Are you a small business owner or marketer that needs to generate more highly qualified leads? And do you need to close more of those leads into customers?

This post focuses on buyer personas and keyword research because they're just such a critical foundation that needs to be in place for everything going forward with your marketing and sales strategy -- and your company strategy as a whole. Even your product development gets built on top of this foundation.

Again just to review, a buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of one of your ideal clients based on actual research and some select, educated speculation. It's super critical to attracting the right strangers, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context. Pretty much none of that can happen with any degree of predictability if you skip your buyer persona research.

Then after your buyer personas are built for your two, three, four, or however many most important economic buyers, then and only then should you start thinking about keyword research.

Don’t Skip Important Prerequisites

In this talk, I introduce some free tools, the difference between organic search results and paid search results, where Google AdWords fits into all of this, monthly search volume, and the degree of difficulty -- which also varies depending on whether you're looking at organic search or paid search.

Many people do keyword research without buyer personas, mainly because they don't understand inbound marketing. This is a huge mistake.

Many people start blogging without buyer persona research, keyword research, or really understanding how that blogging fits into the big picture of the inbound marketing methodology with attracting, engaging, and delighting.

To be effective, you need to get your mind around what this all means for attracting new customers and growing your revenue. It's so critical. Otherwise, you can really be spinning your wheels. So again, this is all about attracting the right strangers, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context. Full-funnel inbound marketing. 

What have you searched for this week? And how do you know what your ideal buyers are searching for?

Step 1: Don't Guess. Build Buyer Personas.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of an ideal type of client that you want. How do you decide who the buyers are for whom you want to build these personas?

For most companies, that starts with looking at your most profitable clients. Figure out who is really paying the bills. You essentially want to build a client cloning machine. The way you do this: understand what's driving those clients nuts.

  • What's the challenge that they're really struggling with?
  • What are they searching for online?
  • What can get them promoted if they get it right?
  • What's going to get them fired if they mess up?

To build personas:

  • Ask them questions.
  • Take them out to lunch
  • Grill them over the phone
  • Do surveys
  • Study their social media profiles -- especially if your company is a startup that doesn't yet have a client base. Look at who you’re trying to target by industry and company size. Then study the heck out of a pile of LinkedIn profiles, to get on the right track.

When you start to see three or four of these people saying the same thing, that's the kind of content that goes into your buyer personas.

Ask and analyze what the consensus is.

Sometimes pre-sales and post-sales support requests or meeting notes in your CRM system (customer relationship management) can be a huge help.

Find the consensus and build a blueprint that will inform everything you do going forward.

Trying to build a marketing strategy without buyer persona research is like constructing a building without a blueprint. Don't take the shortcut. You'll end up wasting a lot of time and resources.

Without buyer persona research, you may find a couple of good keywords and traffic sources, but it’s extremely difficult to connect the dots with your revenue generation goals when you skip key steps. So, step number one: make sure that you conduct thorough buyer persona research.

Step 2: Find the Right Keyword Phrases

Step number two: what can you do to make sure that you are getting those website visitors that resemble your buyer personas to your website?

It starts with understanding the keywords that they're searching for. If you start doing keyword research without doing buyer personas, again, you'll find some nuggets every once in a while.

But what we're really looking for is the keywords that are going to attract the right kind of buyers.

Let's say you’re the CEO of a mid-market IT company, and you're looking to attract CFOs as good kinds of the decision maker. Or maybe the CIO or director of sales is a good decision-maker for your business model, products, and services.

You need to study what each of those decision-makers is looking for online. They're not looking for the same thing. I can tell you without a doubt that if you're having a talk this morning about marketing for CFOs and a sales director wandered in, that sales director would be bored to tears -- completely different pain points, completely different kinds of issues that we're working towards.

Free Keyword Research Sources for Beginners

So get the buyer personas done right. There are a lot of great third-party research tools that you can use to find keywords, but we keep it really simple:

  • Google Suggest -- Type in a keyword like cloud services, for example, and you’ll see that Google says, oh, maybe you're looking for cloud services, comparing cloud services providers, cloud services brokerage, or cloud services for business. So you get those suggestions right in your search bar at the top and at the bottom of the search result page.
  • Related Searches -- Related searches can also be a valuable source to help you expand from relatively short keyword phrases, with two or three words, to longer tail keyword phrases that will be much more specific and easier to rank for.
  • Organic Search Results -- Study the Titles and description of what’s ranking organically for additional related keyword ideas.
  • Paid Search Results -- Study the Titles and descriptions of what’s appearing in paid results, via Google Ads, for additional related keyword ideas.

Just a quick refresher on the difference between how Google ranks organic content and paid advertising:

There are two ways to get onto page one of Google search results:

  1. By having fantastic content that ranks there organically -- It's kind of like having a reporter write an article about you in the newspaper.
  2. By buying your way in with Google Ads -- If you don't want to build relationships with reporters to get a great story written about you, or write your own blog that's so remarkable that it makes it to page one on its own, you can buy your way in.

What sometimes happens: If you’ve been banging your head against the wall trying to get someone to write an article about your business for two years, you’ll say, “enough is enough. I'm just going to give Google Ads $10,000 a year to buy my way in.”

Google Ads is part of the bigger picture of pay-per-click advertising (PPC). If you’ve been trying to get someone with high authority in Google's eyes to write about you, or you've been writing about yourself, but are not making it onto page one of search results, or you're in a big rush, you can buy your way in.

The challenge with buying your way in:

Competitive Search Phrases

The sky's the limit on how much some of these topics or keyword phrases cost. You can easily get outmatched on Google Ads by companies with much bigger budgets that can afford to invest a lot more for each click sent to their website. Don’t be surprised to see costs of $10 or more per click, especially if you're going after branded search terms where it's murky, whether you can actually target those keyword phrases for trademark reasons.

But assuming the vendor allows it, you could be competing against Fortune 1000 companies that are willing to invest quite a bit in customer acquisition costs, a heck of a lot more than a small business would be. So you need to pick your battles wisely.

That's why a lot of people look at the prospect of having to pay $10 or more a click to make it onto page one of Google search results, all of a sudden, “Gee, maybe I'll try writing some blog posts, and see what happens.”

Again, you can get a lot of keyword ideas from studying the organic content, the earned media that shows up on the search engine results page. The organic content is similar to articles in the old-fashioned days in newspapers and magazines.

You can also get many content ideas by studying what is in the ad copy on the paid search results.

Competition and Goals

Just be realistic about the degree of competition that your website is up against. Who’s at the top of page one? Media conglomerates? Wikipedia? Because of their massive search engine authority, these kinds of websites almost automatically get to the top of page one. So they're going to be pretty tough to outmatch.

When someone comes to us, and their long-term goal is to get a page one ranking on “cloud services,” we know that this person is going to need to be much more specific than that if their website is going to have a shot at being able to do that.

But the reality is, why are you looking to be discovered when someone searches for this particular keyword phrase?

What are your goals?

Everything with HubSpot and Inbound marketing is all about goals:

  • How many visitors do you want?
  • How many visitors do you want to turn into leads?
  • How many leads do you want to turn into clients?

(And are there more efficient ways to get there?)

Now, many people are in a rush to get found, or they're too lazy to blog, thinking that Google Ads will bail them out.

Tuning Out the Ads

Even if this approach made sense for their unique situations, they’d still be missing out on a lot of the reach. Why? A huge percentage of people just completely tune out the ads, in the same way, that most of us completely tune out banner ads at this point.

Think about print magazines and newsletters: many people don't pay attention to the ads at all.

There have been all kinds of heat map studies that look at how people click. If your ad is not appearing above the fold on the ads, you won't get clicks.

Also, the definition of what's above the fold is changing because of mobile devices. So keep that in mind.

So the bottom there: study what other people have done that have made it onto page one, what they're doing for their organic strategy with their blog posts and website pages.

Again, if you take a relatively short keyword phrase like “cloud services,” after keyword research, you may end up with two or three dozen different keyword phrases.

Then add that information into an SEO tool and look for two things:

  1. Monthly searches -- If you have a relatively small business that doesn't have a lot of inbound links and your company is brand new to inbound marketing, set your targets pretty low. If a particular keyword phrase has as little as 50 to 100 searches per month, it's probably worth trying to create content around that topic on a small scale. Again this is where buyer personas are absolutely critical before you create content around specific keyword phrases. You have to know the intent, what that person is all about, and what drives that person to make those searches.
  2. Difficulty -- Difficulty is also a big issue. Besides looking at the number of monthly searches, examine the relative difficulty number -- the competitive index, a number from 1 to 100. The lower the number, the less competition there is. The higher the number, the more competition there is. So if there are difficulty numbers showing up like at 80 or 90, unless your website already has hundreds of authoritative inbound links, you’ll likely just banging your head against the wall. Look for phrases that have a little volume but a relatively low amount of difficulty and try those first.

The Bottom Line on Buyer Personas and Keyword Research Strategy

In this post, you’ve learned about

  • Buyer personas and keyword research strategy to build much more effective marketing and sales strategy to grow your leads, clients, and revenue
  • Why buyer personas and keyword research are such a critical, important foundational elements to get right.
  • Buyer persona best practices
  • Keyword research tools and strategies
  • The difference between organic versus paid results on search engines and where Google Ads fits into this
  • The volume of monthly searches and the difficulty
  • How critical it is that you do not do keyword research until your buyer personas are nailed and that you don't even think about creating website content or blogs or any kind of content to attract strangers until you really get these taken care of
  • Who you're writing content for, and why you're writing this
  • Their words, not what you think those words ought to be, but what their words actually are

This is all about attracting the right stringers, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context -- the first phase of the Inbound marketing methodology where you attract strangers into visitors.

This post has been all about buyer personas and keyword research strategies. 

How does your company approach buyer personas and its keyword research strategy? Let me know in the comments section below.

And if you're serious about using buyer personas and the resulting keyword research strategy as a major growth engine, be sure to enroll now in our free 7-day eCourse: Go-to-Market Strategy 101 for B2B SaaS Startups and Scaleups.

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