12 Ways To Understand Your Audience (And Deliver Stellar Content)

You’re a blogger with a hungry readership. Or a copywriter, with a pretty needy client. Or – why not? – A general content marketer who needs to sell a product to a target audience.

No matter your role in the content creation chain, you know that you can’t get your message delivered without knowing your audience inside out first. In an ideal world, every reader finds our content interesting; real life is different — as writers, we need to earn the reader’s attention!

Who is your audience, really?

This article is meant to give you 12 ideas to understand what kind of people you’re talking to, what they want from you and how you can help them through your content or service. Use these ideas the way you think suits your business best, whether you’re going to pick only a few or you plan to do them all as steps in any order of choice. What counts is that you get to write engaging copy that converts.

To your success!

1. Think About Your Ideal Reader

Describe your reader. Really, go grab a piece of paper and a pen and start scribbling. Think about your reader’s needs, wants, dreams. Find out what your readers seek. Make them smile. Ultimately, be conscious of who is reading your blog!

Think of your demographics — do you appeal to college students, new and expectant mothers, entrepreneurs, web marketers? Just who exactly is reading what you are putting out there?

Again, think about your ideal readers. Make their plights relevant in your life. What do you have in common? How can you create a bond with your readers that says, “we’re all on the same page”?

Also, think about what YOU would want to read as a freshman, a new mommy, a young entrepreneur or a newbie internet marketer. Put real thought and feelings into it and appeal to those who are reading your blog. They will feel the connection, which will make them feel special and want to come back to read more.

Do yourself a favor and read Tea Silvestre’s “My Ideal Client” questionnaire. It tells you clearly how to approach your clients — ehrm, your readers — and how to get to know them better.

2. Interview People In Your (Actual And Potential) Potential Readership Zone

Start with people you know, then expand to names in your niche. Collect information, make statistics and graphs. As a blogger, you may find surveys and polls useful tools at hand. Polling your blog audience helps determine your demographics, which you would find helpful to apply Way #1.

Use polls, surveys and interviews to find out who is reading as well as who might be reading — their ages, genders, occupations, interests, walks of life, etc. Invite them to contact you and introduce themselves and talk about what they like about your blog. Why did they choose to follow you? What kind of posts are their favorites? What is it about you and your content that lends you credibility in their eyes?

When you learn about who is reading, you can learn how to tailor your work to meet the needs of your readers. In other words, the impact your content has on people depends on the amount of targeting and segmentation you do.

When you learn about who is reading, you can learn how to tailor your work to meet the needs of your readers. After all, it’s your readers that will make or break a great blog.

The theory of social value groups

Chris Fill’s Marketing Communications – Contexts, Strategies and Applications

Chris Fill’s Marketing Communications – Contexts, Strategies and Applications

Your actual and potential readership zone will most certainly include different kinds of people, but the theory of social value groups mentioned in Chris Fill’s textbook Marketing Communications – Contexts, Strategies and Applications — and developed by The Values Company Ltd. — may be of help in sorting out potential readers:

  • Self-Explorers — Readers who belong to this group are independent and imaginative, they like to find their own ways to do things and seek personal fulfillment in life. You can make these readers happy by offering content that helps them save time, money and effort. They’re not interested in new things, they want things that work and they can use to fulfill their dreams.
  • Experimentalists — These readers’ life is a constant seek for new experiences, ideas and sensations. They are energetic and intelligent and they accept risks whatever the endeavor they take. No matter the niche you write for, make sure you constantly bring out new products, services and ideas. Invite your readers to experiment. Fill your content with calls to action that will tickle their curiosity.
  • Conspicuous Consumers — These readers like to go after the most notorious products or celebrities because they feel that will help them gain respect. They greatly value their own image and want to be associated with only the best names in the niche and constantly look for brands and ideas that will make them look better in front of other people. Treat these readers with content that emphasizes how a celebrity endorses a certain service or idea, fidelize them by focusing on big brands and high-level lifestyles.
  • Belongers — You may say that this type of readers is conservative and approval-seeking, because they orient their choices based on parental, societal, religious and/or national approved lifestyles, services, behaviors. When you write for these readers, emphasize the role of the family, social values and ethics. If you offer content that focuses on innovation, find ways to link that innovation to currently ‘approved’ ways.
  • Survivors — This is a category of readers who can’t decide for their own, but they will depend on your every piece of content to survive (indeed) in their work or personal environment. They surrender, so to speak, to the high authority and do not look out for opportunities to grow as persons or workers, for they believe every role in society is assigned from above. You can help these readers by offering proven, authoritative content that they can trust and consume easily, while suggesting activities they can try out as part of “this is how things work” message.
  • Social Resisters — Readers of this kind are people who resist any change of the status quo and abide to rules enforced by the authority and social code. They don’t make an effort to enjoy their jobs — they work to bring food to the table, not to seek personal fulfillment. You can meet these readers’ expectations by focusing your niche content on ways to optimize the efficiency of work and time, and by offering reviews of products and services that meet the authority’s trust and approval.
  • Aimless — The word says it all — these readers have no social or work-related goals in their lives. They live in on a low income and a low self-esteem, so you can’t target luxury product reviews and lifestyle tips to these people. Writing for this kind of readers is not easy and the risk is for your writing to become monotone, but you can try to ‘spice up’ the lives of those who read by adding anecdotes and ‘cheap’ calls to actions to ‘try to improve’ a bit of their life and/or work situation.

Ideally, your audience belongs to one or two of the above social value groups, but your interviews, demographics and user survey will tell you how things really are — it’s realistic to suppose that your audience is composed of a mix of all seven groups, in different percentage. Your content should reflect the variety and meet all the needs midway or via diversification (i.e. categorization) of topics and calls to action.

3. Research Your Audience Through Different Media

twitter trend

Literature, interviews, movies, school programs.

Even TV and radio shows.

There are plenty of helpful materials out there to help you get an idea on how to successfully tailor your blog to your specific audience.

Watch television programs, webinars and presentations where people in your niche are interviewed — what are they saying that could help you improve your content? Skim through Twitter trends and hashtags and browse Facebook profiles to see what’s going on in your niche — is there anything you may turn into a great post or article?

A bit of thoughtful research can tell you a lot on how to meet your audience’s needs. Also, do not be afraid to study and learn from other successful bloggers – the experience and wisdom they share can make your job easier.

For more tips about research, skip to Way #7.

4. Study The Competition

There is wisdom in looking at whom you are competing with. Not to copy them, but to understand what’s behind their success. It will help you gather ideas of what to write.

Spying on competitors’ websites

If your competition is an online business, you can start with exploring their public client base and read testimonials on their website. If they’re another blogger, make sure they already have large readership bases — what are they blogging about that garners so much attention? What can YOU say that the blogger’s audience could relate to on your blog?

Networking with your competitors

Perhaps there’s a chance to network with your competitor and become partners. In that case, ask if you can share resources with one another and together share a readership base (through guest posting, for example). Everyone wins! You each get more readers, traffic and/or clientele while readers get to discover new and interesting viewpoints.

Remember, though, that you shouldn’t mimic your competitor’s style. Learn from those who are more successful than you, but stay yourself. You are unique! Your readers will sense this and come back for more when they see that you have a different angle to work off of with different ideas to offer.

5. Browse Niche-Specific User Forums

Forums are good to see what’s boiling in your field and what your audience is finding interesting and relevant at a given time. Webmaster World is a typical example of how a niche forum can give you an incredible amount of inputs to understand what people in a certain niche are concerned about!

However, don’t let the noise distract you from your goals — forums host the good and the bad apple of the user base, so make sure you filter out any irrelevant discussions and only focus on what matters — especially topics that are basically help requests, as they give you background material to write an answer piece.

6. Read Blog Comments And Respond To Them

Engagement is the word. Last year, Neil Pateil published an insightful blog post about the power of reader engagement via comments – the more attention you pay to your commenters, the better ROI you get. Blog comments hold the key to the understanding of your audience.

Comments readers place on your blog or on blogs in your niche let you find out what people really need and are concerned about (similar to #5) so that you find yourself in a position to step in and help.

6 tips to engage with your commenters

  1. Make sure you understand what your reader is saying and reply accordingly – don’t guess around at what would be good feedback, but make sure you understand the context and write a really helpful reply.
  2. Avoid replies that are only “Thanks” or “Cool” because they may sound offensive to the commenter who spent their time to read and leave insightful feedback.
  3. Thank the commenter first, then go into answering the comment. Commenters like knowing their feedback is appreciated, so let them know you’re thankful for their time. Avoid blank, unhelpful responses (see Tip #2) that don’t help and only add noise to the post.
  4. Address the questions in the comment in the order you receive them – make bullet points so it’s easy to see the answers to what they asked.
  5. Take every comment seriously, don’t brush someone off if they’ve got something to say you don’t like or agree with, but let them know gently why you disagree. Treat all comments like you were receiving them – what would YOU want to hear back?
  6. Use insightful comments to produce your next piece of writing and thank the commenter for the idea (both in the comment reply and in the post).

7. Review Products Made For Your Target Audience

Research the literature written for your target audience and note the grade level they’re usually written in. Review products, magazines, brochures, reviews, anything that can help you use the voice and tone that will attract your readers and help them stay focused.

Products like cosmetics, clothing items and food can also tell you a lot about the lifestyle of your target reader. Knowing that can help you include anecdotes and examples that are specific to your audience, and that your audience can relate to.

8. Attend Conventions And Conferences

DrupalCon London Group Photo

You can learn more about your audience at niche conferences and conventions. You will not only get exposed to brand new researches and innovations, but you will also get in touch — on a formal and informal level — with people in your same niche you can ask questions to, whether they are consumers, professionals or hobbyists.

Also, do not underestimate the value of communing with fellow writers to share and swap ideas — a convention or a seminar can offer opportunities that go beyond networking and you could even walk away with a story or an angle ready to write about.

Last but not least — you could also meet prospective clients at these functions, so don’t miss out on an opportunity to reach out.

9. Just Listen (And Take Note)

Henneke Duistermaat at CrazyEgg calls listening the most important copywriting skill because there’s no understanding without listening, and even Steve Slaunwhite at NetPlaces advises to “get inside the head of the buyer”.

Listening skills are essential skills to bloggers and copywriters

Don’t be afraid to give people some of your time. What does your target reader want? What are they craving in life, business or school? What products and services could be beneficial to these groups of people? How much they are willing to spend and what kind of income they have to dedicate to these products and services? The more you learn about the people you need to write for, the more accurately you can tailor your work for them, help them, inspire them, make them happy.

Writing is a social activity

See — Way #8 gives you plenty of opportunities for that, but even #6 and #7. Most of this article is about listening (or reading, which is similar). Be an expert in the people who need you — get to know them and what they need and want.

It’s the only way to write successful copy that converts.

10. Use The Tools Of SEO At Your Advantage

Search statistics, trends, case studies, keyword research tools — they can tell you a lot about how your target audience behaves and interacts with your or your competitor’s content.

What you should you look for in your traffic (and how that helps you understand your audience)

  • Comment traffic — We already talked comments in Way #6, but checking your stats for comment traffic can help you find out how your readers move in and out of conversations, what content they seek out the most and how that relates to the content of the comment. You can compare and contrast these behaviors with page and/or post traffict.
  • Age demographics — Visitors’ age can tell you to what extent your content relates to the various age group and which age groups are most attracted to your articles.
  • Quality vs. Quantity — Stats tell you how many people are visiting and what kind of traffic boost you are getting, but ultimately the quality of traffic outranks quantity, so compare and contrast the traffic that delivers conversions and the traffic that does not.
  • Relevancy — When you analyze your traffic stats, make sure the traffic you’re getting is relevant to the content you write. I know this might sound weird to say, but it’s an indicator that you’re doing a good job — when your content doesn’t get relevant visitors, something has gone wrong and you may need to refocus and work to better understand your audience.
  • Backlinks — People who link out to your content are already part of your audience, so they make a useful addition to your audience analysis.

11. Role-play And Wear Different Hats

This is useful to learn how to think about the way your prospecting reader (or client) thinks.

While the best way to learn about your readers is to go right up to them and ask, there are situations when you just can’t do that — for example, when you have a deadline and you have no beta testers available, or when the people you need to interview are not available.

Let’s say you need to wear the hat of a grandmother who reads your blog for activity and craft ideas she can engage in when her grandchildren visit her for the weekend.

You may have no granny available for interview at the time you need one, but you can invent one — yes, that’s right! Invent! Create a fictional character you can interact with in your mind and on paper.

  • Ask the role-play character relevant questions, as you would do if that was a real interview. Then wear the character’s hat and respond to the questions. If nothing comes to your mind, watch a movie or a TV show about your ideal reader (a granny in this example) and take notes.
  • Draft your article and pretend to have your role-play character read it — would they be satisfied with the content? Is your advice valid, helpful? How does the person feel after reading?
  • Imagine the whole interview scene as if it was a movie scene. Imagine it in first or third person, but try to feel involved — Are your questions relevant? Did you miss something important? If you commit a mistake, don’t worry — start over again, maybe with a slightly different character in the same category (so it won’t get boring!).

Don’t be afraid to think, read and write in several different styles — don’t be afraid to wear more than one hat! The more hats you wear, the more people you are going to appeal to and the more successful your copy will be.

12. Listen To Your ‘Guts’!

Ultimately, the best strategy you can rely upon is to listen to your ‘guts’, because they can be effective in guiding you toward a proper understanding of your audience. Intuition and empathy play an essential role in any social environment, and blogging or copywriting are no less – it takes two parties communicating to make a piece of copy work!

Think of it — you have known your loyal readers for a while, you have talked to them, used their insight to improve your posts or copy and ultimately you developed a sense of empathy with them.

Use it. It will get easier to develop the right content strategy and deliver stellar content.

BONUS – Give Your Ideal Reader A Name (And Write For Them!)

Expertise in your niche

James Chartrand at Copyblogger calls her Dorothea and she’s a 60 years old retiree with doubts over insurance solutions.

What’s your ideal reader’s name?

At this point, you might have done your homework from Way #1 already. It’s time to give your readers a face, a name and a background story. See Way #1 for role-playing techniques, if you need. As long as you have someone to write for. But not a general reader — as James put it, “You need to write for Dorothea” or whatever the name you gave to your idea reader, “don’t write for a demographic.”

I’m writing for you, my ideal reader who’s getting a headache because you can’t figure out how to write in a way that will engage your own readers and build a loyal audience. I’m calling you Amanda (no sexism here, it’s just easier for me to talk to female writers, because I’m a woman). In my imagination, I’m having coffee with you at a bar and giving you advice as a colleague or a friend would do.

I’m putting you first, not myself. I’m trying to help you in a practical way, no fluff, because I want you to be successful at what you do. Ultimately, being a writer makes me feel like a teacher — I fail when my classroom fails at putting what I teach in practice.

The reader comes first, and that’s a writer’s spirit. Soak that in and start typing from the heart. :)


Image credit: Thomas Hawk & Drupal Association

Special ‘Thanks’ goes to my spiritual daughter Mandi Pope for helping me with the brainstorming and proofreading phases of this complex article. Thanks darling!