Using Google Analytics to create Personas

20 March 2019

A persona is an imaginary, generalised representation of a business’ ideal customer, based upon real data insight and market research. Personas usually include a (fictional) name, gender, age, hobbies, interests, career, spending habits and searching habits.  

These semi-fictional personas represent a larger demographic with data often sourced from reporting tools such as Google Analytics (GA). Through proper data analysis and identifying key patterns, businesses can understand their target audiences in more depth and focus on the customers and behaviours that drive business conversions.

Detailed personas help businesses relate to their customers as real humans rather than just figures in an analytics programme. By understanding the needs, personality and behaviours of a customer, companies can tailor content, messaging and their website to the specific needs and behaviours of people who actually engage with your business.

How to build a persona

Data that forms the basis of a persona can be sourced from Google Analytics (GA). This is done by breaking down aggregated data into various dimensions to build a full picture of a customer. Before utilising this data however, businesses must ensure that they have all the correct filters applied (such as excluding certain IP addresses from the data) and at least six months of analytics data. This provides a solid amount and recent cohort of data to base the persona upon and means that employees who search your business from the office aren’t included in data. Once all these checks are in place then creating a persona can begin.

Two hugely salient factors that often define how a person behaves online are age and gender. By selecting ‘audience’ and then ‘demographic’ in the side tab on GA, you can access a wealth of real-life data which will tell you the proportion of website visitors that fit into different age brackets and their gender. This information can be used to create a first buyer persona; you may see that your highest users are women aged 18-24.

The second step in creating a buyer persona should involve looking at the ‘Affinity Category’, which are ready-made user categories devised by GA aiming to provide insight into the user’s interests and behaviours. GA gathers information from Google Display Network, collecting data on everything from a user’s search history, social activity, which ads they engage with and more. To access ‘Affinity Category’, you must search for the term in ‘secondary dimension’, either in ‘age’ or ‘gender’ data. You will then begin to see more profiles of your website’s typical users, ie. men who are technophiles or travellers. By seeing the age, gender and interests of users you are already able to build up a picture of what your ideal buyer is like, perhaps women aged 18-24 who are foodies.

Thirdly, you should look at ‘in-market segment’, another feature of the demographic analysis which tells you what kind of products or services your users are searching for and comparing. This gives insight into your users’ short-term purchase intent, allowing you to add another level of detail to your growing buyer persona; 18-24 year old woman, who is a foodie and is currently in the market for travel or hotels. With just these four elements of data, businesses can understand that their website and products are resonating with this type of person, and can begin to think about how to cater further to the specific needs of this customer in order to get more conversions.

Next, it is crucial to look at the location and language of your users. These statistics can be found under ‘geo’. For example, if many of your visitors come from countries other than your own you may want to start considering using hreflang tags and translation services in order to appeal personally to customers who are converting. Additionally, you now can add yet another level of detail to your buyer persona; woman, aged 18-24, is a foodie and in the market for travel/hotels and searching in American-English.  

Finally, you should look at the devices your users search on, found under ‘devices’. This data shows the statistics of how many of your users search on desktop, mobile or tablet. This data can be extremely insightful because your website may not have a mobile friendly version but perhaps 50% of your users are searching on mobile.  Furthermore, the data from GA to create your first buyer persona is complete: 18-24 year old woman who is a foodie and currently in the market for travel or hotels. She searches in American English from London and uses her mobile phone a lot.

Businesses can then take this data to the next level to create a realistic buyer profile including a name, a picture, personality quirks, and life aspirations. Personas like these really bring statistics to life and provide a real-life understanding of who your business is aiming to target.

Businesses can go even further outside of GA to give further meaning and life to their data by interviewing potential customers or surveying previous customers with email marketing techniques. A mix of both quantitative data from GA and qualitative data from surveys can help you achieve both statistical analysis and a personable understanding of your likely customer – which provides valuable insight into designing products, services, and all important websites that wholly cater for your users.  

personas and SEO

Personas are extremely useful for SEO because they help businesses to consider the user of their websites rather than just the designer and business themselves. This is closely related to the process of Design Thinking, which can be understood as an ability to empathise with customers by adding context to data to understand their decision-making processes. There are several ways in which buyer personas are beneficial to SEO:

Content Creation: When you have an ideal persona, it gives insight into what type of content your customers might be interested in. Engaging content could be key to capturing customers in the awareness stage of the purchase funnel. Additionally, if businesses can see that many of their customers are in the market for travel or hotels, they could create a blog piece that explains why their product is the perfect item to take on holiday.

By understanding your users’ language, their purchase intent and their interests, it can provide extra intelligence to keyword research by giving an indication of exactly how a user may search for your business or products.

Personas should be revisited at regular intervals to ensure that they are up to date with digital trends and the search landscape.

LIMITATIONS OF PERSONAS

Although personas can provide actionable intelligence to businesses, it is important to highlight potential limitations of analytics data used to create them.

By nature, personas are generalisations of an ideal customer and therefore, cannot cover every single type of customer of your business. Furthermore, GA data is rooted in assumptions based on users’ search history, ad preferences and personal information collected from their Google account. Whilst much of it is educated and justifiable, it is based on sampling and best estimates by Google.

Secondly, it is important to be wary of bots which may skew GA data. As we know, bots and spiders are continually crawling the internet and websites every single day and may make up a proportion of the data that may look like a real-life user.

conclusion

Personas created through GA can be highly useful for businesses and their websites, by gaining actionable insight to appeal and target their customers more directly. Specifically for SEO purposes, personas can help to inform keyword research and content creation and ultimately, really help businesses to fully cater to the needs of their customers. If websites and companies can truly understand and serve the interests and requirements of their customers then it is a sure way to help increase conversions and continue business success. And whilst persona data gathered from GA can be based on some assumptions, Google is able to gather a wealth of real-life data and can provide invaluable information to businesses.

Written by Alice Pelham

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