Persona Development and SEO

  |  June 5, 2006   |  Comments

Persona development shouldn’t only be a usability process. It should also be part of SEO.

Many Web site usability professionals create personas to assist them in the Web development process. A persona is a user archetype that drives the design and interface of a Web site.

If you know your target audience primarily consists of IT managers or directors, for example, you give your persona an appropriate name to make him or her seem like a real person. Without a name or visual image, a persona won’t become a concrete individual in the minds of the business team (content providers, developers, marketers, etc.).

Until a persona is clearly defined, the persona is too elastic. This commonly results in the persona sharing the same characteristics as business team members. As we well know, when you optimize a Web site you must use the words and phrases your target audience types into search queries, not necessarily the words the marketing department wants to use.

Persona development shouldn’t only be a common usability process. It should also be part of the SEO (define) process.

Search Behavior and Personas

My last column outlined a number of search behaviors, including:

  • Berrypicking

  • Querying

  • Refining

  • Expanding

  • Browsing/surfing

  • Pogo-sticking

  • Foraging

  • Scanning

Whenever I create a persona, I want to know the types of search behavior that persona typically uses. Let’s use a persona named Bob, a name I associate with a likable person. Bob is an IT manager for a large software company and makes all purchasing decisions for his department.

What types of search behavior might Bob exhibit on a Web site? Additionally, what types of search behavior might Bob exhibit on a commercial Web search engine? These search behaviors should be a part of his persona.

My buddy Bob doesn’t like when people waste his time; he has too many job responsibilities. Therefore, he doesn’t like going to a Web site whose interface makes it difficult to find the information he desires.

Immediately, I know some important information about a search-friendly interface based on that description. Three search behaviors I have to address are scanning, pogo-sticking, and querying.

Scanning Search Behavior

If Bob wants information quickly, I know we have to make Web content easily scannable. The primary call to action must be obvious. In other words, if Bob wants to make a purchase or download a white paper, I’d better make those two calls to action easy to find -- above as well as below the fold.

Pogo-Sticking Search Behavior

I also know I must minimize pogo-sticking behavior. Essentially, pogo-sticking is when users jump up and down in the hierarchy of a Web site, hoping they’ll eventually hit the content they desire. (For more on pogo-sticking, check out Jared Spool’s articles on the subject.) I definitely don’t want Bob to exhibit pogo-sticking behavior on my site. His time is extremely valuable.

One way to minimize pogo-sticking is to effectively cross-link related products and services. One type of cross-link is an alternative cross-link. In the event one product might not be quite what Bob is searching for, I won’t make Bob return to a category page to find a similar product. I’ll put related alternative links on all product pages.

What’s great about alternative cross-links is they make product pages appear more keyword focused to search engines. That’s a great one-two punch: making pages user friendly as well as search-engine friendly.

Querying Search Behavior

Bob uses Web search engines to find products and services. He’s a researcher as well as a buyer. Since Bob is an IT manager, he has reasonably good searching skills. He knows how to use some advanced search operators and tends to use very specific keyword phrases when searching for a product.

What does this mean to me, the Web developer? I have to compensate for both querying behavior and scanning behavior in the HTML title tags and meta tags. When Bob types in a specific query in a Web search engine, he scans search results for those exact keyword phrases.

Bob’s scanning behavior is the reason search engines use term highlighting in search results. Software engineers highlight the words entered in a search box in the title tag, meta-description tag or snippet, and URL. Term highlighting makes searchers feel more confident that they’re viewing desirable, relevant search results.

As both an SEO expert and a usability professional, I know those important keywords better be visible in titles, the description, and the URL to encourage Bob to click on the link to my site.


To an experienced SEO professional, a lot of this information may seem like basic common sense. However, not all usability professionals have the same search engine knowledge we do.

I highly encourage all information architects to gain a greater understanding of the entire SEO process and add search behaviors to persona descriptions. Not only will products and services be easier to find once users arrive at your Web sites, content on your Web sites will be easier to find via the Web search engines as well.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Shari Thurow

Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.

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