What’s more important, traffic or conversions? If you send me 50k people from a classic tractor repair website and 500 from a prominent marketing site, which one is going to be better for my business?

Unless you’re in the pageview business, what you should first and foremost care about is conversions. Conversions take place when targeted traffic meets relevant offer. It all starts with knowing who is your target audience and what they need or want.

The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.

- Peter Drucker, influential business thinker of the 20th century

If you want to increase conversions, you have to figure out who exactly is your primary target audience, what they want, what matters to them and what are the sources of friction for them.

If you say your target audience is “pretty much everybody” or “anyone interested in my services”,  you don’t have much of a chance to boost conversions.

Why identifying your target audience matters

If you know…

  • who the people are, you know how to get to them (the blogs they read, the sites they visit, the stuff they search in Google etc)
  • how they describe the type of services they offer, you can word the copy on your site to match the conversation in their head (very important!)
  • how they choose and compare products in your category, you know how to structure and prioritize content on your site
  • what they want, your value proposition can state exactly that and the whole site can be 98% relevant to them
  • what they don’t care about, you can dismiss and cut it from the site
  • how their life is better thanks to your service, you know which end-benefits to communicate

… and so on and so forth. It’s all about relevancy – if what you offer and how you present it matches their state of mind, you have gained a customer.

If your customer is “everybody”, you’re making it extremely difficult for yourself – nobody will identify with “everybody”.

If you don’t have hard data, start with assumptions

If you have no paying customers yet, you’re dealing with assumptions and educated guesses based on your first-hand experience and anecdotal evidence.

Traditionally, defining a target audience involves determining their age, sex, geographic locations, and their needs. The data you need to know depends on the product and whether you have a B2B or B2C business.

This approach, however, is not very helpful. Online the location matters much less (if at all). Age is not what it used to be - fifty-year-olds get just as excited about new tech gadgets as twenty-somethings, and 30-year-olds may still be living with their parents. More than demographic data, you want to look at the lifestyle.

You want to have answers to these questions:

  • Who are the target customers? Describe their life (or business) situation
  • What do they want? What’s the pain?
  • What are their needs that aren’t being met?

In order to have a business case, you of course need to think about market size and disposable income as well. You might have a problem / solution fit, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the money.

Talk to people

There are no facts inside your building, so get outside,” is one of the mantras of Steve Blank, the father of customer development and author of The Startup Owner’s Manual. When I talk to people starting a new business and they complain about conversions, the first question I ask is “how many customers have you talked to?” Usually the answers is “none”.  Hmm?

Once you have your first customer profile written down, go out and meet these people or businesses. Talk to them, observe them in their natural habitat and learn all you can.

Image source

Austin-based startup Food On The Table started with a target market assumption, and found a mom who plans meals and uses coupons, and spent three weeks shadowing her as she made lists and pushed her cart around the local supermarket. Her feedback helped create the first version of the website.

They reached 1 million users last spring – talking to your customers pays off.

What if you learn that your current business assumptions are wrong?

It’s not uncommon at all that a company starts with an assumption of who the target audience is and what they want, and changes course once they learn more about the market. In Lean Startup methodology, it’s called a pivot.

Many well-known companies have changed direction, from Paypal to Groupon. Here’s a summary of 10 types of pivots.

If you’re just starting out and figuring out how to grow to the next phase, don’t do anything before reading this book.

Survey your customers

If you have paying customers, the best thing you can do is to survey them. What you want is to get in the heads of your customers, learn why and how they buy.

Don’t survey all of your customers, just the last 20 (minimum) to 100 (max) who still remember their purchase experience. If you ask somebody who made the purchase 6 months or more ago, they have long forgotten and might feed you with false information.

I recommend asking the following questions (adjust the wording as you see fit):

  •  Who are you? Get the demographical data and see if there are any trends (e.g. generational). If you’ve got a B2B business, ask about their industry and position in the company (and who makes the decision!)
  • What do you like about our product the most? Learn what your customers think is the best part of your product, and mention it prominently in your copy
  • What made you sign up for our product? What convinced you that it’s a good decision? Why did you choose us over others? You want to know what’s working for you in your current website + identify some advantages you might want to emphasize more.
  • Which doubts and hesitations did you have before joining? Identify main sources of friction, and address them (or fix them if they’re usability problems).
  • Which questions did you have, but couldn’t find answers to? 50% of the purchases are not completed due to insufficient information. This helps you identify some of the missing information your customers want.
  • Anything else you would like to tell us? Leave room for feedback you don’t know to ask.
  • What else would you like to buy from us (if we were smart enough to offer it)? Ideas for new products or services your customers are ready to pay for,

+ feel free to include some that are specific to your business.

Tips for the survey

If you can, keep it short: the more questions, the fewer responders and poorer quality responses. Make your questions, then weed them out.

Make sure the information you collect is actionable – don’t ask questions just because your curious.  Once you have written your questions, go through them and ask yourself: “What am I going to do with this information once I have it?” Make sure each question contributes something unique and is necessary.

Keep it neutral: try to use language that doesn’t lead the customer any particular way.  Imagine that you are taking this survey as a person with a particular set of answers.  And then go through again with a different (or opposite) set of responses, and see if the question is easier or harder to answer – then adjust the wording so that it is neutral.

Avoid multiple choice

Note that all the answers should be free-form, not multiple choice. You want the customers to be able to express themselves without constraints. You don’t know what you don’t know, and multiple choice will never reveal those things.

Another thing you want to pay attention to is how they word things. Your website has to speak the same language your customers do. Notice how they describe the problem, the solution, the benefits.

Often I copy and use the exact wording from a survey answer in a value proposition or other key part of the website copy – and it works the best.

Pressure and incentivize

When sending out surveys, remember to put some time pressure on them (“fill this out in the next 3 days”) to get data faster and reward each and everyone who answers the survey (free product or service, Amazon gift card etc).

What you can discover from Google Analytics

If you have correctly set up goals and/or e-commerce tracking in Google Analytics, you can get some insightful data.

Below are some useful reports that show you stuff like which traffic sources convert the best. Invest more time, money and effort in high-performing traffic senders, ignore low performers.

If guest blogging is part of your content marketing strategy, pay attention to which blog send you the best-performing traffic and try to become a regular poster on those blogs.

Google Analytics custom reports are highly useful. Here are some reports you can plug right into your own analytics profile just by clicking on the links.

More great Google Analytics custom reports:

Test your assumptions

Learn qualitatively, test quantitatively.

Whatever you learn, your conclusions are still a hypothesis – you need test it in the real world. If your organic traffic is low, you can run a PPC campaign on Adwords or LinkedIn (or wherever is a good way to reach your target audience) to get enough people on the site for statistical confidence.

Speed up the time it takes to test assumptions, no reason to waste sales by waiting.

Conclusion

Remember, conversions take place when targeted traffic meets relevant offer. So your job as a marketer is to find the right sources traffic and to make sure your website is relevant for them. Relevancy leads to sales.

Use the findings from talking to people, surveys and analytics data to write the copy on your site and decide on the information architecture. Use it for your product development (and for deciding what to sell in the first place).

When your target audience arrives to your site, looks at the content and goes “Hey, this is exactly what I’m looking for”, you’ve nailed it.

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