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RankUp #19 – Personas & Storytelling with Diana Richardson

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Diana Richardson takes centre stage on episode 19 of the RankUp podcast to discuss audience personas and storytelling in SEO.

With a unique background that’s seen her go from search marketing to a community and social media role at SEMRush, Diana offers a unique perspective on how SEOs can engage audiences.

Listen to the podcast here or on the app of your choice, or keep reading for some of the episode’s highlights.

Introducing Diana

Ben: How did you go from starting out in search to where you are now?

Diana: Bird’s eye view, I answered an ad in a paper in the paper in 2006 and launched my career in the internet. It was a fascinating interview because I got it in 2006. SEO, PPC, digital marketing in general was not as prominent a job role. I learned solely on the job.

It was more one of the more interesting interviews that I’ve had because the woman who interviewed me slid a piece of paper which ended up being like an SEO report. She slid that across the table to me and said, “So here’s what we actually do.” And we talked for a long time about it, and it was a company that was transitioning from print to digital.

I knew I wanted to pursue something in marketing – communications is actually my degree. I’ve also always had a passion for educating, that was my original college major. And I’ve always had a passion for an audience as theater is also in my background. My father was on the radio, and so it just was naturally kind of part of my DNA, to learn something in marketing, and then be able to speak to people about it and interact with people.

And as I evolved in my search career, I wanted to learn more about marketing in general. I love Google and I love being the Google girl, but I wanted to learn social media marketing, I wanted to learn email and things like that. And so I made the conscious choice to leave my first career, and moving to I became the digital marketing director for a boutique agency. I did that on purpose, because this agency in particular is a brand agency.

I learned so much about what we’re going to talk about today – storytelling – that I wish I had known when I was writing PPC ads, and optimizing content and writing copy and things like that.

Then that has played a huge role in becoming a social media manager and a community manager. It just was the world’s aligning that it just led me on this path. This really has been like a culmination of everything I’ve learned throughout my career, and you know, the job gods were on my side!

What are audience personas?

Ben: What is an audience persona? How would you define it and how do you use that term, Diana?

Diana: For my definition I want to say this: notice we’re saying audience personas, not necessarily buyer personas. That’s actually my personal preference because a conversion, or the goal that you want someone to accomplish, is not necessarily a purchase in this day and age.

Audience persona can incorporate someone who is purchasing from you or someone who’s just engaging with you or someone who’s accomplishing some other high priority in your business model.

I like a detailed, personalised checklist of attributes associated with the people who interact with your business and your brand. These are your people, and you want to attract more of them that are similar. You need to deep dive into the existing ones at a personal level, at the starting point of your marketing plan, because we know as marketers that marketing to all converts very little.

How do we not market to all? It’s through detailed audience personas that you can strategise around, but you have to know who those people are first first.

What should our audience personas include?

Diana: Start with the basics: your demographics: Age, gender, location, education, household income if that’s if that’s applicable.

To bring an audience persona to life, you also need the deep details. You want to know who these people are, like their life events. And are they dog people? Are they cat people? Are they burn people? Do they prefer electric vehicles or gas? These are humans, and you want to get to know them on that level, because that’s going to affect not only your SEO foundation – aspects like keyword research – but it’s going to affect your content creation, and then ultimately, your marketing strategies. You’ve got to start with who it is that you are talking to.

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What is storytelling in SEO?

Ben: What does it mean to tell stories to our audience personas?

Diana: I know the term storytelling kind of makes it sound like we’re writing children’s fiction. [People think their] words have to be like New York Times bestseller but that that is not true. I’ve worked with a lot of clients were very scared of writing copy on their website, because they didn’t know what words to choose. Using the term storytelling by no means indicates that you have to be a published author to tell a story.

Storytelling as an SEO is creating web content that connects you to your audience and demonstrates that you understand them. That’s the story. And that comes from the words you choose and what you’re optimizing for.

It even comes through the visual side the content that you’re using, and optimizing for things like accessibility. Keeping your website updated is also part of the story you’re telling through your website.

The key is that you want [content] to resonate with your audience, otherwise they’re not going to stick around. You can rank number one all day long, but if no one clicks through to your website, or if they jump right back into the search results off of your website, then the rankings don’t matter.

I would rather rank on the second page and convert every other person, then rank number one, and convert less. The the focus in SEO is increasing your rankings organically, right? But if your content isn’t resonating once users get there, there’s no point.

Find out more

You can see more from Diana on Twitter, where she’s also active on the SEMRush account. Don’t forget to check out the whole interview on a podcast app of your choice.

Edd and I will be back soon with a new interview for the RankUp podcast. In the meantime, you can find us both on Twitter, @BenJGarry and @EddJTW.

If you’re interested in being a guest on the show, please reach out to us on Twitter or via email.