Searcher Personas: The Card Framework

A couple of months ago we published an article on Search Engine Watch called Searcher Personas: A Case for User-Centric SEO, where we proposed that the SEO research process should begin before Keyword Research, to get a better understanding of the people behind the search queries and how they tick.  We promised to further our ideas on the iProspect blog – think of this as Part II in the series.

First of all, let’s step back for a moment and think about where SEO fits within the bigger picture of digital marketing.

The Digital Marketing Ecosystem

When we’re talking user-centric marketing, we’re looking to address the customer journey that starts with a need of a group of people.  The purpose of personas, as described in our previous post, is to understand those groups of people – represented by the outer ring in the diagram above.  We then look at the acquisition or marketing channel – those in the middle ring – which in our case (for this post) is search engines.

Our goal is to understand the entire journey from the moment that the consumer has a need, to the point where he or she lands on the website (and eventually makes a purchase).  We also want a simple way to communicate that understanding in a way that is easy and quick to digest and share.

Our solution is to use cards to summarize each facet of the customer journey.  For now, we’ll skip over the details on how to create the cards, and instead focus on what the cards are and why we chose this framework.

We propose two different types of card: the User Card and the Context Card.  The User Card addresses the outer ring in the above diagram, and the Context Card addresses a specific marketing channel.

The User Card summarizes who the persona is, where they come from, what makes them tick, their needs, their pain points, how they use the web, their digital habits, their relationship with the client company and the niche, and anything else that is relevant to the user in general.

The Context Card summarizes the marketing channel or other specific aspect of the journey.  In our case we’re looking at how the persona uses search engines in general and within the client niche – Keyword Research would inform this card.  Other areas to look at might be mobile usage behaviours, content expectations, or any area that needs special attention.

So if you have a fully fleshed-out set of personas for your business, you might have something that looks like this.

In this example you would have three personas, each with a user card and a set of context cards (for search, content, mobile or anything).  Each of these cards is backed up by a data set and methodology, since the purpose is to add meaningful insight to your digital marketing efforts.

You can mix and match your cards too.  Once you have all of the Organic Search cards completed for each persona, for example, you can bring them together to inform your overall SEO strategy.

The search engine, query (and possible query refinements), results page, and subsequent landing page are all part of the customer journey though the search engine acquisition channel.  Each persona may have a different perspective going into a search engine activity – our objective is to understand this and develop our SEO strategy so that we target the right keywords for each persona and offer the right content.

Communication and Collaboration Tool

Personas, fundamentally, are tools for communication and collaboration amongst your teams.  While they are backed by data and a methodology to provide meaningful insights, ultimately the purpose is to align all team members on a customer-driven approach.  We want to invoke a shared sense of empathy for the customers.  If you are planning a marketing initiative targeting your persona “Joe the Construction Entrepreneur”, for instance, you ideally want all of your team members to have the same intuitive understanding of who Joe is, and to talk about Joe during planning.

The real power of cards is when they enter the conversation.  To make this work in a practical sense, the information on the cards must be visual, easy to digest, and easy to share.

The Anatomy of Cards

Here is how we formatted our cards.  This was based on a combination of inspiration from what others had done before us, our needs, and our own ideas.

Our first example is a User Card that we prepared for a particular client persona.  At first glance, you’re immediately able to identify with that persona (Sharon the Trade Buyer), because she has a face, a name and some personal details to glance over.

You can quickly get a sense of who Sharon is and what she needs.  The graphic visualization gives you a quick overview of her level of knowledge in particular areas on of the industry, her general web activities, and her interests.


Our second example is a Context Card for the organic search channel for Sharon.  Here, we’re able to quickly get a sense of the motivations Sharon has for using search engines, and how she might use them.  This, of course, includes insights from the keyword research, to give us a data-driven perspective on what kind of queries she might be using.

Again, a context card can address any aspect of the customer journey – mobile, acquisition channels, content needs or anything else relevant to your initiative.

Creating your own cards

Before you can create the cards, you need to create personas, which is something of an art form.  In our experience, we have engaged client marketing teams and used any available existing customer information and data to kickstart the creation process.  Some clients may already have a good idea about who their personas should be – some may even already have customer personas to start from – while other clients may require more direction.

This article was originally written by Wes Walls.