, persona research loves social media because it’s a quicker and almost “live” medium for feedback and stats. No persona project should omit social channels and platform as an integral part of overall strategy, and social plugins, apps, and inclusion can make a big difference in positively affecting on page engagement and interaction. An example would be the inclusion of a “Your Facebook Friends” module showing connections that have liked a particular brand. This kind of peer recommendation can – for the right persona – have a massive influence on site visitors.

Another way to integrate social is through contests and content modules or social hubs. Empty Nesters may not be as active on social, but including photography or writing contests within a site, around subjects of interest to an older generation, can provide great reasons for this demographic to engage and explore.

Lastly, attention span is a commodity worth noting for younger demographics as both limited and valuable. Understanding that pages are scanned, not read, and that images, videos, and interactive elements tend to work better for some personas than others, can be key to developing a content strategy that works.

Can you reach the right audience, with the right message at the right time and place to optimize your engagement with them to inspire them to move down buying funnel?

CZ: How do you hope delegates will feel when they leave your session at ClickZ Live at the end of March?

GS: Inspired, educated, entertained, and empowered.

And gung-ho to get home and put some persona targeting to the test!

Grant Simmons will speaking at ClickZ Live New York on Tuesday, March 31 at 11:15 a.m. on a panel entitled “The Power of Persuasion: Using Buyer Personas to Increase Relevance.”

Get your ticket to ClickZ Live New York by registering here! Early-bird rates expire February 27.

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